People have a wide variety of ideas about the Devil. Satan. Old Scratch. Beelzebub. The Prince of Darkness.

For some, Satan is the personification of dark tendencies and evil deeds rather than an actual person. For others, he is the red-suited guy with horns, tail, and pitchfork who is more comic than sinister. Then there are people like the New Testament writer Paul who says Satan is not only personal but smart — able to disguise himself as an "angel of light" to worm his way into our confidence.

While I'm no expert on the Devil –- who would want that distinction! –- I am convinced his best work is subtle, indirect, and masked in respectability. Who could be suckered by a horns-and-pitchfork adversary? But if he could just get you to project an image of decency while living at odds with that public profile ...

  • You could be very religious in terms of church attendance but deeply unspiritual as a racist or sexist in the way you see and treat people.
  • You might be a dynamic, outgoing, and respected leader in the larger community yet unloving, detached, or even abusive at home.
  • You can teach and counsel others with solid biblical wisdom and then justify yourself for not having to live by it personally.
  • You might quote Scripture voluminously and with chapter-and-verse accuracy but be oblivious to your bad temper or harsh and judgmental spirit.
  • You could be a quick volunteer and appear cooperative with people in your church but complain and criticize the whole time in following through.
  • Healing begins when we get honest.
  • You may project confidence in public yet have to numb yourself with alcohol or drugs at night because of a sense of failure, anger, or pain of heart.

Healing for our emotional and spiritual lives begins when we get honest about our inconsistencies. When we quit making excuses or blaming others. When we are courageous enough to admit how frazzled the basic connections of life have become – relationships with self, God, and people who care about us.

Comedian Flip Wilson made a fortune by saying, "The Devil made me do it!" And I for one don't deny that Satan can capture and enslave people so as to get them in horribly bad fixes. What I won't accept is that he wreaks his havoc independently of our wills. That he moves in and takes over without permission.

The Bible says: "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you." (James 4:7 NIV) Effective resistance begins only when the excuse-making ends.