Satan, the devil, demons, Lucifer, sin, evil… evil. I believe that most people think about these things at some times in their lives, and they don’t have very good answers to their questions. This presentation is going to look at a Biblical perspective- because I submit to you that the Bible is God’s word, and holds within its pages real answers to the questions which, consciously or unconsciously, we’re asking. What I want to suggest is that the Bible teaches that the word “Satan” basically means an adversary, and that in fact, Satan doesn’t exist as a personal being out in the cosmos. That’s right- there’s no dragon with seven heads and ten horns literally out there in the cosmos. All the evil in our lives is permitted under God’s control. And sin- yes, sin, our biggest problem- and sin comes ultimately from within our own hearts, our own thinking. We, actually, are our own Satan, and as we all say so often, we are our own biggest enemy or adversary. The struggle with sin and evil is right down here on earth, right within human hearts and minds.
But out on the street, there are all kinds of different views. People are terribly confused.
“Excuse me… what do you think about Satan?”
“Satan? Wow. Never really thought about it. Or him. Whatever. Isn’t he supposed to be, like, the Angel that fell off the 99th floor? But… I’m busy now, I gotta go!”
“Excuse me… what do you think about Satan?”
“What? You said “Satan”?”
“Yes that’s right!”
“Satan… Satan… You know, I don’t know. Bad things happen, to good people, to bad people… ”
“Thank you for your time”
“Excuse me… what do you think about Satan?”
“Ha? No idea! Sorry!”
“What do you think about Satan?”
“If you believe in God, then you believe also in the other side, the other side of religion. If you believe in God, in the good, then you will also believe in the other side, in the evil one”.
“Excuse me… what do you think about Satan?”
“ Satan… well, Satan, dunno. Sin? Evil? Wickedness or something like that?”
“Excuse me… what do you think about Satan?”
“It’s the bad!”
“Hi, what do you think about Satan?”
“Well I think Satan is a very wicked man, a kind of dragon. Well he shouldn’t be my friend, anyway!”
“OK thank you”
“Excuse me what do you think about Satan?”
“Umm… isn’t he supposed to be… what’s the word… Lucifer?”
Out on the street, there are all kinds of questions. But when people start thinking more deeply, the classical, popular understandings of Satan just don’t add up. I mean, the standard idea is that Satan was an Angel who sinned and got thrown out into the garden of Eden where he tempted Adam and Eve, led them into sin, all sin is his fault, and he is now responsible for all kinds of evil and sin on the earth. God is painted as the “good guy”, and Satan as His kind of opposite number. The popular ideas of Satan are really just one dollar answers to million dollar questions. Because sin and evil are perhaps the hardest issues in our whole human experience. People from all over the world now, from all kinds of different backgrounds and perspectives, are coming to the same conclusions- that the standard popular ideas of Satan just don’t add up:
Here’s Janet from New Zealand:
“Well one of my questions was always: When did the Devil fall? Before creation? Before Adam was created? Afterwards? At the time prophesied in Revelation 12? At the time of Noah, when the sons of God married the daughters of men in Genesis 6?
Sonia’s a translator from France:
“How can the positive spiritual effect of Satan be explained? The Bible talks about it- men were delivered to Satan, so they might learn not to blaspheme, so it says in 1 Timothy 1; deliverance to Satan results in “the destruction of the flesh” in 1 Corinthians 5. Surely all this only makes sense if ‘Satan’ merely refers to an adversary, and not to some cosmic being bent on making us sin?
Charles is from Nigeria:
“I guess most Africans believe in some Satan figure. But my question is, What exactly is our defence against the Devil? Why would Satan get scared off by our Bible reading, uttering the name of Christ, getting baptized, wearing or touching a cross, making the sign of the cross, or even reciting charms and the other things suggested by many churches?”.
Donald’s from China:
“Belief in Satan is very popular in China, even amongst Christians. But Hebrews 2:14 says that Jesus destroyed the Devil on the cross. So how come that sin and evil are ever increasing in our world – if the Devil indeed is responsible for them? And if the Devil has been “destroyed” on the cross, in what sense is this personal being still alive and active? How can the Devil be judged at the last day if he was destroyed on the cross?”
Josh comes from Florida in the USA:
“Yeah I’ve been really confused by the idea that demons are supposed fallen Angels come down to earth to tempt humans to sin, or because they were cast down by God? If they were cast down by God in punishment for their sin, why then should humanity suffer because of that? Isn’t that like punishing a psychopath by giving him a loaded gun and casting him out of the courtroom into a school playground?”
Kevin’s from Brazil:
“Well, if God is all powerful, that to me leaves no room for a Devil figure as is commonly believed in. Does God have, say, 50% of the power, and Satan has 50%, and they are battling it out up in the sky? That makes no sense to me”.
Guy’s from South Africa:
“Could or would we sin if the Devil didn’t exist? If not, then surely we suffer and are punished unfairly for our sins? If we would, then to what extent is the Devil responsible for our sins, seeing we would sin anyway?”
Steve’s an accountant from England:
“Many Christian writers claim that God permits Satan to operate. But why, then, do we repeatedly read in the Bible of evil coming “from the Lord” and being “sent” by Him? Isaiah 45 is quite clear that both light and darkness, good and “evil” in the sense of disaster, all come from God. Micah 1 says that “Evil came down from the Lord unto Jerusalem. And so I could go on!”
John’s a businessman from New Zealand:
“If we Satan really exists as a person, with power to lead every human being into temptation, he must have enormous power and knowledge. So my question is, from where did he get such power and authority? Surely from God. After all, the Bible says that all power comes from God. Did God really send Satan down to earth with all that power and authority, if Satan was supposedly thrown out of Heaven?”
I could add many more such questions. I get lots of them by email, in response to reading our material at realdevil.info . I’d just like to read you from one email: “Can the Devil and those angels ever repent? Does he now have freewill? Did he ever have freewill? Was he originally of God’s nature in Heaven? If Adam sinned but could repent, why could not Satan and the supposed fallen angels also repent? As Milton observed in Paradise Lost: “Man therefore shall find grace / The other [i.e. Satan] none”.”
Pretty good questions, I’d say. So what does the Bible actually say?
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the Hebrew word “shatan” simply means an adversary. Let’s listen to someone who knows Biblical Hebrew explaining it:
“From ancient times there has always existed the idea that there is some kind of being outside of us who makes us sin and who is responsible for all the evil in the world. They call this being “Satan” but the word really just means an adversary. In Hebrew the word “shatan” is written like this.The word means simply “an adversary”. As a word, it has no good or bad meaning attached to it. In the New Testament, the Hebrew word “satan” is also used. If we look in the New Testament at the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 16 verse 21.
that time on Jesus began to say plainly to his disciples,
I must go to Jerusalem and suffer much from the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. I will be put to death, but three days later I will be raised to life. Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. God forbid it, Lord! he said. That must never happen to you! Jesus turned around and said to Peter,
Get away from me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my way, because these thoughts of yours don't come from God, but from man.
When Jesus called Peter “Satan”, He didn’t have the idea that Peter was a monster or a dragon with a long tail and big horns. But quite often in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, we have the idea that sin comes from inside us, and that is the great adversary, the great Satan. That’s why by our thoughts and by the words which come from our thoughts we will be justified or condemned. The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans in chapter 7 verse 15
I do not understand what I do; for I don't do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate. Since what I do is what I don't want to do, this shows that I agree that the Law is right. So I am not really the one who does this thing; rather it is the sin that lives in me.
So the fault for sin is not with some external being called Satan, he talks about the sin within me, it’s not some person outside us that makes us sin, the source of sin is within us. It’s the lusts within us which lead us actually to sin. Those thoughts are adversaries to the will of God.
Sometimes the word is used to describe whole systems which are opposed to something. So in Revelation chapter 2 we read that Satan’s throne or seat of power was in Pergamos. It clearly refers to the Roman power which had a seat of power in that town of Pergamos. I mean, Satan himself, as people classically understand “him”, didn’t and have a literal throne there in Pergamos.
And the biggest problem we have, the biggest adversary, the nastiest “satan”, if you like, is our own sinful tendencies. Now let’s get it clear- sin comes from within us. I’d like to read to you from Mark 7. Mark chapter 7, reading from verse 15:
“There is nothing from outside the man that going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are those that defile the man.
… whatever from without goes into the man, it cannot defile him;
because it does not go into his heart but into his belly …That which proceeds out of the man is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries,
wickedness, deceit, pride, foolishness.
All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” That was reading Mark 7 from verse 15 up to verse 23
And let’s go further to James 1. We’re going to be reading James chapter 1 from verse 13 down to verse 15.
“Every man is tempted, when he is dragged away by his own lust and enticed.
Then the lust, when it has conceived, carries sin; and the sin, when it is fully grown, brings death.”
I work a lot with people battling addictions, here in Latvia alcoholism is especially a real problem. So many are trapped within those addictions by a strong belief that they are controlled by forces from outside themselves, basically, “Satan”. Recognizing that actually we are the problem, that the human mind can be transformed, and that we must take 100% responsibility for our sins, this has been the key to success in so many spiritual battles I’ve observed. This is where theology, if you like, doctrine, has a radical power in practice; it is intended for the radical transformation of human lives, human minds, in practice. This is why it does matter what we believe. Because Bible doctrines affect our lives. That’s why it’s important to get it right. What you believe is how you live, just like you are, in a way, what you eat. A person is what they believe.
People who have rejected the standard idea of Satan have really found great freedom. Josh, what did it mean for you in practice once you understood the truth about Satan?
“Yeah I think for me it was a matter of having a real choice, that there was no longer this super being which had power over me. It made me realize I had choices, real choices. Real freewill”.
Right. Real freewill. This whole thing is a ladder to reach the stars, Real freedom. Now John, you’ve written and spoken a lot about forgiveness. Has your understanding of Satan affected your thinking about forgiveness at all?
“It certainly has. It’s made a big difference actually. Once we allow ourselves to say “the devil made me do it!” then we are refusing to take responsibility for our own actions and their damage to others. And also, the other way around. I mean, that to forgive people we must face what they did, not just excuse them. If we say that “Well, the devil made him do that to me”, to forgive him is so much harder. Face what he did to you. And forgive him. I think we need to leave the orthodox idea of Satan right out of it”.
Donald, from a Chinese perspective, what are your thoughts?
“I’ve thought a lot about all this. It seems to me that we demonize people very easily. We transfer our sin onto them. Iran calls America “the great satan”, we seem to draw horns and a tail on people. But people are only people, no more and no less. By facing up to the fact that sin is our fault, our fault as individuals, as societies, we get far closer to reality. We can deal with people for who they are and for how they really act, without assuming they are just puppets of some being called Satan”.
Very interesting. Janet, penny for your thoughts!
“One verse I like is James 4:7 “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you” . I find it quite a problem if we are wrestling with a literal beast who runs away just because we put up a fight. The point is, resist the sin within us, and victory comes so much easier”.
“I think belief in a personal Satan is so popular, because it takes the focus away from our own struggle with our innermost nature and thoughts. It makes us look better, and others look worse. In fact actually I would say it makes us as humans look better than we are, it excuses us from the mess we have made on this earth”.
I’ve done quite a bit of work with my friend Juris, and I’d like to ask him to tell us just a little bit of his spiritual story.
Yes, there was the situation that earlier, I believed in a personal devil.
I thought that if I did anything bad, it wasn’t really my guilt, it was the devil’s.
But over time I came to understand that really there is no devil in that sense.
I came to realize that sin comes from inside us, and we’ve got to control ourselves, within.
I didn’t have a very good life.
When I finally understood that everything was only in my hands in that sense
My life improved and turned around by 180 degrees.
I find work, friends.
I came to find myself, which is maybe every person’s dream.
The main lesson for me in this issue was to take complete responsibility for my own actions and not to blame any being like satan.
Life’s now great.
So one of the biggest problems I find with this Satan thing is that it minimizes sin. I mean, I found so many people who had addiction problems who were convinced they were unable to get above alcohol or drugs because they thought they were under Satan’s control. But when you tell them that it’s really you, the real enemy is you, they find this very attractive, very helpful, in taking responsibility. We’ve had a number of cases here where people have really changed their lives through understanding the Satan issue.
You think they really are shifting responsibility to Satan, then?
Yes, so they tell me. So they think. That it’s not quite their fault, it’s Satan’s fault. But once they realize there’s no Satan, Satan is me, they change.
Putting all that experience into more Biblical terms, I’d like to think a bit about the implications of just one Bible verse, Hebrews chapter 2 verse 14. Hebrews chapter 2 verse 14:
“Since then the children [that’s us] are sharers in flesh and blood, Jesus also himself in like manner partook of the same nature; so that through his death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil; and might deliver all those who through fear of death [that’s humanity] were all their lifetime subject to bondage”.
So Jesus had our nature and died in order to destroy “the Devil”. Romans 8 verse 3, Romans 8 verse 3 says that “God ... by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man (that is, in our human nature) ... condemned sin in sinful man “.
This shows that the Devil and the sinful tendencies that are naturally within us are effectively the same. The verse in Hebrews chapter 2 said that the devil has “the power of death”. But Romans 6 verse 23 and very often in the Bible says that sin has the power of death. But Hebrews 2 said that the devil had the power of death. So the devil and sin are in that sense in parallel.
Sin in the end is our greatest accuser. Your sin is your greatest accuser, my sin is my greatest accuser, my greatest enemy, my greatest adversary. First of John chapter 3, let’s have a look over there, towards the end of the New Testament, first of John chapter 3 makes the same kind of parallel between the devil and sin. First of John chapter 3: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the Devil”. But let’s go on in the same chapter to verse 5, “Jesus was manifested to take away our sins”. It just said He was manifested to destroy the works of the devil. So “our sins” are the works done by the “devil”. And where does sin come from? We already saw from the Bible- from within us. And we have to take complete responsibility for our sins. And actually, you know all this anyway, from your own experience, if you’re honest.
If we truly perceive and believe that in fact ‘the Devil’ and its power has been vanquished in Jesus, in His death, as the Bible teaches; if we survey the cross of Jesus and see there the power of sin, the power of the Devil finally slaughtered in the perfect mind of the Lord Jesus as He hung there, and if we realize that that ultimate victory of victories has been shared with all us who are baptized into Him… the source, the root cause, of so much neurosis and dysfunction, fear, is revealed to us as powerless. No fear of even death itself, ultimately. We may fear the process, but not ultimately. No fear even of the ultimate consequence of our sins, which is death. Because sin has been conquered in Jesus, and we are in Him if we are properly baptized into Him.
I used to think we were pretty much alone in our view of Satan. But I found there are many many thinkers, writers, who’ve come to the same conclusion. Now we don’t need to get our support for truth or for an idea from the fact that other respectable people think the same. I hope that if it came to it for me, if it came to it for you, we would stand with our backs to the world if we thought the Bible was really behind us. But all the same, on a human level, if you like, it’s very interesting to find, reading around this subject, that so many people have come to the same conclusions. Take a very popular Christian author Paul Tournier. I think I’ve got about all his books on my bookshelves somewhere and I think I’ve read nearly all of them. In all of these books, he’s coming out with the same idea- that the real struggle within the human mind is the ultimate struggle between sin and righteousness, between light and darkness. Paul Tournier was a fantastically popular writer, and it’s a big theme in all his books. And there’s one particular book which he wrote, in English translation it’s called, The Violence Within. It’s very similar to another popular writer, the French sociologist Claude Levi-Strauss, who came to the same conclusions, in a book of his The Savage Mind. That the real problem is our own mind, not some being outside us, but the struggle is within, and we must take complete responsibility for that struggle.
My book “The Real Devil” , which you can get free from realdevil.info, this has got a few hundred footnotes, to studies by theologians, psychologists, professionals, which have come to the same conclusions. We are not alone in this rejection of Satan as a personal being. Another book, The Reality of the Devil: Evil Within Man. A lot of thinkers have come to the same conclusion. But let me say again, whether we stand with our backs to the world, doesn’t make any real difference; if this is what the Bible teaches, so be it. But I’m just saying that humanly speaking, it’s a comfort that other people are thinking the same.
So summing up, I’d say that the ‘Devil’ remains an unexamined assumption in the minds of very many Christian people, and people generally. The presence of unexamined assumptions in our lives and hearts, in our worldviews, ought to be a red flag to us. Why not examine it. We live in an age where every paradigm is examined, every tradition overturned etc. So have a look at this subject for yourself. Because it’s so important that we take responsibility for our behaviour. And to realize that actually the struggle that is within us has ultimately been won, because the Lord Jesus, because He had our nature, has ultimately destroyed the power of death. Facing up to the fact that we are serious sinners is not a pleasant thing, we’d rather that was not the case. We don’t like taking ultimate responsibility.
But this is the way to true freedom. The fact that the Lord Jesus Christ shared our nature and overcame sin, and we can identify with Him by baptism, this is the good news of the Gospel. It’s so much easier to simply demonize a few wicked people, to blame other people.
Solzhenitsyn was a guy who both experienced and reflected upon evil more than most. There’s a quote of his from The Gulag Archipelago which I’d like to share with you. I have it on my laptop: “If only it were all so simple! If only... it were necessary only to separate [evil people] from the rest of us and destroy them! But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”.
If now towards the end of our presentation you’re thinking “Yeah, interesting…” and go off and have a coffee and get something out of the fridge and forget about it… I will have failed. Please, don’t leave it here. We are talking here in deadly earnest about the very essence of Christianity- which is to be spiritually minded, to overcome temptation within, to have the mind of Christ. Have a serious read through “The Real Devil”. It’s there at realdevil.info . You can get the PDF, you can order the book for free. And don’t give yourself any rest until you’ve been properly baptized into Jesus, so that His victory over sin and death becomes yours. Of course, you will have questions, doubts, unease. And I understand that. Pray about it, and drop us an email- email@example.com . Or if you want to have it out with me personally, I’m Duncan Heaster and my personal email is firstname.lastname@example.org . God bless you.