Some of the devil's most devoted disciples are among the best-behaved people on Earth. The most deceived of them experience victory over sin. Some are longtime church members devoted to doing the will of God but are servants of satanic delusions.
Should it surprise us that demons can deceive and empower well-intentioned people? New Agers exchange cigarettes for carrot sticks through the power of Hindu-style meditation. The pagan power channeled to them in neopagan meditation chambers certainly isn't the Holy Spirit. Rejoicing in victory over sinful habits, they know not that their spiritual state is worse than before they became overcomers.
Well, why would the devil bestow victory over sin? Before addressing this, let's reaffirm that God has plentiful power over sin for us in the resurrection life of Jesus received through His Spirit. But the devil also has power to transform lives.
You see, our crafty foe wants to seize our souls through his deceptions. Thus for all that God offers, the devil has a counterfeit — even a counterfeit victory over sin, to lure us away from the cross so we trust in our own character attainments and thus forfeit salvation by grace.
All true believers yearn for total victory over sin, and the devil knows it. As we reach out for Jesus to pull us out of one gutter, Satan tries to drag us into another. Bad as it is to be snared in the slime of sinful indulgence, the ultimate deception is the opposite ditch off the gospel freeway: legalism. People imagine they are following God when in reality another force is empowering them.
Remember the Pharisees, those paragons of piety. They had conquered the flesh and its lusts to the point that they fasted twice a week. But Jesus said these trophies of self-discipline and the disciples of their zealous evangelism were actually sons of hell (see Matt. 23:15).
"Lord, I thank Thee for what Thou art doing in my life," prayed the Pharisee in the sanctuary as he scorned the struggling soul who cast himself upon God's mercy. That model of self-mastery knew not that his own soul was in bondage to demons — not demons of self-indulgence but demons of self-righteousness!
Demons of Righteousness
Demons of righteousness? Yes! The Bible warns of spiritual zealots who preach Christ but not Christ as our only hope. They preach a gospel, but one of merit rather than mercy (see 2 Cor. 11:2–4). This false gospel brings them "into bondage" (verse 20) — bondage to demons of righteousness: "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness" (verses 13–15).
Satan's wolf-in-sheep's-clothing strategy multiplies his power to deceive. Take witchcraft, for example. According to the Encyclopedia Americana, "magic to cause harm is often called black magic or sorcery, and magic intended to help or cure is frequently termed white magic."1 Do you see the deception? For those eager to indulge in evil, the devil has black magic. (I lament the racial overtones of that term, but such are the terms used in the world of witchcraft.) And for those who admire the miracles of blessing Jesus performed, Satan has white magic. Black magic or white magic — he doesn't care whether people do evil or do good as long as he is in control.
In Christ's day, Herod by the demons of indulgence killed John the Baptist for the sake of lust, while the Pharisees by demons of righteousness killed Jesus for the sake of law. In succeeding centuries, the emperors of Rome were playboys in their palaces, as bishops of Rome venerated monastics in the desert and promoted perfectionism (with purgatory as a fire escape for those not yet worthy of heaven).
In these last days, may God save us from both the demons of indulgence with their carnal liberalism and the demons of righteousness with their legalism. The final time of trouble is soon to burst upon us, with the world entrapped in Satan's deceptions. But there will be a remnant people who "keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12). By keeping God's commandments, the final remnant people overcome the demons of indulgence. And by cherishing faith in Jesus, they overcome the demons of righteousness.
So let us beware and be wise. Amid the worldliness around us, God offers His church victory over sin, but so does the devil. Resist his temptation to jump from the frying pan with the demons of indulgence into the fire with the demons of righteousness.