Do You Believe in the Devil?

ScrewtapeWise words from the pen of C.S. Lewis regarding how we should view the existence of Satan and demons:

“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.” (The Screwtape Letters, p.3)

There are and probably have always been people who have what Lewis would call an “unhealthy interest” in the topic of demons. Many years ago I myself went through a phase where I was somewhat fixated on spiritual warfare and read seemingly every book I could get my hands on that was about the topic. To put it mildly, any of those books were less than thoroughly biblical (and so were even less helpful).

These days I think that even Bible-believing Christians (redundant to put it that way, I know) are far more likely to fall into the other error that Lewis warned against – that of disbelief. Now I don’t mean a literal disbelief (although that too is probably true of some), but rather a kind of disbelief that is akin to what is often referred to as “practical atheism.” The practical atheist is the person who professes (even sincerely so) to believe in God’s existence, but lives in such a way as to contradict that profession of belief. The practical atheist basically lives as if God did not exist. In a similar way, I think many well-meaning Christians go about their daily lives as if the devil and demons did not exist. Needless to say, the Scriptures do not encourage such a mindset among believers.

For example, the Apostle Paul actually mentions Satan and demonic forces a number of times in his epistle to the Ephesians. In Ephesians 2:1-3 he tells the Christians at Ephesus that in their former lives before they came to Christ by faith, they were not only dead in sin (v.1), but they also used to follow “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (v.2). That is even now an accurate description of everyone outside of Christ. Everyone outside of Christ is thus influenced by the devil. Scary thought, I know. But that also serves to show the greatness of God’s mercy, love, and grace in saving sinners and giving them new life in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-10).

Then, toward the end of the epistle (in what we might consider the “practical application” section of the letter – chapters 4-6), he mentions the devil again – at length. In Ephesians 6:10-20 he writes,

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (emphasis mine)

Why do we need the “whole armor of God” (v.11, 13)? In order that we might “be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (v.11). And yet how many of us ever give much thought to the fact that our fight is not against flesh and blood (other people), but against “spiritual forces of evil” (v.12)?

Let us not fall into either of the opposite errors that Lewis mentioned above. Let us neither fall into the error of having an unhealthy interest or fixation on devils, nor into the error of disbelief (practical or otherwise). May we learn to view these things biblically (as we should all things), and so learn to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (v.1).

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