In the religious world today, ideas abound as to who the devil is. He goes by many names, comes in many forms and does many things. One popular country song has him as a fiddle player who gambles for souls. Halloween costumes with red horns, tails and pitchforks fill streets and costume parties when October rolls around. Some understand him as little more than a simple trickster or scapegoat for all bad things. Others see him as the antithesis of God, imbued with all the same powers, but using them for evil, rather than good. So who is the devil, really? What does he do? Let us embark on a study of our adversary, the devil, that serpent of old and father of lies: Satan.
God is omnipresent; the devil is not
First, let’s look at Job 1:6-7. Here we have the sons of God assembled before the Lord and Satan with them (“sons of God” refers to angels, c.f. Job 38:7). They have come to present themselves and God addresses the adversary, asking him where he has come from. Satan answers, saying he has been roaming about the earth and walking around on it. This tells us something important. The devil is not all places at once! He was roaming– going from one place to another place (c.f. 1 Peter 5:8). This is not like God. He is everywhere all at once. He is here in Oklahoma and he is far off in New Zealand. God is omnipresent; the devil is not.
God is omnipotent; the devil is not
Continuing on in Job 1:8-12, we see God and Satan discussing Job. God sees that Job is a faithful servant who turns away from evil. Satan, ever the adversary, sees a man who is protected and only loves God because of it. God knows it isn’t so and in verse 12, He gives the devil permission to strike at all that Job has. Note, though: God tells him he may do nothing to Job’s person. What does this tell us about our enemy? He can only work within the limits given by God. He cannot exceed them (else how would 1 Corinthians 10:13 hold true?). By this we learn that Satan is not all powerful. God can do anything, but not so the devil; the devil can only work within the parameters which God allows. God is omnipotent; the devil is not.
God is omniscient; the devil is not
In Job 2:1-6, the sons of God again present themselves to the Lord, Satan among them as before. Again, the discussion turns to Job. Satan has not been successful in causing Job to stumble; God still says Job is blameless and upright. The devil in essence says, “Well, maybe so, but he still has his health. Take that and he will curse you.” This is now the second time Satan has predicted Job will curse God (c.f. 1:11). Little does he know how wrong he is! Little does he know that through all of Job’s trials, he will not curse God or speak wrongly of Him (1:22, 42:7,8). And that is the point here… little did Satan know! He is not all-knowing as God is! God knows all that has been, is now and will be. He knows your inmost being. But not so the devil. He cannot read your thoughts and he cannot slip his own thoughts into your mind. God is omniscient; the devil is not.
If that’s true…
Since the devil is not omnipresent, omnipotent or omniscient (or omni-anything, for that matter!), where do temptations come from? James* 1:13-15 tells us. First of all, it doesn’t come from God; indeed, all good things come from God (1:17). Temptation comes from within ourselves. When we are carried away by our own lust for this or that, temptation is conceived, sin is born and grows up– so to speak– into spiritual death. Take, for example immodest dress. We lust for attention and wear the immodest clothes to gain it from men as we walk by. This sin is completed as we pull on a pair of pants that’s just a smidge too tight. It brings forth spiritual death for ourselves and the men who see us and lust in their hearts. Thus the cycle begins anew. Their lust conceives and gives birth to sinful desires and thoughts bringing forth spiritual death for them as well.
So is the devil responsible for all sin? Yes and no. He is the one who enticed Adam and Eve to sin (Genesis 3:1-15), but you are responsible for your own sin (Ezekiel 18:20). You are responsible for yourself and what temptations you fall to. If this were not so, how unjust it would be for God to charge you with wrong-doing! Being just, He will not charge you for something that could not be avoided.
The good news is that this means your enemy is not nearly so powerful as you may have believed. It means that you have God-given tools and power to defeat him. James 4:7 tells us that if we resist the devil, he will flee from us. James also tells us how to resist: submit to God. Draw near to God. Cleanse your hands. Purify your heart. Romans 12:2 tells us to be renewed by the transforming of our minds. Our minds have been conformed to the world by listening to its teachings. Satan has been training the world for oh-so-many years and we, being surrounded by it, accept its teachings. The antidote, then is to learn of God, to seek His wisdom and His knowledge and replace the thoughts we have learned from the devil’s work with God’s wisdom and understanding.
When we believe Satan to be the evil twin of God, we have a tendency to throw up our hands in despair with a wail of “The devil made me do it.” We plop down in sackcloth and ashes, fretting over our sins, believing we are helpless to defend ourselves and sitting as prey for the roaming lion to devour. God cries to us through His word, begging us to be renewed in our minds and to draw near to Him that He may protect us. He pleads with us to remember that He has given us all the tools we need to access the defeat He has already won for us (2 Peter 1:3). This is why your study time is important. Would you have the devil flee from you? Then crack the cover of that Bible!