Satan is real. I want to make this quite clear before I proceed, because what I’m about to say has met with some resistance and misunderstanding recently. Satan, I believe, is a supernatural being, originally created by God as an angelic being. He has real power, influences the minds of humans, and struggles against God’s salvific plan through Jesus Christ. In this post, I will first give a brief background to the concept of Satan, followed by an examination of Satan in contemporary Christianity. I will conclude with a discussion of the problems this poses for practical application in the Christian life, along with suggestions to answer these problems.

However, let me emphasize that Satan is not the antithesis in a divine dialectic! Satan, as a created being, is necessarily subject to the realm of creation in that he cannot share the essential attributes of God. He is not divine. He does not transcend time or space, is not omnipotent, nor is he omniscient.

In early Hebrew theology, Satan was understood as more of a general antagonistic force and not even necessarily identified as possessing personhood. As the concept was further developed, ha-satan in the book of Job is identified as an angel who accuses humans of sinfulness and rebellion against the law of God. This understanding has been carried on through thousands of years into contemporary Jewish theology where Satan is still considered to be an agent of God who tempts humans to commit evil and then accuse them when they fall so that God is shown as righteous when He judges humans for their wickedness. As the understanding of Satan has been carried on into Christianity, it has taken on a much more personal identity. Satan is often called Lucifer, as identified with the “son of the dawn” (Isaiah 14:12), and has been provided the place of lordship over a host of angels who were banished from heaven along with him when they rebelled against God in some distant past.

Whatever one believes about Satan, it is clear in the New Testament that demonic entities do exist and have real power. They are not to be trifled with. However, that will have to wait for another post. In the meantime, let us consider the practical application to Christian experience.

The Christian is then left to conclude that Satan is not omniscient; therefore, he cannot attend to every temptation of every Christian in every situation all the time. To do so is to plead the “The devil made me do it!” excuse, which is simply a cop-out. Christians must understand that Satan typically holds merely the power of persuasion in their lives. This means that in order for him to have power in your situation as a Christian, his intervention is contingent on your allowance to him. YOU give him power in your life as you provide him (or his minions, more likely than not) with the opportunity to influence your decision: this is done primarily by entertaining your own proclivity to rebellion against God. In other words, when you entertain temptation, you provide Satan with the opportunity to push you further toward the eventuation of evil acts. Of course, simply being tempted is not sin; however, each time you are tempted, you have a decision to make: to reject that temptation and bring your mind once more under the authority of Christ, or to sin by giving opportunity for influence to the rebellious heart within you. Thus, even entertaining temptation is sin against God.

In contemporary Christianity in our country, Christians have sensationalized Satan in gross exaggeration or they have relegated him to a theoretical phenomena with no real practical application. This polarization is unfortunate, and as with most things in reality, the truth is somewhere right down the middle of these two extremes.

If you’re a Christian who looks for Satan or his demons behind everything, constantly working in a This Present Darkness sort of paradigm, I would encourage you to let go of that mentality. It is false. That Satan and demons are active in the world is accurate; however, the truth of the matter is that your focus and emphasis should be on your own personal responsibility in the decisions and actions of your life! Recognize that the buck stops HERE! My dad used to always say, “There’s no excuse for bad behavior.” He was right. You can blame it on demonic influence or Satanic attack all you want, but ultimately, God holds YOU responsible for YOUR sin.

If you’re one of those people who assumes that Satan doesn’t really interact with the world or influence people, assuming he even exists, I would encourage you to let go of your self-inflicted ignorance. You think you’re above such a superstitious perspective because you’re educated or an intellectual, or whatever the case might be. That is a false conception of the reality you live in as a Christian, as a human being! You all-too-often give occasion for Satan to work by denying his role or place in your practical Christian walk. That’s playing right into his hands. If you disbelieve his interaction with the world, you give him all the power of influence he needs. In effect, you keep yourself in self-inflicted ignorance out of simplistic naivety.

Thus, on some level, an allegorical interpretation of the Creation account is not too far off base in that Christians should recognize that Satan’s primary weapon in his struggle against God is humankind’s own sin and rebelliousness toward God. This means that we should practice discipline and self-denial as a means to promote spiritual health in ourselves, as Paul writes in 1 Cor 9:27: “But I beat my body and make it my slave so that when I have preached to others, I myself might not become disqualified.” A rigorous application of spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, charity, fellowship, church attendance, participation in worship, etc. are not simply things to do to check off on a list of good works, but instead actually encourage and foster an environment in the Christian’s life for growth and health in pragmatic Christianity.