The Devil and Demons
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The Devil and Demons

Selected Scriptures  (ID: 1680)

The great dangers in understanding the devil are overemphasizing his power and ignoring his presence completely. To help us avoid these perils, Alistair Begg leads listeners through passages in Scripture that provide a description of Satan. Most importantly, the Bible tells us that he is already defeated, that we need to resist him, and that he is limited in his power. The embodiment of evil, Satan is cunning and relentless, but by the power of the Holy Spirit we can be alert and prepared to defend against his attacks.

Series Containing This Sermon

Encore 2023

Series ID: 25919

Spiritual Warfare

Knowing and Resisting Your Enemy Series ID: 21501

Sermon Transcript: Print

Matthew 4:1:

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting [for] forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.’

“Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’

“Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’”

(Notice, incidentally, how well the devil knows the Bible. He’s able to quote the Bible to Christ.)

“Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’

“Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”’

“Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.”

Father, I pray that as we look again at your Word tonight, that the Spirit of God will be our teacher, that you will save us from error or any kind of wrongful overemphasis or underemphasis, that you will help us to be biblical in our grasp of Scripture and in our commitment to it. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

My original intention for this evening was not to do what I’m now about to do, and that is to return to the subject of this morning. But I felt in the later part of the afternoon that since I had scrambled through so much that was important in the final moments of the morning in relationship to some instruction concerning the devil, that I ought to come back to it now, tonight, because I wouldn’t be able to do so next Sunday, and then two weeks past, it begins to lose any sense of continuity. So for those of you who were not present this morning, we were dealing in the verses 1 Corinthians 10:14–22 and addressing the whole issue of “the table of demons” and therefore of the existence of demons and the fact that behind all expressions of idolatry is demonic force and power and influence. And having embraced that, we then said, “Well, we need to set this in the context of Scripture,” so that we wouldn’t become overindulgent in relationship to our imaginations, nor to the kind of influences which are abroad today.

So tonight is essentially a PS to this morning. I’m starting where I finished in order that I might finish the way that I intended to finish. That’s essentially what it is. So for those of you who are immediately disappointed, then I’m sorry. For those of you who are encouraged, then I’m pleased. And for those of you who don’t know what you are, then that’s all right too.

Scripture and the Real Devil

What we ended up saying this morning was that in relationship to everything, and especially to this whole subject of demonism or to Satan or to the occult or to the devil, it is imperative that we are biblical. And that demands—to be a biblical Christian demands—not only that we believe and affirm all that the Bible teaches but that we also learn to hold what the Bible teaches in the balance which the Bible gives.

Every so often, we meet people who, it becomes quickly apparent, have an emphasis. Indeed, one of the things that intrigued me in coming to America ten years ago now was to be out with ministers and have them ask me, “What’s your thing?” I remember the first time I was ever asked this. I was playing golf, and the man said, “What is your particular thing?” I said, “I’m sorry?” He said, “Yeah, you know, your emphasis. What is your emphasis?” And he must have thought I was a crazy person or that I was being rude, but I hadn’t a clue what the man was on about. And I said, “Well, what’s your thing?” And then, as he began to explain to me what his thing was, I found out what a “thing” was, and then I told him, “I don’t think I have one of these.” He then suggested that it was really important that I get one, because if you don’t have one, then you’ll have no real reason, you’ll have no raison d’être, and you won’t be able to explain to people what your church and your ministry’s about. Having played a few more holes, I then determined that, maybe, “Could the Bible be my thing?” He said no, that was not sufficient. It had to be more specific than that. So, for the last ten years, I’ve been going out and around without a thing, and happily so. Indeed, I’m actually on the reverse of that. I’m trying to stamp out “things” all over the place.

And every so often, you meet somebody, and their thing is demons, or their thing is the devil, or Satan, or whatever it is. And you haven’t spoken to them for more than two or three minutes about any subject under the sun, and they’re there. The demons are out, or the devil’s here. And it quickly becomes apparent that this is the framework through which they view just about everything else that takes place in the Christian life. “And,” they will say, “the reason I do so is because I want to be biblical.”

Now, to be biblical, I say to you again, does not simply mean that we affirm all that the Bible says but also that we affirm it in the way that the Bible affirms it. This is a basic principle of understanding your Bible. This is what happens when you read, for example, the Acts of the Apostles. You read the Acts of the Apostles, and somebody reads this and says, “Oh, you know, I heard that somebody was playing with poisonous snakes and standing on dreadful things, and so I went out and bought myself a couple of poisonous snakes and began to grab them. And do you know what? I’m so fortunate that we have such a wonderful place as University Hospitals. Otherwise, I’d be a dead man.” Yes, exactly, you’d be a dead man! What a foolish notion! Where did you get that from? “Oh, I read it in the Bible.” Aha! Well, don’t you realize that certain things in the Bible are descriptive, not prescriptive?

“Well,” says somebody, “how do we know which is which?” Well, when you read the Acts of the Apostles in a vacuum, you can come up with all kinds of ideas. But when you read the Acts of the Apostles in light of the letters that were written by the apostles who appear in the Acts of the Apostles, they clarify for us what the main things are. And that is why when you read through Acts and you find yourself saying, “Well, I’d like to emphasize this,” or “I’d like to emphasize that,” the way we determine what we can justifiably emphasize or not is the balance of Scripture itself. And whenever you find a funny group of people under the name of church, I can guarantee you, they’ve got a thing, and they have determined that this thing is the key. And they will ask you whether you also understand this. And if you don’t, don’t worry about it for a minute. Okay?

We need, then, to beware of two emphases in relationship to the devil and his hosts: one, the danger of overemphasis, and two, the danger of ignoring the idea completely. These are the two extremes that we constantly come up against. People say, “Oh I don’t bother with any of that stuff at all. I don’t really believe very much about that. I don’t think it’s very important.” And then on the other side, you have somebody who cannot say a single thing without their emphasizing it.

John Calvin, in his Institutes, says this:

We have been forewarned that an enemy relentlessly threatens us, an enemy who is the very embodiment of rash boldness, of military prowess, of crafty wiles, of untiring zeal and haste, of every conceivable weapon and of skill in the science of warfare. We must, then, bend our every effort to this goal: that we should not let ourselves be overwhelmed by carelessness [nor] faintheartedness, but on the contrary, with courage rekindled stand our ground in combat.[1]

Wish I’d written that, don’t you? That’s terrific. If we had all the rest of our lives, probably few of us could write a statement concerning spiritual warfare that is as succinct and helpful as Calvin was able to put it there.

We said this morning, and I affirm it again tonight so that we don’t miss it: Satan is not a figment of the imagination; he is real. And he is not some vague embodiment of evil; he is personal. And that is why we’ve read here from Matthew chapter 4, and that is why Jesus speaks concerning him in the way that he does throughout all of the Gospel records. For example, Luke 22:31: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you.” Satan, the real Satan; Satan, not some vague embodiment of evil but a personal Satan, says, “I’d like to take hold of Simon Peter and bring him under my control.” And Jesus says, “Satan has actually been inquiring about you, Simon. But I’ve prayed for you that your faith may not fail and, when you turn back, that you might strengthen the brothers.”[2]

Satan is not a figment of the imagination; he is real. And he is not some vague embodiment of evil; he is personal.

So the introduction that the Bible gives us to the question of Satan, satanism, the devil, and demons is very, very different, as we said this morning, from the devil of fiction. The devil of fiction is a creation of the Evil One so unbelievable as for millions of people to reject any notion of him at all. And some years ago now, I came across this little poem that was obviously written in an earlier generation, ’cause it’s largely prosaic. And I may have quoted it before, but most of you will have forgotten in any case. And it is entitled “Devil, Who Does the Mischief?” Anyone remember this poem? See, if I had this as my thing, then you would have remembered it, ’cause I’d be quoting it every Sunday. All right? Now, here is how it goes. I don’t think the poetry’s great, but the point is super:

Men don’t believe in a devil now, as their fathers used to do;
They’ve forced the door of the broadest creed to let his majesty through.
There isn’t a print of his cloven hoof or a fiery dart from his bow
To be found in earth or air to-day, for the world has voted it so.

But who is mixing the fatal draught that palsies heart and brain,
And loads the [earth] of each passing year with ten hundred thousand slain?
Who blights the bloom of the land to-day with the fiery breath of hell?
If the devil isn’t, and never was, [won’t] somebody rise and tell?

Who dogs the steps of the toiling saint and digs the pits for his feet?
Who sows the tares in the field of time, wherever God sows … wheat?
The devil is voted not to be, and of course the thing is true;
But who[’s] doing the kind of work the devil alone should do?

We[’re] told he does[n’t] go about as a roaring lion now;
But [who] shall [be held] responsible for the everlasting row
[That’s] to be heard in home, in church, and state, to the earth’s remotest bound,
If the devil, by a unanimous vote, is nowhere to be found?

Won’t somebody step to the front forthwith, and make his bow and show
How the frauds and the crimes of [the] day spring up? [For surely] we want to know.
The devil was fairly voted out, and of course the [devil is] gone;
But simple [folk] would like to know who carries his business on.[3]

And as I mentioned before, I say again: the world tonight scrambles to explain the dreadful mess we’re in, doesn’t it? Absolutely goes to the end of itself to try and give an explanation as to what in the world is going on here. In the ’60s, it was all going to get better. At least, that’s what Lennon and McCartney said. In fact, they went as far as to say you’ve “got to admit it’s getting better.”[4] The prime minister of Britain went on record as saying, “We have never had it so good.” Well, that was the ’60s. This is the ’90s, and we’re in an unbelievable state of affairs, aren’t we? Now, at least the Bible provides for us a worldview that is cogent and rational.

What Scripture Says about the Devil

Let me give to you, with some scriptural references this evening, certain facts concerning the devil.

First of all, the Bible tells us that the devil is a fallen angel exalted in rank and power above all other fallen angels. There are two Old Testament passages that are directly referring to the Evil One, and you may want to make a note of them. One is Isaiah 14, and the other is Ezekiel 28. This is not the exclusive list of Old Testament passages; it just happens to be two.

In Isaiah 14, we read in verse 12,

How you have fallen from heaven,
 O morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
 you who once laid low the nations!
You said in your heart,
  “I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne
 above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
 on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
 I will make myself like the Most High.”
But you are brought down to the grave,
 to the depths of the pit.

Ezekiel chapter 28 (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, 28), in a word that was spoken to the King of Tyre, in a prophecy against him, in which he is almost, it would seem, embodied as Satan’s emissary: “This is what the sovereign Lord says.” Verse 12:

You were the model of perfection,
 full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden,
 the garden of God;
every precious stone adorned you:
 ruby, topaz and emerald,
 chrysolite, onyx and jasper,
 sapphire, turquoise and beryl.
Your settings and mountings were made of gold;
 on the day you were created they were prepared.

Notice, incidentally, that the devil is a created being. Don’t fall into the trap of getting into dualism in your thinking—the idea that there are two eternal sources: the good source, God; the bad source, the devil. Only God is eternal. The devil is a created being.

“You were anointed,” verse 14,

        as a guardian cherub,
 for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
 you walked among the fiery stones.
You were blameless in your ways
 from the day you were created
 till wickedness was found in you.
Through your widespread trade
 you were filled with violence,
 and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
 and I expelled you, O guardian cherub,
 from among the fiery stones.
Your heart became proud
 on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom
 because of your splendor.
So I threw you to the earth;
 I made a spectacle of you before kings.

In the New Testament, in the second-last book of the Bible, in Jude, we read these words in Jude 6: “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home”—namely, heaven—“these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.” If you go back a couple of books to the second letter of Peter—2 Peter 2:4: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them [in] gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment,” and so on. And then he applies that notion.

Don’t fall into the trap of the idea that there are two eternal sources: the good source, God; the bad source, the devil. Only God is eternal. The devil is a created being.

So, when we take the Bible and begin to understand it, we find first of all that the devil was a created being. There is great mystery in this, admittedly, but nevertheless, the devil fulfills the very purposes of God. He is a fallen angel.

The second thing that the Bible makes perfectly clear is that this devil is defeated. Now, once again, I’m going to lead you through some verses here. First of all, it is clear that the devil had no power over Jesus. He had no power over Jesus; he has no power over Jesus. John 14:30: Jesus says, “I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me.” He’s powerful, but he has no influence or power over Jesus. If you just turn back, I’ll just give you one or two verses. John 12:31: “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Jesus says the devil and his hosts are about to be defeated radically and powerfully. The time is coming for his judgment to be declared, and it is directly related to his being placed upon the cross. John 16:11: “… and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” Okay?

Stay with me now. Just keep your Bible going here. Hebrews 2:14. This is like sword drill from the old Sunday school days. If you never did it, it’s the same as someone who never learned their tables. If you never learned your tables, you are stuck with a calculator. If you never learned the books of the Bible, you’re stuck with an index. Hebrews 2:14: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he,” Jesus, “shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by … fear of death.” Now, notice the phrase “that by his death he might destroy him,” the devil, “who holds the power of death.” The only way that he can hold it is because God allows him to hold it for a wee while. If God wants to take it back, then he can’t hold it.

Colossians chapter 2. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, chapter 2, and in verse 15, speaking of Jesus: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” That is the significance, then, of what we’re told concerning what it means to be in Christ in the first chapter of Ephesians, where it says in Ephesians 1:20 about the “power,” the “mighty strength”[5] of God, “which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, [and] power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the [age] to come.” And in Romans chapter 16, we learn that the devil is in deep trouble concerning not only his defeat but also his ultimate destiny. Romans 16:20: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” He is going to be crushed.

So, the reason that I take time to emphasize this is because of how I’m going to end in a moment or two from now. It is imperative that we understand that the devil is a defeated foe. Checkmate has already occurred on the chessboard of life. At the cross, Jesus played the checkmate. There are moves left on the board, but they cannot reverse the fact that checkmate is certain. Those of you who play chess understand this. Children don’t understand this when they first begin to play chess, because they can’t see enough moves ahead. But as soon as they can begin to look ahead in the game, they realize when you move that piece across the board, it’s over. We can spend the last twenty minutes or so playing it out, but they’ve already seen the end. That is what has happened at the cross. He is going to be crushed under our feet. He was defeated at Calvary. He has no hold on Christ. As we will see in a moment, he has no hold on the Christian. Therefore, we are told not to be casting him out or casting demons out, but we’re told that the devil is to be resisted.

Okay, are you with me? He’s a fallen angel. He is defeated. He is to be resisted. We said this morning that we are not to be “ignorant of his devices.”[6] That’s Paul’s advice, 2 Corinthians 2:11. We noted also Ephesians 6:13: we are to be armed for battle; we’ve been given the warfare armor. And what we didn’t notice but referred to is James 4:7, where James, in one of the most practical letters in the New Testament, reminds his readers that it is very important that they “resist the devil.” James 4:7: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Okay? That’s a very straightforward and categorical statement, right? “Resist the devil in submission to God, and he will flee from you.”

Can Demons Possess Christians?

Now, on the strength of this biblical instruction and what the rest of the Bible has to say, let me anticipate a question which will inevitably come: Can Christians be demon possessed? I’ve never, ever taught on this without someone comes to me afterwards and said, “Do you believe, then, that it is possible for demons to possess Christians?” And the answer to that is no, I do not. And I don’t care whether you know what I believe. I care whether you understand what the Bible teaches. And you need, since you’re sensible people, to examine the Bible yourself to see if these things are so.[7] I want you to know that what I’m telling you, I’m telling you I believe the Bible teaches, but you better check. Let me tell you why I believe that it isn’t possible for Christians to be demon possessed.

It is imperative that we understand that the devil is a defeated foe. Checkmate has already occurred on the chessboard of life. At the cross, Jesus played the checkmate.

First of all, because of what we read in Colossians chapter 2: that Christ’s death has given victory. The victory is not a fake victory; it is a real victory. Colossians 2:10: “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.”[8] Jesus Christ has filled your life, believer. That’s what the Bible says. Your fullness is in Jesus. God looks at you, sees you in Christ. And you are filled with Christ. And in verse 15, he has “disarmed the powers and authorities,” as we saw, and he’s “made a public spectacle of them.” We are now united with a Christ who has disarmed the authority and power of the Evil One.

The believer is described as the one who has been delivered from these things. Still in Colossians and in [chapter] 1, he says of God the Father that he has “qualified” us “to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness,” and he has “brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption,” even “the forgiveness of [our] sins.”[9] He has brought us into a kingdom where the Evil One has no right of access. He doesn’t have a card to get in here. He cannot come. He is not welcome. He has no power. He doesn’t know the code. He can’t break it. He can’t break Jesus’ power. And we are all wrapped up in the power of Christ.

Furthermore, what we’re told is that the Holy Spirit indwells our lives. First Corinthians 6:19: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” One John 4:4 says, “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.”[10] So now we know that in realistic terms, the Holy Spirit lives within our lives, and he’s not about to leave to make room for demons.

“Well,” you say, “what about the story in Matthew chapter 12?” Someone else says, “What story in Matthew chapter 12?” So we got to turn to Matthew chapter 12 to find out. Turn to it, will you, just for a moment. Verse 43:

When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, “I will return to the house I left.” When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.

So in other words, within the state and sphere of natural man, it is clearly possible to be possessed of demons. It is also possible for those demons to leave or to be removed. If they leave voluntarily or are removed by any power, unless that house—namely, that life—is then to be filled with the fullness of Christ and with the indwelling Spirit of God, then that life becomes the very potential for a far worse experience of demon possession than anything that it had ever knew before.

But loved ones, tonight you need to understand that when the Bible says that the Holy Spirit fills our life, the Holy Spirit fills our lives. And it is the Holy Spirit who answers the door at any attempts of repossession. See? So the Holy Spirit says, “You’re not welcome here. This is a child of God. When Jesus died upon the cross, he defeated you, demon. He defeated you, Satan. Go back to hell where you belong. This is a child of the kingdom. These people belong to heaven. They belong to the reality and power of Christ.” So those of you who’ve been wandering around wondering whether you’re going to all of a sudden wake up and find that you’ve got to go to somebody’s church along the road here so that he can say, “Demon, be gone!” I want you to know it isn’t going to happen. It isn’t necessary. I am not saying that demon possession is not a reality. Demon possession is a reality. I have seen it twice in eighteen years of pastoral ministry, and not here in the United States. It’s one of the most fiendish, scariest things that anybody ever encountered in all of their life. It is like nothing else you’ve ever seen. But it is not the experience of the believer, says Scripture.

For example, John chapter 17, Jesus is praying to his Father, and he reinforces the fact of his power over all these affairs where he says in John 17:15, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” Now, do you think that Jesus asks the Father to do something for his family and somehow or another that the Father is unable to provide the protection necessary? This is not some Mickey Mouse insurance company, you know, that might not be able to pay up at the right time. “Father, I pray not that you remove them from the world, in which there is satanic activity and demonic activity. I just pray that you keep them from the Evil One.” Why would Jesus ever pray that prayer unless it was a necessary prayer? And do you think he would pray a prayer like that in anticipation of any other answer except a yes?

First John 5:18. You remember we discovered this when we went through 1 John. I had just been studying this passage of Scripture with you, and then I went to a conference on the West Coast and was subjected to a man telling me that I was absolutely, totally wrong. One John 5:18: “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe … the evil one cannot harm him.” Nowhere in the New Testament—and you check—nowhere in the New Testament are believers said to respond to Satan or to demons by casting them out. Nowhere, in the lives of believers! All that we’re told to do in relation to demonic activity is to stand firm, wear the armor, and to resist. Because all of the power that has vanquished all of that stuff has been unleashed at Calvary and is now the experience of the believer as a result of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God. Two Thessalonians 3:3: “The Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”

A Misfocus on “Demonic Strongholds”

Now, I want to say this to you as I draw this to a conclusion, if I can. There’s a bit of a ramble involved in this. I think you’ve picked that up. I’m rambling through extraneous stuff. They say the test of a good sermon is not how much you actually bring with you into the pulpit but is how much of it you leave behind. And so what you’ve got this evening is a lot of stuff that I left behind for this morning.

Here’s where I think this really hits home at the moment: Would you not agree with me that many people today have been programmed to believe that their problems are primarily as a result of something someone has done to them in the past rather than something for which they are currently responsible? Would you agree that that’s a prevailing emphasis? That your problem is not your problem; the problem is something somebody did to you. And whether you’re a believer or an unbeliever, it doesn’t really matter; we are all in this dreadful problem of our past. And the explanation of our existence is in our past. If we don’t know about our past, then we’ll have some guru dredge up our past, recreate our past, and give us a past so that we might explain our present. Do you notice that? Never heard so many people using the jargon words of psychology. So they have to be programmed for their usage.

That’s one thing. But the really bad thing about it is this—that there is an increasing emphasis that goes like this: Your past can be explained in terms of “demonic strongholds” in your life. And so the key to your effective Christian living lies in our being able to break your demonic strongholds, which are there in the past. As soon as we begin that line of reasoning, then it becomes increasingly possible for the kind of overemphasis on these things and the absolute misfocus which leads people into dreadful situations.

I want to read for you an extensive quote now. And you can just sit back and relax and listen to this:

God has provided his Word, which enables us to discern the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. But we do have to make an effort to learn and apply it. God has also regenerated every believer so that the Christian now has the volitional capacity to obey God and resist the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Any believer who thinks that they can’t crucify the flesh, discern the world, or resist the devil has already been deceived by Satan’s lie.

Here’s how it goes: Couple come for counseling. The Bible says you should love your wife as Christ loved the church.[11] The man responds, “I’m sorry, I can’t love my wife the way Christ loved the church.” The issue is not can’t; the issue is won’t—unless, of course, the can’t has to do with some kind of demonic interference. Soon as we make it demonic interference, then it is can’t; it isn’t won’t. We have now externalized the problem; we’ve made it something else other than the disobedience of the believer. We have made it external to him, and we may now take a completely different diagnostic root, and we will provide a very different form of cure—problem being that if, in point of fact, the chap really is just a disobedient rascal, then any kind of hocus-pocus with demonization is going to render the whole thing obsolete sooner than we realize.

“Many Christians are being told today that God’s work on the cross, his Word, and the Holy Spirit are not sufficient to handle life as a Christian.” That’s true, I agree with that.

They say we need some help from the world’s way of coping, called psychology. This is called being “balanced.” Many of these “balanced” Christians believe that they are victims of something that someone else has done to them, so that they are incapacitated from their responsibility to live the Christian life. This is why they feel like they can’t apply the normal techniques of the Christian life to deal with the problems of living. They say, “I’ve tried it, and it doesn’t work.” They refuse to believe that Christ has provided all they need to deal with sins of the flesh and false doctrine, but they will not put on Christ’s armor and fight the battle. They are waiting for a quick fix, like a drug or an experience that will make their flesh feel like trusting and obeying God.

With this kind of mentality dominating evangelical Christianity, no wonder there is such an openness to the message which says that believers are victims of demonic control and need postsalvation deliverance. Anyone engaging in postsalvation deliverance is, in essence, acting like a believer can be demon possessed. There is a huge market for those who feel like they cannot trust the Lord because they feel like their volition, their ability to do, is bound by Satan and the demonic, when in reality, if they are indeed a Christian, they have simply not properly matured. Hebrews 5:13 calls them spiritual babies, not in need of deliverance. Hebrews 5:12 says they need the solid food of the Word of God mixed with the exercise of obedience. Hebrews 12 calls these believers weak, undeveloped, and in need of discipline and exercise. But for these Christian couch potatoes, they do not feel like they need discipline and exercise. They feel like someone is keeping them from growing up in the Lord. They feel like Satan has them bound. So it is not surprising that they feel like they need deliverance. And onto the scene prances the bondage breaker to lend a helping hand.

The Devil Is Limited

Finally, the devil is defeated, the devil is to be resisted, and the devil is limited. Let me finish the way I finished this morning. It’s a great insight, this, and it’s very, very important.

Don’t overestimate the devil. Keep your eyes on Jesus, don’t straddle the fence, and keep close to the cross.

He’s not omniscient, all right? God is the only one who knows everything. Satan doesn’t. He knows some, and he’s a really good guesser, but he doesn’t know everything. So you don’t have to go to your bed at night wondering if Satan knows everything about what’s going on. He doesn’t.

Secondly, he is not omnipotent. Only God is all-powerful. Satan can only ultimately do what God permits him to do. And he is chained to the cross. Okay? It’s as far as he can go. He can’t go any farther. He’s like a pit bull in somebody’s backyard chained to a big, concrete stake. They can roar all they like, but if the chain is fifteen feet long, make sure that you stay at sixteen feet, and you’re okay. The devil is chained to the cross. He’s totally neutralized in terms of his ultimate ability to interfere with and affect the believer’s life.

And lastly, he is not omnipresent. Only God is everywhere. Satan can’t be everywhere at the same time, tempting everybody. He has to operate one at a time or use his assistants. Therefore, we finish with this intriguing notion: that Satan has probably never tempted you or even anyone you know. Therefore, don’t overestimate him. Keep your eyes on Jesus, don’t straddle the fence, and keep close to the cross.

Let us bow in prayer:

Father, I recognize that these things are even difficult to talk about. Certainly, the Evil One hates it when his cover is blown. When your Word is unleashed, he runs and hides like a spoiled child. And I pray tonight that the teaching of your Word today may come to our lives with conviction, with clarity, with help—that anything that is unclear or uncertain may be banished from our minds. Help us to get ahold of the main things: that the devil is a defeated foe, that we may resist him and find that he flees, that he is limited in his access and in his power, and that greater is he who is in us than he who roams the world.

Help us to be biblical, believing all that the Bible teaches and holding it in the balance that the Bible sets it in. Give us as a congregation a sanity and a reality about our Christian living. Save us from copping out with the cures of the world and the diagnosis of the same. Help us to be honest about sin and rebellion, straightforward about our unwillingness to do what the Bible says. May we not be baby Christians, relying on our feelings, but may we become mature, able to say we walk by faith and not by sight.[12]

We commend one another into your care this night, thanking you again for all that this day has meant, thanking you for those who’ve been baptized. Go before them. May they take the armor of God and wear it. And may we be to them a help and never a hindrance.

And now unto him, the one who is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, now and forevermore. Amen.

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 175.

[2] Luke 22:31–32 (paraphrased).

[3] Alfred J. Hough, “Who Carries on the Business?”

[4] Paul McCartney and John Lennon, “Getting Better” (1967).

[5] Ephesians 1:19 (NIV 1984).

[6] 2 Corinthians 2:11 (KJV).

[7] See Acts 17:11.

[8] Colossians 2:9–10 (NIV 1984).

[9] Colossians 1:12–14 (NIV 1984).

[10] 1 John 4:4 (KJV).

[11] See Ephesians 5:25.

[12] See 2 Corinthians 5:7.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.