Recently, I was emailed a question by a follower basically asking, “is Satan real, or an illusion?”
I can’t believe I’ve reached this stage of blogging to where I’m being asked questions – yeeeeeeeeeeee, what do I know? – but fortunately, we have Scripture to reveal truth to us. I’ll just go there.
Satan is real. He is a conscious being with intelligence and personality. And he is a (limited) threat.
And just mentioning this subject makes people sensitive. It immediately evokes fear, anger, and irritation. There’s a lot of (pardon the expression) heated opinion about Satan and his precise role in the Christian’s life. Good teachings, bad teachings, and bad teachings that spring off both the good and the bad.
This is a chance for me to share a fierce core conviction of mine, if you’ll permit me a quick rant: I want to know Scripture, straight-up, as it truly is. I don’t want man’s “compensational” teachings. I don’t want Scripture tossed aside or marginalized by anyone going “people will run the wrong way with this teaching” or “this teachings doesn’t match up with my preferred image of God’s sovereignty”. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater, in other words. The term “bathwater theology” describes this phenemenon well, and there’s a lot of it out there.
No. Let us take the Bible as it is, without shying away from or massaging anything. Then we can build around it with other Scriptural teachings so that we may be properly equipped.
Here’s what I find in Scripture (and may God lead me well in this).
1. Satan is doomed.
The last battle of the War of 1812 took place without either side knowing that a peace treaty had already been signed by their respective governments. They didn’t get the memo in time because of the slow travel of the day.
In a similar way, though the battle raging against us is real, Jesus has secured the victory. Satan is on his way out. Revelation predicts that he’ll be cast in the lake of fire and forever barred from affecting the secure-in-heaven believer again. I figure I’d open with that. Encouraging note.
Until then, however…
2. Satan is a threat.
There’s a common sentiment that Satan has already been disarmed and all he can really do is “nibble” on you, like a small mouse. That’s a mockery of 1 Peter 5:8: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” A mouse doesn’t merit sobriety. Or devour you.
In 2 Corinthians 2:11, Paul chimes in,” I have done this so that we may not be taken advantage of by Satan. For we are not ignorant of his schemes.” Implication being, the off-guard believer can be outwitted. (Forgiveness is the context here – it’s a defense against Satan.)
Sometimes people shy away from this reality because it frightens them, or because it diminishes God (in their eyes). Again, I’d rather just take the Bible at face value, especially when it gets practical, as these verses do. Practical teachings have a nice way of cutting through tough questions, un-contradicted by context or systematic theology. If the Word tells us to be alert, sober, and forgiving, then we can be assured God wants us to do that – period.
Now, compared to what God can do, Satan is indeed a nibbler. “Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Satan cannot touch the ultimate destiny of a believer. But until we get there, Satan prowls. Ignoring that is ignoring the Word of God.
3. Satan tempts.
Satan is behind a great deal of temptation. There’s too much Scripture to quote on this. It’s not just our nature, and he’s not just an anthropomorphism or projection of our own evil psyche (though James 1 teaches that our flesh is one of the partnering agencies in any sin). Temptation is definitely one of Satan’s primary modes of operation. For example, he tempted Ananias and Sapphira to lie (Acts 5:3).
This does not mean we can blame Satan on our sin. We alone are responsible before God.
But ignoring Satan’s role in our temptations is un-Biblical and unhelpful. I’ve found a great deal of clear space from temptation that comes specifically from resisting Satan, out loud, with Scripture, in times of temptation. Knowing Satan’s activity is a great weapon against sin.
4. Satan can damage our lives – within divine boundaries.
Satan afflicted Job. He was blamed for the binding of a woman for eighteen years (Luke 13:16). He hinders mission work (1 Thessalonians 2:18). His hobbies include destruction and death.
The first two chapters of Job imply heavily that Satan must secure God’s approval for whatever he does. Thus, God’s sovereignty is secured. Where do the two collide, exactly? Hard to say. And you might have noticed that God seems to be allowing rather a lot.
But again, we do know that Paul maintains of habit of staying aware. That’s such a helpful grip point for us. The overall implication is that God makes a space in which we have a role in resisting Satan, and the results sometimes depend on our efforts. Don’t despair. Just be aware. (Hey, that rhymes.)
5. Satan and his forces can be resisted by a humble believer.
Paul cast an evil spirit out of a fortune-telling girl. Peter teaches us to “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:9). Satan can be shut down. Jesus did it by quoting Scripture at him.
Jesus also said, however, that we are not to become “demon hunters” and get overly enthralled by spiritual warfare. After hearing his disciples report that the demons are submitting to them(!!!!) in his name, Jesus gets a moment to gloat over his rival’s defeat, but he then hastens to teach them proper perspective: “However, don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20).
Do not fear what he can do in this life. He will not have the last word. Resist him. Be confident that Jesus’ name (and his name alone) is sufficient to cow Satan and his servants into submission. Keep your eyes on the battle, but more so on Jesus. Rejoice that he has written your name down.