As Christians, we often hear people say ‘the devil made me do it’ or ‘the enemy’ is after me. But how does the devil operate in relation to believers? Is there a difference between the power satan and demons have over believers and unbelievers? And are we giving the devil too much credit? Let’s consult the Bible and see if the devil makes Christians do anything.
How the devil operates in believers and unbelievers. The devil operates in deception to both believers and unbelievers as he did with Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:13; Jn. 8:44; 2 Cor. 11:13-15). The devil operates as the destroyer to both believers and unbelievers (Rev. 9:11). He also lies to both believers and unbelievers (Jn. 8:44).
How the devil operates towards unbelievers. The devil can operate in unbelievers by blinding their minds from knowing the truth (2 Cor. 4:4). He can also cause mental diseases (Lk. 8:26-35), and indwells and possesses unbelievers (Lk. 4:33-36). If you are not a Christian, evangelism is the starting place until salvation occurs by the power of the Holy Spirit. Unless you are saved, you are working against the covert operations of the devil without the power of the Holy Spirit.
How the devil operates towards believers – The devil accuses (Rev. 12:10; Zech. 3:1), tempts (1 Pet. 5:8; Js. 1:12-15; Matt. 4:1), hinders (1 Thess. 2:18), and tries to devour people (1 Pet. 5:8). The devil operates in the world by teaching falsehood and appearing as one who is bringing truth (1 Tim. 4:1). Contrary to Pentecostal beliefs, the devil cannot be indwelt by believers (1 Cor. 6:15; Rom. 8:9). Instead, the devil operates by creating strongholds for believers to be caught up in through temptation; such as lasting anger (Eph. 4:26-27), un-forgiveness (2 Cor. 2:10-11), and laziness (1 Jn. 3:10). The devil only has so many demons (1/3 of the angels that fell) and therefore he has to pick his shots. The greatest targets are the ones doing the most for Christ’s kingdom. It’s clear that the devil and his demons can’t make us do anything, but we are responsible for letting the devil use external temptations to affect our internal desires (James. 1:13-15).
How are Christians to deal with the devil? There are several Biblical methods for responding to demonic forces. The modern day Church (post-apostolic) is not to ‘cast out demons.’ That does not mean that the devil is not powerful and still operating; for we know the devil is operating today (Eph. 6). Christians are to place more emphasis on God’s power by operating with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Use these 7 suggestions to fight the devil:
1 First, Christians can respond by submitting to God (James. 4:7-8).
“Submit therefore to God. But resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God and He will come close to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James. 4:7-8
2 Second, we can resist the devil as James and Peter advises and he will flee, which is a great promise (James. 4:7-8; 1 Pet. 5:9).
“So resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brothers and sisters who are in the world.” 1 Pet. 5:9
3 Third, we should never attempt to speak to demons, but leave it for God to deal with (Jude 1:9).
“But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him an abusive judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”” Jude 1:9
4 Fourth, we must be gentle and present the Gospel fairly to unbelievers who are dealing with demonic forces (2 Tim. 2:24-26; Tit. 3).
“ The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, skillful in teaching, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” 2 Tim. 2:24-26
5 Fifth, we should demonstrate and teach each other to live by faith, hoping to place their confidence in God even though they can’t see the spiritual warfare going on (Rom. 1:16-17; Rom. 8:38; Heb. 11).
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom. 8:38-39
6 Sixth, we should take our thoughts captive and not let them fester into sin (2 Cor. 10:5; Col. 2:8; James. 1:12-15).
“We are destroying arguments and all arrogance raised against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” 2 Cor. 10:5
7 Seventh and lastly, we can battle the spiritual forces of this world with a righteous and fruit bearing life (Eph. 6:10-18). The warfare begins when we have a correct thinking, living, mindset, faith, security, wisdom, and prayer.
“With every prayer and request, pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be alert with all perseverance and every request for all the saints,” Eph. 6:18
All of these steps point to the power of the Gospel more than the limited affect satan and his demons have on the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in believers. This is why I don’t capitalize the noun satan or demon, it’s a theological grammar mistake. The truth of the matter is that we know the spirit of truth because the Spirit is in us. A believer must practice as if they believe the acts of sanctification will battle the devil’s ways of operating. Believers act in righteousness and remind themselves that the power of God is greater.
Remember this from 1 John 4:4-7
“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world, therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. The one who knows God listens to us; the one who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”
References:  John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, eds., Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), p. 673-730; 776-778.;  Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England : Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan PubHouse, 1994), p. 412-436; 896.; Beeke, Joel R. Fighting Satan: Knowing His Weaknesses, Strategies, and Defeat. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015.
David J. Lupinetti is the Associate Pastor at San Tan Bible Church in Arizona. He has a passion for Expository Preaching, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, and Evangelism.