The following article is adapted from Basic Christian Maturity: The Foundations of Christian Living, edited by Steve Clark and Bruce Yocum, and published in1975 by (c) The Word of Life, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. It was developed as a teaching resource for Christian covenant communities and prayer groups in the charismatic renewal movement. – ed.
Background: The Problem – The Work of Satan and Evil Spirits
Basic Christian Maturity examines four major sources of personal problems affecting growth in Christian living. Enemy number one is the flesh – self-sufficient human nature which operates independently of God. Wrongdoing, the second source of personal problems, breeds disorder in the realm of human relationships. The third source of trouble is the world – our social and cultural environment whose trends, values, and ideas are opposed to God. If the human person were only a psychological, social, and cultural animal, then the flesh, wrongdoing, and the world would cover all sources of peoples’ personal problems. However, people are also spiritual creatures. They must confront certain spiritual realities to achieve a full understanding of the inner workings of their own nature. Specifically, human beings must confront a fourth source of personal problems: Satan and evil spirits.
The Reality of Satan
The modern world dismisses the notion of a personal evil force as a fantasy devised by superstitious and ignorant people looking for a scapegoat. Even many Christians who acknowledge the lordship of Jesus dismiss Satan as a superstition. However, the modern disbelief in demons is largely attributable to the increasing secularization of society. The modern world no longer acknowledges any spiritual realities, divine or diabolical. Our culture has tried to reduce all of life to natural cause and effect, the interplay of atoms, the reactions of chemicals. Since they have been formed by the world, many Christians have accepted this modern skepticism toward Satan and evil spirits.
Yet Scripture, tradition, and personal experience all testify to the presence of a personal evil force opposing God and his plan. Scripture speaks of Satan as an angel, and asserts that he has other angels, called evil spirits, at his command. (See Helpful Scripture Passages below) Satan and his evil spirits are indeed real. Christians must deal with them in the Christian life.
Satan not only exists; he wields tremendous power. Even a glimpse of an angel is enough to make people quake and fall as though dead. Satan is a fallen angel, driven from his former state, yet he still possesses some of the power and majesty of his angelic nature. People and the affairs of people are helpless before this mighty spiritual force. However, Satan and his angels shudder with fear before God and his Son (James 2:19). Those united with God through Jesus Christ need not fear the force of the evil one, for “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The power of God brings freedom from Satan’s control.
To understand Satan’s influence on peoples’ personal problems, we must examine the full scope of the spiritual battle now underway. Satan opposes God everywhere and fights him with all the weapons he can find. He struggles ruthlessly, often using as weapons things which are good in themselves. Indeed, Scripture warns that Satan often comes disguised as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Satan’s ultimate goal is to destroy the kingdom of God.
This spiritual war rages in world events. Scripture calls Satan the “prince of this world” (John 12:31, John 14:30, John 16:11). Indeed, he is implicated in political events, in international crises, and in the causes of human suffering: war, racism, famine, crime, poverty, disease. Satan also works more subtly to undermine the social order, often using well-intentioned individuals and popular movements for his destructive purposes. Satan’s schemes affect even the body of Christ, causing division and spreading weakness within the church. Of course, God is also at work in the world, restraining Satan and ordering world events. However, Satan rightly claims to be the ruler of this world; he has gained the office through the popular election of humankind.
Satan also works in the lives of individuals, Christian and non-Christian. He desires to erase or distort people as creatures created in the image of the loving creator. He therefore subjects people to emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual harassment and bondage. Of course Satan cannot change humankind’s nature as a being created in the image of God any more than he can fully deny his own existence as God’s creation. However, Satan is able to twist and deceive people so that their lives no longer reflect the harmony and goodness of God. While Satan successfully causes much pain in people and division in the world, God’s loving work assures his ultimate defeat. The spiritual battle will end with the coming of the kingdom of God.
Obvious Areas of Satan’s Work
While Satan – a personal evil force – is definitely at work in the lives of individual Christians, we are also troubled by sin, the flesh, and the world. How can Christians detect the presence of Satan and his unique activity? To combat Satan’s schemes effectively, Christians should know the areas of their lives where Satan is always likely to be present and active. Some of these areas are obvious, others are more obscure. The following paragraphs discuss some of the obvious areas.
The Occult. The most obvious arena for satanic action is the occult: Satanism, witchcraft, spiritualism, and other forms of divination. People who attempt to gain spiritual knowledge or power from sources other than God will enter into a direct and dangerous communion with evil spirits (1 Corinthian 10:20-21). Any Christian who has been involved with the occult should renounce it, destroy any objects associated with its practice, and be prayed with for freedom from its effects. The occult is a focus of satanic activity; Christians should avoid it and prayerfully oppose it. The occult should never be taken lightly.
The Bizarre. A second obvious area of satanic work is the bizarre, those uncanny and inexplicable happenings which involve changes in our normal sensory perception. Such experiences include an eerie sense of the presence of someone or something, or an unusual perception change in sight, sound, or smell. A person undergoing a bizarre perception change will feel an hallucination-like experience. It may involve temporary loss of sight, hearing, or smell, or a new intensity of sensory perception which alters or mixes together colors, sounds, or smells. Drugs, alcohol, fatigue, and illness can induce such changes. When these are not the cause, bizarre happenings may be the work of evil spirits.
Irrational Feelings. A third obvious area of Satan’s activity involves irrational impulses or emotions. Satan lies at the root of many crippling, persistent, neurotic fears which have no rational basis: fears of people, high places, dogs, death, among others. Similarly, Satan frequently causes sudden irrational impulses: to drive a car off the road, to leap from a 20-story window, or to commit some homicidal or suicidal act. Such neurotic fears and destructive impulses may have complex psychological causes, but they are very frequently caused by evil spirits working to place us in bondage and to cause our downfall.
Hidden Areas of Satan’s Work
Satan also works in hidden ways. While the following paragraphs describe areas of more subtle activity, Satan is no less present here than he is in obvious areas such as the occult.
Temptations. Satan frequently causes daily difficulties with thoughts and emotions. Temptations come from many places, but one source is certainly Satan and evil spirits. Temptations to become anxious, frustrated, doubting, depressed, fearful, or condemned are sometimes sent by evil spirits. The New Testament applies two significant names to Satan the tempter: he is “the accuser of our brethren” (Revelation 12:10) and “the father of lies” (John 8:44). He is often behind unfounded guilt feelings, self-condemnation, and false or evil thoughts about God, oneself, or others.
Addiction. Satan also works subtly in problems with bondage and addiction. In Galatians 4:8, Paul refers to evil spirits when he says “when you did not know God you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods.” Such spirits are often strongly implicated in addictions to alcohol, narcotics, compulsive eating, homosexuality, masturbation, and other compulsive activity. Addictions are complicated phenomena, and we must consider many natural and psychological factors when searching for their sources. Nevertheless, Satan is often the jailer behind the bars of addiction.
Emotional Problems. Satan often complicates psychological and emotional disorders, even if he is not the original and deepest source of the problem. We must take great care in detecting this work of Satan, for a careless demon hunt can make bad emotional problems worse. However, we should be alert to the ways Satan can aggravate such problems as depression, self-hatred, and anger. Natural and supernatural causes of emotional problems are interrelated; they do not function in isolation from one another. Sometimes Satan lies at the center of a personal problem; sometimes he circles the periphery, spreading confusion and hiding the real source of the problem. But Satan is usually involved in psychological problems, if only indirectly.
Illness. Satan can also hold peoples’ bodies in bondage; physical illness is another region of Satan’s subtle work. On several occasions Jesus healed people by rebuking a spirit of affliction. We have no foolproof methods for discerning when an illness is the direct result of an evil spirit; the Holy Spirit must be the guide.
Spiritual Problems. Satan works to enslave Christians in their spiritual lives. Evil spirits can incite overly rigorous self-denial and a severely legalistic approach to Christianity. They can also foster self-condemnation camouflaged as humility. Evil spirits can inspire Christians to judge each other harshly, and to adopt an extremely self-righteous posture toward Christians or toward non-Christians. Christians should never feel that their spiritual lives are immune from satanic attack.
Fear of God’s Work. Whenever God is beginning to work in power Satan can be expected to try to obstruct the path. He erects obstacles to important acts of God. Many people experience unnatural fears before giving their lives to God, being baptized in the Spirit, taking some other significant step in their Christian lives. By inspiring such fears, Satan can directly oppose the building of God’s kingdom.
Christians should not over-simplify or over-spiritualize the causes of their personal problems by attributing every difficulty to Satan. Many forces – not all of them satanic – operate to cause us trouble. To attribute everything to Satan can itself be a deception of Satan. However, Christians must be aware of spiritual realities. One of these realities is that Satan and evil spirits do exist, that they operate in our personal lives, and that we must reckon with them when we deal with our difficulties.
The Solution: The Armor of God
To win freedom from a personal problem, it is usually necessary to detect its source. A physician cannot prescribe a remedy until he diagnoses the disease. If wrongdoing has caused a problem, the remedy is repentance and reconciliation. It will be fruitless and perhaps dangerous to deal with a problem of wrongdoing as though evil spirits were the cause. Similarly, repentance will bring no relief if Satan is at the root of a problem; a special prayer may be required. Nevertheless, a Christian who is uncertain about the source of a difficulty should not fear. God loves his people, and he will provide both a diagnosis and a remedy for their ills.
The Armor of God
Once we know that evil spirits are implicated in a problem, we need to know what weapons to use against them. In the sixth chapter of Ephesians, Paul exhorts Christians to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Using the analogy of military armor, he lists various elements of the Christian life that serve as spiritual armor in our battles with Satan. The armor of God is God’s solution to the problem of Satan and evil spirits.
Truth. The first essential piece of armor is the truth. Jesus calls Satan “a liar and the father of lies.” Satan tempts Christians by deceiving them about God, themselves, other people, and the external world. We hear Satan’s deceitful voice in the words: “God does not love you. How could he love a person as weak and foolish as you?” “God? Who is he?” “You certainly are an incompetent and worthless human being.” “No one loves you, and no one will ever love you.” “The world is conspiring against you.” Sometimes Satan is able to make a Christian believe a lie by attaching it to a truth. “You shouldn’t have yelled at Sally yesterday. You sure are a poor husband.”
The lie here is embedded in false logic, an incorrect inference. True, the man should not have yelled at Sally. But the self-condemning remark that follows – “you sure are a poor husband” – is a lie. It is a maneuver to fix the husband’s attention on his weakness rather than on changing his behavior. We counter such deceit by knowing the truth fully and clearly, and addressing it both to Satan and to the tempted mind. “God created me and loves me. He is my father. Jesus has died for me and won forgiveness for me. He is showing me how to be a better husband.” God’s truth – our awareness of his love and protection – shatters Satan’s lies.
Righteousness. Righteousness is the breastplate of God’s armor. We live righteously when we submit to the commandments of God. Like Jesus, Satan waits for an invitation. Sin is his invitation. Like Jesus, Satan does not crash down the door, but waits for us to open it. Once Satan enters, then more than human effort and repentance are needed to get him out. We are only wise to keep Satan out by living our lives in righteousness, in obedience to God’s commandments.
Faith. The shield of faith reminds us of the source of the Christian’s authority over Satan – the power of God. Unaided human flesh and blood cannot challenge Satan. He is too strong, clever, and resourceful. Thus the Christian trusts in the power, wisdom, and authority of God the Father to overcome Satan’s strength. The Christian should have absolute confidence in God’s ability to handle Satan, for one of Satan’s most potent lies, tagged on to most of his enticements is, “and, of course, you can’t possibly resist this temptation.” Simple confidence that we can resist Satan’s temptations through the power of God is a powerful weapon.
God’s Word. The sword of the Christian’s armor is the word of God. The word of God is both written in Scripture and spoken in preaching, teaching, and prophecy. We should use the word of God to resist Satan, for it is a powerful weapon. When Satan is harassing a Christian with a particular problem or temptation, the Christian can resist by searching the Scriptures and finding out God’s truth about the area under attack. Authoritative preaching, teaching, and prophecy can also destroy Satan’s work, for “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12).
Another way in which the spoken word of God can be a weapon in spiritual warfare is through a verbal command spoken directly to Satan or an evil spirit. This weapon is often called “deliverance.” Individuals can use it in their own lives and to help others. However, we should approach deliverance with caution, for this has been subject to unfortunate excesses. Only mature and discerning Christians who have had sufficient training and experience should attempt deliverance.
Christian Community. Paul the Apostle does not mention Christian community in his famous passage about the armor of God, but from other passages we learn that community is another source of strength against Satan. The body of Christ is a fortress against the onslaughts of Satan. To be outside its walls is to be dangerously vulnerable to enemy attack. Thus, Christians who wants to be victorious in spiritual warfare should establish themselves firmly in the people of God.
How does Christian community provide protection? One way is through the discernment of others. Most people cannot see their own spiritual conditions with perfect clarity. Fellow Christians can often help by contributing helpful discernment and counsel. Because they are not wrapped up in the problem, they are able to view it with greater objectivity and a fuller openness to the voice of the Lord.
Finally, Christian community provides spiritual protection by making the other weapons more powerful. The body of Christ strengthens knowledge of the truth, faith, righteousness, the word of God, and all the other weapons of spiritual warfare.
One truth about spiritual warfare that Christians must gain from the Scriptures is the certainty of victory. “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Satan is real; he is powerful; he binds much of the world by his lies. Nonetheless, the power of God is far greater than the power of a fallen angel. The people of God must “stand against the wiles of the devil” with confidence and the calm, steady assurance of faith. There is never a need for fear, “for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
A List of Helpful Scripture Passages:
- 1 John 5:19 The whole world is in Satan’s power.
- 2 Corinthians 11:14 Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light.
- Revelation 12:7 Subordinate evil spirits serve Satan.
- Revelation 12:10 and Zechariah 3:1 Satan is the accuser of the brethren.
- John 8:44 Satan is a murderer and a liar.
- Luke 11:14, 13:11-16 Satan can cause physical sickness.
- James 2:19 Demons shudder before the presence of God.
- 1 John 3:8 Jesus came to destroy Satan’s works.
- John 12:31 Jesus triumphs over Satan through the crucifixion and resurrection.
- Luke 11:14-22 Jesus by his authority overcomes Satan’s kingdom.
- Luke 10:17 Jesus’ authority over Satan is given to his disciples.
- 1 Peter 5:8-9 and James 4:7 Christians should resist Satan.
- Ephesians 6:10-17 Christians should wear the armor of God as protection against Satan.
- 1 John 4:4 God, who dwells within the Christian, is greater than Satan.
Recommended Further Reading:
- The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
- Spiritual Warfare, by Michael Harper
This article is adapted from Basic Christian Maturity: The Foundations of Christian Living, edited by Steve Clark and Bruce Yocum, and published in1975 by (c) The Word of Life, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.
Steve Clark has been a founding leader, author, and teacher for the Catholic charismatic renewal since its inception in 1967. Steve is past president of the Sword of the Spirit, an international ecumenical association of charismatic covenant communities worldwide. He is the founder of the Servants of the Word, an ecumenical international missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord.
Steve Clark has authored a number of books, including Baptized in the Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, Finding New Life in the Spirit, Growing in Faith, and Knowing God’s Will, Building Christian Communities, Man and Woman in Christ, The Old Testament in Light of the New.