I finished yesterday’s post by saying that when it comes to wrestling with the reality of a “thief” (see John 10:10), what we need is a healthy, balanced, calibrated view that both allows us to recognize the presence of evil but also the greater power that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. This timeless quote from C.S. Lewis captures the balance well. It’s from the preface toThe Screwtape Letters:
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors…”
So how do we actually do what it is that C.S. Lewis is suggesting? How do we find that balanced view that successfully avoids both errors?
When the Apostle Paul finishes the book of Ephesians by talking about the armor of God, he starts by saying this:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6.10-11)
I think that this is one of the single most helpful descriptions of the nature of evil in the whole Bible. Not only does it let us clearly see what we are up against, but it helps us to establish the balanced, calibrated view that we so badly need in order to experience victory and breakthrough in this arena.
There are a pair of words in this verse that lay the foundation for demystifying spiritual warfare: “schemes” and “devil.” I love the meaning and etymology of words, so seeing it Greek has helped me understand each of these with a greater degree of clarity.
The first is “schemes,” and the Greek word is methodia (pronounced me-tho-dā’-ä). This is the root of our word “methods,” and is a helpful way of understanding the activity of the evil one. He’s not an all powerful being that we are meant to live in constant fear of or even in ignorance of. The Bible portrays him instead as a being that has somewhat predictable schemes and methods. The schemes are powerful, so he’s not to be taken lightly. But they are just schemes, which helps guard against ascribing more power to the evil one than we actually should. The devil doesn’t breathe fire or knock down buildings or inhabit people. Instead, he schemes.
What are the schemes/methods of the devil?
That’s where the actual word used to describe him is so helpful. When the Apostle Paul goes into this lengthy description of spiritual warfare – of authorities, principalities, and powers – he chooses the word “devil.” There are a number of words used in the Bible to describe the evil one, and Paul could have used any of them. But he chooses devil. Why? Because that’s the term that most clearly describes the identity of the evil one. The Greek word is diabolos (pronounced dē-ä’-bo-los) and is the root of our word “diabolical.” It translates as liar or deceiver.
That is who the devil is and what he does. He lies. And he lies. And he lies some more. That is who he is at his core – a liar.
Jesus spoke of the devil in exactly the same way. Listen to these words of Jesus as he describes the nature and identity of the devil to a motivated group of believers at the Mount of Olives:
“[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8.44)
Those are some pretty important phrases:
- “There is no truth in him”
- “When he lies, he speaks his native language”
- “He is a liar”
- “He is the father of lies”
You can’t say it much more clearly than that, can you? That phrase “native language” has been sticking with me this week. The devil doesn’t have to work at it to lie – it is his mother tongue. And not only does he lie, but he reproduces it in his underlings. I’m guessing that this is what inspired Lewis when he wrote Screwtape Letters. The devil will do whatever is necessary to create a web of lies, and in doing so he hopes to “steal, kill, and destroy” the abundant life that Jesus has intended for you.
The fact that there is a force of evil who is present and lying and trying to deceive us is a bit scary. We are not meant to turn a blind eye to that reality. It’s why Jesus warns of a thief in John 10.10, and why Paul starts this passage by warning of a scheming liar.
But at the same time, we are not meant to cower in the face of this reality. One of the reasons that the Bible so clearly describes the identity of the devil as a liar is to equip us to become victorious over those lies. I am going to blog further on this, but getting clear on who he is and what’s he’s capable of and who he’s not and what he’s not capable of is a really important starting point.
It has been very personally transformative for me to discover that the primary influence that the devil really has over me is to lie. He is not all-powerful or all-knowing. He doesn’t have anything special to offer to me. He can’t provide me a better life.
At the end of the day, there is really nothing at all the evil one can offer you either. All he can do is lie, lie, and lie some more. All he can do is twist and distort and question, and then hope that he can make the straight line to the Truth appear more crooked than it actually is.
The evil one loses all power once we are able to accurately identify his lies. When we understand the ways of the “father of lies,” we can then learn to clearly differentiate between his deceitful voice and the life-giving voice of the “Good Shepherd.” It is then that we are positioned to experience the abundant life that he desires for each of his beloved.