Recently, I was emailed by a follower basically asking, “is Satan real, or an illusion?”
I can’t believe I’ve reached the stage of being asked questions – yeeeeeeeeeeee – but fortunately, there’s Scripture. I’ll just go there.
Satan is real. He is treated as a conscious being with intelligence and personality. And he is a (limited) threat.
This subject makes people sensitive. 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 bad.
Personal conviction: I want Scripture, straight-up, as it truly is. I don’t want man’s “compensational” teachings. Np Scripture tossed aside or marginalized because “people will run the wrong way with it”, or because it frightens them, or because it diminishes God in their preferred system. 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 floating around.
Here’s what I find in Scripture (and may God lead me well in this).
1. Satan is doomed.
The closing battle of the War of 1812 was fought without either side knowing that a peace treaty had already been signed. The era’s slow travel meant they didn’t get the memo before reaching the battle lines.
In a similar way, though our battle is real, Jesus has secured the victory. Satan is on his way out. Revelation predicts that he’ll be cast into the lake of fire and forever barred from touching the secure-in-heaven believer again. I figure I’d open with that. Encouraging note.
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 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, much less 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, there are schemes. And the off-guard believer can be outwitted. (Forgiveness is the context here – it’s a defense against Satan.)
Practicality has a nice way of cutting through tough questions. If the Word tells us to be alert, sober, and forgiving, then we can be assured God wants that from us – period.
Satan cannot touch the believer’s ultimate destiny. But until we get there, he prowls. Ignoring that is ignoring the Word.
3. Satan tempts.
Satan is behind a great deal of temptation. There’s too much Scripture to quote here. He’s not just an anthropomorphism or projection of our evil psyche (though James 1 teaches that our flesh is one of the partnering agencies to which he appeals). Temptation is one of Satan’s primary modes of operation. He tempted Ananias and Sapphira to lie (Acts 5:3).
This does not mean we can blame Satan for our sin. We are responsible.
But ignoring Satan’s role in our temptations is unhelpful. I’ve found a great deal of clear space from temptation that comes specifically from resisting Satan, out loud, with Scripture.
4. Satan can do damage – 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).
The first two chapters of Job imply heavily that Satan must secure God’s approval for his activities. Thus, God’s sovereignty is secured. Where do the two collide, exactly? Hard to say. And you might have noticed that God seems to allow rather a lot.
But remember that Paul maintains a habit of staying aware. That’s such a helpful grip point. 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’s forces can be resisted.
Jesus did it by quoting Scripture. Paul cast an evil spirit from a fortune-teller. 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 also cautioned against becoming “demon hunters” and getting overly enthralled by spiritual warfare: “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. Keep your eyes on the battle, but more so on Jesus. Rejoice that he has written your name down.