Who Is the Devil?
"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or magician with the same delight" (Lewis, C.S. The Screwtape Letters. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1941, p.3). When it comes to the question of the existence of the devil and his demons, people frequently have one of two reactions: They dismiss him altogether, and even laugh at such a prospect as a personality known as the devil. Or, they have an exalted view of him, ascribing far more power to him than he has, and attributing far more deeds to him than he has ever done.
A recent Gallup poll revealed that 70% of Americans believe in the devil. Half of those surveyed believe that he is a personal force, while the other half believe that he is an impersonal force. Is the devil merely a force? Or is he an intelligent "spirit being" with a distinct personality? Someone once asked the great evangelist Charles Finney, "Mr. Finney, do you believe in a literal devil?" Finney replied, "You try opposing him for awhile and you'll see if he's literal or not." There is one place where we can find a balanced view of who the devil is. You will find it in the pages of God's Word, the Bible.Back to Top
The Origin and Fall of the Devil
Where did the devil come from? To put it another way, how could a God of love create someone as horrible as the devil? This question is based upon flawed reasoning, since it assumes that we are in a position to critique God. Many who refuse to look into what the Bible says on the subject simply decide that God seriously erred in this area, so we should not put our trust in Him.
God did not create the devil as we know him.
When God created the world, we are told that God examined it and declared that it was good (Genesis 1:31). This means that even the angelic world did not have evil angels or demons in it at that time. But by the time of Genesis chapter three, we find that Satan, in the form of a serpent, was tempting Eve to sin. Therefore, sometime between the events of Genesis chapter one and Genesis chapter three, there must have been a rebellion in the angelic world, with many angels turning against God and becoming evil. This rebellion was led by Satan himself.
Lucifer's fall from heaven
The Bible gives us this information about the devil before his fall
- Named Lucifer, which means "star of the morning"
- Held a high-ranking position in the angelic host
- Had exquisite beauty and great wisdom
- Given a position of great power and influence
- Called "the guardian cherub"
"You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God...You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings" (Ezekiel 28:12–17 NIV).
Cherubim are depicted in Scripture as powerful and majestic angelic creatures who surround God's throne. And Lucifer had once been a guardian cherub. Ironically, after Adam and Eve succumbed to the devil's temptations, disobeyed God, and were expelled from Eden, God sent cherubim to guard Eden (Genesis 3:24).
Since Lucifer had been the model of perfection, what sort of sin led to his fall? His heart became proud because of his incredible beauty. Lucifer allowed his perfection to be the cause of his corruption.
God's judgment on Lucifer
Lucifer was not satisfied with worshipping God; instead, he wanted to be worshipped. Once a beautiful, powerful angel of God, he lost his former, exalted position in heaven.
"How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.' Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit" (Isaiah 14:12–15).
Lucifer ("star of the morning") became Satan ("accuser") when he fell to the earth. Jesus, speaking of this event, said, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Luke 10:18).
When Satan fell, he did not fall alone. Scripture tells us that he took one-third of the angels (see Revelation 12:4). Considering that the angelic host numbers more than 10,000 x 10,000 (see Revelation 5:11), that is a sizable group. They account for the fallen angels, or demons, that now do his bidding. As a result, Satan is a fallen, but powerful, spirit-being with a well-organized network of demon powers to help him accomplish his purposes. Those purposes, according to Jesus, are to "steal, kill, and destroy" (John 10:10).
That's the bad news. The good news is that two-thirds of the angels are on our side! As the prophet Elisha said to his servant, "Don't be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (2 Kings 6:16).
As Christians, we have an even greater asset than the majority of angels on our side: Jesus Christ, who conquered Satan at the cross of Calvary, is also on our side!
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The Strategy of the Devil
Satan starts with the mind.
When Satan wanted to lead the first man and woman into sin, he started by attacking the mind. Scripture says, "I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3 NIV).
Satan hits here first because he knows that the mind is the place where we reason, contemplate, and fantasize. That is why the Bible urges us to bring "every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). If the devil can just get us to think about carrying out a particular sin, that will help him to accomplish his purposes. You can never truly say, "The devil made me do it." The tempter needs cooperation from the tempted.
Satan works with two close allies: the world and the flesh.
The term the world refers to the way the world operates now, which is hostile to God. The world system encourages living for personal gratification and putting our own will above all else. "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1 John 5:19).
The term the flesh refers to the sinful nature that lives to be gratified; unrestrained sensual appetites. "For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father, but is of the world" (1 John 2:16).
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The Devil Tempted Eve
When the devil tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1–7), he stirred up the sinful nature in her. He did this through a clever line of reasoning.
- He questioned God's Word (verse 1). He did not deny that God had spoken. He simply questioned whether God had really said what Eve thought He had said.
- He questioned God's love for Eve (verse 1). The way Satan asked this question implies that he was questioning God's love. "If God really loved you, He wouldn't keep something from you, would He?" Satan used this same tactic on Jesus in the wilderness: "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread" (Luke 4:3). In other words, "Why are you hungry if you are God's Son?" As the author Tennyson once said, "A lie that is all of a lie can be met with and fought outright. But a lie that is partly the truth is a harder matter to fight."
- He denied God's Word (verse 4). Satan finally threw out God's warning altogether, telling Eve, "You will not surely die." It is but a short step from questioning God's Word to denying it. If Eve had not listened to Satan questioning God's Word, she would never have fallen into Satan's trap when he denied God's Word. Eve was at the wrong place, at the wrong time, listening to the wrong person, which ultimately led to her doing the wrong thing.
- He substituted his own lie (verse 5). Satan told Eve that if she eats from the tree, she "will be like God, knowing good and evil." Interestingly, this was Satan's own sin, for he had attempted to take God's place.
Eve saw that the tree "was pleasant to the eyes" (verse 6). This is the lust of the eyes. Satan uses this trap to try to get people to entertain fantasies in their thought life. Unfortunately, those fantasies often turn into reality.
Eve saw that the tree "was good for food" (verse 6). Having seen it, she tasted it. This is the lust of the flesh. Likewise, Satan wants us to gratify our desires immediately, whatever they might be—food, sleep, sex, pleasure, possessions, etc.
Eve saw that the tree was "desirable to make one wise" (verse 6). This is the pride of life. Satan wants us to desire to be exalted, to develop an attitude of arrogance.
Eve had a choice to make—she could believe God's word or Satan's word. Tragically, she chose to believe Satan, the father of Lies, rather than the One who is Truth.Back to Top
How to Sabotage the Devil's Strategy
Just as surely as there is a God who loves you and has a plan for your life, there is a devil who hates you and wants to destroy your life.
Adam and Eve failed to use the weapon God has given us during times of temptation: the Word of God (also called "the sword of the Spirit"). Jesus, during His time of temptation in the wilderness, chose to use this weapon to show us its power. While He could have used His divine authority and power to ward off His enemy, He responded to Satan's distortions of Scripture with accurate recitations of God's Word.
Like Jesus, we need to "rightly divide the word of truth" when Satan comes to us with his lies and accusations (2 Timothy 2:15).
How can you avoid his traps and temptations? Second Timothy 2:22 gives us the key: "Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart."
Flee temptation and don't leave a forwarding address!Back to Top
Spiritual Warfare against the Devil
The moment you became a Christian, a spiritual war began. This battle is not between flesh and blood. It is a spiritual battle with a very real devil. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). When Paul wrote that, he was describing a life-and-death, mortal hand-to-hand combat.
While it is true that your eternal destiny changes, you pass from darkness to light, you find new purpose and meaning in life, and heaven rejoices once you accept Jesus Christ into your heart and life, something else takes place: a spiritual war begins. It has been said, "Conversion makes our hearts a battlefield."
The believer may be known by his inward warfare as much as by his inward peace. Many Christians do not understand this dynamic of the Christian life. They think that they are set free from the power and ensuing vices that sin brings. They think they are free to just go their own way and do whatever they want to do.
But we are not set free to merely enjoy ourselves. We are set free to do battle and engage in the fight, to overcome in our own lives, and to become channels by which others are set free.
Martin Luther described this battle well in his hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God": "For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal."
Before you came to Christ, the devil wanted to stop you. Once you heard the message of salvation, Satan wanted to take away the Word that was sown in your heart (Mark 4:15). If he was unsuccessful in those attempts, he will next try to entrap you in some kind of sin.Back to Top
The Devil's Limited Power
We should never underestimate the devil. He is a sly and skillful foe, with many years of experience in dealing with humankind. Yet, he does have some serious limitations—especially in the life of the believer.
In the Old Testament book of Job, we get some clear insights into Satan's power and limitations, an inside look at how the devil operates:Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. And the LORD said to Satan, 'From where do you come?' So Satan answered the LORD and said, 'From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.' Then the LORD said to Satan, 'Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?' So Satan answered the LORD and said, 'Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land'" (Job 1:6–10).
Even after his fall, Satan still has access to the throne of God. Though Satan lost his once high-ranking position, he still can personally see God. In spite of his power and wicked agenda, Satan has to seek God's permission before he does anything to the child of God because of the "hedge of protection" God has put around his children.
While God did allow Satan to test Job through various tragedies (death of servants, stolen goods, deadly storms, loss of children, and sickness), God gave Satan this restriction: "Do not lay a hand on his person" (Job 1:12). The devil's demon forces must also receive God's permission to do certain things. In Mark 5:1–20, when Jesus cast out a group of demons named "Legion," the demons asked Jesus for permission to enter a herd of pigs.
In another interesting incident, we read that Satan specifically asked to test the disciple Simon Peter by name. Jesus told Peter, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you" (Luke 22:31–32). What an encouragement it is to know that Jesus intercedes for us during our times of testing! God also knows our breaking point, and He will never give us more than we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13).Back to Top
The Devil Is Not Equal to God
In the section, "Who Is God," we noted that God had several divine attributes: He is omnipotent (all-powerful); He is omniscient (all-knowing); and He is omnipresent (present everywhere). Satan possesses none of these attributes.
Satan is not omnipotent.
He has great power—more than any man and most angels—but he is not anywhere near the equal of our God. As mentioned, he must seek God's permission before he can even do certain things.
Satan is not omniscient.
He has a powerful intellect and knows many things from experience (far more than people), but only God is all-knowing.
He is not omnipresent.
Satan is an individual personality, so he can be in only one place at a time (as seen in Job 1:7). So when we say that the devil is personally tempting us, more than likely it is his power working through his network of demons.
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The Devil's Demon Forces
Though Satan is limited in power, he does have a well-organized network of demon powers doing his bidding. Remember, when Satan lost his position in heaven, he took one-third of the angels with him (Revelation 12:4). Numerous Scripture passages refer to Satan and his minions:
- "Beelzebub, the prince of demons" (Matthew 12:24).
- "The devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).
- "The dragon and his angels" (Revelation 12:7, 9).
- "The principalities. . .powers. . .rulers of the darkness of this age" (Ephesians 6:12)
The intent of demons seems to be two-fold:
- They seek to hinder the purposes of God.
- They seek to extend the power of Satan.
The devil and his demons cannot control the Christian.
Satan and his demons can harass the believer—but only with God's permission. Scripture cites several examples of personal attacks by these dark powers. In one case, Satan kept Paul from going to a certain city (1 Thessalonians 2:18).
Paul described his own personal struggles brought about by demons and allowed by God:
"Lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness'" (2 Corinthians 12:7–9).
Though it is true that we can be oppressed by Satan and his demons, we cannot be controlled by or possessed by them. Every move of the enemy must come by permission through the protective hedge of Jesus. The nonbeliever, on the other hand, is a sitting duck for full-blown demon possession.
A Word of Caution
Some in the church have the mistaken idea that Christians can be possessed by demons, so they arrange deliverance services where these alleged spirits are cast out of people. Yet nowhere in Scripture do we find people dedicating services to the casting out of demons. Peter and John did not have a deliverance ministry—they had a gospel ministry! True, the apostles cast out demons when needed, but that was never their focus. The only exorcists we read of in Scripture failed miserably (Acts 19:13–16).
In reality, what is often called a demon is actually our flesh (our own sinful nature), which we are to die to, not to cast out (see Romans 8:13; 1 Peter 2:24). Jesus is not in a time-share program with Satan.
- "What accord does Christ have with Belial?" (2 Corinthians 6:15).
- "The wicked one does not touch" anyone who is "born of God" (1 John 5:18).
- "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).
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How to Stand Strong through the Devil's Attacks
Be strong in the Lord.
"Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" (Ephesians 6:10).This literally means, "Strengthen yourselves in the Lord." The first thing we must realize is that in our own strength, we are no match for the devil. He is a powerful spiritual being that we must not try to engage on our own.
Satan recognizes that God is your power-base. Therefore, Satan's goal is to get between your soul and God. He tries to separate man's heart from God and inspire man's confidence in himself instead.
Remember God's love for you.
When you are being tested, you should remember the words of Jesus, "My Father. . .is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand" (John 10:29).
Absolutely nothing—nothing—can ever separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38–39).
Remember Christ's victory over Satan at the cross.
The devil does not want you to remember that he was soundly defeated at the cross: "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). Jesus broke Satan's stranglehold on humanity when He died on the cross (see Colossians 2:14 ; John 12:31–32).
We are not fighting for our victory, we are fighting from His victory!
This is the Lord's battle, not our own. We are simply individual soldiers in a vast army who are to obey the directions given to us by the captain of our salvation.
Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, recognized this when greatly outnumbered by his enemy. He prayed, "O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what do to, but our eyes are upon You" (2 Chronicles 20:12). God then answered King Jehoshaphat's prayer through a prophet, saying, "The battle is not yours, but God's" (2 Chronicles 20:15).
Resist the devil.
We should keep as much distance between us and the devil as possible. "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). We do this by avoiding things that will drag us down spiritually. Disobedience and persistent waywardness provide the enemy grounds from which he can attack and influence the Christian. This is why Scripture reminds us to not give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27).
You will never win this spiritual battle in your own strength. You will only be successful when you draw your strength from the power base, God Himself. There you will find the strength and stamina to "stand against the wiles of the devil" (Ephesians 6:11).
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Overcoming the Devil's Tactics
Do you ever get sick and tired of being attacked by the devil? In your Christian walk, does it ever seem like you take one step forward and two steps back? Have you ever felt condemned in your sin and wanted to just give up the fight?
If you said "yes" to any of the above, then I have good news for you: Your life does not have to continue on this way! The Bible gives us a plan of action to overcome the devil and his tactics. First, however, you need to be able to identify his strategy.
The devil's two-fold strategy
The devil first tries to bring us down by trapping us in sin. If he is successful, he then attempts his accusation. The Bible actually refers to him as "the accuser of the brethren" (Revelation 12:10). Satan does not just lead a Christian into sin and leave him or her to suffer the consequences. He wants the disobedient Christian to be doubly defeated.
Consider this account in Zechariah: "Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him. And the LORD said to Satan, 'The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?'" (Zechariah 3:1–2).
The setting is that of a courtroom: God is the judge. Joshua the high priest is the defendant. Satan is the prosecutor trying to prove Joshua's guilt.
Satan still uses this tactic with great effect. When you and I have disobeyed God, he moves in for that finishing stroke. He accuses you: "You call yourself a Christian?" "Do you really think that God will hear your prayer?" "You're not worthy to approach God after what you've done."
Before we sin, while he is tempting us, the devil whispers, "You can get away with this." After we sin, he shouts, "You will never get away with this!"
Does this mean that every time we feel a sense of guilt or shame, it comes from the devil? Of course not. We simply must learn to distinguish between Satan's accusations and the Holy Spirit's conviction. If those feelings drive us to despair and hopelessness, then we've listened to the wrong voice.
The difference between conviction and accusation
When the Spirit of God convicts you:
- He uses the Word of God in love. He seeks to bring you back into fellowship with your heavenly Father.
- He gets you to focus upon God and His forgiveness. He draws you to the cross of Christ.
- He leads you to repentance.
- He moves you closer to the Lord.
When Satan accuses you:
- He uses your own sins in a hateful way.
- He seeks to make you feel helpless and hopeless.
- He gets you to focus your attention upon yourself and your sins.
- He drives you away from the cross of Christ.
- He wants you to experience regret and remorse, but not repentance.
- He moves you farther and farther away from the Lord.
True conviction from the Spirit will move you closer to the Lord.
Judas listened to the devil and went out and hanged himself in complete despair. Peter looked in the face of Jesus and wept bitterly, but later came back into fellowship with Christ. Don't let anything keep you from coming to the cross and repenting of your sin and experiencing the wonderful, cleansing work of forgiveness in your life!
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Our access to God's throne has nothing to do with what we've done, but everything to do with what Christ has done and is doing. Look again at the courtroom scene in Zechariah 3:1–2. Joshua stands condemned. Satan goes in for the kill and is suddenly stopped in his tracks. Why? God says that Joshua is His, "brand plucked from the fire."
Our defense against the devil is the interceding Son of God.
"And the Lord said [to Peter]. . . 'Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you'" (Luke 22:31–32).
"My little children, these things I write to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1).
"Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us" (Romans 8:33).
What if I don't feel worthy of God's forgiveness?
The truth is, even on your best day you never were worthy of anything God offers to you—and you never will be. Therefore, do not approach God on the basis of what you've done, but rather on the basis of what He has done for you.
God "predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:5–7).
The devil does not want you to know this one thing: He was soundly defeated at the cross. Prior to His crucifixion on the cross, Jesus said, "Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out" (John 12:31).
If Jesus' death at Calvary was powerful and complete, why is Satan still at work?
Satan is still at work because God has allowed it. This is a temporary situation. Satan knows well his future judgment is imminent.
In addition, Satan can do nothing in the life of the Christian without the permission of God. No one can take you out of God's hand, and absolutely nothing can separate you from His love for you (see John 10:29; Romans 8:35–39).
Armed and ready for the battle
When Jesus died upon the cross, Satan once and for all lost his grasp on humanity (see Colossians 2:14). Therefore, we are not fighting to obtain victory; we are resting in the victory He has obtained! We don't fight for victory, but rather from it. This is the Lord's battle, and not our own personal war. And God has given us the weapons to fight temptation's pull.
Ephesians 6:11–17 details each piece of the armor of God. Note that it is essential that we implement all of it. We are not told to pick and choose what we think is important. Every article plays a significant part. The armor of God is composed of six pieces. The first three (the belt, the breastplate, and the shoes) were designed for long-range preparation and protection. They were never taken off on the battlefield. The second three (the shield, the helmet, and the sword) were kept in readiness for use when the actual fighting began.
All of these articles largely represent defensive gear, with the exception of one: the sword. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. During His temptation in the wilderness, Jesus modeled exactly how we are to use this weapon. Every time Satan tempted Him, Jesus came back with a scripture to counter Satan's enticements.
Use the sword of the Spirit.
Here are a few of Satan's lies and accusations, and key verses to keep in mind as you prepare to battle him.
Go ahead and sin, no one will know.
"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked" (Galatians 6:7).
"Be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23).
God will not forgive you.
"If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
God condemns you!
"There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
You're not going to make it. I'll get you. You'll fall again!
"And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:28).
"Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
Commit Scripture to memory.
"Thy Word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You" (Psalm 119:11).
"The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide" (Psalm 37:31).
"This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success" (Joshua 1:8).
Remember these three things:
- The enemy tries to drive us away from the cross through accusations, but the Spirit of God always brings us back to the cross.
- The enemy has been soundly defeated, and his days are numbered. He can do nothing in the life of the Christian without God's permission.
- God has given us His Word to deflect attacks and to strike blows for His kingdom.
Unsheathe your sword, Christian, and stop being beaten down. The next time the devil reminds you of your past, you remind him of his future.
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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version™. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NIV are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ™. NIV ™. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by biblical, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com