Resist The Devil But Know What You're Resisting

February 14, 2011

Do we believe the truth or do we believe our emotions? Do our emotions always lead us to truth? Is it possible when we are being told something different than what we have always believed that we have an emotional response before we can assess the logic of what’s being said? When it comes to reading about Satan and the devil in the New Testament it is hard for most of us to not make decisions based on our emotions. Especially if we have been trained by a church or religious system to believe Satan is actually a real being who wants to get you into his Kingdom. Emotional interpretations of biblical writings will almost always cause a mental blockage. Reacting to information from our emotions invariably short circuits our ability to hear reason and logic. Believe it or not, many of us have an emotional connection to any of the words associated with Satan. It is because of our emotional connection to terms such as devil , demon, satan, and unclean spirit, most religious folk have serious difficulty seeing the words for what the writer intended them to be. Perhaps the people in our lives with the mental blockage might benefit from exploring the first century Hebraic thinking of the speakers in the New Testament. I assure you; a first century understanding of Satan, devil, and demons is monumentally less ominous and mystical than the supernatural application that has been applied to the terms by Christianity today.

There are so many passages that lead us to seeing who and what Satan is. Getting the emotional believer to explore some of these passages can go a long way toward the transition to critical analysis of the topic. For instance, I will often ask the party I am visiting with to explain why God and Satan are both said to influence David’s choice to count his military personnel. The story of King David numbering his tribes is told in two places and the influencing force is called God in one place and called Satan in the other. Read the passages below to get the gist of this apparent contradiction. 

1Chronicles 21:1-2  And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it.

2Sa 24:1-2  And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah. For the king said to Joab the captain of the host, which was with him, Go now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba, and number you the people, that I may know the number of the people.

 Apparently one writer thought Satan ‘moved” David to number the tribes while the other writer thought The LORD “moved” David. Which was it? Well, I am not going to answer that here, rather I just want to make the point that Satan is spoken of in the above verses and finding out why the contradiction appears can provide a huge clue to understanding what a satan is. Unless one commits to figure out why the inconsistent telling exists one is going to remain trapped by his or her emotional connection to the term “Satan”. Putting emotions on the shelf and exploring the truth of these verses is guaranteed to yield truth as a result. We are focusing on resisting the devil in this article but as for the above mentioned apparent contradiction, I will say that the term “Satan” is simply the Hebrew word “Sawtawn” and means an adversary. Sawtawn is not a name now nor was it ever a name to the Hebrew users of the word…that is users of the word in both the Old and the New Testaments.  So let’s move on to the issue of blaming Satan for evil and decidedly resisting ‘him’ to encourage his reluctant retreat from tempting or pursuing the believer.

What about the claim that the “devil” will flee from us if we resist him and submit to God. Well, according to what is seen in Christian practice this verse must be a lie. How many folks resist the devil continually yet the devil is always after them? Consider the many spiritual types who renounce or do spiritual warfare against the satanic enemy daily. There is no fleeing going on. Why would James lie about getting the devil to flee? James said resist him and he will flee. Was James deluded to think we could simply resist this Satan and look to God in order to be insulated against the onslaught of the enemy of our soul? And if James was trying to impart this gem of an instruction then where is the formula to put this spiritual axiom into motion? Is there a formulaic process or prayer, perhaps a holy water dousing that holds the mystical power of forcing this devil to flee? Maybe there is but it just isn’t available to most of the world who would love the troubles in their life they believe are caused by the devil to vanish into the ionosphere.  Or maybe, James meant what he said but the problem is we don’t really understand the word diabolos. I guarantee we will understand what we are resisting when we better understand the word diabolos as it was intended by the writer instead of holding onto our emotional understanding of the English word “devil”.


Contemporary dictionaries claim correctly that diabolos means traducer but many of these bible dictionaries add to that definition and claim it means Satan. Why the Satan tag was added to the meaning of diabolos is debateable but the most logical reason for this executive decision is because the lexicographers (the guys who write dictionaries) thought satan was real. By starting from the place where they believed Satan was real they forced their belief about the supernatural onto the Greek word diabolos. Historically this word never meant a Satan character.

Diabolos means traducer and a traducer is one who maligns or slanders another, one who attacks the reputation of another by slander or libel. In some uses of the word diabolos, our own character is our traducer.


How important is it that we hear the words of any ancient document in the literary context they were written and spoken in? Without question every religious scholar or teacher will say that context is the most important aspect in the hierarchy of bible study skills. Knowing this, that is knowing we have to read everything in context including uses if the word diabolos and satan, and knowing diabolos is a traducer, it is easy to see James was talking about the desires and inherent lusts of humans when we read his words carefully. What must be resisted according to James? It is the lusts and desires that often possess us that must be resisted. Our own desires steer us in an unhealthy spiritual direction …kinda like resisting that piece of chocolate cake on the counter because I am trying to slim down a bit. My desire to eat the cake needs to be resisted then the desire will “flee” from me, if only until tomorrow. Look at the context of James words quoted below but remember, this passage must be understood by keeping in mind where James says sin and death comes from.  It is from our own lusts…evil comes from within from the heart according to Christ. And this is how James puts it;

Jas 1:14-15  But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death.

We can begin to see where sin comes from in the words of James. And we also know the wages of sin is death, therefore both sin and death come from a place inside of us not from a force to be running from or waging battle against in the spirit. (If you say this to some folks they often bring up the Ephesians 6 passage about spiritual warfare. That passage is easy to understand in context as well; and it is not about battling unseen supernatural beings (such as a fallen angel called Satan). What we do find when James chapter 4 is intelligently examined in context is that Satan is not battling God for our souls and we are not battling Satan for our souls; we are battling ourselves for our souls.

So as it goes we see James clearly identifies sin and death as coming from the desires that are within each of us. Paul says “sin is in my members,” which is to say; sin is an inherent problem that begins in man and does not come from outside of man. Man will always struggle against the “wrong” desires that each us of have daily.

 That said we should look at the context of James’ “fleeing devil” statement. We will see the “devil” in James’ statement below is several things; but in no way does James claim the traducer is a supernatural Satan. The devil we are to resist is shown by this bible passage to be a few things. The diobolos is;

  • our lusts that are warring in our members
  • the spirit that dwells within us that sullies our reputation (diabolos)
  • it is our pride
  • and it is our hearts

Read it right here;

Jas 4:1  Where do wars and fightings among you come from? Don’t they come from your lusts that war in your members?

Jas 4:2  You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war, yet you have not, because you ask not.

Jas 4:3  You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts.

Jas 4:4  You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

Jas 4:5  Do you think that the scripture says in vain, The spirit that dwells in us lusts to envy?

Jas 4:6  But he gives more grace. Wherefore he says, God resists the proud, but gives grace unto the humble.

Jas 4:7  Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Jas 4:8  Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded.

If only teachers and students of the bible and could read these things in context then the biblical understanding of the diabolos would fit the writer’s intent. James only speaks of men and characteristics of man that are the devil. I might add as an aside, Paul’s teaching on the devil and Satan are virtually non-existent but Paul sure tells us to get our flesh to line up. Remember it was Paul who taught that sin is in his members and encouraged his audience to bring the flesh into agreement with righteous choices. So if one is inclined to use Paul’s teaching as a source to affirm the devil belief then perhaps a closer look at Paul’s work should be undertaken.

When looking at one or two verses such as the verse where James tells us to “resist the devil,” it would be a great benefit to poke our nose around a little. By doing so we will be able to see if the context of the passage is about a supernatural devil or if the writer was dealing with the issues of humanity that are so often the unseen devil in the life and lives of those trying to do right by their God. Even the individual passages about Satan or the devil in the New Testament are often connected to the passages that lead up to and around the passage in question. Looking at these without clinging to an entrenched emotional connection to the word Satan or devil will free us to hear the passage correctly. I hope to assist folks in making connections that are often missed because of attachment to wrong meanings of ancient terms and words like devil and satanas.

So let’s try to ask ourselves an important question when we are challenged to rethink a belief we have had about Satan or anything our whole life…Am I going to believe my emotions or am I willing to believe the truth?



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