Most Christians understand and do not deny that sin can originate from the Christian’s own mind. But their definition of the flesh is sometimes as merely the “residue of your negative conditioning” and this process of thinking is inadequate to account for the gross evil Christians often encounter within themselves. To explain this, only the devil will do. In fact, Christians will reason that it is harmful for Christians to attribute truly evil thoughts to themselves: Assure the counselee that any thoughts which do not “joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” (Romans 7:22) are from Satan.
Are you the person who would say “Sometimes, when I go to church, I think these awful thoughts about God and dirty thoughts go through my mind?” As Christians we must understand the origin of those thoughts and Satan’s tactics; If those thoughts are your thoughts, what would you conclude about your nature? “How can I be a Christian and have those kinds of thoughts?” you reason with yourself, and so do millions of other well-meaning Christians.
Those who say a demon cannot influence [read: control] an area of a believer’s life have left us with only two possible culprits for the problems we face: ourselves or God. If we blame ourselves we feel hopeless because we can’t do anything to stop what we’re doing. If we blame God our confidence in Him as our benevolent Father is shattered. Either way, we have no chance to gain the victory which the Bible promises us.
There are many Believers with these thoughts “I didn’t know what it means to take every thought captive. I tried to do this once, but I was unsuccessful because I blamed myself for all this stuff. I thought all those thoughts were mine and that I was the one who was doing it. There has always been a terrible cloud hanging over my head because of these issues. I never could accept the fact that I was really righteous because I didn’t feel like it. Praise God it was only Satan — not me. I have worth!”
There is a biblical basis for saying our evil thoughts are provoked by Satan (e.g., 1 Chron. 21:1; Matt. 16:23; John 13:2; Acts 5:3), but there is no biblical basis for saying all of them are (James 1:14; 4:1; Rom. 8:7; 1 Pet. 2:11; Gal. 5:17). If we believe it’s all Satan we fail to recognize that evil can originate from ourselves (our flesh) and yet we can still gain victory over the power and guilt of sin through Christ’s cross and indwelling Spirit (see, e.g., Heb. 9:13–14; Gal. 5:16–25). The desire to protect us from responsibility for the evil in our hearts contradicts our own emphasis that we should take responsibility and not fall into a “devil made me do it” mentality.
This is a serious error. The biblical answer to what a person may experience is first to agree with Paul that “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom. 7:18) and then to see that our righteousness is entirely in Jesus Christ. Only after one reaches the point of utter self-despair that cries out with Paul, “What a wretched man I am! Who will set me free from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24) can one experience the deliverance that also proclaims with Paul, “Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:25). Too often Christians inadvertently perpetuate the very bondage we want to free people from by feeding rather than confronting that fleshly concern to feel worthy in and of oneself.
Christians can never stand before God with total confidence until we find our righteousness strictly outside of ourselves, in the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ ( Phil. 3:3–9; 1 Cor. 1:30; Rom. 10:3–4). Only then will Christ’s imparted righteousness take shape in our lives (Gal. 6:14–15; Rom. 8:1–4). As soon as we begin to consider that imparted righteousness as our own righteousness we will find ourselves walking after the flesh again (Gal. 1:18—2:14; 2 Cor. 3:5; 1 Cor. 10:12; Prov. 16:18; Rev. 3:17–18). Therefore, it really does not matter whether a thought originates from Satan or the Christian, because the Christian should not be making any claims to personal righteousness before God in the first place.