Know Thy EnemyBy Nathan Mates
While the title of this piece may seem unusual, it is true: as Christians, we do have an enemy. That would be Satan, also known by many other names such as Lucifer, Beelzebub, and many others. While we are not normally called to engage Satan in one on one battle, we should remain aware of him, as Paul said, "in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes." [2 Corinthians 2:11]
First and foremost, we need to take a balanced approach to the subject of Satan-- we are not to be unaware of him, hiding our heads in the sand, nor are we to focus undue attention or blame on him. "The Devil made me do it" is merely an excuse. Satan's power is limited by God, and for Christians, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." [1 Corinthians 10:13] In other words, for every tempting situation, God's already planned an escape route-- it's your job to find it.
Satan is not someone who is only referenced in the New Testament; the Old Testament provides a background to him. The snake in the Garden of Eden was Satan, tempting Adam and Eve to break God's law, and acquire wisdom on their own. But, Satan was not always in existence. Satan is a created being, one that God made. God existed before the universe. Satan didn't. As an angel (now fallen), he exists only because of God. Also, when Satan was kicked out of Heaven, he took with him one third of the angels-- so there's twice as many angels serving God as there are of Satan.
Ezekiel 28:12-19 is an interesting lament over the 'King of Tyre'-- an enemy of Israel to be sure, but an earthly enemy. But, many read this passage truly referring to Satan: "You were anointed 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." [Ezekiel 28:14-17] The Cherubim stay pretty close to God's throne (Ezekiel 10), and so one higher than them is not quite going to be an earthly king. Like some other chunks of Ezekiel, this may be open to different interpretations, but it is somewhat interesting to look at. Similarly, Isaiah 14:12-17 either uses the 'morning star' in Isaiah 14:12 to refer to Lucifer, or the king of Babylon.
Job, chapters 1-2, has an interesting pattern to it: Satan shows up, and is allowed to torment Job by God. In the Hebrew, Satan's name is literally "The Accuser." While God lets Satan do nasty things to Job, it is always within limits-- Satan exists at God's mercy, just like every human. Zechariah 3:1-10 is also an example of Satan being the accuser, while God says quite clearly that he has redeemed that victim. Satan's accusations are not noted here, but as one who sinned and was thrown out of heaven, I'd say his accusations are along these lines: "They sinned, they broke your law, God, you can't have this person in your kingdom." [i.e. "Let them suffer with me."] Thanks to Jesus, however, our sins are washed away, and Satan's accusations of sin in our lives are meaningless.
Jesus acknowledged that Satan existed on many points, and at one time was tempted by him. [Matthew 4:1-11] Satan promised him the earth-- something that was in his power to give, if Jesus would only worship the wrong person. In a fallen world, separated from God's holiness, Satan is on his natural territory, and has more power here than he does elsewhere. But, Jesus was the one promised back in the Garden of Eden [Genesis 3:15] who'd crush the serpent's (Satan's) head.
Ok, so there is ample evidence of Satan's existence all over the Bible. How does that apply in our lives? As born into this world, we are sinners-- in Satan's camp. If someone stays that way, he probably doesn't mind all that much. But, once we are saved, and not headed for Hell, Satan's plans have to change drastically. One of the best things he can do is cause us to be ineffective, useless, Christians-- ones who don't pray, don't evangelize, don't walk with the Lord. Basically, that limits the amount of "damage" that can be done by Christians here on earth. So, for every decision you make, ask yourself this: is God being glorified by this decision? If not, there's only one alternative, and the victor there has a name starting with 'S'.
Satan can also try and immobilize Christians with certain emotions and thought patterns, such as "I'm afraid of what others will think about me if I evangelize, so I won't do it." Guess what-- that's precisely what Satan would love to see happen. So once again, if you can catch yourself in a thought like that, then once again, ask yourself who's happier at the outcome: Jesus or Satan. If Satan, that's probably a bad idea.
Next, Satan has proven quite effectively that he can use 'Christians' against other Christians, causing hurt and divisions in the Church. Paul wrote of it this way: ""In your anger do not sin:" Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." [Ephesians 4:26-27] Paul acknowledged that people will get angry; that's human nature. But, what you do under the influence of anger can easily be turned for Satan's purposes. When we do get angry, we are to deal with it quickly-- we're never more than about 24 hours away from the next sunset. Once anger (or any other emotion that can lead to problems) is dealt with according to God's plan, Satan has no power to use it. Like a bacterial infection, if things fester in you, Satan'll try his best to use it for his purposes.
Finally, Satan also has the power to deceive many. As Paul said, "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light." [2 Corinthians 11:13-14] In short, Satan's still an angel, and some angelic abilities can probably wow many people's socks off. However, this is where wisdom and discernment are needed: anything you hear, check it against the Bible. God does not say things that are in contradiction to the Bible, but Satan will if he thinks it'll work.
What's far more dangerous, however, is Satan's ability to try and emphasize only certain parts of the Bible. The Gnostic heresy came from people emphasizing only Jesus's divinity, and refusing to acknowledge that Jesus was also fully human. Because the gnostics felt that sinning against the body didn't count, they had permission and license to sin, I'd say that it's pretty clear that Satan was pretty happy at that. Any time a part of the Bible is taken to an extreme while ignoring verses that hold it in 'balance', there's a problem. The Bible is not a set of small verses; it is a coherent whole, and needs to be followed as a whole.
There are probably many other tactics and traits Satan likes to use to harass the Church; a list of all of them could probably end up several times longer than the Bible. So, while we are not to obsess over Satan's activities, we should not be oblivious to him either. Asking yourself "Who's getting victory by this action, God or Satan" is the best defense-- you are forced to think and weigh actions against God's word (go read it if you don't know what's in there), and make informed decisions according to God's plans.