What You Should Know About the Devil

Ary Scheffer – The Temptation of Christ (1854).

By Peter J. Bellini – I experienced a radical conversion from atheism to Jesus Christ as a graduate student in philosophy in the 1980s. After that experience – and before I became an ordained United Methodist minister – I was an open-air campus preacher. It was at The Ohio State University that I was exposed early to the raw reality of the devil and the need for spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry.

Although these are not common elements of discussion among United Methodist clergy, I can attest that we need to be more open in teaching about Christian faith and spiritual darkness. After my own conversion, I had to walk through ministry to break the power of demonic strongholds in my own life.

In the midst of preaching to campus crowds and praying for students, I was openly opposed by Satanists and various other groups who practiced witchcraft. Imagine my surprise as a young Christian when I learned from these groups that they were holding regular black masses for my death. As surreal as it sounds, during my preaching I would hear them attempt to cast various types of curses and spells on me so that I would stop sharing the gospel.

I learned quickly that the devil was real and the need to put on the whole armor of God, discern spirits, intercede in the Spirit, and fight on my knees day and night. The devil exists. Christians in the West need to wake up to what the Bible and the rest of the two-thirds world already know. Here are seven things that every United Methodist should know about the devil.

1. The devil exists.

Scripture seems to assume a supernatural worldview and the existence of the demonic. Casting out demons was a central practice in the ministry of Jesus and the disciples (Matthew 10:7-8) and is a common ministry in what scholars refer to as the “Global South” (Africa, Latin America, and the developing countries in Asia). In fact, this aspect of Christ’s ministry was so prominent that Jesus was often understood as an itinerant exorcist (see Graham Twelftree’s Jesus the Exorcist: A Contribution to the Study of the Historical Jesus).

With much of the New Testament written out of a worldview that assumed the existence of angels and demons, how can it be that lifelong United Methodists can sit in their pews for forty or fifty years and never hear a sermon or a Sunday school lesson on the devil or even hell?

In our United Methodist baptismal vows, we are supposed to be asked, “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?” In many churches, every Sunday we pray the Lord’s Prayer, petitioning “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Even though references to Satan and evil are in our liturgy, we have little idea what they mean beyond the latest cultural iteration of what society deems “evil.”

The Apostle Paul writes, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). Our war against evil is a battle against spiritual wickedness, and the weapons provided for us are spiritual, such as the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.

Unfortunately, we do not hear much about spiritual warfare in our churches. The reason is that much of United Methodist and mainline Protestant pastoral seminary education is a product of an Enlightenment worldview that rigidly understands the universe in solely material terms and with physical causes.

Notions in the scripture of miracles, angels, and demons are viewed as mythical or precritical, since they seem to defy the laws of modern science. Although the modern scientific community and much of mainline Protestantism have cast the devil out of its worldview, they have not cast the devil out of the world. The scriptures provide a worldview that accepts the existence of an invisible creation, a spirit world that is inhabited by both angelic and demonic spirits. The worldview is also adopted by believers in the Global South and Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians in the “Global North” (United States, Canada, Western Europe).

Scripture seems to tacitly accept that creation is both “visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:16). While we are all aware of a world accessible to the five senses; the invisible world is accessible only through faith. When we acknowledge creation portrayed in scripture, we behold a worldview that encompasses both material and spiritual realities working together and interacting. Scripture does not have a problem with a spirit worldview, spirit beings, divine and angelic action, or deliverance from demonic powers – neither does the great tradition of the Church or practitioners of deliverance today.

2. The Devil Still has Power

The Devil is not dead. In fact, he is alive, well, and still kicking. Revelation 12:1-11 speaks of a war in heaven between Michael and his angels and the dragon (Lucifer) and his angels. The rebellious angels lost the war and were cast out of heaven to the earth where they roam throughout seeking whomever they can devour. Throughout history demons have tempted and assaulted the souls of humanity from Adam and Eve until today. Satan continues to wage war against our souls through his primary power that is deception (2 Corinthians 4:4, 11:14). He is the father or author of lies over against the truth of God’s Word (John 8:44). Through deceiving the minds of humanity, he is able “to steal, kill, and destroy” our hope for abundant life (John 10:10). Without the aid of Jesus Christ, we are no match for the power of Satan. From the least to the greatest, all have fallen in temptation to sin and stand in need of the power of God’s grace to overcome evil.

3. The Devil has been Defeated

Although Satan has ruled over humanity through the law of sin and death, the Bible teaches “that the Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8), and this defeat was accomplished at the cross, where Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:10). At the cross, the atoning purposes of God were finished (completed). Sin was finished (defeated). Death was finished. And the Devil was finished. Christ’s work on the cross is the means by which God has dealt with sin, death, Satan, and all evil. He took sin and death in his own body and destroyed its power, so that we may be free from its tyranny (Romans 8:1-3; Hebrews 2:14).

It is essential that believers realize that Satan is ultimately a defeated foe. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church because we resist the devil from the finished work of the cross where all of Christ’s enemies have been already defeated. The problem is that many Christians are not aware of the victory Christ has accomplished for us or of the authority they possess in Christ.

4. The Devil Attacks Believers and Unbelievers

Satan is notoriously called the “tempter” because that seems to be one of his primary functions (Matthew 4:3). Now, when we say the “Devil” or “Satan” tempts us, we do not necessarily know if it is specifically the fallen angel Lucifer himself that is tempting us or another demon. We use the term “devil” or “Satan” to represent and signify a demon, the demonic, one of the fallen angels, or the face of evil. Satan, in this sense, is the voice of temptation that seeks to seduce and blind believers and unbelievers alike (2 Corinthians 4:4).

We cannot utterly avoid ever being tempted, nor is being tempted a sin. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan. We can expect to be tempted in our areas and times of weakness (James 1:14). However, it is not a sin to be tempted. Christ was tempted in all points but did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). We are all tempted. The sin is not in temptation but in succumbing to temptation. Sin crouches behind the door of temptation, and we must overcome sin by closing the door on temptation (Genesis 4:7).

We are called to “resist the devil, and he will flee” from us (James 4:7). We are also warned to “be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

5. Victory Over the Devil

Because Christ overcame the devil on our behalf, we can overcome as well. Deliverance from evil begins and ends at the cross. The cross is the objective ground for deliverance from evil, while the work of the Spirit is the subjective implementation and manifestation of deliverance in our lives. As we resist the devil and yield our lives to the cross – where sin, death, and the devil have been defeated – then we receive the benefits of the cross as identified and expressed in our baptism. The Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 6 that when Christ died, we died; when Christ was buried, we were buried; when Christ resurrected, we resurrected. When we die to temptation and sin through the power of the cross, then Satan has no power over us. Christians need to learn who they are in Christ, a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

6. Power and Authority Over the Demonic

Although Satan is the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), those who are in Christ are not to fear the devil. Christ declared, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all of the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you” (Luke 10:19). In fact, Christ informed the disciples that the demons had to submit and obey them because Jesus had given the disciples the authority of his name (Mark 16:17; Luke 10:20). Believers in Christ are given the name of Jesus that allows them to act on Christ’s behalf in his power and authority, like a power of attorney. When we are sent out, as the disciples were sent, to preach and teach the Kingdom, heal the sick, and cast out demons, we are sent out “in the name of Jesus.” He sends us out to do the Father’s will in the power and authority of the Son by the Spirit. We are given the keys of the Kingdom “to bind the devil” and loose “righteousness, peace, and joy” in the world (Matthew 18:18-19; Romans 14:17). The church has been equipped to walk in the world as Christ walked with authority over sin and evil.

7. Weapons for Warfare

During a time of intense trials in 1740, John Wesley wrote in his journal, “I found more and more undeniable proofs, that the Christian state is a continual warfare.” Spiritual warfare is real and grueling. Since we are still in these temptable bodies that reside in a world teeming with temptation and sin, we are called to “fight the good fight of faith.” However, this war is not a physical war or even ultimately an ideological war dealing with human constructed systems, though it may include these.

This spiritual war is fought with spiritual weapons that “are not the weapons of the world” but weapons that “have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). For example, some of the spiritual weapons that God provides for the battle are the sword of the Spirit that is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17), along with the whole armor of God and all of its pieces (Ephesians 6:13-17), the name of Jesus (Mark 9:38; John 20:31; Acts 4:30), the blood of Jesus (Revelations 12:11), prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), praise and worship (1 Samuel 16:23), repentance and humility (James 4:6-10), and love and good works (Luke 6:35; Romans 12:21) among others.

As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. …  so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground” (Ephesians 6: 11,13). 

Peter J. Bellini is Associate Professor of Evangelization in the Heisel Chair at United Theological Seminary. He is the author of Unleashed: The C1-13 Integrative Deliverance Needs Assessment; Truth Therapy: Renewing Your Mind with the Word of God, and Participation: Epistemology and Mission Theology. He has participated in deliverance and exorcism ministry for more than 30 years. Dr. Bellini teaches in the areas of Church Renewal, Global Charismatic Studies, Missiology, Evangelism, Intercultural and Inttereligious Encounter, and Urban Studies.

Comments

  1. Yes. This is true and seeing and experiencing the truth of this
    is what changed me from a progressive to a biblical traditionalist. God’s Word is true, and to ignore it is to give the enemy power and surrender, hand over what Christ won for us. I firmly believe this and the related ignoring of Holy Spirit in the UMC is at the of our present denominational battle and decline. The Western Protestant church has surrendered her inheritance and birthright and has stood powerless where we were meant to lead the world into victory over the enemy who steals, kills, and destroys, and in slavery to sin and death. We have stood powerless and mystified by “diagnoses” and impulses that medicine and mental health have not been able to cure, because we have not understood what Dr. Bellini is writing here. I just started the DMin at United and this is the area of my project. I look forward to meeting you, Dr. Bellini and more discussion!.

    • Connie Sue Gortney says:

      Thank you for sharing your conversion and how Jesus Christ is opening your eyes and trust in the authority of the Holy Spirit. The UMC is definitely in desperate need of a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit and wisdom to see the damage being done by allowing the norms of the civil, secular society to rise in our congregations at all levels. God Bless you.

  2. Pete Bellini says:

    So true. Thank you for your helpful comments. Look forward to meeting you as well.

  3. Pete Bellini says:

    Indeed the UMC rarely consider how worldliness has blinded and corrupted its witness.

  4. Thanks Pete for this article. In preaching a sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer I noted that Jesus taught his disciples to deliver them from the “evil one. “.

  5. Amen Dr.Bellini…thank you for sharing God’s wisdom and thoughtfulness. Best thing Ive read in a long time. As a Methodist since 2004, you are so right…I’ve never heard a sermon on Satan and his demons…Appreciate you writing this 100% true and correct message straight from God Himself. God bless you.

  6. Peter,
    To Orthodox Christians this is not unfamiliar territory. But in the section on ‘Weapons for Warfare’ you have missed out one important weapon and that is the power of The Cross. Signing oneself with the cross is a powerful defence against assaults of demons. We sing in the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross the following:

    The invincible weapon of peace! The cross is the enemy of demons, the glory of the martyrs, the haven of salvation, which grants the world great mercy.

    and later on in the same hymn:

    All who sign themselves with you are freed from danger, O rod of strength under which we like sheep are tended. O weapon of peace round which the angels stand in fear, O divine glory of Christ our God, who grants the world great mercy.

    Come and join us on Sunday when we do prostrations before the Holy Cross.

    • Pete Bellini says:

      Amen. Thank you Isaac. The cross, which I do mention earlier in the article, is key to our victory over evil. Also, I concur with the power of signing and do it often. Thanks.

  7. My friend and I (both in out 60’s)were so encouraged by your article; mainly in that we have not known many Methodist preachers who preach about spiritual warfare. We greatly appreciate this article because it affirms that the deliverance we have been though was a biblical truth. We know it took much courage to speak on a subject that most Methodists do not know even exist. She and I both believe the deliverance ministry is needed in the church today because of the onslaught of evil is escalating in our society. Also there are so many wounded young people who have such strongholds in their lives. God Bless You got the knowledge and wisdom you shared.

  8. Pete Bellini says:

    Thank you for your encouraging words. Yes, there are some of us Methocostals still in the Methodist ranks. As a Methodist, I have had a deliverance ministry for over 30 years now, and you are so right. It is so needed. Blessings. Stay strong.

  9. Dr. Tom Broom, D. Min. says:

    Amen Pete: In my D.Min. studies, I took a course in Spiritual Warfare. Arriving in one of my new appointments at a large church, a couple of parishioners visited me and informed me “we don’t talk about Satan or hell in this church. The next Sunday my sermon title was, “Hell is for Real!” I am a retired UM pastor and serve part time of a small rural church now. I do preach on Spiritual Warfare and our need to recognize that Satan does exist.

  10. Pete Bellini says:

    Amen. Good for you. The UM is so far behind in these matters.

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