Ask the Pastor

From Pastor Chris

Question: Satan is neither omnipresent nor omnipotent. How does Satan affect my life today as a believer in Christ?

C.S. Lewis opens his preface to The Screwtape Letters–a worthy and imaginative read on this topic–“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. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

If we stick closely to the Bible’s teaching, hopefully we can avoid both of these errors. The devil’s prowling should cause us to “Be sober-minded; be watchful” (1 Peter 5:8). At the same time, even in the face of the devil’s active persecution, Jesus told the believers in Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer” (Revelation 2:10). Because we know that the Christ who dwells in us is greater than the devil who rules this present age (1 John 4:4), we can live with sober-minded confidence.

But what exactly are we addressing when it comes to Satan and spiritual warfare? If Satan cannot be everywhere and know everything, does that mean I only have a 1 in 7.5 billion chance that he will target me specifically at any given time?

Perhaps it would be helpful to differentiate between how Satan might personally, directly affect my life verses how he might broadly and indirectly affect me. Take two temptations in Genesis as examples. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent (“that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” [Revelation 12:9]) directly tempts Adam and Eve by questioning the goodness of a God who would restrict them from eating fruit from one tree. Toward the end of Genesis, Joseph is tempted in a similar way by Potiphar’s wife, whom he identifies as the only thing Potiphar “kept back…from me” (Genesis 39:9). She was the “forbidden fruit” of that account.

While these temptations are parallel in nature, Adam and Eve were tempted directly by Satan while Joseph was not. Yet we could describe Joseph’s temptation as “satanic” in the sense that the same temptations to question God’s word, doubt God’s goodness, and explicitly sin against his command were at work.

In other words, the fact that our odds of being attacked or tempted by Satan himself may be slim does not diminish our need for vigilance against Satan’s influence. Jewish people in 1940’s Germany or Poland had no reason to fear Hitler personally–as if they would bump into him on the street–but the Third Reich posed a fatal threat. Likewise, from the fall in the Garden of Eden, Satan has become “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), that is, the system of human civilization built in rebellion against God. While the Tower of Babel account has no mention of Satan, his fingerprints are all over it.

So when the Bible gives us explicit instructions as to how we face the attacks of the Enemy, we may not be battling Satan himself but his system–”the world” of rebellious humans and his demons or spirits that are at work in it. Whenever we face the temptation to build a life apart from God, to nurture doubt (“Did God actually say…” [Genesis 3:1]), or to believe attacks on God’s character, we are warring with “Satan, Inc.” Whether the temptation is a subtle, self-aggrandizing lie or all-out blasphemy, our actions must be resolute:

“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:7–8)

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.” (1 Peter 5:8–9)

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26–27)

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11)

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4–5)

“I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:19–20)

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