Podcast: The Truth about Satan and Demons (Iain Duguid)

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

Get Equipped for Battle

Iain Duguid, author of The Whole Armor of God: How Christ’s Victory Equips Us for Spiritual Warfare discusses Satan and demons, explaining what the Bible really teaches us about the devil, how to avoid overestimating or underestimating his impact on the world and even on our day-to-day lives, and why our culture seems fascinated by demons when it comes to horror movies and Halloween.

The Whole Armor of God

The Whole Armor of God

Iain M. Duguid

Duguid walks through the “armor of God” passage in Ephesians, examining the Old Testament context of each piece of armor and encouraging readers as they fight sin while resting in the finished victory of Christ.

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Full Transcript

01:25 - Welcome

Matt Tully
Iain, thank you so much for joining us on The Crossway Podcast today.

Iain Duguid
I’m very happy to be with you.

01:29 - The Realms of Evil

Matt Tully
When it comes to thinking about spiritual warfare and evil powers in our world, it strikes me that in our culture today and even among Christians, the dominant realms where we actually think about those kinds of things are relegated to Halloween and horror movies. There are a lot of horror movies of late that are focused on the occult—not on aliens necessarily, but on more realistic sorts of evil forces in our world. Why do you think it is that so much of our thinking and conversations about those things are relegated to those two cultural spheres?

Iain Duguid
I think Satan essentially has two distinct strategies he uses in different places at different times. The first strategy he’s using in our culture is to persuade us that he’s not real. Who could possibly believe in the kind of demons and devil depicted in the Halloween stories and slasher movies? And because people don’t believe he’s real, that, of course, suits his purposes. He can do his work undetected and unsuspected. And other times and places, he goes to the opposite ends and magnifies his power—he goes around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, terrifying people into submission. And I think he picks whichever strategy is most suitable for the cultural moments in which he’s operating. He’s very smart, and he knows that in our culture the most effective way to do his work is to persuade people that there is no such thing as a devil. And therefore, we don’t need to be armed. If we’re not afraid of any conflict, if we’re not expecting conflict, then we go through life not anticipating, and, therefore, not prepared for the spiritual warfare that we’re engaged in.

03:25 - Satan’s Western Strategy

Matt Tully
Why do you think that in our context, in the United States and in the Western world more generally, his strategy is to downplay his existence rather than to magnify it?

Iain Duguid
I think in some ways it’s his most effective strategy because people don’t believe he exists, and therefore, they do not expect him to do anything. They don’t look for him. They don’t anticipate him. They don’t prepare for him. We also live at a time that is spiritual but not religious. People are interested in spiritual aspects, but typically particularly in the good spiritual aspects. Lots of people believe in angels, and they’ll have bumper stickers that say, “Angels are watching over me.” I don’t see many bumper stickers that say, “Watch out for demons. They might be watching over you, too.” And the result is that we’re unprepared for the warfare.

04:28 - Christian Attraction and Participation in Worldly Entertainment

Matt Tully
In light of that dynamic that we are, as you say, sort of unprepared and not really thinking this is a real danger and threat to us, what do you think explains, at the same time, the attraction that we have to scary things like that—to some of the craziness of Halloween and horror movies and haunted houses? It feels like that industry is very strong right now. There’s really no reluctance to participate in those kinds of things. What explains that in your mind?

Iain Duguid
I think the answer is we like to be safely scared. Nobody wants to actually be on the Normandy beachfront on D-Day surrounded by real live bullets. But if you were to create an adventure theme park where you could simulate it and you could guarantee that nobody would get hurt in the midst of the action, you would have a bestseller on your hands. We like to simulate experiences that feel scary, but we know they’re not really scary. There’s no actual substance to them. That enables us, then, to feel safe in the midst of a world that actually is really scary—much scarier than we really want to acknowledge.

05:44 - Attributing Difficulty to Satan

Matt Tully
You write in the book, "In many respects the dark world in which we live is Satan’s playground." To be honest, hearing you say that feels kind of extreme. It’s uncomfortable to think about the world in that way. How do you balance, on the one hand, downplaying the significance of Satan’s presence and activity and role in the world, and, on the other hand, attributing any kind of difficult situation or painful circumstance or disaster to him directly?

Iain Duguid
Right, like anybody who has trouble turning in their course papers on time has the demon of laziness? There’s a fine balance there, and the military imagery that Paul uses in Ephesians 6 helps us with that. If you think about how to prepare soldiers for battle, you don’t want them to be paralyzed with fear, but you do want them to have a proper sense of just how dangerous the place that they’re operating is. So too with the Christian life. We don’t want to terrify people and make people feel like they’re in a world that is dominated by our enemy—that God steps back and is watching from a distance and it’s me and Satan face-to-face. But, at the same time, we don’t want people to neglect the reality of the warfare. Satan’s very smart. He’s been tempting people for a long time. He’s much better equipped. He’s adapted his temptations to the world in which we live and to our fallen flesh. So we have these three very powerful enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil, operating in tandem together. We should be rightly afraid with the kind of fear that makes us do the right things. It’s why soldiers train under live fire, so that when they actually get into battle, they know how to control their fear. They know what their equipment is, they know what they’re supposed to do, and that’s what keeps them safe in the midst of the firefight.

08:11 - Temptation as an Attack

Matt Tully
You mentioned temptation is one of the main ways that Satan attacks Christians and, more broadly, people. What are some other ways that Satan and demons actually interact with people on a normal basis?

Iain Duguid
Temptation is one of the most significant ways because, of course, that’s his goal—to get us to sin, to get us to live as if there were no God, as if we were our own gods making our own set of rules. As Christians, we don’t need to fear being possessed by the devil. The Holy Spirit who lives within us is more powerful than he is. But we should rightly fear temptation. We are to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” The reason we pray that is because we know that we don’t have the strength in ourselves to stand against temptation. That strength can only be given to us by God.

09:16 - Gospel’s Connection to Spiritual Warfare

Matt Tully
So often when we think about the gospel, we focus primarily on our atonement before God—the fixing of our relationship with God. It feels like the gospel connection to spiritual warfare against Satan and his minions is an afterthought, or not really discussed as much.

Iain Duguid
I think it’s easy for us to think of the gospel in truncated terms, simply as the means of our justification. In our own circles just like in our culture, we downplay the reality of spiritual warfare. When we think of spiritual warfare, we often immediately think of more charismatic believers who perhaps attempt it in the opposite direction. I think it in our circles, we often think that we can we can take on the devil by means of our fine Bible study and close analysis of scriptural passages, which is certainly important. But we miss the wider aspects of spiritual warfare. The centrality of prayer is found throughout Ephesians 6. It’s not a separate piece of the armor; it’s the foundation and the means by which all of the other pieces of armor operate in the Christian life.

10:51 - Screwtape Letters

Matt Tully
One of the dominant touchpoints that many evangelicals have when it comes to thinking about spiritual warfare would have to be C. S. Lewis’s famous book The Screwtape Letters, where he gives us a compelling, eye-opening account that conforms to the approach that Satan takes in the US primarily—downplaying his own presence, existence, and work, and instead tempting us to do things that we might already feel predisposed to do. As you think about The Screwtape Letters, what do you appreciate about what Lewis was doing there? And are there things that you feel like he gets wrong?

Iain Duguid
It’s been a while since I read The Screwtape Letters, but I think he captures quite profoundly the ethos of the tempters—they way in which they’re almost bureaucrats, chalking up their victories. The younger tempter is constantly striving to progress himself, and the means by which he does that is by successfully deceiving his subject into not believing in his existence. At one point, the older tempter talks about the danger of big temptations because when somebody falls in a big way, that’s such a sufficient shock to the system that they may actually stop in their tracks and turn around. However, tempting people persistently in very, very small ways to betray their faith becomes, from his perspective, a much safer way of keeping sinners in their sins—which I think is exactly right. This should be a challenge to us in the church because we can often respond very badly to big sinners. Church can be a hard place for big sinners to come to. We don’t always have the welcome mat out for people whose sins are dramatic, whereas small sinners can be very comfortable in our midst. So long as they keep their sins within manageable limits, nobody will challenge them.

13:37 - Pitfalls of Church Leaders

Matt Tully
As you think about pastors who are seeking to be faithful to teach what Scripture says about spiritual warfare, about putting on the whole armor of God, and about preparing ourselves to be steadfast in resisting the schemes of the devil, what are some of the pitfalls that church leaders can fall into?

Iain Duguid
There are two dangers in the way we approach how we think about Satan. If the common danger in our culture is to not believe that Satan exists, then there is a danger on the other side, to become obsessed with Satan and terrify people with Satan’s power without the complementary truth that he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world, that the power of the Holy Spirit is far greater than the power of Satan, that Satan cannot tempt us beyond the permission God gives him. God can enable us to stand in temptation, but sometimes God will not enable us to stand, which will be for our sanctification. We often think about sanctification simply in terms of becoming better people, but if God values humility and dependence, how do you create humility and dependence? You have to let people fall, and clearly that is God’s strategy. He clearly does not hold us up every minute and prevent us from falling. He could. I’d vote for that. But somehow for his glory and our good he’s determined that it’s better sometimes to step back and allow us to sin. When you think about your own experience of sin, it’s not hard to see why: when we have a pretty good week and we feel like we’ve done pretty well, we come to church and don’t really feel like we need the gospel that much. But when we’ve had a terrible week, we’ve sinned against our families and against our co-workers and against ourselves and against God, then we come to church and we’re reminded of the gospel. Those are the days when the gospel really shines and when the free grace of God is magnified, and we value it all the more.

16:00 - A Right View of God in a Sinful World

Matt Tully
I imagine that could be a pretty hard thing to grasp for a lot of people. It could seem to say that God could help us, that he could do good by us, but he chooses not to for some reason. How do you not fall into viewing God as being in some way responsible for our sin?

Iain Duguid
You start out with the fundamental truth that God is sovereign. He will do all his holy will, everything he wishes to do, and, ultimately, we are going to be holy. He’s not going to leave any of us half done. "He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus"—not before. God does everything for his own glory and for our good. As we look at the world around us, it’s self-evident that he does not instantly sanctify us when we come Christians. There must be some way in which even our sin works for his glory and for our good. That’s why he leaves human sin in general, and that’s why he leaves our sin in particular. He’s going to do something through that to bring him glory and good for us. Once you start to ask, "What could possibly be good for us in our sin?" then you start to see it. It humbles us. It shows us our need of the gospel. It magnifies God’s grace that he’s saved really big sinners. And, as the Westminster Confession reminds us, when God turns us over to our sin, that causes us to be more watchful in the future, to be more dependent upon him, and to pray more fervently.

Good parents understand this. My wife, in her book, talks about a time when our daughter Hannah was just learning to walk, and she noticed her older brothers coming downstairs, and thought she should be able to do likewise. We tried to persuade her that she was not yet ready to walk straight down the stairs but that she should sit on her bottom and bump herself down. Well, she was having none of that. We’d turn around and she’d be halfway up the stairs, and we’d have to go rescue her. The only way to deal with this as wise parents was to look for an opportunity to let her fall. So we picked a spot on the carpeted stairs, where she wouldn’t seriously hurt herself, but we let her go two steps up, turn around, ready to come down, and we didn’t go and rescue her. And sure enough, she fell flat on her face. There were a lot of tears, but she learned the lesson—and that was good for her. As good parents, sometimes you know you have to let your children fail because if you go in and bail them out all the time, they’re not going to learn. And so too God is a good Father. He will not allow us to sin in ways that will destroy us, but he will allow us to sin in ways that can be very hurtful to us but will ultimately work for our good and for his glory as we grow in our understanding of the gospel.

19:21 - Encouragement in Fear

Matt Tully
That’s such an encouraging truth for us to cling to—trusting that God is sovereign and has good intentions for his allowance of Satan and demons to continue to exist in this world and continue to exercise a lot of scary power over things that we wish they wouldn’t. What encouragement would you offer to the person who sometimes does feel afraid of what is out there, feeling like they don’t know how to navigate this?

Iain Duguid
Satan’s a roaring lion, but he’s a lion on a leash. He can only go so far and no further. In The Pilgrim’s Progress, there’s a scene where Pilgrim is passing between some ravening animals, and at first he’s terrified until he realizes that they’re chained. So long as he stays on the path down the middle, they can’t touch him. It’s the same way with Satan. He has no power beyond what our good Father gives to him. And that’s really the focus of Psalm 91. Psalm 91 is a great place to turn for people who are fearful about all manner of dangers. We live in a dangerous world, and Satan is one of those dangers. But we live in a dangerous world in which we have a refuge that will protect us against those things in Christ. If we’re in Christ, Satan has no power to harm us. He can tempt us. He can lead us astray as God gives him permission to. But in the end, God is going to work all that for good. Part of God’s triumph will be to snatch people out of Satan’s hands—people who, if anybody, should end up in hell, and yet God’s grace is big enough to reach down to people like them and rescue them because it’s big enough for us.

21:30 - Advice for Parents

Matt Tully
What advice would you offer to parents who want to faithfully teach their kids—maybe their young kids—what Scripture says about spiritual warfare and how to start equipping themselves with the armor of God? What’s appropriate to share about these things and how do they not scare their kids unnecessarily? What did you do as a parent, and what encouragement would you give to parents today?

Iain Duguid
Lots of kids love battle imagery and battle stories, so that’s an obvious place to start. Also, as parents, we do need to teach them about dangers in the world—the danger of strangers, for example. We want to steer a solid line between, on the one hand, making them so terrified they can’t ever talk to anybody they don’t know, and, on the other hand, being so trusting that they’re open to danger. It’s the same thing in terms of spiritual warfare. We want to encourage them to see the reality of the enemy we have in Satan, that temptations don’t simply come from ourselves. We’re certainly able to manufacture all kinds of sins on our own. But we have an enemy who exacerbates that, and we should talk about that with our children. But we should also talk about the fact that we have a greater God who by his Spirit, is in us, protects us, and helps us to fight the battle against the evil one. The Pilgrim’s Progress is a great place to go for that. It’s a book written for all ages, not just children, but it captures the imagination of children and shows them the very real dangers of the evil one. But the story has a happy ending. Christian and, ultimately, his family make their way to the holy city, to the New Jerusalem, where there is no more fear of the evil one, no more temptation, no more tears, no more sin, no more suffering, no more sickness. They have a lasting embrace of God.

23:50 - Closing

Matt Tully
Well, Iain, thank you so much for taking some time today to speak with us on The Crossway Podcast and walk us through this crucial passage of Scripture and help us to understand a little better what Paul is telling us, and better understand the hope that we have in and through the gospel because of Christ and what God has done for us.

Iain Duguid
It’s been my pleasure.


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