“The devil made me do it.” My generation remembers Flip Wilson popularizing this catchphrase in the early 1970s. It was comedy. We laughed when his character, Geraldine Jones, said, “The devil made me buy this dress. I didn’t want to do it!”
Flip Wilson may have popularized the catchphrase, but he didn’t originate the notion that we can somehow justify our sinful actions by blaming the devil. Eve tried “the devil made me do it” excuse in the garden of Eden. (See Gen. 3:13.) It didn’t work for her; it doesn’t work for us either.
Make no mistake—the devil is our adversary. He wages war against God’s people and is bent on leading us into sin. (For example, see 1 Cor. 7:5; 2 Cor. 2:10-11; and 1 Pet. 5:8.) Consequently, we understand the reason for James’s command, “Resist the devil” (Jas. 4:7). Significantly, James added to his imperative this promise: “and he will flee from you. The promise he will flee assures us we are not defenseless against Satan’s devices. We cannot alibi “the devil made me do it,” for are able to resist him with God’s help. Therefore, when the devil attacks …
1. Run to God.
Our first and greatest defense against the schemes of the devil is to live in a right relationship with God. Notice several key ideas in James 4:
- “You adulterous people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the friend of the world becomes the enemy of God” (v. 4). James was saying: Stop your affair with the world! Quit flirting with the devil! Instead, make the intentional choice to live as an enemy of the world (and of the devil) by aligning yourself with God.
- “Submit to God” (v. 7). This means to “put yourself under God’s authority.” The intent is: “stop resisting God and resist the devil!”
- “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (v. 8). We can’t resist the devil if we are not living in close fellowship and intimate communion with God.
2. Humble yourself before God.
Pride makes us vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. Pride was the devil’s downfall, and he wants us to be prideful. It is one of his chief weapons in his warfare against us. “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). But James teaches us …
- “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jas. 4:6).
- “Humble yourselves before the Lord” (v. 10). To humble ourselves before God means to stop resisting Him (v. 7), to fall prostrate before Him, to submit to Him, and to lean on His power.
- “Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep” (Jas. 4:8-9). The call to draw near to God in verse 8 suggests James’s audience had moved away from Him. Verses 8-9 are a call to repentance and purity of heart.
The person who lives in friendship with this world (v. 4) does not view sin as a big deal. And it is through the sins we tolerate that Satan gains a foothold into our lives. Therefore, James urges us to take sin seriously. Grieve over it. Weep over it before God.
3. Take up the Word of God.
The Word of God was a theme in the first chapter of James. (See 1:18,21,22-25.) We have the Word of God to fend off the enemy’s attacks.
- By “the sword of the Spirit—which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17)—we “stand against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). The devil’s only weapon against us is deception. (See 2 Cor. 11:3.) God’s truth protects us from Satan’s lies.
- Jesus responded to the devil’s temptations by quoting the Word: “It is written … it is written … It is also written” (Matt. 4:4,5,7). If our Lord resisted Satan’s attacks with Scripture, we also should meet the tempter’s attacks on the same basis. (See also Ps. 119:9-11.)
Jesus was able to use God’s Word because He knew God’s Word. If we do not know the Word, we cannot use the Word. A sword can deflect an enemy’s attack only if we are able to handle it skillfully and precisely; otherwise, we are left vulnerable to Satan’s deception.
The promise of James 4:7 not only eliminates “the devil made me do it” alibi but assures us we can resist him. First John 4:4 promises, “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” Jesus is our victory. Do like Billy Graham: “When Satan knocks, I just send Christ to the door.“
Mike Livingstone works at Lifeway Christian Resources as content editor for Explore the Bible materials.