The devil is just a myth made up by the Church, right? The Bible disagrees.
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”C. S. Lewis1
If you want to show that you’re culturally unsophisticated—or just plain weird—a good way to start is to say you believe in the devil.
Most people in the West don’t believe that Satan is a real living being. “He” is just a useful way of symbolizing evil in general.2 Even among professing Christians, only a minority believes that the devil is real.3
Perhaps, given the way that the devil is typically portrayed in popular culture, this isn’t surprising. Mention the words “the devil” or “Satan,” and most of us immediately think of a cartoonish figure with red skin, black horns, and a rakish goatee—maybe even a pointy tail and pitchfork thrown in there.
Besides, the devil is just a fairy tale made up by those in the Church who want us to follow their God and do as they say. Satan is nothing more than a legend, a myth, a means of manipulation.
The Devil and the Bible
The Bible begs to differ, however. The biblical evidence regarding Satan is clear. Satan is described as an angel, a being created by God who nevertheless rebelled against his Creator.4 He is engaged in constant warfare against God and all whom God created. According to the Bible, he aims to turn men and women against God, luring them to destruction.5
The way the Bible describes the devil makes it clear that he is indeed a personal being, not a mere symbol of evil.6 The devil is presented as a functioning being, capable of actual action.
- He speaks.7
- He lies.8
- He works.9
- He contends against God’s angels.10
- He desires.11
- He prowls.12
- He has designs and plans to outwit believers.13
- He blinds the minds of unbelievers.14
- He murders.15
- He gets angry.16
- He deceives.17
He also goes by a number of different—and very character-revealing—names. For example, the word “devil” is the English version of the Greek word for “slanderer.” “Satan” is the Hebrew word for “adversary.” He’s “the tempter” and “the evil one.”18 He’s “the ruler (or prince) of this world” and “the god of this age.”19
And he is, if the Bible is to be believed, very real.
The Devil and Jesus
Jesus Christ certainly believed in the reality of the devil. And while it’s easy to discard his view as merely a product of its time, it’s helpful to remember that Jesus was never one to toe the party line or go with the cultural flow. It was, after all, his outspoken attacks against the religious establishment that got him killed.20
In fact, the Bible speaks of personal interactions between Jesus and Satan. The Gospel of Matthew vividly describes the temptation of Jesus by the devil, and Satan’s methods haven’t changed much in two thousand years.
Essentially, the devil promises us power as a way of securing it for himself. He says to us (as he says to Jesus in Matthew 4), “Do what I say, and I’ll give you whatever you want.”21 The problem is that the devil is an inveterate liar.22 His concern for our well-being is much the same as a shark’s concern for a sardine—nonexistent. In fact, he would gladly devour us.
But in their interaction, Jesus shows us the way to fight Satan’s temptations. In each of his three temptations, Jesus resists the devil by appealing to the word of God.23 Much like a small boat caught in a vicious squall, we can lose our bearings in the wake of temptation. In those moments, God’s word and our faith keep us on course and away from the rocks.
The Devil and Our Response
How should we react to all this?
The right response, as C. S. Lewis suggests, is a balanced one. We shouldn’t become obsessed with the devil—from either a place of fear or admiration. But neither should we naively dismiss him as a vestige of primitive superstition. After all, if someone is bent on our destruction, it would be a mistake to tell ourselves that the person simply doesn’t exist. That’s why the Apostle Peter urges believers to “be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a lion seeking someone to devour.”24
But if the devil does exist and is implacably opposed to us, how can we protect ourselves?
The problem is that the devil’s chief weapon against us is nothing more spectacular than our own sin and weakness. He doesn’t force us to do anything we don’t want to do. We sin because we want to, and it is our sin that will ultimately lead to our destruction. Our only hope, therefore, is that our sin can somehow be dealt with.
Thankfully, the New Testament tells us that this is exactly what Jesus does for all those who repent and believe in him.
When Jesus died, he died “as a ransom for many.”25 In this act, Jesus took on the punishment that we all deserve for our sin, thus robbing the devil of his main weapon against us. Jesus died so that “by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”26 The Apostle John puts it very simply: “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.”27
Why do we need to “be on the alert” if Christ’s death has “destroyed the works of the devil”? The biblical image of the devil, this side of the cross, is that he knows he is defeated—and that very knowledge makes him all the more dangerous. Revelation 12:12 says that he “is filled with fury, because he knows his time is short.” An enemy who feels he has nothing to lose can be the most vicious enemy of all.
But wonderfully, his time is short. The cross guarantees it. Rather than becoming fixated on the devil, then, we should fix our hope and trust on the one who has defeated him.