Is 'The Devil made me do it' ever a valid excuse?
"The Devil made me do it" is the oldest excuse in the world; and for nearly every mistake, crime, or sin, it is just that, an excuse.
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First, God will not allow a Christian to be tempted beyond the ability to escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). The truth of 1 John 4:4 eliminates the excuse of the Devil having control of a Christian's behavior: "Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world."
Blame shifting is so ancient it was made by the first people. In the garden of Eden, Eve disobeys God and then blames the Devil: "… The serpent deceived me, and I ate" (Genesis 3:13). God did not buy her excuse, and won't buy it from us either. Adam, in turn, blamed Eve for his sin. God didn't buy that, either. God holds us accountable for our actions.
The Holy Spirit dwells within Christians and not only helps us overcome sin and temptation (1 John 4:4), but prevents the Devil from forcing us from doing anything. God has granted us everything we need for life, as Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:3. Additionally, this verse goes on to say that God has provided what we need for godliness, also.
When we, as Christians, sin, it is because of our own choices. The blame lies with the individual. As Christians, we must recognize the problem is our choice to disobey, rebel, or disregard God (Romans 7:20). Certainly Satan can tempt us to sin and influence us, but the choice is ultimately our own. Think of when a doctor tells a patient to quit smoking. It is not the cigarette's fault, nor the tobacco company, when the patient continues to smoke. Obedience will bring blessing. Christians overcome sin and the temptation to sin by submitting to God and obeying His Word (Romans 7:24–25; 1 John 5:3–5).
"But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire" (James 1:14). We sin because we are sinners infected with a desire to rule our own lives and disregarding or even rebelling against God. This is our primary struggle. "Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these" (Galatians 5:19–21). It is us, our flesh, which causes us to desire these wrong things.
So, what is the Devil's role? He and his demons can tempt us to sin (Genesis 3; Luke 4:1–13; 1 Peter 5:8), but cannot force a Christian to make the series of choices it takes to sin.
However, a person who is not a Christian can come under a controlling influence of the Devil and his minions. Though a non-Christian may more easily succumb to evil influences, he or she can also be possessed. When a person is possessed by a demon, that demon has complete control over the person, not allowing the person control (Mark 9:22). The only time "The Devil made me do it" would ever be a valid excuse is in the case of demon possession. And, again, we must emphasize that a Christian cannot be possessed because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9; Ephesians 5:18).
Christians will still sin, and we are the ones to blame for that. But we have an advocate in Christ Jesus. First John 1:9 reminds us "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." There is an internal battle between our own sinful natures and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, as well as a spiritual battle taking place. Overcoming sin is difficult, but with the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to experience victory. For more on these topics, please see our articles:
"How can I have victory in overcoming sin?"
"I'm struggling with sin. What's the key to victory?"
"Resisting temptation—What is the key?"
How can I overcome temptation instead of giving in?
What is meant by 'dying to self'? How are Christians supposed to die to self?
Why does God test us?
Progressive sanctification – What is it?
How can I walk in the Spirit?
Truth about the Christian Life