June 15, 2009
by Wayne Stiles
More than thirty years ago Flip Wilson kept America in stitches with his television characters “Reverend Leroy,” the friendly, pompous pastor of the “Church of What’s Happening Now,” and “Geraldine Jones,” the sassy African-American woman in a miniskirt. Whenever Geraldine would impulsively buy a dress—or do anything she shouldn’t—she excused her urge by uttering the line she made famous, “The Devil made me do it!”
America laughed at Geraldine for her obviously lame excuse. In fact, to say, “The Devil made me do it,” became the rage all over the country. Of course, we all know that the Devil wants us to sin, but everybody knew the truth.
Today we see a widespread theology that seems to be a strange mix between Reverend Leroy and Geraldine. We find ministries with leaders who point to the Devil and his imps for the sins that plague us. For example, one very radical ministry told a Christian woman who visited them that her problems came from a “legion” of demons within her, and in order to get rid of them, she needed to vomit them out right there in church! Others are told they have a “spirit of divorce,” a “spirit of lust,” “neglect,” or “procrastination.” These spirits are blamed for people’s sins, and the solution to these sins then becomes casting out the spirit causing them. Geraldine would be proud.
Frequently the Bible uses the word “spirit” to refer to a demon, often attaching a descriptive word or phrase such as “unclean spirit” (Mark 1:23), “evil spirit” (Acts 19:12-13), “spirit of infirmity” (Luke 13:11), and “deaf and mute spirit” (Mark 9:25). Words such as “unclean” and “evil” describe the nature of the spirit itself. But phrases like “spirit of infirmity” and “deaf and mute spirit” describe the particular affliction the spirits cause. Unfortunately, many people launch from these verses into theological error when they confuse affliction with transgression, naming a demon after their sin.
The Bible never describes the work of demons in the lives of believers directly in terms of immorality. In other words, to say a believer has a “spirit of lust”—as if his real problem is a demon—assumes something the Bible never teaches. The demonic realm can influence a believer’s morality. However, God’s Word describes demonic influence in a believer’s life not as “possession”—or even “oppression”—but primarily as temptation.
In the Garden of Eden, God confronted the first man and woman after they sinned, and their reaction set the course for an entire race of blame-shifters.
The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12-13, emphasis added)
Adam blamed his wife (and God), but then confessed, “I ate.” The woman blamed the serpent, but then confessed, “I ate.” It’s always easier to point the finger at someone or something else when we sin. We even add influences like genetics and environment (“Genetics made me do it!”) to our arsenal of excuses. And while these may play a part in influencing us—along with demons—the final decision to sin lies squarely on our shoulders. In spite of the Devil’s initiative, God held Adam and Eve responsible for their own sins. The Devil enticed them, without a doubt, but he did not make them do it.
God’s solution to their sin did not come by blaming Satan. Instead God elicited a confession from the sinners, “I ate,” and provided a sacrificial death on their behalf, removing their shame (3:21).
Nothing has changed. God’s plan for removing our guilt involves removing the sin that caused it—not removing some “spirit of (insert your sin here).” In other words, when we recognize our sin and receive God’s provision through the finished work of Christ on the cross, we have the forgiveness we craved when we used to blame-shift to somebody else.
So, how should we respond to temptation? We must know and hold fast to the Word of God. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, the Devil again tried to muddle God’s Word, as he did with the woman in the garden. But Jesus not only knew the Scripture, He clung to it—and sent the Devil packing (Matthew 4:1-11). James 4:7 teaches us to employ the same strategy, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”
Mark it down as a fact: We will always struggle with temptation in this life. But God has not left us alone in the struggle. He has provided all we need to defeat sin and Satan (Ephesians 6:10-18; 1 John 4:4). Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13), and He told the disciples, “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). He has delivered us from sin’s power through His death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-14); He has provided the Holy Spirit to help us grow as we submit to the Word of God (Galatians 5:16); He has promised to limit our temptation to that which we can resist, and He always provides a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).
We cannot cast out temptation. But we can resist. We have a great opportunity to glorify Christ by responding with faithfulness in the face of evil enticements.