Here’s a scene familiar to all: a film or television character, locked in inner debate. All of a sudden, poof, a tiny devil—sometimes styled to look like an evil version of the actual character—appears on one shoulder. This devil has some of a James Dean, rogue-ish appeal, and talks about how much fun it would to be to indulge in such and such.
It’s a cliched trope, and though it’s not as common in cinema anymore, the general device is still used. There may not be a smirking devil on Walter White’s shoulder, but his endless qualifiers and excuses sure sound like the work of a cunning tempter yanking his puppet strings. And it resonates, because we’ve all been there. We know the feeling of entertaining a little tickle in our ear—one that sounds like us, but not quite like us. It gave rise to the phrase: the devil made me do it. But is that a fair assessment?
As Christians, we accept that everything good and pure within us is from God. We’re instructed to believe our good works, righteousness and holiness should be credited to Jesus working through us, giving us the strength, wisdom and power to accomplish His will.
We are quick to give God credit for anything positive within our lives. “Only through God was I able to do that!” or “I give glory to God!” are common expressions we use to acknowledge His supernatural ability within our lives.
The danger is that we can use this same logic for everything bad and evil we do—blaming Satan for our wrongdoings instead of taking personal responsibility for our actions. If God is responsible for our good, isn’t Satan responsible for our bad?
Thinking about Satan—the Devil—is often emotionally and intellectually draining, so many believers have simply stopped doing it. In a modern society that mocks and ridicules the belief that supernatural beings are engaged in an epic battle of good vs. evil, it can be easy to shy away from the topic of Satan. It’s hard to accept a supernatural realm when our perception is inundated with the physical reality of our everyday lives.
Contrarily, there are those who do nothing but dwell on spiritual warfare and become strangely obsessed with Satan. These individuals are often overcome with constant dread, fear and suspicion—crippling their lives. They stand on street corners and yell apocalyptic warnings from bullhorns and often appear to be suffering from delusions or mental illness.
To make matters worse, people often falsely accuse others of being demon-possessed or influenced by Satan just to promote their own agendas or because of misplaced fanaticism. We can be quick to label others as “Satan’s Henchmen,” heretics who spread a false gospel of deception, simply because we disagree or despise someone—often someone who has a different theological, social or political belief than our own.
How can we talk seriously about something that has been commercialized and comically popularized within our logic-driven and scientific culture? The topic of Satan is bizarre yet relevant, uncomfortable but necessary.
The worst thing a Christian can do is ignore Satan’s influence. Throughout the Bible, God warns us time and again about the very real presence that the Devil has within our lives—we should take the threat seriously. But can Satan actually control us? Can Satan cause us to sin?
It depends. For believers, the power of Christ has defeated Satan. 1 Colossians 1:13 promises that we have been delivered from the power of darkness. Jesus, through the crucifixion, defeated Satan. And while most biblical scholars agree that Christians can’t be possessed by demons, we are constantly facing a spiritual battle, and we can be influenced by Satan’s control within the world around us—but not within us.
Satan’s supernatural power throughout our universe can directly impact our lives. Satan can constantly tempt us, manipulate circumstances to oppress us and attack us through outside influence in order to wage war against our Christ-centered lifestyle. This should not be taken lightly.
We see Satan’s handiwork everywhere around us: through addiction, violence, injustice, abuse, sickness, suffering and pain. And while Satan attempts to destroy and cause death, Christ is restoring and bringing new life.
The Bible is clear that we will be held accountable for our actions, and Satan should never be used as an excuse for our own personal sins. And just like we can lie to ourselves by being self-righteousness and falsely claiming we’re doing God’s will (when we’re not), we can also be guilty of saying (and believing) we’re being controlled by Satan (when we’re not)—deflecting the ownership of our own sin.
As Christians, whenever we blame Satan for our sins, we’re empowering him while simultaneously ignoring Christ. When we do this we buy into the lie that Satan can bypass and overcome God’s redemptive grace in our lives—essentially negating the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Ultimately, we need to realize that God has delivered us and accept the freedom He’s given through His death on the cross. By admitting that Jesus’ sacrifice has real consequences relating to our current lives, our entire perspective changes, and we become fearless instead of fearful, hopeful instead of hopeless, and bold instead of timid.
Embrace the love of Christ and reject the fear of Satan. Christians can be assured of Jesus’ victory while also being wary of the very real presence Satan continues to have throughout our world.
In the end, God has given believers the ability to bring peace, healing and renewal to the places where Satan is trying to create destruction. This is an amazing responsibility we have been given, so let’s embrace our God-given authority and positively change the communities around us—bringing hope and love to all.
Stephen Mattson blogs at stephenjmattson.com and you can follow him on Twitter @mikta.