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Satan, the Christian, and Thought Injection
Does the Devil plant evil thoughts in your mind?
Thought Injection is what I have chosen to call the idea that the Devil places evil thoughts into people's minds. Many Christians speak in a similar way to the way in which C.H. Spurgeon spoke when a man came up to him and exclaimed that Spurgeon had just preached a very fine sermon. Mr Spurgeon replied that the one who had been the first to congratulate him was the Devil! The implication here was that the Devil was trying make Spurgeon conceited by planting thoughts in his mind that would tend to make him sinfully proud of being a great preacher.
Clearly, Spurgeon thought that the evil thought came not from within himself but directly from the Devil. Was Spurgeon the only man to believe in Thought Injection? Certainly not; theologians from the popular like John Bunyan to the great like John Owen have written on the subject. So, for centuries, people have believed in Thought Injection. But is Thought Injection a biblical concept, or did it become popular more recently?
2. Thought Injection Not for Christians
In his first letter, John says a lot about the Devil, and in 1 John 5:19 he says that the whole Non christian human world is under the control of the Devil. Since humans control both themselves and others by making decisions using their minds, and since instances of the Devil appearing to people and speaking to them seem to be rare, it would appear reasonable to suspect that the Devil controls people through their minds using the mechanism of Thought Injection. But what does the Bible have to say?
In the case of Non christians, we can turn to at least a few examples of Thought Injection. A striking example (in more ways than one) is when God sent an evil spirit upon King Saul causing him to throw a spear at his rival: "I'll pin David to the Wall!"
This example is striking in a further way, because it shows us that there are many different degrees of demonic influence. The spirit came `forcefully' upon King Saul (1 Samuel 18:10). The spirit might have influenced him gently on many occasions, but this time he came violently. The most forceful and violent examples of evil spirits exercising control over people are perhaps the ones in the Gospels. The Bible describes people such as Legion as demon possessed.
Judas Iscariot provides us with an example of how at first the Devil controlled a man gently, he `prompted' Judas to betray the Lord (John 13:2). Later, Satan took full possession of Judas by `entering' him (John 13:27).
It is clear that neither Judas nor Saul were born again. Equally clear is the fact that true Christians cannot be possessed by the Devil or another evil spirit. This is because Christians have been rescued from the Devil's power (Acts 10:38) and the Holy Spirit lives within them (Romans 8:9). This is in contrast with the house that was swept clean but left `unoccupied' (Matthew 12:44) and in contrast with the case of King Saul who, when the Holy Spirit left him, was tormented instead by an evil spirit (1 Samuel 16:14).
Given that Christians cannot be possessed by evil spirits because the Holy Spirit indwells them, the reason for this must be that the Holy Spirit controls their minds. Consequently, an evil spirit cannot control a Christian's mind because it is already under the control of the Holy Spirit. The one who is in us (the Holy Spirit) is greater than the one who is in the world (the Devil). If an evil spirit were to take control of a mind long enough to inject a thought, that is, in a definite enough manner for the mind actually to think the injected thought, that would incompatible with Romans 8:9 which says that Christians are controlled by the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, there is no essential difference between Thought Injection and demon possession, for if the Devil can control your mind for sufficiently long and to such an extent that he can actually make you think an evil thought then he could make you think several. If he could make you think several evil thoughts, he could make you think dozens. If dozens then hundreds or thousands. How could anyone tell the difference between such a frightful state and being demon possessed? Thought Injection is not taxonomically distinct from demon possession, the two are essentially the same, differing only in degree and extent.
The Christians to whom James wrote had a fault. When they had evil desires they looked around for someone else to blame them on. Only no one had told them that they could blame their evil thoughts on the Devil, so they blamed them on God (James 1:13). James, however, was quite clear about where evil desires originate: they originate from within ourselves (James 1:14). James does not worry about whether he is being a bit hard on his brothers, he tells them the truth about the human heart as it is found in Jeremiah 17: `The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure'. Some modern Christians blame their evil desires on the Devil, but the correct diagnoses are given by James and Jeremiah.
Again, in Romans 8:5 the conflict is not between the Holy Spirit and the Devil, it is between the Holy Spirit and the sinful nature. That is not to say that the Devil is not a problem, rather that when we are talking about the spiritual conflict that arises in our inmost beings, the conflict is between the Holy Spirit and the heart or the sinful nature, not with the Devil.
For those who believe in Thought Injection, there is a natural tendency to see examples of it everywhere in Scripture. Take 1 Chronicles 21:1 for instance. The text says that the Devil `incited' David to count his troops. There are myriad ways in which the Devil could have got David to sin in this way, but people who believe in Thought Injection automatically make the text prove the truth of Thought Injection. If this were valid, then 2 Samuel 24:1, which describes the same incident, would prove that actually it was God who injected the evil thought into David's mind, contrary to James 1:13,14. Perhaps the writer of one book was drawing our attention to the reality and personal nature of spiritual warfare, whilst the other was reminding us of God's sovereignty over even our sins? What is certain is that neither author chose to describe the exact mechanism by which David was incited to count his soldiers.
A similar problem is that of relying upon the opinion of others or simply upon commentaries to understand passages of scripture. An example of this is the `fiery darts' of Ephesians 6. The massive, century spanning, propaganda machine will instantly make us think of the Devil planting thoughts in people's minds whenever fiery darts are mentioned. A more unnatural interpretation of the passage cannot be imagined, but many will adhere to this understanding simply because it is popular, or it is the only interpretation that they have ever heard. Instead, we should be like the noble Bereans of Acts 17 who even checked what the Apostle Paul said against Scripture. More on Ephesians 6 later.
If Christians can suffer from demonic Thought Injection then, since the Bible is mainly about Christians, we would expect to be able to read about it. If however Thought Injection is not for Christians, we would expect to find an absence of anything like that in Scripture. The latter is now shown to be the case.
We now turn to a pair of examples of how the Devil tried to tempt people: Jesus in the wilderness, and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Neither of these events is a typical example of the actual mechanisms by which the Devil deals with God's people today. Some have thought that they are. No doubt, we can learn many things from the two accounts (including some truths about resisting the Devil), but to suggest that they give examples of how the Devil speaks to us today is to miss their point. The passages in Genesis 3 and Luke 4 are atypical because the Devil actually appeared to both Jesus and Eve and spoke audible words to them, even selecting a suitable body to use in the garden, that of a serpent. It would seem that this kind of demonic contact is not common today (although there may be a case for saying that it happens in some particularly benighted parts of the world). The main thing we learn from these passages comes through comparing them with each other, and by contrasting how, on one hand, we (in Adam) fell from our exalted position in wonderful surroundings, and the Saviour triumphed despite being very hungry and in desolate surroundings. The first Adam fell, the second conquered.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to see how the Devil approached the problem of tempting Eve. He really wanted to take revenge on God by spoiling his perfect creation, so he craftily (Genesis 3:1) took the form of a serpent. He then engaged Eve in conversation and planted doubts in her mind about God's character. Everything went according to plan and Eve sinned by doubting and then disobeying God.
If the Devil had been able to inject these doubts directly into Eve's mind he could have saved himself the bother of appearing in the guise of a snake. He could have suggested evil to her by a far more subtle method than engaging her in normal audible conversation, he could have dropped the seeds of sin straight into her mind without Eve even suspecting who had done it. As it was, he had to do it the hard way. This was because Eve's mind was protected due her being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It seems reasonable to deduce (though perhaps not completely certain) that Adam and Eve were both indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This made it possible for them to have fellowship with God. It would account for them dying spiritually when they fell.
Similarly, Jesus `full of the Holy Spirit' was driven out into the Desert of Judea to be tempted (Luke 4:1). The Devil could not influence the Lord in the same easy way that he could control fallen sinners because Jesus was filled with Holy Spirit. So, although perhaps unaccustomed to speaking, the Devil used spoken, audible words: "Since you are the Son of God ...". Just as with Adam and Eve, the Devil tried to get Jesus to rely on his divine power to satisfy his appetite rather than relying on God as the second Adam had to in order to be a perfect substitute. He had to be like his brothers in every way (Hebrews 2:14,17) if he was to be a perfect saviour and destroy the power of the Devil. Jesus was filled with the Spirit, so Thought Injection was not even an option for Satan.
Yet another problem with believing in Thought Injection is that there would be no Biblical way of preventing it from occurring. Indeed, we could not even identify those thoughts that had been injected by the Devil. Some would say that particularly evil desires must have come from the Devil, but this is inconsistent with his use of craft and subtlety. It is also at odds with what verses like Jeremiah 17:9 say about the human heart: `... deceitful ... Who can understand it?' Others, perhaps acknowledging this objection, have suggested that particularly irrational thoughts originate with the Devil. But, this suggestion is also weakened by the deceitfulness of the human heart. Furthermore, all sin is irrational. Jesus is the only entirely rational man who has ever lived. The rest of us are confused by tangled layers of deceit and irrationality, making it impossible for us to analyse our thoughts reliably. There is much in Scripture to help you with your sinful heart, but with Thought Injection you are on your own!
The healing of the paralytic in Mark 2 teaches us that it is much easier to talk about a problem "your sins are forgiven" than it is to do something about it "take up your mat and walk". Similarly it is a lot easier to say "the Devil said to me that it would be pleasant to do such and such" than it is to deal with the problem of our own evil desires. To say something about the Devil is also very easy because it can be a lie and nobody will ever know. Or will they? It could be that at that very moment, in heaven, Satan is accusing us to God saying "How can you call me the Father of Lies when your servant who claims to be a Christian has just told a lie about me?" And yet it seems that some blame the Devil for every wrong thought they have, for every time they feel sleepy whilst praying, for every time they lose their temper. It sounds Really Spiritual too. Meanwhile, another group of Christians is sitting there thinking "Wow, there must be something wrong with me; I have never noticed the Devil playing those sorts of tricks with my mind. I must be Really Unspiritual!"
Another point about the Devil and his fellow spirits is that they are not omnipotent or infinite. Whilst they are powerful and crafty, they nevertheless have great difficulty tempting Christians to sin. That is why, the Bible tells us, the Devil uses `schemes' to trick us. He has to use schemes because often a direct attack is impossible. If the weapon of Thought Injection were available, Satan would not need to concoct schemes. But as it is, the Bible warns us to take our stand against the Devil's schemes (Ephesians 6:11, 2 Corinthians 2:11).
3. The Nature of Satan's Schemes
As we focus on the true nature of a sample of the Devil's schemes that are illustrated for us in the Bible, we see further evidence of the absence of examples of the Devil planting thoughts in Christians' minds.
The Devil is our enemy because he is God's enemy. He therefore hates us (John 15:19, 1 John 5:19), tries to hurt us and tries to get us to sin as part of an overall strategy to take revenge on God. He delights to attack us because we belong to God. He is happy when we sin, because he can accuse us to God (Revelation 12:10). He has lost the war against God, but seeks to salvage the battles against God's people (Revelation 12:12 17).
Attacks upon God's Work
Some of Satan's schemes fall into the category of attacks upon our character or upon our reputation as God's holy people, that is, attacks upon God's work and upon the Gospel. This seems to be the situation that Paul is concerned about in 2 Corinthians 2:5 11. The original problem in the church at Corinth had been dealt with by the application of church discipline. But now there was a new risk. The church member who had sinned had repented, so there was an urgent need for him to be received back into fellowship otherwise, Satan might outwit God's people (v11). If the church did not forgive the repentant sinner, the Devil could immediately do at least two devious things. He could go to the Non christians who used to say things like "see how these Christians love each other" and point out to them "how much these Christians hate each other! The Gospel they preach is a form of religion, but without any power to prevent sin." He could then bring further dishonour by accusing the Corinthian Christians to God himself day and night (Revelation 12:10). This kind of attack could do irreparable damage to the work of the church and rob God of his glory, so Paul urges the Corinthians to remember Satan's schemes and not to be trapped by them.
The most common kind of demonic attack in the Bible would seem to be persecution. The letter to the church at Smyrna tells the Christians that the Devil was going to persecute them by putting some of them in prison (Revelation 2:10). Clearly, it would be humans who would actually perform the imprisonment, but John attributes this kind of evil act directly to the Devil in order to show the utterly personal nature of his attacks upon Christians.
In 1 Peter 5:8,9, Peter warns his readers about certain kinds of suffering that were common to believers throughout the world (v9). The previous chapter (v12 16) makes it clear that the sorts of suffering described in chapter 5:8,9 were persecution from Non christians, insults, ill treatment for being Christians and other unspecified `painful trials'. But, Peter is not content simply to remind the Christians to be careful how they react when people treat them badly, he paints a vivid picture of the Devil being like a lion who picks on individual Christians and eats them. It would not be long before Christians would be fed to the lions in Rome (if it had not started happening already), so Peter attempts to lift his readers' eyes from their persecutors to the spiritual battle that was going on all around them. In this way, he was helping them not to resent their human enemies, but to love them by understanding that the actual source of the hatred that they were experiencing was coming not from their human persecutors who were to be pitied but directly from the Devil himself.
In Ephesians 6:11 Paul, having reminded his readers not to be taken in by the Devil's schemes, attempts to do the same as Peter did in his letter: he tells them that their real enemy is not their human opponents but the spiritual forces of evil, namely the Devil and his angels. The reason that they were in danger of thinking that their real enemies were made of flesh and blood was that they were being persecuted by humans. Presumably, their actual persecutors were `rulers and authorities', so Paul lists all kinds of evil spiritual rulers and authorities. By paralleling their possible misconception in this way, he enables them to understand the spiritual battle in which they were taking part. He helps them to focus on their real enemies, evil spirits, the Devil and all his schemes that were being cleverly worked out through Non christian persecutors. And he does this so that the Christians can resist the Devil rather than simply resisting their persecutors.
If the Christians simply resisted their persecutors, they would do the kind of thing that Peter did when he drew his sword and cut off the high priest's servant's ear. He was wrong to do this. He unthinkingly resisted the persecutor instead of resisting the Devil, and so sinned.
Paul does not tell his readers to unsheathe their swords and fight against the physical enemy, he tells them to put on their spiritual armour and stand firm in the spiritual battle, not against men but against the evil one and his schemes.
With this context, it is impossible to understand the `flaming arrows' in verse 16 as anything except acts of persecution or cruelty to Christians. To suggest, as some have done, that the flaming arrows are an example of Thought Injection is pure fiction, having no foundation in Scripture. How are we to understand this metaphor? One way is to see that Paul in Ephesians 6:10 18 has similar intentions to those that Peter had when writing 1 Peter 5:8,9. The simile of the lion teaches us about the Devil attacking individual Christians in an uncompromising way; it is a short, vivid pen picture. The metaphor of the flaming arrows teaches an analogous lesson using the language of archery; the Devil is like an archer who deliberately lights a flaming arrow, locates a suitable Christian, mercilessly takes aim and fires an arrow of persecution directly into the life of that carefully selected Christian. The evil deed, however, is usually carried out by a human agent.
By focusing temporarily on the essential nature of persecution, Paul deliberately loses sight for a moment of the means by which persecution comes to Christians. But by doing so, he gives his readers a glimpse behind the scenes to show them what the Devil is like. Doing this helps his readers to understand how they must resist the Devil rather than making the mistake of simply resisting their human opponents.
No doubt, there is much more that could be said about Ephesians 6, 1 Peter 4,5 and Revelation 2, but failing to understand these passages in the way that the writers intended will leave us like spiritual cripples when we are required to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us.
We have seen that although Satan's attacks are carefully aimed and even violent, they come to us via schemes, in a slightly indirect way. This is further demonstrated to us by the startling account of Peter's denial of the Lord. In Luke 22:31, Jesus tells his disciples that Satan had requested that he be allowed to "sift" them "as wheat". Jesus said that he prayed for Peter in particular, that his faith would not fail. If there is such a thing as Thought Injection, then even if we could find no evidence for it anywhere else in the Bible, we would expect to find it demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt in the remainder of chapter 22 of Luke's gospel.
By verse 39, the time of temptation is getting near, so Jesus tells the disciples to pray that they would not fall into temptation. Instead they fall asleep. In verse 46, Jesus is in the middle of encouraging them again to pray that they would not fall into temptation when the Devil himself arrives inside Judas, whom he had entered earlier (John 13:27). The Devil greets the Lord with a kiss!
Instantly, Peter cuts off some one's ear, resisting flesh and blood instead of resisting the Devil. In contrast, the Lord, full of the Holy Spirit and resisting the Devil through prayer and spiritual wisdom, rebukes Peter and heals the severed ear. This was Satan's hour when darkness would reign briefly. This was the kind of `evil day' that Paul had in mind in Ephesians 6.
When the hour of darkness had only just begun, the disciples had already had quite enough sifting and had run away. They ran away because a gang of armed men appeared out of the darkness. In other words, they fled because they were frightened. They had not prayed, they had received no spiritual boldness, they all ran away. All, that is, except Peter, because Jesus had prayed for him that his "faith may not fail". How like Jesus we will be if we are careful to obey Ephesians 6:18! Consequently, Luke focuses the next part of the account only upon Peter.
A little later, the astonishingly brave Peter is staying as close to his master as he dares. He too is frightened, having followed the crowd to the high priest's house, into the lion's den (1 Peter 5:8 springs to mind). At this point, Peter is at his most vulnerable, and Satan decides to sift Peter systematically. First, he inspires an anonymous woman to expose Peter. Secondly, he gets someone completely different to identify him with Jesus. Satan then leaves Peter a full hour to stew, worrying about himself more than about Jesus, having completely forgotten Jesus' prediction, very scared. When the third and final test comes in the form of a direct accusation, there is no need to speculate about Thought Injection in order to explain why Peter sinned: he was petrified!
This kind of approach is similar to the scheme which Satan used on Job. Satan was allowed closer to Job than any other Christian we are told about in the Bible; Satan was even allowed to afflict Job's body. And yet, when the Devil tries to get Job to deny the Lord, he does it through his wife. There is no suggestion of Job having thoughts injected into his mind by the Devil, it is through his wife that the evil idea comes: "Curse God and die!" As Job's trials deepen, the Devil sends him three comforters who say a mixture of good and bad, but are generally a sore trial to him. During his trials, Job is ignorant of the Devil"s schemes, but even he says that his comforters are evil men, that he has been made a `target' and that he is surrounded by `archers' (Job 16:12,13. Ephesians 6:16 springs to mind). The Bible gives us no reason to think that Thought Injection into the minds of Christians is one of the Devil's schemes. On the contrary, the biblical accounts of the trials of Christians supply other mechanisms by which the Devil sifts people. It is unnecessary to turn away from the biblical explanations to ideas invented by men.
The Lure of the World
We have seen how the Devil uses a measure of indirectness which makes some of his schemes subtle and effective. There is a similar approach that he uses which, although indirect, needs to be distinguished from the scheme just described because it is an order of magnitude more subtle. This scheme is the lure and the pressure of the `world'. It is characterised mainly by the fact that the influence of the world is gradual; it wears away at us throughout our whole lives.
Surprisingly, an incident which immediately speaks of Thought Injection to those in favour of it provides us with a striking example of Satan's `worldliness' scheme. When Jesus explained how he was going to die (Matthew 16:21,22), Peter rebuked him! This seems ridiculous with the benefit of hindsight, but it would appear from verses 25 to 28 that Peter's mind was focused upon a wonderful vision of Jesus the King leading a rebellion against the Romans and establishing his eternal righteous kingdom on earth. To Peter's shock, Jesus tells both Peter and us something that we would not have understood if Jesus had not explained it to us. When Jesus said to Peter "Get behind me Satan", he attributed Peter's sinful worldly attitude concerning Jesus' kingdom unambiguously to Satan.
Although Jesus tells us that Satan was intimately involved with Peter's sin, we know that nothing like Thought Injection occurred because of the explanation that Jesus gives in verse 23 itself. Notice that Jesus does not say that Peter had `in mind the things of Satan', he says that Peter had "in mind ... the things of men". How can this be when Jesus has just called Peter "Satan"? The answer is simple: Jesus was explaining how Peter's worldly attitude had been absorbed throughout his life by mixing with and listening to the ideas of men who themselves were the children of the Devil. By using this scheme, the Devil had set up many chains of worldly influence, all aimed directly at Jesus in an attempt to prevent him from dying and saving his people. In this incident, it was not mainly Peter who was under attack. Peter was a Christian whom the Devil just happened to use as the last link in a complex set of chains which were designed to tempt Jesus to become a worldly king instead of dying and thus becoming a spiritual saviour and king. This temptation was, in fact, the continuation of where the Devil left off after the high mountain, when he showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth, saying "if you worship me (the Devil), it will all be yours"! That also explains why Jesus was in no way exaggerating when he said "Get behind me Satan" to his poor, worldly, confused disciple.
Attacks Through Other Christians
An interesting corollary of the above incident where Peter is called "Satan" is that it must be possible for demonic temptation to come to us through other Christians. Peter was unknowingly participating in one of Satan's subtle schemes, therefore an important part of resisting the Devil for all Christians is to make sure that we do not assist the Devil by unwittingly tempting other Christians. Matthew 16 teaches us that when we propagate our worldly attitudes amongst Christians, we are doing the Devil's work for him. Let us beware lest "Satan ... outwit us" (2 Corinthians 2:11).
Attacks Based upon our Weaknesses
Rather than leaping to unwarranted conclusions, as discussed previously, it is important to realise that in the accounts of David taking a census of Israel and Judah (1 Chronicles 21:1, 2 Samuel 24:1), neither author explains to us the exact mechanism by which both God and the Devil incited David to sin! However, David does appear to have exhibited a rather proud, worldly, attitude. Such weaknesses are not unheard of amongst God's people! How could Satan capitalise on such weaknesses? It is possible to imagine that, say, one of David's courtiers whispered in his ear that the kings of the Philistines had so many hundred thousand soldiers, so many hundred chariots of iron etc, and might not David be losing the psychological battle? Might his troops be getting demoralised? Surely David must counter attack by publicising just how strong his own armies are (purely for glory of God, of course)?
The Role of the Memory
Another subtle way in which the Devil can influence us is through our memories. This is unsuspected and sometimes unavoidable because it has already happened, perhaps even before we became Christians. Corrupt memory is dangerous because it can form the basis of corrupt habits. Habits can creep up on us and have us sinning before we have even thought about what we doing. In this way, the Devil can `invest' in our futures before we have even left his kingdom. It is a way by which the Devil can infiltrate God's kingdom through people who have become Christians both recently and a long time ago. The Devil must still be resisted even if the time when he influenced was decades ago!
4. Resisting the Devil
Resisting the Devil is a complete subject in itself, but we have seen how important it is to resist the Devil rather than just putting up with the problem or lashing out against other people who are only the Devil's tools. We have also seen how resisting the Devil rather than his agents can lead us to adopt the correct attitude to our persecutors, even to love them and to help them. This is because resisting the Devil is not just a matter of resisting our own indwelling sin, it is about being aware of the spiritual battle that is going on. It is the difference between being an ignorant foot soldier who merely obeys orders and being a general in an army who makes strategic decisions about how to fight his monarch's battles. Resisting sin will not make the Devil flee from us, but resisting the Devil himself in the power of the Holy Spirit as Jesus did will make him flee (Luke 4:1, 4:13, James 4:7, Ephesians 6:10 19).
We have analysed the deeply personal nature of demonic attack without diminishing its severity or importance, but have warned against the error of blaming our evil thoughts on the Devil and failing to take responsibility for them. Only when we admit ownership of our failings can we claim forgiveness, repent and resist the Devil.
The degree to which we have seen Satan's schemes to be very subtle and clever even in this short study convinces us that it will never be possible to compile an exhaustive list of his schemes. Nor is there such a need.
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