When Clerow Wilson turned 16, he was ready to get out of foster homes and reform school, so he lied about his age and joined the U.S. Air Force. Blessed with a non-stop personality, he entertained fellow airmen with so many funny stories they claimed he was “flipped out.” The name stuck. Leaving the Air Force, “Flip” Wilson found work as a bellhop and started performing between paid acts at the hotel’s stage show. Before long he was a successful comedian. One of Flip’s most popular characters was Geraldine Jones, whom he portrayed in a dress, a copper-colored wig, and with exaggerated facial expressions. Geraldine was constantly misbehaving, crossing the line, and violating her conscience. But she had a one-sentence explanation for her behavior: “The devil made me do it.” The phrase, “The devil made me do it,” became part of entertainment lore.
I wonder why. On its surface, it’s not a particularly funny line. Perhaps it struck our funny bones because it struck a nerve. We know we’re sinners. We’re bewildered at how easily we do wrong and how hard it is to do right. We need a rationale for our evil habits, or at least an excuse. It’s as good an excuse as any. In some way, this tagline became an expression of national self-justification: “The devil made me do it.”
What the Devil Can Do
It’s true that we mustn’t underestimate the devil. His very title—devil—comes from the Greek word diabolos, from which we get our English word diabolical. The word literally means slanderer. He’s called Satan in the Bible, meaning Adversary. But he has more names and titles than a blue-blooded, upper-crusted British aristocrat. Seven books of the Old Testament speak of Satan, as does every single writer of the New Testament. He is referred to as a real person, not just an impersonal force or influence. He can do damage, for Jesus warned, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10). He lays traps for us, attacks and accuses us, rejoices when we fall, and kicks us when we’re down. There’s no doubt Satan can tempt us to sin. Satan is cunning, cruel, deceptive, and dangerous. It’s foolish to underestimate his power in this world.
What the Devil Cannot Do
But let’s not give the devil too much due. He can tempt, but he can’t force us to sin. He can bring pressure to bear, but he can’t violate our will. The devil doesn’t make us do anything. We can resist him. Are you giving the devil a foothold in your life? There are many ways of letting Satan gain leverage in our heart and habits. Sexting. Pornography. Unkindness. Hurt. Consumption. Materialism. Apathy. Anxiety. Unbelief. Satan may tempt with these things, but he cannot triumph without our cooperation.
When we fall, the first step is to take responsibility. Repent. Confess your sin to the Lord as yours alone, then seek His help in turning from it. When we blame the devil, we’re giving him too much power. The devil is a created being. He can cause a lot of stress and trouble, and he’s a powerful creature who can attack us. But when it comes to measuring him up against God, there’s no contest. We already know who wins.
When Satan tried to tempt Christ in Matthew 4, Jesus knew what to do. He relied on the Holy Spirit (verse 1), devoted Himself to fasting and prayer (verse 2), chose to say “No” to Satan (verses 4, 7, and 10), and quoted Scripture in the moment of temptation (verses 4, 7, and 10). He outlasted the temptation. Satan finally gave up (verse 11).
That’s the winning strategy for us. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit, pray, say “No” to temptation, and use the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. And when we falter and fail, we must take responsibility. Don’t blame your sin on Satan. He didn’t make you do it.
Instead of blaming Satan, defeat him. He has no answer to sincere repentance and confession. He has no answer to the blood of Jesus Christ. When faced with the power of the cross, Satan is powerless. “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Our Adversary is no match for our Advocate.
David Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God, and serves as
Senior Pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California.
For more information about Turning Point, go to www.DavidJeremiah.org.