The wisest man of ancient times wrote, “He (God) has planted eternity in the human heart, but … people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end” (Eccl. 3:11NLT). What is eternity? It’s an endless period of time. This suggests that there is more to life than what we see. Our world is big, yet its satisfactions are small. We don’t understand what’s going on. Solomon summarised it from a human viewpoint; “everything is meaningless” (Eccl. 3:19NIV).
Since we were made for eternity, the things of time cannot fully and permanently satisfy. After the ipod, the iphone and the ipad, we look for the next technology.
We live in an amazingly complex world which has much beauty that scientists are still exploring. It is loaded with information and design. Design demands a designer and creation demands a Creator. By looking at our universe, anyone can know that there is a creator God. Creation shows that He is a clever and powerful God. The Bible’s message to those who reject this knowledge is “The truth about God is known instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Rom. 1:19-20NLT). The eternal God is the source of our eternal future.
But there is more information in our world than the atoms and molecules of our physical world. Everyone is born with a conscience, which is part of our eternal soul. We all have an instinctive knowledge of right and wrong. It is like an inbuilt alarm. For example, most people know it is wrong to lie, steal, and commit adultery and murder. But in this world where people often reject God’s revelation it can be programmed wrongly.
The Bible gives God’s standards for humanity. But for those who are ignorant of this it says: “They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right” (Rom. 2:15). Anyone who has not heard about what the Bible says will be judged according to their conscience. So the Creator made us with a mind that is able to make choices, not one that is driven by instinct. Unfortunately, we often choose to disobey our conscience. Then we have a guilty conscience which we may try to ignore. But the Creator has provided an answer to our selfish and rebellious ways.
Eternity is a continual reality in the Bible, which is God’s special message for mankind. It tells us all we need to know about history and about humanity. About the moral choices made throughout history from the times of our original parents Adam and Eve. About how we have all rebelled against God and gone our own way. How we all have a guilty conscience, whether we acknowledge it or not. How this selfish and rebellious (sinful) attitude has lead to suffering, disease, decay, death and eternal punishment. How God’s solution to our problems was to send Jesus to take the punishment that we deserve. He was executed and then resurrected back to life, which we remember at Easter time. He offers each of us the opportunity to be reconciled back to God and have our conscience fixed: “Sin pays off with death. But God’s gift is eternal life given by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23CEV).
Firstly we need to realise our hopeless situation and then we need to accept the gift of forgiveness. Jesus shows that He is a compassionate and loving God. He is waiting for people to accept His offer to give them a new life and an inheritance with Him in the life to come.
Lessons for us
As we all live on the edge of eternity, keep eternity in mind (Lk. 12:16-20). God has revealed Himself to us all through His creation and our conscience. But the clearest revelation is through Jesus Christ who is made known through the Bible. This is why the Bible is the most important book ever written. It is life changing. Through it we can be part of God’s eternity. His new eternal creation; His eternal life.
Written, June 2009
We are often unaware of the unseen invisible component to our world. I sometimes picture this as being like an extra dimension. For example, if we lived in a flat 2-dimensional world and someone visited us from a 3-dimensional world, then we would only see their footprints.
According to the Bible the unseen world is made up of various personalities: the divine God comprised of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; God’s angels who help believers; Satan who opposes God; and Satan’s demons who are rebellious angels. We are only partially aware of these personalities; like the footprints of a 3-dimensional being in a 2-dimensional world. Let’s look at the human spirit and soul which is another part of the unseen world that can be influenced by these divine and satanic personalities.
The Bible describes human beings as being comprised of spirit, soul and body: “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:23NIV). The meanings of these Greek words are given below and their relationship is shown in the schematic diagram.
‘Pneuma’, which means ‘wind’, something which is invisible, is used to describe the spirit. The human spirit enables our conscience, intuition, God consciousness and communication with God (Mk. 2:8; Jn. 4:24; Rom. 8:16; 9:1). It is the spirit which distinguishes us from animals; they do not have such an eternal spirit. It is a way in which people are “made in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27; Jn. 4:24). We can view the human spirit as our innermost world.
‘Psuche’ (the origin of the English word ‘psyche’), which means ‘breath’, something which is invisible, is used to describe the soul. It is our self consciousness, personality and ego. It includes the mind (our intellect, Acts 14:2, 22), the will (our desires, decisions and morals, Mt. 22:37) and the emotions (our feelings). We can view this as being between our spirit and our body. However, it can be difficult to distinguish between the spirit and the soul (Heb. 4:12).
‘Soma”, which means the body. It is sense consciousness, which relates to the physical world. We can view the spirit and soul as living within the body.
The processes of death and resurrection reveal important aspects of the components of human beings. The Bible describes these aspects as the body (which is visible) and the spirit and soul (which are invisible). At death, the visible and invisible aspects are separated: the spirit and soul leave the body and go to Hades or paradise, while the body decays to dust (Eccl. 12:7; Lk. 23: 43,46; Acts 7:59; 2 Cor. 5;8; Jas. 2:26). After death the spirit and the soul are fully conscious with feelings memories and emotions (Lk. 16:23-31). Also, Paul was fully conscious when he was translated to paradise (2 Cor. 12:2,3). So death is not the end of a human being. The Bible teaches that all the dead will be resurrected back to life. Resurrection is the opposite of death, being the reunion of the spirit and soul with a new body (Dan. 12:2; Jn. 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; Rev. 20:5,6,13).
The first people, Adam and Eve were each created as a body in union with a soul and spirit. All these parts interrelate and depend on each other; this is essential for healthy physical life. For example, the brain (part of the body) is like computer hardware and the mind (part of the soul) in like computer software that programs the brain. People need both. You only have one without the other in death.
Adam and Eve’s soul and spirit were in union with God. They freely spoke with God in the Garden of Eden. They were in paradise on earth where there was safety and security (all their needs were catered for); significance (they ruled over the creation); and authority (Adam named the creatures). They had a sense of belonging, with fulfilling relationships with God and with each other.
The fall into sin
Adam and Eve’s rebellion and disobedience began in their mind (Gen. 3:5-6). Satan sowed doubt in their mind and they desired more knowledge and wisdom. This led to a radical change in our world (Gen. 3:8-4:9). Some of the consequences in our unseen world are described below.
Their spirit was dead to God. They lost their close relationship with God and came under Satan’s influence. They died spiritually when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). Consequently, they were banished from the Garden and lost their safety and security and their sense of belonging (Gen. 3: 23,24). Just as we have inherited physical life from our first parents, we have also inherited this spiritual death from them (Eph. 2:1-3). Today the unbeliever is without God and separate from Christ (Eph. 2:12; 4:18).
Their mind lost knowledge of God. They thought they could hide from God (Gen. 3:8). They were the first example of the ungodly who “are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts” (Eph. 4:18).
Their will made a wrong choice. They failed the first test of obedience (Gen. 2:17). They refused the rule of the spirit and became the slave of the body (Gal. 5:16-17). All choices have consequences. The choices made by the ungodly affect all areas of their lives.
Their emotions were characterised by negative feelings. Adam hid because he was afraid (Gen. 3:10). They felt shame and guilt and Cain was angry and depressed when his offering was not accepted by God (Gen. 3:7; 4:5). The ungodly are characterised by “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy” (Gal. 5:19-21).
The Bible describes unbelievers as being “psuchikos”, which means “governed by the soul” (1 Cor. 2:14; Jude 19). As there is no adjective for “soul” in English that is equivalent to this Greek word, some have suggested we call it “soulish”. This means that that they are largely driven by their minds and emotions. But what influences their minds and emotions? As they are spiritually dead, it is not God. The only other active personalities in the unseen world are Satan and his demons. This results in “soulish” behaviour such as jealousy and selfish ambition (Jas. 3:14-16).
“Psuchikos” is also used to describe our bodies (1 Cor. 15:44,46). This means that we were born with a body that is governed by the soul and not by a spirit that is alive to God.
The spiritual believer
God’s plan of salvation is to restore His relationship with people that was destroyed by their fall into sin. This begins at conversion when the human spirit changes to become united with God’s Spirit. This is like a new creation, which changes the soul (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). It leads to the following changes within a believer, who is described as being spiritual, not soulish (1 Cor. 2:15).
Their spirit is alive to God. Their spirit has been made alive by the Holy Spirit, the Lord is with their spirit and they live according to God in regard to the spirit (Jn. 3:6; 2 Tim. 4:22; 1 Pt. 4:6). They are “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:18). This is associated with forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38), safety, significance and belonging because they are accepted as children of God (Rom. 8:16; 15:7).
Their mind is renewed and transformed. They should be transformed by the renewing of their mind (Rom. 12:2). They have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16) and should be single-minded thinking of things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8).
Their will chooses to live by the Spirit. “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). Now we face many choices each day: whether to pray or not, read the Bible or not, go to church or not, talk to another or not, and follow God or not.
Their emotions are the fruit of the Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).
The spiritual believer is the ideal, the model of maturity to which we should be growing. Of course, Satan opposes the believer’s growth to maturity. Some Scriptures use the words “soul” and “spirit” in similar senses, which can be confusing. Maybe this is because in the mature Christian the spirit should be ruling and leading the soul. So in a sense they are similar.
The soulish believer
Unfortunately this is not always the case in practice because when we become a Christian the “clear” button in our brain is not always pressed: our mind is not completely renewed. We have ingrained “soulish” habits and patterns of behaviour that still appeal to our mind to operate independently of God. This is because Satan and sin are still around in our world. As shown below, this can affect all the parts of our being.
Their spirit is alive to God, but quenched. The Holy Spirit indwells all believers, but He can be quenched. Paul wrote “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Th. 5:19).
Their mind is double-minded and selfish. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do” (Jas. 1:5-8). We can be caught between God’s plans and our plans when we are not following God’s Spirit. Our plans can be influenced by sinful habits and Satan.
Their will chooses sinful behavior. They will not always be walking after the Spirit but choosing to be involved in sinful activity.
Their emotions are unstable and they rely on their feelings. They are plagued with negative feelings of guilt, worry, doubt, inferiority, insecurity and inadequacy. If fear is controlling our life, then faith is not.
In this case, their life is not being controlled by the indwelling Spirit of God. Instead, as shown below, the soul is governing the life through the mind, will and emotions. It is self-centred. We can only tell which is controlling their lives by its fruits (Mt. 7:16-17).
The soulish mind, will and emotions
The mind. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual (‘psuchikos’ or ‘soulish’), demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (Jas. 3:13-16). In this case the human mind is being influenced by Satan. It is characterised by selfish ambition and rivalry and leads to disorder and evil. It is a great contrast to the spiritual believer who is peace-loving, considerate and impartial (Jas. 3:17-18).
The will. “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings” (1 Cor. 3:3-4)? They are described as being “sarkikos” (v.3), which means “of the flesh” (or body) rather than being spiritual. Here we see that people were following other people rather than the Holy Spirit within them. Those with strong wills and strong personalities can dominate others. This can lead to jealousy, quarrelling and factions within the church (Jude 19).
The emotions. We should live by faith, not by feelings. Emotions should not dominate our life. We should follow the Holy Spirit and not attempt to lead the Holy Spirit by our emotions. Are we always seeking spiritual experiences? Do we always need to feel the presence of God with us?
Our mind and our emotions are important parts of our being. We need to use them for God. Who ever influences our mind, influences our whole person. The Bible is the best influence as “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Here the word “heart” means the “seat of thoughts” (Vine), which is the mind.
Lessons for us
Each of us is a spirit who has a soul and lives in a body. Let’s not fall into Satan’s traps, but let God direct our ways so that we can be strengthened with power through His Spirit in our inner being and renewed inwardly day by day (2 Cor 4:16; Eph. 3:16). Finally, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:23).
1 In Scripture, the Greek word ‘pneuma’ (spirit) is also used for evil spirits or demons (Mk. 6:7; Acts 19:16). Words convey a variety of meanings; the context determines a word’s meaning.
2 In Scripture, the Greek word ‘psuche’ (soul) is also used for ‘life’ (Mt. 16:26) and the will (Mt. 22:37).
Written, July 2004
Temptation and its consequences
The first human beings, Adam and Eve lived as husband and wife in the garden in Eden. They were innocent and felt no shame. There was no sin and nothing to be ashamed about. God told them, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17NIV). In this article we look at the next episode in the early history of mankind in Genesis 3:1-19.
Here we see a new character introduced, which is “nachash” in Hebrew (v.1). Is this a mythical creature, or an animal called a snake or someone that was like a snake? The words associated with “nachash” in Genesis 3 are “wild animals” and “livestock”, which refer to animals (v.3,14); and “you will crawl on your belly” and “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”, which could refer to snakes as we know them today (v.14,15).
“Nachash” occurs in six other verses written by Moses. The descendants of Dan are likened to a snake in a metaphor (Gen. 49:17). A staff became a snake when Moses and Aaron visited Pharaoh, and Moses made a bronze snake to heal the Israelites who had been bitten by venomous snakes (Ex. 4:3; 7:15; Num. 21:6, 7,9). So, Moses used the word in both a literal way and a symbolic way and he seems to make the meaning clear in each instance.
Paul treats it as a real historical event and not an allegory: “Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning” (2 Cor. 11:3). The only other occasion he used the Greek word for serpent “ophis”, was when he said the Israelites “were killed by snakes” (1 Cor. 10:9). Therefore, the meaning for the Israelites to whom Genesis was written was an animal called a snake. But this was a talking animal! Now that is unusual, but according to the Bible, God caused Balaam’s donkey to speak and Peter accepted this as truth (Num. 22:28-30; 2 Pt. 2:16). So, some amazing things have happened in the past!
John helps us to understand what is going on when he described Satan metaphorically as a serpent (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). In fact, snakes have become the universal symbol of Satan. So Satan appeared in the garden in Eden as an animal that talks. We don’t know what he looked like, but Eve was not afraid to have a conversation with him. This animal was more cunning than any other creature God had made (v.1). It was Satan in disguise, as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). God allowed Satan into the garden and allowed him to tempt Eve because God made mankind with a free will to make moral choices. This was a part of being made in the image of God.
The tempter asked Eve a question, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (v.1). He was trying to get her to doubt God’s word and distrust God’s love by thinking that such a command was not fair. She answered, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (v.2-3). Then the tempter said, “You will not surely die” (v.4). This is a lie; it is opposite to what God told Adam (Gen. 2:17). But he is cunning because it relates to a future event which she couldn’t verify herself. Of course, she could have checked with Adam or God, but she was deceived when the tempter backed up the lie with a distorted truth, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v.5). He mixed truth and error. Their eyes would be opened, but it would be to sin and shame. Also, they would know good and evil, but it would be through the harsh experiences of life lived apart from dependence upon God. The tempter implied that they would have great knowledge be able to see things like God does and do whatever they wanted to. He also questioned God’s motives for the command not to eat the forbidden fruit. With this in her mind, Eve looked at the tree and “saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (v.6). Here we see that she was mixing up what God had told them and what the tempter had told her (Gen. 2:6; 3:5). She was seeking knowledge and wisdom outside the boundaries that had been established by God. Satan had infiltrated her mind.
As she looked at the fruit of the tree she must have thought. It’s good for food and I’m hungry. It’s beautiful and pleasing to the eye, a pleasure to experience, so it must be good (Heb. 11:25). It’s desirable for gaining wisdom. Then “she took some and ate it” (v.6). The thoughts sown in her mind by the tempter resulted in an action; she ate some of the forbidden fruit. She acted independently of her husband and God. She should have consulted with them before acting on such an important matter. Where was Adam at this time? If Adam was with her during her temptation, he should have spoken up and taken his leadership role. It’s always more difficult to resist temptation when we are alone. But evil can triumph if another is silent.
Then “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (v.6). It seems as though Adam ate the forbidden fruit when he was given it by his wife; he was not deceived by the tempter—“Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived” (1 Tim. 2:14). We don’t know what she told him, but the fact that he “was with her” implies that he knew what had happened. He deliberately disobeyed God’s command and acted independently of God. This is the origin of sin. We are all sinners because we are descendants of Adam.
Now we see a radical change in their world. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (v.7). But they had always been naked (Gen. 2:25). Something happened inside them. They felt naked, guilty and ashamed, so they fashioned some clothes out of fig leaves. This was the beginning of self-consciousness and clothing.
God visited the garden to talk with Adam and Eve (v.8). What a privilege for them to converse with the great Creator! But now they were so guilty and ashamed that they hid from God among the trees of the garden. Fancy trying to hide from the one who made themselves and the trees! It was impossible. This was not a game of hide and seek, it was a garden where joy and fellowship with God had changed into shame and fear and hiding from God. This is the first description of the human conscience.
Now we see how God addresses the situation, He takes the initiative. First He asked Adam, “Where are you?” (v.9). As God would have known their location, this was a rhetorical question. They had moved away from their position of close communion with God. God was asking the head of the human family to consider his new position. Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (v.10). He was now afraid of God. God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (v.11). So, God traces the source of their guilt and fear to their disobedience. Then Adam said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (v.12). This is called blame someone else, or pass the buck! He blames God and Eve. But he did acknowledge that he had eaten the forbidden fruit. Then God asked Eve “What is this you have done?” (v.13). She said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate”. This is called ditto – blame someone else, or pass the buck once again! Here we see that when called to account by God, sinners excuse themselves. In this case they both ultimately blamed God, who allowed them to be tempted. But, like Adam, Eve did acknowledge having eaten the forbidden fruit.
Now that Adam and Eve have failed the test and acknowledged this to God, what will God do? After all, He had promised that they would surely die, although the tempter had denied this. Now we see some changes in His creation that was originally said to be “very good”. He addressed each of the characters in turn and described what life will be like for them.
God said to the tempter, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (v.14-15). God said that the tempter was the ultimate cause of the fall into sin. This curse can be taken at two levels. Firstly, the snake, which is symbolic of Satan, will crawl on the ground. That is the animal as we know it today. The implication is that previously it didn’t crawl on the ground. Eve would have hated this animal because of how Satan had used it to deceive her. This would have been the beginning of conflict between snakes and people. People often fear snakes and seek to kill them by crushing, while snakes generally attack the lower parts of the body. So, this was the beginning of conflict and hatred on earth.
Secondly, Satan and people who follow him will be the enemies of those who follow God. I believe that Eve followed God so she would have hated how Satan had deceived her. Here we have the first promise of the Messiah and a description of the battle between God and Satan. Christ’s victory over Satan is evident in “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”. The suffering and death He endured is like Satan striking at His heel. But Christ’s death and resurrection is said to crush Satan’s head, which indicates a decisive victory. Now the genealogies in the bible usually trace descent through men, not through women. The “he” in v.15 was a man who was the offspring of the woman. Jesus Christ was the offspring of Eve in special way; He had a virgin birth. This first prophecy would have only been known in general terms by the Israelites it was written for. But for us today, it sums up the gospel message of the Bible.
Then God said to Eve, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (v.16). He brings consequences in two areas of her life. Firstly she will experience pain in childbirth. It may also imply that bringing up her children would be painful at times. So, this was the beginning of pain on earth. Secondly, the relationship between husbands and wives seems to be clarified. It states that the husband is to “rule” over the wife. The Hebrew word is “masal”, which means to have dominion. The same word is used to describe mankind ruling over the rest of creation (Gen. 1:26,28). It means that the husband is to lead the wife and the family in a benevolent way. This is a responsibility that husbands should take seriously.
Then God said to Adam, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (v.17-19). Here we see that Adam neglected his leadership role. He listened to his wife when he should not have taken notice. Only take notice when she gives good advice, but not otherwise! God made Adam accountable and spelled out what he had done which led to two consequences. Firstly, God cursed the ground. Adam’s work changed; now it would take painful toil and sweat to make a living. Nature changed and cultivation would be more difficult with the introduction of weeds such as thorns and thistles. This is the beginning of the “bondage to decay” and “groaning as in the pains of childbirth” in “the whole creation” (Rom. 8:21,22). It is a fallen universe. Secondly, mankind would die. This is the beginning of death for the animals and people of the earth.
How temptation can lead to sin and death
Like Adam and Eve, we are always tempted to go beyond the limits that God has placed upon us. James described the strategy that Satan uses when he tempts mankind: “… each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas. 1:14-15). Sin brings death, including the eternal spiritual death of being separated from God. (Rom. 5:12, 14; 6:23).
God does not tempt us to sin. He will test us (Gen. 2:16-17; 22:1, Deut 8:2), but it is Satan who tempts us (Mt. 4:1; 1 Cor. 7:5, 1 Th. 3:5). In fact Paul called Satan “the tempter” (1 Th. 3:5). Of course he disguises himself and makes the temptation seem to be something good rather than something bad. It begins with our feelings (evil desire). Then James uses the illustration of conception and birth. The pattern is: a temptation (an evil desire based on our feelings) is planted like a seed in the mind, it grows and develops like a baby and leads to the birth of sin, which in turn leads to death. So the evil desire influences the mind and leads to an action which results in death. When the emotions are aroused first, we rationalize instead of thinking rationally. We don’t think properly, for example thinking of an immediate need but not a long term consequence. This is what happened in the garden in Eden and what happens to us as well. We all face temptation and battle the desire to yield to it. Then when we fail once again, we feel guilty.
How to handle temptation
Where is the battle lost? At the beginning, when the temptation is planted in the mind. Eve was defeated after Satan’s first question when she accepted the possibility that God could not be trusted. But God provides a way out for believers, “… He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
After 40 days of fasting in the desert, Jesus was tempted by Satan who tried to get Him to use His supernatural powers for selfish reasons (Lk. 4:1-13). Satan said: “tell this stone to become bread” – get food for yourself; If you worship me, all the kingdoms of the world will be yours – become a king without going to the cross; and, throw yourself down from the highest point of the temple – attract public attention. On each occasion Jesus answered with Scripture. He said: we should rely on God for spiritual nourishment; God is the one we should worship; and do not test God. To do this we must know the bible, so that the Holy Spirit can bring it to mind when we need it. God “has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pt. 1:4).
Fortunately God is greater than Satan and “is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:18; 1 Jn. 4:4). We should occupy our mind with good things and call on God to help in times of temptation. (Prov. 18:10; Phil. 4:8).
Lessons for us
The fall into sin is the ultimate explanation for our struggles in life. This pattern of the temptation and the fall into sin occurs daily both individually and collectively. It is the ultimate explanation for the tensions, sickness, suffering, sorrow, heartache, misery, tragedy, fear, guilt, and death. Here is the reason for addictive behaviour, for the passion for power and the lure of wealth and the enticement of immorality. It is the key to understanding humanity and ourselves.
The fall into sin has made us sinners. We are victims of emotional urges. That is a part of human nature. Only God can open our eyes and help us distinguish between right and wrong (Rom. 6:23). We are either slaves to sin or slaves to God. If we stay sinners then death is the outcome, eternal separation from God. But if we accept God’s gift of Jesus Christ, then we have eternal life. So our destiny is either eternal life or eternal death.
In Eve’s case the tempter was a being outside herself as she was sinless and she began with no urge to do wrong. Since the fall into sin, the tempter is within our human nature and we always face the urge to do wrong. We carry a tempter within us wherever we go, he has access to us continually.
Like Adam and Eve, we have real choices in life. God gives us limits and boundaries as well. Are we willing to accept them? We often try and relieve our guilt by blaming someone or something by saying, “It wasn’t my fault; I’m a victim of circumstance”. We don’t like taking responsibility for our behaviour. As the ideal environment of the garden did not prevent the entrance of sin, we shouldn’t blame the surroundings or our situation on our problems. Instead, we need to take responsibility for our responses and behavior.
So, let’s be aware of Satan’s ways of temptation so he does not outwit us (2 Cor. 2:11). Follow Jesus and use the resources God has given us, such as the Bible.
See the next article in this series:
– In the beginning. Part 4: Living in a dying world
God’s invisible agents
Many think that angels are just a myth, a product of one’s imagination. However, in the bible God has explained their role as inhabitants of the unseen world. There is more to life and the universe than what the eye can see. Our eyes only sense the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Scientists use gamma rays, X rays, ultra-violet rays, infra-red waves, microwaves and radio waves to probe parts of the universe that are not visible to the eye. But even they cannot sense the presence of angels. There is more to life and the universe than what can be detected using the whole electromagnetic spectrum.
The Unseen World
The bible is the only reliable source of information about angels. It teaches that God’s creation has two components: that which is visible and that which is invisible (Col. 1:16).
The “unseen” or “invisible” part of God’s world is inhabited by personalities with intelligence, emotions and wills – not by “forces” or “influences”. These personalities comprise two categories: the divine (God); and the created, such as angels, demons and human spirits (Jn. 4:24; Rom. 8:38-39). Note that angels are not divine and they are not human spirits
What is this unseen part of the world like? In the New Testament,“spirit” is the same Greek word as “wind”. It is used for things that are invisible and powerful. Forces with these characteristics are electricity that flows through a conductor, or gravity that acts across space, or nuclear forces that hold us all together. But angels are invisible and powerful personalities, not forces. Their power is under God’s control.
The unseen world can be visualised as being like a fifth dimension to our four dimensional world of space and time. It is always present, but we can’t sense it directly and we do not know how it interacts with our physical world of space, mass and time.
The unseen world is eternal, it will never end; “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18 NIV). Angels are immortal (Lk. 20:36). Also, the two natures of good and evil, or the divine and the sinful, are both in the unseen world. The two great leaders of these domains are God and Satan, and their purposes are carried out by angels and demons.
Between the time of the Old and the New Testaments there was much speculation about angels by Persians and Greeks. Detailed hierarchies of different types of angels were constructed. They were viewed as “mediators” between God and humanity. Here we will see that “servants” is a better metaphor for the role of angels.
Although angels are always spoken of in the masculine gender, they do not marry, so it appears as though there is no equivalent to gender in the unseen world (Mt. 22:30).
The New Testament emphasises that Christ is superior to angels (Heb. 1:4-14). This passage mentions the key roles angels play: they worship Christ (v.6), they are God’s servants and ministers (v.7), and their service and ministry is directed towards believers – they are “ministering spirits sent to serve” (v.14). The same two Greek words for “service” and “ministry” are included in 2 Cor. 9:12. Consequently, there is a similarity between angels helping Christians and Christians helping each other.
We are to worship God, not angels (Col. 2:18). They do not know everything, but God does (Mt. 24:36). When John fell at an angel’s feet to worship him, the angel said “I am a fellow-servant with you … Worship God!” (Rev. 19:10; 22:8,9).
Angels are God’s invisible agents, whose mission is to help Christians (1 Pet. 3:22, Heb. 1:14). Five of their main tasks are described below.
The Greek word “angelos” means messenger. God uses angels to proclaim important messages. There are many examples of this in the Bible.
Gabriel interpreted a vision and gave insight and understanding in response to prayer (Dan. 8:16; 9:21). He also announced the conception of John the Baptist and of Christ (Lk. 1:11-20; 26-38).
Angels revealed that Mary’s baby was to be named “Jesus” and announced His birth (Mt. 1:20,21; Lk. 2:9-14). They also rolled the stone away from His tomb, and proclaimed His resurrection and His second coming (Mt. 28:2-7; Lk. 24:4-7; Acts 1:9-11). Michael, the chief angel, will announce the rapture, when Christ comes for believers (1 Th. 4:16).
Angels sent Philip to the Ethiopian treasurer and told Cornelius to send for Peter (Acts 8:26; 10:3-7). They also revealed the future to Daniel and John (Dan. 9:20-12:13; Rev. 1:1).
Angels watch eagerly as spectators of God’s drama of salvation and actually express joy when a sinner repents (1 Pet. 1:12; Lk. 15:10).
We are not alone, the angels are present with us (1 Tim. 5:21). They watch us individually and collectively. Paul felt he was on display like a spectacle to the whole universe, including angels (1 Cor. 4:9). Angels can see God’s wisdom through the church, which has unity and order although comprising different members (1 Cor. 11:10; Eph. 3:10).
Angels can be God’s agents of judgment. When two angels went to rescue Lot from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, they told him, “we are going to destroy this place” (Gen. 19:13).
After Hezekiah’s prayer, one angel killed 185,000 in the Assyrian army and delivered Judah from an enemy (2 Ki. 19:35). Another angel killed King Herod Agrippa I after he accepted worship as a god (Acts 12:23).
In the coming period of global tribulation and punishment, angels will inflict seven trumpets and seven bowls of God’s judgement on the earth (Rev. ch. 8-16). They will also accompany Christ when He is “revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels” (2 Th. 1:8). The word “dynamite” is derived from the Greek word used here for “powerful”. This will be an awesome display of angelic power.
At the end of the tribulation, angels will separate the righteous from the wicked who will be sent to the fiery furnace where they will suffer (Mt. 13:41-50). They will also bind Satan for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-3).
Angels praise God. Many angels praised Him at Christ’s birth: “A great company of the heavenly host appeared … praising God and saying ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom God’s favour rests’” (Lk. 2:13-14).
After they have finished their earthly ministry, numerous angels will encircle God’s throne and sing in a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and praise!” Then all creatures in the physical world and the unseen world will praise the Lord, who rules and who died for the world (Rev. 5:11-14).
The climax of God’s drama of salvation involves all the angels, together with all God’s people, praising and worshipping God. Thousands of angels will share in this great celebration (Heb. 12:22; Rev. 7:9-12).
Angels are God’s security agents. They provide help and protect His people wherever they go and keep them safe (Ps. 91:11,14).
Our difficulties in life originate from the unseen world, where the angels battle against Satan and his demons (Eph. 6:12). In the final war, Satan’s forces will be defeated and cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:7-12). Angels will also protect God’s people from the coming judgement (Mt. 24:31).
An angel went ahead of Moses and guarded him as he took possession of the promised land (Ex. 23:20-23). When Elijah was in despair as he fled from Jezebel, an angel strengthened him so that he could travel for 40 days (1 Ki. 19:5-8).
Elisha, surrounded by the army of the king of Aram, said “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them”. After praying “O Lord, open his eyes that he may see”, the protective angels were revealed as horses and chariots of fire. (2 Ki. 6:16-17).
An angel shut the lions mouths to protect Daniel, released Peter from prison, and encouraged Paul during a storm (Dan. 6:22; Acts 12:7-11; 27:23-25).
Angels helped Jesus after Satan’s temptation and as He faced His betrayal and crucifixion (Mt. 4:11; Lk. 22:43). In fact, He could have called on thousands of them (Mt. 26:53).
At death, the spirits of believers are carried by angels into God’s presence (Lk. 16:22).
The Bible seems to support the concept of specific “guardian angels” as children have “their angels in heaven” and the early church believed in them (Mt. 18:10; Acts 12:15).
Angels help Christians
Christians serve an invisible God, and angels are His invisible agents. They inhabit the eternal unseen world and are mentioned from the beginning of time in Genesis through to the end time of Revelation. Sometimes God uses them to achieve His purposes, although we are usually unaware of their work.
They are ministering spirits that serve believers. Here are five ways:
- Angels proclaim God’s messages. Are you waiting for the shout of the archangel?
- Angels are always present. We are not alone. They watch our individual and collective behaviour. Do we give them much cause for rejoicing?
- Angels execute God’s punishment with awesome power. Trust God and avoid the fiery furnace!
- Angels praise God. Will you be there to join in the heavenly choir?
- Angels protect believers. They are stronger than Satan and his demons. Like Elisha, don’t be afraid; those who are with us are more than those who are with them.
Believers have a security that is not based on things that can be taken away; “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). Angels can strengthen us inwardly, as they did the Lord. One day we will know the full extent of the care and protection the angels have given us (1 Cor. 13:12).
Let’s praise God as the angels do. Who knows when they protect and strengthen us?
Published, December 1999
See the other article in this series:
– The unseen world of demons
What is a deliverance ministry?
A deliverance ministry is an activity or group that aims to release people from the influence of demons (Mt. 25:41). It is based on the belief that problems are caused by demons influencing the body or soul. These problems include: physical infirmities, emotional problems, abuse, torment, mental illness, recurring sins, addictions, financial problems, fear, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, lust, pornography, and homosexuality.
A deliverance session usually involves a team of people taking authority over Satan and his demons, using the name of Jesus Christ. It often includes prayer: to bind the demons; to loose God’s plans for deliverance; for the blood of Jesus to provide protection; for guidance; to invite the Lord to heal and deliver. It also includes: confessing and renouncing specific sins; taking authority in Christ over demons and commanding them to depart; reading passages from the Scripture that support the believer’s authority over evil; asking the Lord to heal past emotional, spiritual or physical wounds that may be footholds for the current oppression; and prayer for severing sinful connections with other people, demons or objects. Deliverance may also involve the use of spiritual gifts such as prophecy, tongues and a word of knowledge.
Deliverance ministries became more prevalent after the release of the film “The Exorcist” in 1973, as it created interest in casting out demons. Also, interest in casting out demons came with the rise of the charismatic movement.
Is it scriptural?
Jesus and the twelve apostles certainly cast out demons: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Lk. 9:1-2 niv). Philip, the evangelist, and Paul cast out demons (Acts 8:7; 16:18; 19:11-12). There are no examples in the Bible of Christians being possessed by a demon, although they may be afflicted by Satan and demons (Lk. 13:16; 2 Cor. 12:7). The woman who had been bound by Satan for 18 years was healed, whereas Paul’s “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan” (2 Cor. 12:7) was not healed. There is no indication in the New Testament that Christians might have to deal with their own sin or the sin of another Christian by casting out a demon and there are no examples in Scripture of Christians casting demons out of other Christians.
Deliverance ministries are usually based on instances of exorcism in the gospels and Acts. Three verses that are commonly used to justify them are as follows:
“Calling the Twelve to Him, He sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits” (Mk. 6:7).
“These signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons” (Mk 16:17).
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (Jas. 5:16).
It is not clear that the signs, wonders and miracles described in the gospels and Acts are available to Christians today. Instead, they were God’s confirmation of the ministry of Christ and the early Church (Heb. 2:3-4). Also, in context, the verses above do not support deliverance ministry. For example, Mark 6:7 was addressed to the apostles, who were a distinct group among the early believers (1 Cor. 12:28-29). The statement in Mark 16:17 is followed by, “they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all” (Mk. 16:18). Clearly, this occurred in the early Church, but we should not expect it today. The context of James 5:13-20 is the restoration of a backslider. In this case, physical healing is connected with forgiveness of sins, so presumably this sickness was a result of a sin, not demon influence. The meaning of James 5:16 is that when we sin against someone else, we should be prompt to confess this sin to the person we have wronged.
The idea of needing deliverance from demons goes against the fact that demons have no power other than that given them by God (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). We are commanded to fear God, not demons. God controls the world, demons do not (Mt. 4:8-11). They can’t separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38).
As Christians we should not become obsessed with Satan or demons and blame outside influences for our problems instead of our own sinful nature. This makes it difficult to take responsibility for our behavior and leads to seeking deliverance instead of repentance. It also makes us feel incapable of resisting our spiritual enemy and needing to rely on others for deliverance.
Should I get involved?
If we wish to live victorious lives and overcome Satan, we need to obey the Scriptures and apply their principles with wisdom to our lives (Rom. 16:19-20). Satan is not crushed under our feet by miracles or a deliverance ministry.
In the Old Testament, God prohibited His followers from seeking to make contact with demons (Lev. 19:26,31; 20:6,27; Dt. 18:9-13; Jer. 27:9-10). According to the New Testament, every Christian is capable of resisting Satan through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 10:13; Eph. 6:11; 1 Pet. 5:6-11). “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).
Instead of relying on a deliverance ministry to bring wholeness to our lives, we should pray daily that God may “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Mt. 6:13), and stand against the enemy by living in the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Eph. 6:10-20).
Published, April 2009
Satan’s Invisible Agents
Many people doubt the existence of demons or evil spirits, because they believe in a scientific view of the world. They assume the physical world is all that exists, as only it can be observed and measured by scientific methods. But what if a reality exists outside the world of science? Our Christian faith believes in such a reality because after His resurrection and ascension Jesus Christ lived in the unseen world which science cannot sense in any way. Such unbelief is nothing new; the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, angels or demons (Acts 23:8).
The Unseen World
The Bible is the only reliable source of information about demons and the unseen world. It teaches that God’s creation has two components: visible and invisible (Col. 1:16). The unseen spiritual part of our world is like an extra dimension which we can’t detect with our physical senses. The word translated “spirit” in the New Testament is the same Greek word as “wind,” which is used to describe things that are invisible and powerful. By faith we can be “certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1 NIV).
The unseen world is inhabited by personalities with intelligence, emotions and wills; not “forces” or “influences.” It is comprised of two components; the divine and the created. The triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the divine inhabitants of the unseen world (Jn. 4:24). The created inhabitants of the unseen world are: angels who are God’s agents that serve God and His followers (Heb. 1:14); Satan who opposes God and His followers (1 Pet. 5:8); demons who are Satan’s agents; and human spirits which are the eternal part of our being (2 Cor. 4:18). Note that demons are not divine and they are not human spirits.
The unseen world is eternal, it will never end: “What is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). Demons are immortal. Their destiny is eternal torment in the lake of fire (Mt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10).
Demons are Satan’s angels and Satan is described as the “prince of demons” (Mt. 12:24; 25:41). Demons share some things in common with angels and with Satan. They were created as God’s angels, but they followed Satan and rebelled against God. There are many references to demons in the Bible. Demons are always associated with evil because they work as Satan’s agents.
Demons have greater power and knowledge than humans, but less than God their creator. They were created as angels and because they have existed since the creation of the world, they have much more experience than we do.
Demons are not just superstitious explanations for an unknown disease. A clear distinction is made in the Bible between disease and demons. For example, Jesus told the apostles to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons” (Mt. 10:8). When demon activity is associated with ill health, a clear distinction is made between the two.
Demons are not spirits of the dead. Human spirits are separate from demons. After the rich man and Lazarus died, their spirits were in a place of torment and in paradise (Lk. 16:19-31).
Agents work in various ways. Satan can work in secret as an “angel of light” and a “deceiver.” This is the main way he works today, because Satan and demons want us to believe that they don’t exist. This helps them to achieve many of their purposes because people are unaware of their activity. Satan and demons can also work in an obvious fashion as a “roaring lion” (1 Pet. 5:8).
Four arenas where demons are particularly active as agents of Satan are: idolatry and false beliefs, the occult, demon possession, and the apocalypse.
Idolatry And False Beliefs
Idolatry is linked with demons: “The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons” (1 Cor. 10:20). It seems as though demons use idolatry to control unbelievers. So those who are involved with idolatry of any kind are involved with demons and are influenced by demons.
Paul wrote, “Some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). In this case people were being encouraged not to marry and not to eat certain foods. This was a false belief or philosophy that was deceiving people at that time. It originated from demons who inspired the hypocritical false teachers to spread these false beliefs. Demons are the power behind false beliefs.
Demons are also involved in the occult. The word “occult” means hidden, secret, dark, mysterious and concealed. This is Satan and his demons deceiving as an “angel of light.” The occult involves predicting the future by means such as astrology, horoscopes, visions, or crystal balls. It also involves magic such as charms, curses, spells and attempts to communicate with the dead through such means as seances in which a demon may be disguised as the spirit of a person who is dead.
Demons have superhuman knowledge and intelligence. The slave girl who was possessed by a demon could foretell the future (Acts 16:16). This shows that mediums can get information from demons.
Demons desire to live in people (Mt. 12:43-45). Demon possession occurs when one or more demons inhabit the body of a person and take control of him/her. It was particularly evident in the Gospels and Acts. Satan was particularly active in opposing Jesus Christ and the early Church. Our struggle against demons is described as being “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). There is not one example in the Bible of a Christian being possessed by demons, although they may be tempted and afflicted by Satan and by demons (Lk. 13:16; 2 Cor.12:7). However, demons can promote jealousy, selfishness, pride and disorder (Jas. 3:14-16).
The man who lived in the tombs was demon possessed (Mk. 5:1-15). His symptoms were caused by an evil spirit, not by an illness (Mk. 5:2). He had unusual physical strength: “No one could bind him any more” (Mk. 5:2-3). He was isolated from society, living in the tombs. He had a spilt personalty; he ran to Jesus at first, but then he cried out in fear (Mk. 5:6-7). He resisted Christ. He had clairvoyant powers; he knew who Jesus was even though he was isolated from the community. The demons spoke through him; maybe in a different voice or a different language (Mk. 5:7-9). These show the characteristics of demon possession. They include opposition to Christianity. On this occasion, Jesus caused the demons to transfer into a herd of pigs (Mk. 5:13). From this episode we see that demons have names, they have intelligence, they have emotions and they have a will.
In another instance, demon possession is associated with physical ailments such as lack of sight and lack of speech (Mt. 12:22-29). When Jesus healed the man, the people thought He was the promised Messiah. They knew that this act indicated that Jesus was more than just a human being. Jesus claimed that the demons were driven out “by the Spirit of God” (Mt. 12:28). We see that Christ’s will prevails over the demons. His power was strong evidence of His deity, as the Trinity is the only power that is stronger than Satan and his demons.
There are instances of others casting out demons. Jesus gave His disciples “authority over evil spirits” and they drove out many demons (Mk. 6:7,13). Of course it didn’t always work for them. The reasons given were: “because you have so little faith,” and “this kind can come out only by prayer” (Mt. 17:14-21; Mk. 9:14-29). They needed to have the power of God working through them to cast out demons.
Philip cast out demons (Acts 8:7), and Paul said to a demon in a girl who could predict the future, “‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ … at that moment the spirit left her” (Acts 16:16-19). When some Jews imitated Paul they failed to cast out demons, which indicates that the power of God was not working through them (Acts 19:13-16).
Satan and the demons are revealed as a “roaring lion” in the end times. We read of people who “did not stop worshiping demons and idols” (Rev. 9:20). Here we see that demons are associated with idolatry once again. The other behaviors associated with worshiping demons were murder, magic arts, sexual immorality and theft (Rev. 9:21). Three evil spirits are described as “spirits of demons performing miraculous signs” that gather armies for the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:13-14). These demons have great power as they are associated with miracles.
Babylon the Great, the evil system that killed many believers, is called “a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit” (Rev. 17:6; 18:2,24). Demons are influencing any people that persecute believers.
God’s Power Over Demons
As Satan’s agents, demons are strong influences in the unseen world. They promote Satan’s strategies in his ongoing battle against God and believers. There is a spiritual war going on in the unseen world around us even though we may not be aware of it. In our response to this we need to be aware of the following:
Christ’s Victory – The Son of God appeared “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8). He died “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). The demons are working for Satan, but Christ is destroying Satan. God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves” (Col. 1:13). Christians have changed sides, from Satan’s to Christ’s kingdom.
Christ’s Power – Only God’s power can defeat demons. “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). Do we really believe that one believer and Jesus are stronger than any other force in the universe? When we fear the evil about us we need to realize that we have access to a greater strength than the demons do. “If God is for us, who can be against us? … We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither … angels nor demons … nor any powers … will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:31-39). “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” (Eph. 6:10). Christ’s power is the only power that is stronger than that of Satan and his demons.
Delegated Authority – There are two Greek words for power: “exousia” means “delegated power or authority” while “dunamis” means “inherent power.” As Jesus subjected Himself to the limitations of humanity, He didn’t use His inherent power, but exercised the authority He received from God the Father (Acts 2:22). He gave His disciples a similar delegated authority/power to cast out demons (Mt. 10:1). They reported: “‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name.’ He replied, … ‘I have given you authority … to overcome all the power of the enemy … However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’” (Lk. 10:17-20). Similarly, God has given believers authority over Satan and demons, provided we use His weapons His way (Eph. 6:10-18). But our salvation is much more important than any power over demons.
Our Response To Demons
First, we need to pray before we act. We need to resist the enemy in the unseen world, that’s where the real battle is happening. God’s kingdom is advanced through God and this requires prayer and Spirit-led action.
Second, we need to resist the enemy by using God’s resources. Our weapons should be directed at Satan, demons and the issues involved, not at people: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12). Otherwise we are not building up the kingdom of God or tearing down the kingdom of Satan. Release any anger about sin and Satan in prayer. Our weapons are:
Jesus’ Name – This carries the victory of the cross and the resurrection. But we must be wholly committed to Jesus to use it effectively.
God’s Word – Claim Christ’s victory and power. Remind the demons of the “eternal fire” prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25:41). “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God … Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God” (1 Jn. 4:1-3). Get help from a believer with the gift of “distinguishing between spirits” (1 Cor. 12:10).
The Holy Spirit’s Power – “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit has a greater influence on people and circumstances than we do.
Jesus’ Blood – Believers can overcome Satan and demons “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Rev.12:11). Remind Satan and the demons of Christ’s victory and their defeat at the crucifixion.
The Truth – Tell them about God and be honest about ourselves.
Believers don’t have to fear Satan and his demons. We have been rescued from their dominion of darkness, sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13) and provided with the resources to stand against them. We are more than conquerors through Christ. If God is for us, who can be against us?
See the other article in this series:
– The unseen world of angels
Many think that Satan is a myth, but we know he is real. That is why we must stay awake and be on our guard against him.
Satan is our enemy who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8 NIV). In a battle it helps to know the enemy. For example, when playing a computer game, advice from someone who has already played it can be a great help. After we have experience and know what to anticipate, we are more likely to be successful at the game.
In this article we’ll look at Satan’s power, his objectives, his strategies and our defenses against him. This is important because if we are not aware of his schemes he will outwit us (2 Cor. 2:11).
Although Satan has been cast from God’s presence, he is still powerful. He is the ruler of demons (Mt. 12:24). The demons are fallen angels who follow Satan and who oppose believers (Eph. 6:12). Satan is a great power in the unseen spiritual world. He is the ruler of the sinful world system (Jn. 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2). He dominates unbelievers: “The whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). He has his own kingdom, a vast sphere of influence in our world. He is respected by angels. The archangel Michael “did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you’” (Jude 9). Likewise, we should take Satan seriously; he is no myth or joke.
Fortunately, Satan’s power is limited by God. In Job’s case, God controlled what he could and could not do ((Job 1:12; 2:6). Jesus prayed that God protect his disciples from “the evil one” (Jn. 17:15), so the devil can’t touch believers without God’s permission (1 Jn. 5:18). He has power, but God’s is greater.
Satan has a major influence in the world. His main objective is to oppose God and oppose God’s purposes. This started in the beginning and has continued through history. Even though Christ is victorious over Satan, he is still opposing God’s purposes in this world. His character is the opposite of God’s. He’s full of darkness, not light (Acts 26:18); he promotes hate, not love (1 Jn. 3:7-15); he brings death, not life (Heb. 2:15).
When we hear about the “forces of evil” in the world, undoubtedly Satan is still active today. Here are three of his more specific objectives. First, he works to deceive nations (Rev. 20:3,7). Apparently, he has been successful in this as he was able to offer Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” (Mt. 4:8-9). In fact, he “leads the whole world astray” (Rev. 12:9). Second, he works to control unbelievers. Satan uses his power to control unbelievers by trapping them and keeping them captive (Acts 26:18; 2 Tim. 2:26; 1 Jn. 5:19). Meanwhile, these people are deceived and unaware of his activities. Third, he works to destroy believers and Christianity. We do not fight against a human enemy, but against Satan and his demons in the unseen world (Eph. 6:12). Our enemy is the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to attack (1 Pet. 5:8). He wants believers to be ineffective.
Satan uses three strategies in his battle. First, he attacks God’s character and His control. From the beginning Satan misquoted God when he asked Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” (Gen 3:1-5). Then he denied that God had said they would surely die. He has denigrated God, Christ and the Bible throughout history.
Second, he prevents acceptance of the truth. Satan prevents others from accepting the truth by blinding their minds: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18). In the parable of the sower, Satan “takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved” (Lk. 8:12). He gives unbelievers a false sense of security. He is like an evil man who drugs his victims (Lk. 11:21).
Third, Satan promotes sin within our world. He “has been sinning from the beginning” (1 Jn. 3:8). Here are some of his weapons:
False beliefs: Satan deceives people so they believe lies, such as atheism, agnosticism, humanism and evolution (2 Th. 2:11). These often deny the reality of sin and evil.
False religions: In addition to denying the truth, Satan also promotes false religions, such as idolatry, the occult (Rev. 2:14) and all faiths not consistent with the Bible.
False lifestyles: Satan tempts people to follow the world’s sinful ways, including a self-centered lifestyle of pleasure, possessions, position and power (Mt. 13:22; 1 Jn. 2:15-17).
Demonic leaders: Satan uses powerful rulers for his ends. The Roman emperor Nero persecuted believers in the early Church. Some nations persecute Christians today. The anti-christ will persecute them in the future (2 Th. 2:3-12).
Destabilized society: Satan works to destabilize God’s plan for government, law and order (Rom. 13:1-2). He also works to breakdown marriages and families. God hates his activities (Mal. 2:16).
Satan also uses many strategies to divert believers from following the Lord (Lk. 14:27). Here are some of them: discrediting the Bible (Lk. 4:1-13); tempting them to lie, to lust, to seek human wisdom (Acts 5:3; 1 Cor. 7:5; Mt. 16:23); pride (1 Pet. 5:5); doubt (Gen. 3:1-5); discouragement and depression (1 Pet. 5:7); denial (Lk. 22:31,57); division (Eph. 4:3; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:4; 6:6-7); false doctrine (1 Tim. 4:3; 2 Pet. 2:1); false leaders (2 Cor. 11:13-15); persecution (2 Cor. 11:23-25). Satan reminds God of our sins and imperfections (Rev. 12:10). But Christ, “speaks to the Father in our defense” (1 Jn. 2:1).
Christians are told to “put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:9-10). To withstand Satan we need to do four things: recognize, remember, resist and respond.
First, we need to recognize that our struggle is not against humans but against Satan and his demons in the unseen world (Eph. 6:12). We are warned to “be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:9). Many think that Satan is a myth, but we know he is real. That is why we must stay awake and be on our guard against him.
Second, we need to remember that while Satan and his demons are always on the prowl, Christ is already the victor. He is all powerful and has already defeated and judged Satan. He controls all things and cares for us. We also need to remember our position: seated with Him in heaven (Eph. 2:6). His work is finished and we are secure. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). And Christ prays for our protection from Satan (Jn. 17:15).
Third, we need to resist Satan and his tricks. “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes … stand your ground … stand firm” (Eph. 6:11,13,14). “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). Our resistance needs to be active. This is war! Satan wants us to have a false sense of peace, but we are really on the front line. If we sleep, Satan will have us for breakfast!
Fourth, we need to respond, not with physical weapons, but with “divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). Our spiritual weapons are listed in Ephesians 6:13-18. “Put on the full armor of God … the belt of truth … the breastplate of righteousness … your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace … the shield of faith … the helmet of salvation … the sword of the Spirit. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” to headquarters. To overcome the enemy, we need to be in constant communication with our Leader.
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).
See the other article in this series:
– Satan. Part 1: Knowing our enemy
The conflict between good and evil is a major theme of the Bible. It can be traced from the temptation of Adam and Eve in the beginning of the Bible to the punishment in the lake of fire at its end (Gen. 3:1-7; Rev. 20:10,15). Let’s look at the source, course and destiny of evil.
Source Of Evil
Let’s begin by looking at the source of evil in our world. Many believe that Satan, or the devil, is just a myth, a superstitious belief from the pre-scientific age to explain things people couldn’t understand, such as disease and disaster. This belief is supported by mythic images of Satan as a red-horned creature holding a three-pronged fork. But the Bible says he’s a real, evil personality.
Jesus believed in a personal devil. He was tempted by him in the desert with clever questions (Mt. 4:1-11). In the parable of the sower, the birds eating the seeds illustrated “the evil one” snatching away the message about God’s kingdom (Mt. 13:19). Satan is not a myth, not a clever story about someone who doesn’t really exist! He is not even merely a “virtual reality” of computer games involving a battle against evil. Satan is a real personality, just as the Bible tells us.
The Bible indicates that he was closely associated with angels, and battled with angels in heaven (Job 1:6; 2:1; Rev. 12:7-9). Angels are God’s invisible agents created to inhabit the unseen part of our world (Col. 1:16). The Bible is our only reliable source of information about Satan and the unseen world. How did evil enter God’s perfect world?
We must understand that there is only one God – and disease, sin, death and the devil are under His authority. For example, God told Satan what He could and could not do to Job (Job 1:12; 2:6). Satan was one of God’s creations, who subsequently chose to oppose Him. This is the best explanation of the origin of evil. The personalities in God’s creation had free will. Angels and people had a choice; they were not clones or robots. God did not create evil, but He made creatures with free will, and therefore with a potential for good and evil.
There are some clues in the Bible about the source of evil. Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Lk. 10:18 niv). He said this probably as a warning to the disciples against pride and arrogance, as the Jews knew from the Old Testament that Satan fell because of pride (Isa. 14:12-15). In the future there will be a war in heaven between God’s angels and Satan’s demons (Rev. 12:7).
Two striking passages in the Old Testament also seem to refer to Satan. First, the doom of the city of Tyre was prophesied (Ezek. 26-28). It was an island northwest of Israel ruled by the Phoenicians – one of the richest, most luxurious, powerful and arrogant kingdoms. A parallel is drawn between the ruler of Tyre – described as proud and arrogant – and the king of Tyre – described in symbolic language as being created as a guardian angel (Ezek. 28:5-6,13-14). Then Ezekiel 28:15 says, “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.” This could indicate that Satan was created as a perfect angel who became wicked. The reason given was that “your heart became proud” (Ezek. 28:17). This passage also implies that the ruler of Tyre was influenced by Satan, as was Peter when he hindered the Lord (Mt. 16:23).
Second, the doom of Babylon is foretold in Isaiah 13-14. Babylon was a city of luxury and splendor on the Euphrates river. It was the largest city of that time. In this passage, the King of Babylon could also refer to Satan. His pride and ambition to be like God is illustrated in his statement that “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa. 14:13-14). The five “”I wills” suggest that because Satan wanted to be like God, he rebelled against the One he originally served. As a result, he was judged by God (Isa. 14:15).
Tyre and Babylon were symbols of the power of Satan and his forces. They suggest that pride and ambition were the reasons for Satan’s revolt.
Course Of Evil
Now let’s look at the course of evil in our world. One way to look at this is to see how the Bible refers to Satan. His many names indicate his character and activity. Some of the angels joined him in his rebellion against God, and he continues to seek followers today. There is a continuing war in the unseen world, between God and Satan, for the allegiance of humanity.
Satan is described as the “prince of demons,” “prince of this world,” “god of this age” and “ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Mt. 12:24; Jn. 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2). These are powerful titles for a force to be contended with. Don’t be deceived – Satan has great power.
The things Satan does are indicated by his names. Revelation 12:9 contains four of them: “The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” “Satan” is an Aramaic word meaning adversary, opposer or enemy. “Devil” means accuser, slanderer. The other descriptors are metaphoric: he is deceitful like a “serpent” and awesome like a “dragon.” He also causes terror like a “roaring lion” and can disguise himself as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14; 1 Pet. 5:8). He is a “liar,” “tempter,” “accuser,” “deceiver,” “murderer” and “destroyer” (Mt. 4:3; Jn. 8:44: Rev. 9:11; 12:10; 20:3). What a picture of evil! Indeed, he is “the evil one” and the sinful world is under his power and control (Jn. 17:15; 1 Jn. 5:19).
The Garden was the perfect environment, a paradise. Here God gave Adam and Eve one test: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16). As a subtle tempter, Satan, disguised as a snake, encouraged disobedience to God to get people under his control. He attacked the body, the mind and ambition. Hunger is a natural desire, and Eve was tempted when she saw that “the fruit of the tree was good for food.” He also asked, “Did God really say …?” arousing in her mind curiosity and confusion so she would doubt God’s word. Then he sowed the seeds of ambition: “When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:6,1,5).
As soon as Eve succumbed, the battle was lost. In this first encounter with mankind, evil prevailed. The consequence was that sin spread to Adam and his descendants. Adam and Eve tried to hide from God; they were afraid; they blamed others and God for what happened; judgment was given to the snake, the woman and the man; and the penalty was death and separation from God (Gen. 3:6,8,10, 12-13,14-19).
Jesus is compared to Adam and referred to as the “second man” (1 Cor. 15:47). This was Satan’s chance to tempt someone without a sinful nature. Their confrontation occurred in the desert (Mt. 4:1-11). The tempter didn’t need to disguise himself this time, because both parties knew what was happening. Jesus’ mission was “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8), while Satan’s was to get Him to disobey God’s will.
Satan’s attack was similar to that in Eden: he attacked the body, the mind and ambition. Knowing Jesus was hungry, he asked him to change stones into bread, and use His divine power to satisfy His need. Then he urged Jesus to jump to fame from atop the temple. Satan even quoted Scripture (Mt. 4:6). Jesus replied that this would be testing God, not trusting God. Finally, Satan offered Him the world’s kingdoms – a shortcut to dominion. This aspiration was the source of Satan’s fall; he wanted what God had. He offered Jesus the kingdoms without going the way of the cross or the way of the servant.
We can learn much from our Lord’s victory over Satan. He did it in the power of the Spirit (Lk. 4:1). Satan’s names show that he has great power, but Jesus demonstrated that God’s power is much greater. Jesus also showed trust, obedience and unselfishness. He used the Scriptures and was not afraid of Satan. He was decisive, and didn’t negotiate.
Christ’s victory over Satan was finalized at the cross where He died and rose again (Jn. 12:31). He was obedient as a humble servant (Phil. 2:6-8). In taking upon Himself the sin of the whole world, Christ righted the rebelliousness of Adam and Eve, and all mankind (Rom. 5:12-21). He defeated death by the resurrection: He too shared in our humanity, “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). So believers no longer need to fear death.
The victory has been achieved over Satan and he is condemned, but God’s judgment has not yet been administered (Jn. 16:11). The enemy is still active. He still opposes God’s ways and causes much suffering in our world – and he often seems to have the upper hand.
Destiny Of Evil
Satan’s destiny is sure. He is a defeated foe who will be dealt with by God’s angels and evicted from his place in the unseen world (Rev. 12: 7-12). Later he will be bound by an angel and unable to deceive anyone for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-3). Then we read of Satan’s final attack, when he is released for a time and allowed to deceive the nations and to prepare to attack God’s people (Rev. 20:7-10). But finally evil is judged and Satan is “thrown into the lake of burning sulfur” to be “tormented day and night for ever and ever.” This is the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41). Anyone whose name is not recorded in the Book of Life, is also thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). All who follow Satan will share in his doom.
The history of the battle against evil began with Satan as an angel serving God. He let pride and ambition fill him. He wanted to be like God. Then he tricked Adam and Eve into disobeying God, which led to a world of sin, disease and death. Christ came as the only power stronger than Satan. His death and resurrection destroyed Satan’s plan to dominate the world. The final judgment for Satan and his followers is eternal torment.
The good news for those who trust Christ is that “the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). The triune God is greater than Satan and is the only source of victory over evil.
Published: July 2004
See the other article in this series:
– Satan. Part 2: Knowing his strategies