In 1985, Richard Ramirez, a Satanist, killed fourteen Californians. Ramirez claimed evil spirits made him mutilate the elderly, women, and children. His savagery even terrified his trial judge.
What do we make of this monstrosity? Or of racially motivated violence, where even Christians misappropriate Scripture to deny the basic human dignity of those they deem inferior to them? The testimonies of Christ and the apostles give evidence that demons work by seducing us with pride, greed, and lust. But can we hold demonized humans responsible for the sins committed under demonic influence? Who bears ultimate responsibility for 9/11 or the Nazi genocide of Jews? Satan, or those who commited the sins?
I recently attended a live performance of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. As I enjoyed the show I remembered one of Satan’s tactics: getting a fallen human to cover a contemptible lifestyle under the guise of proper decorum. We oftentimes fail to recognize the camouflage of moral upright living. A reading of the thirty-one letters (published in 1942) illustrates how little human nature has changed over several decades. The devil doesn’t have to teach an old dog new tricks. We fall for the same things we did back then.
But why do God's elect fall prey to attacking spirits? Pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones attests, "…one of the main causes of the ill state of the Church today is the fact that the devil is being forgotten. All is attributed to us; we have all become so psychological in our attitude and thinking…"
Pediatric health care providers often use a liquid sedative called Versed. The appealing magenta potion with seductive cherry scent make it attractive, and children readily swallow it. But a child who consumes Versed soon uncovers the hoax. Too late. The unexpected bitter jolt precedes temporary attenuation of verbal and motor function. Just like the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, it looks good, it smells good, but the unexpected "poisoning" is swift and unpleasant. Pastor Chip Ingram contends that believers have received fragmented spiritual warfare education. As a result, Satan’s deception goes largely undetected.
Some churchgoers misunderstand the demons' abilities to wreak catastrophe on a backslidden saint. No match for the devil, we can succumb to carnality and fail in spiritual battle. In severe cases, (like with the overpowering obsession of sexual addiction) we may need to seek help from a pastor or counselor. We can ponder the level of demonic influence a person has fallen under. Perhaps a more pressing point: how did the person get there? In a word: consent.
Consider Judas. Although he felt compelled to betray Jesus, at first Satan held no power over him. Satan only wormed into Judas after Judas consented (John 13:27). We may fall under Satan's power, but we must consent to immorality. Satan will take whatever we let him have. With permission, hostile forces will exert pressure upon the mind, emotions, and physical body to engage in immorality. We then lose discernment, and demonic powers gain influence. Of course, demons cannot overrule Christ's authority. Some claim this absolves Satan and demons from blame for human sin, since they can only do what God allows them to do.
But we cannot blame God if we yield to Satan’s deception. We will always struggle with the old sin nature, and if not intentional about walking by faith, we can fall under demonic control. In Romans 6:12 the Apostle Paul warns, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body…." Demons, although they cannot take ownership of our bodies, can still invade and settle uninvited. That said, we can prevent this type of demonic influence by yielding all compartments of our lives to the Holy Spirit—the devil will target any unyielded part (Gal. 5:16).
The Bible is clear: even Christians will sin. And by sinning, we expose ourselves to demonic persecution. God does provide security with the filling of the Holy Spirit. He also seals believers for the day of redemption. But the sealing only guarantees salvation—it does not imply diabolical forces cannot influence us.
In Luke 22:31, Satan asks for permission to sift Simon Peter. The concept of "seven devils stronger than the first," in Luke 11 makes it clear: the devil possesses immense malevolent potential. We should never rest that once delivered from demonic influence, we have secured immunity from future demonic attack. In Ephesians 6, Paul uses the "full armor of God" as a metaphor to depict a Roman soldier going to battle with a fierce opponent. God has equipped us to succeed in battle with the enemy. But this armor protects us from the outside, not from the inside.
Satan can trick anyone into sin, but he has a vested interest in destroying Christians. This does not mean unbelievers have automatic immunity to his tactics. But Scripture points to his tireless efforts towards believers. Satan has much to gain by destroying our marriages, ministries, churches, and gospel witnesses. Of course, Jesus protects us from demonic energy. This may mitigate our struggle with evil, but it does not cancel our accountability for defiance. Some books on spiritual warfare align with Flip Wilson's "the devil made me do it" dogma. They blame evil spirits for evil thoughts and actions. Alexander Solzhenitsyn finds reality much more ominous: "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being." Satan started sin. But ever since the Fall, humans have a natural tendency toward imperfection. So let’s stop blaming the devil.