In our circles, we don't particularly like to think about angels and demons. Come to mention it, we tend toward discomfort when the whole topic of Satan is brought up in respectable company. Perhaps this is because we rather like straightforward simplicity. Or worse still, perhaps we’re too westernized in our perspective of the world. We like a faith that is a little less supernatural than biblical Christianity presents. We like our buttoned-up, neat-and-tidy theology of total depravity, and we'd like to leave our struggles soundly in the category of indwelling sin. Such a position is understandable of course, because unseen realities external to us are unsettling. After all, we can't see them, and we don’t like that!
Yet, despite the above, the scriptures present to us a seedier underbelly of our reality than that which can be seen or easily understood. Christ clearly teaches there is a sharp divide in humanity, that people are either under the sway of the Evil One, or they are commanded and influenced by Christ himself. After all, he says there is no neutrality with him whatsoever (Matt. 12:30). He even goes so far as to suggest his closest friends and followers were influenced by a false spirit when they recommended calling down fire from heaven to destroy those who reject him as Messiah. In response to that occasion, Jesus says, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of” (Luke 9:55). Perhaps most famously, though, is when Peter insists Jesus need not go to the cross (Matt. 16:33), and Christ declares: “get behind me Satan” to his beloved friend. The activity and influence of the Enemy is much more prevalent than the church comfortably cares to concede.
Surely we could spend a great deal of time talking about the various tactics and methods at our Enemy’s disposal – his goals, strategies, plans, and devices. For the sake of awareness, at least, so we as the people of God may be alert to the schemes of the Devil, here are a few things we should keep in mind about Satan:
- The world is under his sway (1 John 5:19)
- He is actively at work in unconverted humanity (Eph. 2:2)
- He has physical, as well as spiritual, servants at his disposal (2 Cor. 11:14-15)
He is directly involved in the activity of:
- Temptation (Matt 4:1)
- Accusation (Gen. 3:1-4)
- Direct Attack (Eph. 6:11) &
- Indirect Conflict with the Saints (Eph 6:12);
- Deception (2 Thes. 2:9-10, 2 Cor. 11:14)
- Demonization (John 13:27), and,
- De-evolution or “reverse sanctification” of those not being conformed to the Image of the one true God (Hosea 4:7-11 taken with Revelation 9:20).
When considering the above thumbnail sketch of Satan’s work, we could be tempted toward fear or reduced to passivity. Instead, we must have an awareness without ever blame-shifting; we need understanding without reducing everything to the demonic; and we must maintain personal responsibility without hypersensitivity to spiritual entities. The result of our theology and practice ought to be the biblical balance of human agency and spiritual influence.
Perhaps in a later post we will consider the believer’s call to action in light of Satan’s efforts, but it is fitting at present to conclude our brief reflections with a note of optimism and hope. Scripture indicates that Satan, though the enemy of the brethren, and the great Evil One, to whom we must resist and pray for deliverance from, is only as powerful as God permits him to be. As Martin Luther famously summarized this point, he is “God’s Satan”.
Further, he is:
- Bound and unable to deceive the nations (Rev 20:2-3 cf. 20:7)
- Limited to what God permits (Job 1:8, 2:3)
- He rages while he still has time, though it has been cut short (Rev 12:12)
- He has no ultimate power over those ruled by Christ (Mark 3:27)
- In fact, John is so bold as to affirm Satan cannot even “touch” a believer (1 John 5:18)
- By Jesus’ own words, Satan has no authority over the Lord Himself (John 14:30)
- Therefore, it only stands to reason that the believer is free and victorious over Satan in our union with Christ.
- He is victorious, and the works of the Devil are overcome as a fatally wounded, overcome foe.
- Yet there is an ongoing reality—a battle. Satan is defeated but not utterly done away with.
- Thus we stand between “victories”: the first victory of Christ at the cross and resurrection, and the second victory when our Victor returns for the final blow against his and our Enemy.