There are a lot of misconceptions about Satan among Christians. In this post I'll address some that portray Satan as bigger and stronger than he actually is. If you take the Bible as seriously as I do, then by then end of this list you will probably want to comment about the great deal of power that Satan does have, so in part 2 I'll talk about the misconceptions about Satan that go to the opposite extreme. Here we go...
Ten misconceptions about Satan that give him too much credit:
1. Satan is God's exact opposite.
Too often Christians think of Satan as being God's evil twin. This kind of dualistic thinking puts Satan on the same level as God and draws more from pagan influences than from the Bible (think yin-yang). Satan is not some sort of evil balance to God's goodness. Instead, Satan was created by God (originally as a good angel) and is nowhere close to being as powerful as God. There is no question of which one will be victorious in the end because it is not a fair fight. God is infinite, and Satan is finite.
2. Satan is everywhere.
Only God is present at all times in all places. Only God is always with you. Satan is bigger and faster than we are, but he can't be everywhere at once.
3. Satan knows everything.
Only God knows everything. Satan is good at figuring things out and is definitely smarter than I am, but he is not omniscient. If he knew everything (the future, etc.), he would have known it was a bad idea to rebel against God.
4. Satan can hear your thoughts.
There is absolutely nothing in the Bible that would lead us to think that Satan can read minds or hear people's thoughts. On the contrary, Solomon says to God in 1 Kings 8:39, "You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men." Satan might have a pretty good idea of what you're thinking by watching you and getting to know you (my wife is good at that, too), but he doesn't actually hear our thoughts.
5. Satan can plant a thought in your mind.
I hear this one used a lot in Christian circles as an excuse for hateful, lustful, or otherwise impure thoughts. Many Christians have bought into the Loony Tunes theology that the devil is always sitting on your left shoulder, whispering evil thoughts into your mind's ear. But if Satan can't read minds, he definitely can't control thoughts. Besides, Jesus taught clearly that impure thoughts are sinful in themselves. If Satan could plant those thoughts in our minds against our will, then Jesus couldn't have found us guilty of thinking them.
6. Satan's power on earth is unlimited.
There are places in the Bible that call Satan the "god of this world" and other similar titles. Many Christians have read too much into these titles and think that Satan has unlimited power, at least on earth. The most obvious place to see that this is not true is in the first chapter of Job, where Satan has to go and ask permission from God before he's allowed to test Job. Satan has no power at all beyond what God permits.
7. Satan is responsible for everything we consider to be bad.
I have heard people give the devil credit for causing everything from earthquakes to faulty sound systems. We shouldn't be so quick to say that he's behind everything we don't like. Anyone who has children knows that they don't always understand when something is meant for their good (curfews, vegetables, shots, etc.). Blaming every unpleasant situation on Satan ascribes near-sovereignty to Satan, and those who do this will undoubtedly end up labeling many of God's actions as demonic.
8. Satan can make you sin.
The devil did not make you do it. When we sin, we have chosen to do it ourselves and are completely responsible for it. Satan often presents us with temptations, but he is not capable of forcing us to give in. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."
9. Satan is the cause of every temptation.
The Bible does say that Satan offers us temptations, but it also talks about temptations that happen when Satan is not around: "But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:14-15). Everyone since Adam and Eve, with the exception of Jesus, has been born with a sinful nature. We are quite good at providing our own temptations.
10. Satan can prevent God's plan from being carried out.
This is closely related to 6 and 7. Satan is frequently credited with having brought about circumstances that prevented Christians from accomplishing their ministry goals, and thus Satan is said to have gotten in the way of God's plan. For example, Satan gets the credit for bringing rain on the day a group was going to pass out tracts on the street, making the electricity go out during a worship service, making the Supreme Court outlaw prayer in schools, etc. The first problem with this is that we are claiming to know God's plan in advance. The second problem is that we are claiming that Satan's power is greater than God's. God is big, and God is in control.
That's all for now... check back soon for part 2.