Recognizing the Devil: Part I

The question concerning the reality of Satan has baffled humanity for many millennia. Is the Devil a living or existing entity? Is he a figment of our imagination or is he just plain folklore?

The word ‘satan’ simply means ‘adversary’; a fact should be given serious consideration by every child of God. To underestimate the strength and wisdom of one’s enemy is the first step to defeat and is almost as devastating as denying his existence.

For those of us descending from a strong heathen background, it has never been a problem of acknowledging the existence of “the power of darkness”. The Devil is quite real and had it not been for the mercy and power of God, we never would have been delivered from his demonic clutches. But thanks be to God, “who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son…” (Col. 1:13).

One of the basic purposes of the church is described in the Lord’s commission to the Apostle Paul.. As a minister to the Gentiles, he was called to “open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the powers of Satan unto God…” (Acts 26:18). We can also testify of God having done the same for us.

Indelible Misconceptions

Among the many boyhood memories that I am unable to forget is a song I learnt in Sunday School about the Devil. He was described as a “sly old fox” who could be caught and locked in a box. I could then “lock the door and throw away the key for all the tricks he played on me.” As simple as it sounded, this children’s song created an impression in my innocent mind that Satan was just a ‘plain old goof’. This misconception resulted in an underestimation of the strength of my greatest enemy. Had it not been for the goodness of God in touching the eyes of my understanding, I might have submitted myself to total satanic control without realizing it.

Contrary to the simplistic view of the Devil is the heinous and fiendish concept that is basically linked to pagan religions and the occult. Satan is viewed as a creature of the underworld who is dressed in red and carries a pitchfork. He wears a pointed beard and whiskers, has a long tail with an arrow head at the end, and his feet are hooves. Although this unscriptural description is the most popular concept among Christians, it is extremely limited in its description of satanic guile.

Then there are those who do not believe that Satan is a real entity. Though this concept may be the result of years of theological arguments, it is a speculation that is not supported by scripture. Of course, to deny the existence of one’s enemy just because he is not visible does in no way detract from his reality or lessen his onslaught.

The Reality of Satan

Scripture does describe God as being invisible, whom “no man hath seen” but this in no way rules out God’s existence. (Jn. 1:18, 5:37, Col. 1:15, 1 Tim. 1:17, Heb. 11:27). If experiencing or witnessing good is an indication of the existence of God, then the massive amount of evil that exists within and around us is greater reason to suggest the existence of the Devil.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus the Apostle Paul explained that, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph. 6:12). Again in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4, Paul explained to the church at Corinth that, “though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)…”

It is without doubt that we have an adversary and we are engaged in a continuous war against his forces. Although he may not be visible and the war may not be physical it is quite real.

To better combat the forces of darkness we, the Body of Christ, must be able to recognize the Devil. We must not take for granted the powers of darkness and never become so naïve as to overlook even the simplest demonic intrusion. Two thousand years ago he was described by the Apostle Peter as “a roaring lion, [who] walketh about, seeking whom he may devour…” (1 Pet. 5:8). But today, the Devil is like a chameleon. He can adapt to any category of life in order to influence his victims. As a matter of fact, he has already assumed the role to fit every pagan and Christian misconception and will further disguise himself in order to affect a continuous deception.

Satanic Adaptability

Attempting to describe the full magnitude of satanic intrusion in the world is impossible. The Devil’s influence extends from the depravity of the occult mindset to the most sincere forms of religion — including Christianity.

For those of us who are Christians it is easy to recognize the Devil as he works with the ungodly and heathen religions. But can we recognize him in the church? Can we recognize a demonic manifestation in the midst of a Holy Ghost service? Are we sensitive enough to identify what is flesh, what is Spirit and what is demonic? Is it safe for the child of God to speculate whether God is in a service based on external manifestations, volume and sensational feelings? In Hebrews 5:14, the scripture gives greater credibility to those “who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

Unless God genuinely touches our minds with the Holy Ghost and establishes our faith on truth we will be deceived. Until “we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God…unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” we will be “tossed to and fro…by every wind of doctrine…” (Eph. 4:13-14).

May God grant us the grace to accept the reality of our greatest enemy and the wisdom to recognize him even in his most subtle disguise.