NEWS FLASH: The Devil does not wear red tights, have a pitchfork and is graced with a long pointed tail. But then, you probably knew that. The Devil (a.k.a. Satan, Lucifer, the Dragon, the Serpent of Old, The Evil One) is often so characterized, and the danger is that people are pushed towards the idea that he is some sort of cartoon character that we really don’t need to take seriously.
That, of course, is not true, but beyond that, Christians need to be aware that the occult, witchcraft, Satan worship and like things are dramatically on the rise in America. Not only is there is a rise in occult religion and activity in the USA, but it is finding its way into churches, even “evangelical” ones. Recent studies by the Pew Research Center points to the infiltrating of occult beliefs into American culture as well as into the church. While one might dismiss this as nothing more than a cultural phenomenon, it is really more than that. Satan, the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) is relentless in his goal of keeping people from seeing the glorious savior, Jesus Christ, and will use whatever enables him to do that. And with the erosion of God’s truth and standards in America (and to some extent in the church as well), the Evil One appears to be moving into this spiritual vacuum with his own old spiritual ideas.
Pew Research has found that over 60% of American adults believe in some aspect of New Age (occult) beliefs, such as belief in astrology, reincarnation, psychics or spiritual energy located in physical things (such as trees, mountains, animals, etc.). And there has been an explosion in the last two decades in the number of people who identify themselves as witches and/or are part of the Wiccan religion. (Wicca promotes individual freedom of thought and the will and a deepened understanding of nature and the earth). This occult, new age mysticism is fitting very nicely into American life. One person has observed that “witchcraft is the perfect religion for liberal millennials who are already involved in yoga and meditation, mindfulness, and new-age spirituality”. Another adds that “the occult is becoming mainstream in this country…it is user-friendly and infinitely customizes the beliefs borrowed from Eastern pantheistic faiths…there is no church or creeds or set of rules. You can pick and choose whatever you like…you are the god.” All this is not too surprising as it fits nicely with “individual rights”, toleration and our eclectic approach to spirituality.
But the Pew study also reveals the fact that the number holding to some new-age beliefs is basically the same in churches. Among Roman Catholics it is 70%; among mainline denominations it is 67%; and among evangelical Christians it is 47%. And so, in churches it is not unusual to find yoga classes, teachings emphasizing “contemplative prayer” and transcendental meditation and a growing emphasis for us to take care of “mother earth”. These and other teachings and activities have their taproots back into Eastern mysticism; in other words, back into the occult world.
This is the growing reality that we are facing. It would do us good to remember the following 3 truths about Satan, his philosophies and the world we live in.
#1 – Keep a proper balance in our thinking about Satan. Years ago in his classic book “The Screwtape Letters” (where an older experienced demon is giving counsel to a younger apprentice demon), C.S. Lewis correctly noted that Christians are often out of balance in their thinking about Satan. They either ignore him entirely as if he isn’t really an issue, or they see him and his minions hiding behind every bush and responsible for flat tires, head colds, refrigerator breakdowns and everything else. Neither is acceptable or biblical. We are dealing with a powerful foe and one who doesn’t take vacations. He is real, but he is not omnipotent.
#2 – Remember that though defeated, Satan can inflict terrible harm on people. Jesus died and rose again, and when He did so, He triumphed over Satan (Col. 2:13-15). The defeat of Satan is clear; and his end will forever be in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:10). But, in the meantime, he is still able to do great damage to mankind. This reminds me of a football game where the home team is ahead 42 to 3 with one minute left in the game. The outcome is settled. But during that final minute a player on the home team might get a concussion, break a leg or have some other serious injury. The outcome is clear, but damage can still be done. So it is with Satan and his forces.
#3 – All that believers need to stand strong against the Evil One has been given to us in the “armor of God.” This might be a good time to review Ephesians 6:10-18. With the armor on we are told several times that we can “stand firm” against the Devil. However, though the armor has been provided it is up to each believer to put the armor on. This might also be a good time to take a close look at ourselves in the “spiritual mirror” of God’s Word and see if the armor is really on. The spiritual conflict in our culture and church is a real one. And whether we like it or not, we are in this battle…as victors or casualties.