A friend of mine who is a believer (a pastor’s son, in fact) told me recently that for many years he didn’t believe in Satan. He accepted that people are tempted into sin and that God gives us the tools to fight that temptation, but he didn’t believe there was a tempter. He didn’t explain his change of heart. But the reality is that if there was no Satan, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross wouldn’t have been necessary. There would have been no fall in the Garden of Eden and no gap between God and us for Jesus to close by dying on the cross for our sins. Most Christians believe in Satan but are also skeptical of demonic attacks. An evangelist I heard recently, Dr. Jim Van Gelderen, explained this quite clearly.
He made a distinction between demonic possession and demonic oppression. In short, we don’t need to be demon-possessed to be demon tempted or distracted. Van Gelderen gave a great example. He asked his audience if they noticed that they are often distracted during quiet time with God. Maybe it’s the day’s “to do” list popping into your head, or something you forgot from yesterday, or concern over an issue that may confront you that day. Van Gelderen then asked his audience if they have the same experiences watching a football game, or TV show or any other leisure activity. The answer is almost certainly no. Why? Because Satan is more than happy to allow you to indulge in activities that don’t bring you in closer communion with God. He referred to this as “demonic oppression” and gave this famous example:
From that time on, Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Matthew 16:21-23 (NIV)
Jesus wasn’t suggesting Peter was possessed. He was suggesting that Satan had whispered the words into Peter’s ear. It appears the importance of the experience wasn’t lost on Peter:
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9 (NIV)
Yes, demonic forces are constantly prowling. Satan knows our weaknesses. That also means he knows the most effective thoughts to plant to draw us to sin. So, what can we do to resist? As Van Gelderen put it (I’m paraphrasing): when we were saved, we experienced a renewal of our minds. That means sin is no longer our boss. If your old boss called you and asked you to do something, you’d hang up. You have the power to do that with sin. And God gave us plenty of tools to do that. Paul details them in Ephesians 6:10-17.
A sinful thought, be it lust, jealousy, anger or anything else, in and of itself doesn’t constitute sin. It depends on what you do with it next. Resist the oppression, say no to the old boss. Be on constant watch for the prowling lion and arm yourself each day with the Armor of God. Never leave home without it.
This post is republished with permission from Oakbrook Church, De Pere, WI.