How much of an impact does the devil have on our society today? How do we know whether something is an act of Satan or just our sinful nature?
It’s easy to blame the devil when we do wrong. We say, “Oh, man, I was just tempted by the evil one,” when we’re really just tempted by our own sinful desires. This is what James talks about regarding the influence the devil has on society (James 4:1–8).
But I also think about 1 John 5:19: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” There’s a sense in which our world is under the power of the evil one. This is true even though Christ has definitively defeated Satan and his minions on the cross. Colossians 2:13 says, “You, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
So when we think of the evil one’s deception, we have to think of him as a defeated foe. He’s disarmed. He’s a monster that doesn’t have any teeth. Why? Because God removed them through the crucifixion of his Son and the resurrection from the dead. Jesus has conquered death, sin, and Satan, so we know where the victory lies. And that should give us confidence.
As Christians living in the world, where the evil one still “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” (1 Pet. 5:8) we know that Satan can’t touch us. That’s what John means in 1 John 5:19.
So how do you differentiate between a temptation that rises up from within you and direct spiritual warfare with Satan? It’s sometimes impossible to tell. We’re called to be vigilant and prayerful. We’re called to put on “the whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:13) and pray “at all times in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18). We have enemies without and an enemy within—our own sinful desires that often lead us astray. So rather than trying to figure out what the evil one is doing, we should fix our eyes on Christ as we face temptation.
Temptations are real, and they’re going to come to all of us. But it’s not our job to focus on them. Instead, we need to focus on Christ who delivers us from temptation, just as he taught us to pray. So pray like Jesus taught you, “Father in heaven . . . lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:9–13).