Unpacking the basics: Who is the devil?
Alpha // May 29, 2019, 5:09 pm
Some of us picture God as an old man with a beard sitting on a cloud. Similarly, many people’s idea of the devil is a red being with horns, a tail, cloven hooves and a pitchfork. The problem with both images is that they’re not only unbelievable but unbiblical.
Then there are others who might find it easier to believe that there are spiritual forces of evil than to believe in God.
EVIL CAN COME IN 3 WAYS
So where does evil come from? The New Testament talks about a kind of triple alliance.
- The world – the enemy around
- The flesh – the enemy within
- The devil – the enemy above
Simply put, the world is the bad stuff that is around us, the world that has shut God out. The flesh is not the body – there’s nothing evil about the physical body – but it’s the evil desires that come from within. And then there’s the devil.
WHY SHOULD WE BELIEVE THE DEVIL EXISTS?
The first reason is that Jesus clearly believed in the existence of the devil. He taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer “deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). And He himself was tempted by the devil.
And then there’s reason. How do you explain so much evil in the world?
You only have to open the newspaper, look at the news and these evil regimes. Institutional torture and violence. Mass murders. Brutal rapes. The physical and sexual abuse of old people and children. Where does this come from?
HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND?
There are two equal and opposite dangers: To disbelieve completely, or have an unhealthy and excessive interest in the devil and related things that have us seeking answers and power from sources that aren’t God.
Ouija boards, tarot cards, horoscopes, palm-reading are such examples. We must turn away from them and repent if we have dabbled in them; get rid of any books or media that have anything to do with them.
WHAT ARE THE DEVIL’S TACTICS?
1. The devil wants to destroy our lives
Jesus said this: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…” (John 10:10). He describes the devil as a thief that wants to rob our lives. That is his ultimate aim.
This is the opposite of the aim of Jesus for your life. God loves you. Jesus loves you. In that same verse (John 10:10), Jesus says: “I came that you might have life, and have it to the full.”
That’s what God wants for you: Fullness of life. The devil wants the exact opposite: He wants to destroy your life. That’s the path he wants to take you on.
2. The devil wants to sow doubt in us
It’s never obvious at the start where the devil is trying to take you. Very often he starts with doubt.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having doubts. In fact, doubt and faith are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. All the important things in life require faith and therefore are open to doubt.
The devil wants to get you to doubt who you are – your identity in Christ.
But the devil wants us to doubt our beliefs and believe our doubts. God wants us to doubt our doubts and believe our beliefs. And the way that temptation often starts is with doubt.
In the Garden of Eden, in the opening chapters of Genesis, we’re told that the devil appeared to Eve in the form of a serpent, and his opening gambit was: “Did God really say… ?”
And when the devil comes to Jesus in the wilderness, his opening gambit is: “If you are the Son of God…”
In other words, the devil wants to get you to doubt who you are – your identity in Christ: “If you’re a Christian – because if you’re not a Christian… does it really matter if you do that?”
It all starts with doubt.
3. The devil wants to tempt you to sin
After doubt comes temptation. Again, like doubt, there’s nothing wrong with being tempted. Everybody’s tempted.
You can’t go through life without being tempted. Jesus was tempted by the devil. In fact, Jesus was tempted in every way, just like us, except He was without sin.
It’s very important to make this distinction between temptation and sin. Because sometimes we have a sinful thought that comes into our head and we think: “Where did that come from?” That’s not sin. It’s only sin if we adopt it.
But the devil says to us: “Look at you thinking like that! You’ve really messed up, haven’t you! Now it doesn’t matter what you do because you’ve already fallen.”
4. The devil wants to deceive you
All sin is a form of deception. We see this exposed in the opening chapter of Genesis when the devil, in the form of the serpent, tells Eve: “It (eating the forbidden fruit) won’t do you any harm.” Then he says: “You will not surely die if you disobey God.”
And that’s the way he works today. He says: “It’s not going to do you any harm!” And then he says: “Actually, God doesn’t love you. The reason God doesn’t want you to do this is because he actually doesn’t want you to have the best in life.”
And that’s the opposite of the truth. The truth is that Jesus wants you to have life in all its fullness.
Here’s the truth: God loves you. He wants the very best for you. The reason he says “don’t do this” is because He doesn’t want us to experience evil; He only wants us to experience good.
5. The devil wants to condemn us
One of the titles of the devil is “the accuser”. There’s a big difference between conviction and condemnation. Conviction means that we know exactly what we’ve done wrong, and we can repent of it, turn away from it and receive forgiveness.
With condemnation, we just feel really bad. We don’t even know why we feel bad. But we’re told there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 1:17).
It says in James 4:7 (NRSV) says: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”
HOW DO WE RESIST THE DEVIL?
1. Know your position
Apostle Paul puts it like this in Colossians 1:13 (ESV): “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves.”
In other words, we were in the dominion of darkness, where the devil was in control. And through the Cross and the resurrection of Jesus, the moment you invite Jesus to come and live with you in your heart, He transfers you from that dominion to the kingdom of Jesus, where Jesus is in control and there’s total freedom.
Here, we experience God’s love. This is the kingdom of God, and that’s the place of freedom and fullness of life. This is what God wants for your life.
You may ask: “Why do I still struggle with temptation? Why do I still struggle with evil forces?”
Let’s use this analogy. In World War II, the decisive moment of World War II was D Day. It occurred on 6 June 1944. Essentially the war was won on that day.
You could say that’s the equivalent of the moment of Jesus’ death and resurrection – the moment that you invited Jesus to come into your heart. That is the decisive moment; the moment where victory is won.
But the war didn’t end then. There was a whole period of months of the mopping-up operations, until VE Day, Victory in Europe, on 8 May 1945.
And in a sense we live between D Day and VE Day: The victory’s been won, but we’re still in this period of the mopping-up operations, which will only be complete when Jesus returns, when we meet him.
2. Learn to defend yourself
So how do we fight this battle?
In Ephesians 6:10-18, Apostle Paul writes that we need to “be strong in the Lord”. We need to “put on the whole armour of God”.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
For 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.
Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…” (Ephesians 6:10-18)
Effectively, he says: Get rid of the bad habits in your life and replace them with good habits. Here are a few of these habits.
STAY CLOSE TO TRUTH, FOCUS ON JESUS
“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist…” (Ephesians 6:14)
Jesus said: “I am… the truth” (John 14:6).
Truth is the opposite of hypocrisy. It’s authenticity, integrity, openness in your life, focused on Jesus.
KEEP YOUR RELATIONSHIPS RIGHT
“…With the breastplate of righteousness in place …” (Ephesians 6:14)
Keep short accounts. If you mess up, as we all do, just ask God to forgive you and get up quickly. Get your relationship with God back again.
Do the same with other people: If you fall out with someone else, quickly deal with it. Ask for forgiveness. Get it sorted out.
GET INVOLVED IN SERVICE
“… And with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.“ (Ephesians 6:15)
In other words, don’t just sit around doing nothing. Get involved! Serve.
TRUST GOD IN DIFFICULT TIMES
“In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:16)
In other words, the devil is going to throw stuff at you: Doubt, fears, anxieties, lusts… Keep on trusting even in difficult times.
Don’t give up your faith.
WIN THE BATTLE OF THE MIND
“Take the helmet of salvation …” (Ephesians 6:17)
Put on the “helmet of salvation”. That salvation means freedom, the freedom which Jesus brings.
All these temptations tend to start in the mind. It starts with a thought, then it becomes an action, then it becomes a habit, then it becomes a destiny.
SOAK YOURSELF IN THE WORD OF GOD
“… And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)
Know your Bible. Read it daily if you can. When Jesus was tempted, He replied every time with a verse from Scripture.
He really knew the word of God, and He used it as a defence against the attacks of the enemy.
KEEP ON PRAYING
The final defence in Ephesians 6 is not a piece of armour but unceasing prayer.
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18)
Keep close to God through prayer.
3. Attack evil with good
There’s no piece of armour for the back. We’re most vulnerable when we’re running away.
John writes that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). In other words, the Holy Spirit who lives in you is far greater.
We’re not talking about two equal and opposite powers; we’re talking about the power of God against something infinitely smaller.
The amazing thing is you’re a child of God. You have the Holy Spirit living within you. You can make a real difference!
We’re not supposed to just sit around and say “I’m not going to do anyone any harm.” Your life can make a real difference. Your life has a purpose. You can leave a legacy of transformed lives.
As the apostle Paul says in Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
This article was adapted from the Alpha Transcripts and has been republished with permission. If you have more questions and would like to further explore the basics of the Christian faith, find out more about Alpha or use the map below to connect with an Alpha group near you.
THINK + TALK
- Do you believe in the supernatural?
- What do you understand about the devil?
- Why do you think bad things happen?
- How can you pray against these evil plans?