It is always a difficult tension to know how much attention to give to the Devil. Jesus is our Lord and we know that He has already defeated the Devil and Death and we want to spend our energies and time getting to know Jesus, letting His Word transform us and make us more holy, and not spend all of our time studying a defeated enemy. At the same time, Satan is still the “god of this world” (2 Cor 4.4), the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph 2.2), and he is in his death throes, taking down as many people as he can with him. On our own, Satan is infinitely more powerful than we are. But we know that “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4.4) and if we are in Christ we have overcome Him.
However. We must not be ignorant to Him, His schemes and His abilities. When we are young, we imagine the devil dressed up in a red suit with horns, a spiky tail and a trident. He is mean, scheming, and his plans are obvious. As we mature, fortunately, we begin to learn and realize that his ways are not always clear. We learn that sin is fun and enjoyable for a season – otherwise no one would partake in it! And we learn that Satan is clever to disguise himself in attractive ways.
Perhaps his most cunning deception, however, is a false assurance of salvation. If he can convince people that morality leads to Heaven, if he can trick people into saying a “sinners prayer” but never repenting, then he has achieved the greatest trickery. Few people would follow him in his ugliness to Hell, but many people are deceived by his lies and promises that ultimately lead to Hell. And the way he can craft such a scheme is to know the Scriptures, to know the truth, and to twist them just enough to still sound promising but to be lies.
We see him try this very tactic with Jesus when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness in Matthew 4.
“and [Satan] to [Jesus], “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,
‘He will command His angels concerning you’;
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone..’”
– Matt 4.6
Notice that Satan knew exactly who Jesus was. He knew the Scriptural promises made to and about Him. And He attempted to draw Jesus into sin by asking Him to prove Himself and to test God’s provision. But Jesus, being God and knowing Scripture with belief, answered Satan with Scripture that led Him to obedience and to honor God.
Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”
– Matt 4.7
So what is the difference? How do we know if people or Satan is using Scripture incorrectly? How do we know if we are being obedient, if we are on the path to salvation, or if we are being deceived? We have to have the Spirit living in us. We have to be in the process of being transformed into His likeness. His Word must abide in us. Satan can memorize Scripture, but the Scripture does not abide in Him.
“I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”
– 1 John 2.14
If the Word of God is abiding in us, we have overcome the evil one. We can discern the Spirits. We understand when we are being tempted to use Scripture and God for our own sordid gain, and we understand when we are living lives that honor and glorify God.
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
– John 15.7
If we abide in Jesus and the Scripture abides in us, whatever we ask of Jesus will be done for us. But He qualifies it in the previous chapter (14.13) that whatever is asked in His name will be done in order to glorify the Father. If His word abides in us, we will ask and desire things that glorify the Father and when we ask them they will be fulfilled. But memorizing the Scripture alone is not abiding. The Pharisees had Scripture memorized and Jesus said that His words found no place in them (John 8.37).
“You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.
– John 5.38
We must believe. We must be transformed by the Word. The Word gives life.
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”
– John 6.63
So let us be alert and aware. Satan’s tactics are slimy and deceptive. He knows the Scripture better than you or I ever will – because He has been around throughout the entirety of history and the writing of it! He knew all of the major players. He saw each book as it was written. He knows it inside and out. And He will try to use it to lead us astray.
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
– Matt 7.15
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
– 1 John 4.1
Let us be diligent students of the Word, let us test every teaching against the rest of Scripture, let us pray, let us petition God for wisdom and seek Him. He is faithful to make clear to us His heart and ways if we only ask and abide in Him.