What the Bible Says About Satan
C.S. Lewis said, "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them." Some regard Satan as a myth. Others are obsessed with him, attributing every hateful thought, every lustful impulse, every physical ailment, even car problems to Satan's direct intervention.
What does the Bible say about Satan? I John 5:19 tells us that "the whole world is under the control of the evil one." He is behind all unbelief and ungodliness: "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" (II Corinthians 4:4).
Nonetheless, Satan's abilities are limited. He is not all-knowing. Only God knows everything. Satan does not know the future. Satan is not all-powerful. He cannot do anything he wants to do; he can only do that which God permits (Job 1:12; 2:6). Satan is not everywhere present. He cannot be in all places at the same time tempting everyone. Satan must tempt one individual at a time or operate through those angels who fell with him, demons (II Peter 2:4; Jude 6).
When Jesus died on the cross and ascended to heaven, he defeated Satan. Jesus "disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Colossians 2:15). Satan is a defeated enemy, waging guerrilla warfare against the church and the world until Jesus returns to consummate the victory he achieved against Satan. Jesus has bound Satan (Mark 3:27), but, so to speak, with a long rope: Satan still has influence over the world. The apostle Paul assures us that "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet" (Romans 16:20).
He will one day be cast into "the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). Satan can tempt Christians, but as John writes, "the evil one cannot harm him" (I John 5:18). For "the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (I John 4:4).
How should Christians deal with Satan? Some advocate what is termed "power encounters." They speak of "casting out demons," rebuking Satan" and "speaking the truth to him."
The advocates of such methods say that since this was the way Jesus dealt with Satan, it is the way we should deal with him. These people do not take into account the significant differences between Jesus' situation and our situation. Jesus performed miracles in order to reveal his power over Satan and to bring about faith and repentance. Jesus miraculously multiplied loaves, stilled storms, and healed the sick as signs of his divinity and power. Jesus' miracles demonstrated his deity and elicited belief. Jesus cast out demons for the same reason: to show he is God, that he came to destroy the forces of darkness, and that the era of God's kingdom has arrived (Luke 11:20).
People should thus put their faith in him. Jesus and the New Testament writers never command us to miraculously multiply loaves when we are hungry. They tell us to pray for God to supply our needs (Matthew 6:11) and to work for our food (II Thessalonians 3:10). The apostle Paul, for example, worked diligently to meet his own needs and to help the needy. If Paul didn't pray to multiply loaves and fish, should we? When it came time to pay taxes, Jesus sent Peter to pull a coin out of the mouth of a fish. This was a miracle. But Jesus teaches us to work and to pay what we owe (Matthew 22:16-22; Romans 13:1-7). Jesus healed the sick, but James 5:14-16 tells us to pray and use medical means ("anoint him with oil").
Here's my point: Jesus performed miracles to demonstrate his deity and to elicit belief. He does not command us to perform the same miracles. Rather, he tells us to use ordinary means to accomplish his purposes, not only when dealing with hunger or financial need or sickness, but also when dealing with Satan's influence. The Bible nowhere commands us to "cast out demons," to "bind Satan" or to "speak the truth to him." How, then, are Christians to deal with Satan's influence? The Bible tells us deal with Satan by resisting him, fleeing him, and standing firm in Jesus Christ. Consider these passages: "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith" (I Peter 5:8-9). "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).
The apostle Paul commands Christians to battle against Satan by putting "on the full armor of God." This armor includes the truth of God's Word, the righteousness and salvation that we possess in Christ, faith, and fervent prayer (Ephesians 6:10-18). "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12).
We are in a spiritual battle and must use spiritual weapons. These weapons are not sensational, but they work, for they are the weapons that God has ordained.
For further reading on this topic, I recommend the book, Power Encounters by David Powlison (Baker, 1995).
Peter Kemeny, Pastor
Good News Presbyterian Church
P.O. Box 1051, Frederick, MD 21702