In the past when someone would ask me if I believe in the devil, I would say ‘No.’ I would explain that the Scripture personifies sin as a person. Then I would go on to say personification gives an abstract idea human form. I then showed other examples where Scripture personifies ‘wisdom’ as a beautiful women to be sought after or how believers in Christ are personified as a bride, etc. If pressed, I would explain how the devil could not be a fallen angel because immortal angels cannot sin and then go into all the different wrested Scriptures on the devil and Satan.
Now, when asked the same question, I say ‘Yes’.
Then I go on and tell them: ‘”Every time I look in the mirror I see a side of me that does not want to serve God.” I tell them: “my biggest struggle every day is trying to please God and not myself.” I tell them: “I’m my own worst enemy.” By saying “Yes” we frame the issue the way Scripture intended it to be. And person- ally, picturing a part of me that is always trying to pull me from godly influences is helpful. Every decision I make can be examined in this light: am I helping myself or God? Which side of me am I feeding? Thinking of sin this way makes it easier to visualize the real source of our problems — ourselves! Personification of sin is a weapon in our arsenal to fight the flesh.
“For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man” (Matt 15:19-20).
The Apostle Paul was keenly aware of this adversary within! “I see another law inside my members warring against me.” The battle is fought from within. By personifying sin, it makes us conscious of our split personality. Seeing and feeling this battle within makes it easier to imagine and fight. Every decision can be weighed with the simple question, “Which combatant does this help?”
“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” (i.e. so he becomes) (Prov 23:7).
Our minds lead us. Thinking about our own thoughts helps us discern the battle lines. Peter Watkins, writes;
“The parable of the devil fulfills a double purpose. It reveals, and it conceals. To the discerning it provides vital information concerning the sinfulness of sin. It enables them to see themselves as they really are. It is one thing to tell men that they are sinners; it is quite another to get them to understand the stark reality of their own wretched condition. Shock treatment is necessary. We see this hideous monster placarded before us, and we shudder at its deceitfulness, cruelty and wickedness. And then the dread truth comes home to us. This is a picture of me!”1
When Paul says: “ I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind” (Rom 7:23), we should focus on the only law that should be inside us: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matt 22:37-38). This is a commandment requiring unwavering dedication to God only. This ‘law’ should be pushing out all impulses to think contrary to it.
Thinking of sin as another person within ourselves, helps us to fight it. This “par- able,” as Peter Watkins calls it, goes to the very heart of the problem. At the end of the day we say, “I’m a pretty good person”. And if we have fallen that day, we make allowances for it. We still will say to ourselves, “I’m still a good person”. We easily deceive ourselves and brush our failings away without a thought. Visual- izing a very real enemy within ourselves helps us control it. This is a battle we are expected to fight daily. But if we view this battle as external, we never really fight the one that matters!
“For if men are controlled by their earthly natures, they give their minds earthly things. If they are controlled by their spiritual natures, they give their minds spiritual things” (Rom 8:5 Weymouth).
One additional distinction is necessary. Our desires can be immoral, our desires can be towards substances, etc. Or our desires can be perfectly normal and hum- drum. What we conveniently forget is that any desire that pulls us from the Father is wrong. It’s not just ‘bad’ things that we have to worry about. This is why our enemy is so insidious. Every misdirected thought needs to be fought. Jesus sup- pressed every thought that pulled him away from his Father. Too often we heed the voice that says “take thine ease”, “there’s nothing wrong with that”, and we give up ground to the enemy. We need to be careful not to surrender spiritually on the small things. Instead, the key is to replace our own inclinations away from the Father with a stronger desire to serve him.
Bro. Sargent, writing in the Christadelphian said, “How can a man literally deny himself? Life and personality are centered in the proposition, ‘I am I.’ How can a man say, ‘I am not I.’ and mean it? It is Paul who gives the answer, linking that ultimate negative with a glorious affirmation, ‘I live — yet not I, but Christ, that liveth in me’ (Gal 2:20)”.2 This is how Christ can “live” in us and help us fight the wrong inclinations.
“Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself ” (Phil 3:21).
One meaning of the word “subdue” is: “A Greek military term meaning ‘to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader’ (Online Bible Greek Lexicon)”. This is Christ working, battling to save us. But it can only happen when we consciously decide to live for him.
Consider how many times controlling sin is described in terms of warfare:
- “let us put on the armour of light” (Rom 13:12).
- “So fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring
it into subjection” (1Cor 9:26-27).
- “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh” (2Cor 10:3).
- “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the
pulling down of strong holds” (2Cor 10:4).
- “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the
wiles of the devil” (Eph 6:11,13).
- “… take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit” (Eph 6:17).
“Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier” (Phil
- “… that thou by them mightest war a good warfare” (1Tim 1:18).
- “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life” (1Tim 6:12).
- “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2Tim 2:3).
- “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he
may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (2Tim 2:4).
- “I have fought a good fight” (2Tim 4:7).
- “… to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Heb 2:10).
The objective of our warfare is “bringing every thought into captivity” (2Cor 10:4-5
Phillips). It’s a constant battle. Sometimes over the littlest thought! Perhaps King
David had seen Bathesheba washing before, each time controlling, crushing any
wrong thoughts… except once!
The objective of our warfare is “bringing every thought into captivity” (2Cor 10:4-5 Phillips). It’s a constant battle. Sometimes over the littlest thought! Perhaps King David had seen Bathesheba washing before, each time controlling, crushing any wrong thoughts… except once!
So how does personification of an enemy within help us? Why does God want us to think this way towards sin within us? Because we naturally love ourselves. It’s difficult for us to imagine “this hideous monster” as Bro. Watkins describes it, in us.
“For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it” ( Eph 5:29).
This is why, even the greatest sinners can justify themselves. This is why every sinner, no matter how rotten a person they are, can say to themselves “I’m still a good person.”
“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes” (Prov 21:2).
The answer needs to be the visualization/personification of our real enemy. Be- cause we can’t “hate ourselves”, God has personified sin so we can better imagine and see this enemy.
The strongest mechanism people have is self-preservation… sometimes at any cost. The last battle fought by Jesus was against this most basic, fundamental desire, “save thyself ”. We can appreciate what a terrible, constant struggle it must have been for Jesus to fight this desire to save himself from death. Based on his sharp rebuke of Peter, we can see how this temptation hit home. Peter had said “Be kind to thyself ” and avoid your death at Jerusalem (Matt 16:22 YLT). To this Jesus put Peter and that desire in it’s proper place; “Get thee behind me Satan”! (v. 23). This strong response shows what a struggle defeating this desire must have been.
In Death, Jesus demonstrated his complete mastery over his enemy. And by death, he condemned sinful flesh and destroyed it. He defeated the strongest desire we all share — to save ourselves, instead allowing his body to be crucified.
The world creeps into every aspect of our lives. The world will consume us if we let it. The only way we can truly “be kind to ourselves” is by denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and following our Lord’s footsteps in our spiritual warfare.
Steve Cheetham (Moorestown, NJ)
Notes: 1. Peter Watkins, “The Devil, the Great Deceiver,” 1971, The Christadelphian, UK, p. 82. 2. The Christadelphian,