A friend from Costa Rica writes in: I seem to be everywhere running into people who are debating different aspects of spiritual warfare. I have a friend whom I respect very much; nevertheless he sees Satan even in different foods or in commercial products. It’s as if there is a spirit everywhere. If anybody doubts, then it’s a spirit of unbelief. Someone says he’s hungry, and it’s the spirit of greed. The last time I saw him he was saying “you’ve got to step on the Devils tail.” I asked myself, What is this? I know the spiritual beings exist, I know that the fight is not against flesh and blood. But I read in Paul where he says to resist the devil, not to attack him.
Gary: you have every reason to be concerned. C. S. Lewis – he of the Chronicles of Narnia – wrote another little book, which I regard as one of the classics of the faith. The Screwtape Letters should be on every Christian’s reading list. Lewis starts off by saying that “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 the materialist and the magician with the same delight.” To paraphrase the last sentence, demons are happy if you treat them like you would the Tooth Fairy, and happy if you spend all their time looking for demons under every rock. They are amused by either extreme.
In our day these two errors are found everywhere. Go to any university class, and angels and devils are laughed about as a remnant of medieval times. But in some occult circles as well as Christian groups the invisible spirits are the Number 1 topic of conversation. Satan is an egoist; he loves to be popular so long as it draws people away from God.
In New Testament times, Christians typically fell into the category of worrying too much of the devil. This is clearest in Ephesians 1. It appears that these disciples were afraid that the demons would “get them” because they were Christians. Not at all! said Paul. The most important truth in the universe is that “God raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet.” (Eph 1:20b-22a). Those four words are “angel” terms, and show that Christ is above every one. 1 Peter 3:22 is similar: “with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him,” Christ. What good does that do us? It means that we must not lose any sleep because of the devil, since Christ is his master, and he rules them for the good of the church, his body (Eph 1:22b-23).
Yes, Ephesians 6 says to “stand against the schemes of the devil.” But principally that must be done with the armor of God: with truth; righteousness; and above all being prepared to share the gospel.
To be obsessed with the devil is an error and therefore a sin. It says that “I can’t really depend on Christ to protect me, so I need to do something more.” People cross over from faith to magic, looking for special formulas and knowledge to keep them safe.
The devil is real and according to the New Testament deceives and can coerce people into evil. But to focus on Satan is wrong. For a few, this type of obsession may be the sign the presence of evil or of mental imbalance. There are forms of paranoia in which people believe that Satan is especially out to get them. They see “hidden signals” in the oddest places: on TV or the radio, on billboards, even from household appliances. It requires discernment to know who has a spiritual problem and who a psychiatric one.
On this topic, I heartily recommend a book by my friend Clinton Arnold, 3 Crucial Questions about Spiritual Warfare. It can be picked up from Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Crucial-Questions-about-Spiritual-Warfare/dp/0801057841/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1289002549&sr=8-1).