A minister said to me that he viewed the devil as “the evil one”, that this was his preferred terminology. The existence of a devil is pretty much undisputed by the world at large, let alone the religious world. There is another view though, where the existence of the devil is denied, against a seeming weight of evidence, for there are always “explanations”.
The personification of sin is the common term used to explain away the devil. Jesus seemed to accept the prevailing terminology and used it himself to refer to this “devil”.
But maybe it IS personification, but then rightly so if sin is hiding behind man, is generated from within man, that makes it PERSONAL. If sin arises from an “evil” heart, then the personality of that heart or of that person is going to be seen as a personality, as being an entity. And then where the blame is denied by that person, the innermost entity whatever that may be, is to receive the condemnation.
Primitive thinking referred all things to spirits, usually “evil” spirits. It was said that a man was “possessed” by a spirit, or “had” a spirit. A woman was said to have had a “spirit of infirmity” (a physical ailment). So it appears that whatever is causing a problem is said to be caused by a separate spirit, not by the person themselves. [Paul seems to have identified this spirit as being his sin in his flesh].
The evil one is said to take things out of people’s hearts, or to put it in their hearts. One could see this as a suggestion being “suggested” to the person as temptation. So in this way, “the devil made me do it”. But Paul did not take this line when talking about his inner failings, which he described as “sin IN me”, not a spirit in him or the devil in him. [But he did say that it was not himself but sin that made him do it]. It is said that “out of the heart” comes evil in various ways. It says “Why have you conceived this in your heart?” Interesting that Paul in Rom 7 does not mention the heart? although he is deeply into the explanation of his sinful flesh. Does he mention flesh by a name? He certainly does not mention the devil. (or temptation for that matter).
Paul talking about his production of good or evil says that it is “SIN WHICH DWELLS IN ME”. So here he says it is not a spirit, but SIN that dwells, lives, abides in him. Paul does not say that the sin in him is an entity, but says that sin dwells in his flesh, and says that there are natural forces at work within him which deny him the use of his own will, that his own will does not succeed in the face of this other “will” which overpowers his thoughts of good and instead, produces evil. Paul denied the blame, the responsibility, and instead, blamed sin. [He treats it as an entity].[his own will is subverted].
Although he does not personify sin, he names it and blames it as being the cause of all his trouble. “Wretched man that I am” (I am living in a body of death.) Because he insinuates the will of flesh, he is in fact, personifying it, if not openly. Paul elsewhere ties sin and temptation together in this way. [Sin is normally considered as being the result of temptation]. “Every man is tempted when from within, by his own desire, he is tempted and led,…then when it is full grown produces sin..”. Paul has already said that the good he wants to do, he CANNOT do, but the evil he does not want to do, is what he ends up doing. So he is saying that the nature of sin within him, is reproducing its own nature from him, through him. [the “works of the devil”]
Now this has to be tied to the normal and natural state of man as being “under the wrath” of God. Paul says he does not understand himself. This is because sin/guilt is in charge of him, has control of him, and is why Jesus says “without me you can do nothing”. The perplexity and complexity of being under sin’s control and in guilt of it, leads to Paul’s exclamation of “wretched man that I am”. He is talking about being condemned under the law of sin and death, of being in death, that his body was taking him to his doom. Without the guilt and the condemnation of the sin within him, without being under the wrath of God and feeling it, he might stand a chance of refuting sin and denying it’s power. But the law condemns him. Then Jesus “fulfils the law” for us and the power of sin to accuse is destroyed. Paul is now free to enjoy the freedom of his will, which before, was enslaved , was a prisoner, of and to sin, and him with it. (A prisoner of the law). [He then moves from Ch.7 to Ch.8]
Meanwhile back in Ch.7. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law”. We are talking heavy stuff here, and there is no mention of a devil. Perhaps just as the devil is not mentioned, so too, neither is the heart. Is this because he is talking about the same thing? That both the production of sin from the flesh, and the production of evil from the heart are one and the same thing? It all comes out of the “flesh”, the natural existence of man, of his humanity without God, without love peace and forgiveness.
The “evil one” has to be the same “entity” that arose in the heart of Adam, that he (Adam)conceived this sin of not following God’s instructions. The whispering in the ear of Eve and ‘”the serpent” is where temptation arises from desire, the wrong desire, conceived in the heart of man and followed through with the power of condemnation. The power then of sin, is the condemned state, under law. It has power to control man who avoids God and his ways because of his guilt. He cannot go down God’s paths for fear of meeting him on the way, so he sidesteps and moves off the pathway and sin is the result. Man has to hide in the darkness, he cannot come into the light, for fear of God. Man’s ways are therefore the ways of darkness, of sin.
Though Paul does not mention temptation, he has surely described the process of the production of sin, from his body of sinful flesh, “sin in the flesh”. Sin in the flesh reproduces its own nature, produces its own works. Rather than being “the world, the flesh and the devil”, there is only one source of evil, and that is man, regardless that some angels somewhere some time might have “sinned”. [Angels and spirits are also closely tied together]. Good angels and bad angels, good spirits and bad spirits. Another subject.
“You are of your father the devil, and the works of your father you do” Jesus said to the Pharisees. The reason Jesus came was to destroy the works “of their father”. The devil = diabolos, the accuser. It was the accuser and the accusation of guilt that held Paul as a prisoner to sin under the law. This accuser must then be empowered by the law, if it not be the law itself. We were held captive by the law. Scripture also says “after being held captive by him, to do his (the devil’s) will. So the power of the accuser, or the accusation, comes through THE law. [Law can be applied in a general way, but scripturally it is normally talking of the Mosaic law.] [Which was temporary “until Christ came”].
Paul called the law “The ministry of death”. It was this very death that he was describing in Romans Ch.7. Since the power (of sin) to accuse came from law, once the law is satisfied or dealt with (we are released from it by his mercy and forgiveness by the cross) then the power of sin (to accuse) is destroyed, and our guilt with it. This then is the destruction of “the works of the devil”.
The cross did not directly target “the devil”, but did target SIN. [“in the flesh”].
[And why would God not simply have killed “the devil” and saved all this trouble? If the devil is a fallen angel, are angels more powerful than God?][Unless the devil is an agent of God to bring about his purposes][Job].[Perhaps because “the devil” dwells in the flesh].[Jesus had this same flesh problem, but considered it as an entity which was not of him, even though it was in him. Once Paul had clarified his own situation, he did the same, creating the division, making the decision, between good and bad].[A difference between Jesus and Paul is that Paul in Romans 7 did not have the Spirit (without me you can do nothing)]