Question: How much power does Satan have over our lives?
Answer: Satan is called the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” by Paul in Ephesians 2:2 and the “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Paul says elsewhere that teachers are to instruct those who do not believe the gospel so that “they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26). He also tells us “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). John tells us that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). And Satan himself declares to Jesus when he offers him the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worship, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to” (Luke 4:6).
Wow! Those are quite some declarations and if that was all we had we would despair of anyone ever getting freed from Satan’s grips. But of course, the mighty power of God is so much greater than Satan’s that He is able to break the grip Satan has on people and bring them to Himself. Jesus describes this activity as God’s drawing men to Jesus (John 6:44). Those who have been so drawn are now described in new ways with regard to Satan:
We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. (1 John 5:18)
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith. (1 Peter 5:8,9)
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:10-13)
This last passage is especially emphatic that we have a role to play in resisting Satan and fighting against his power in our lives. Our role is to walk in the power that God has provided so as to live lives of holiness and truth. Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). Consequently it is truth that is most effective in subduing him. This is how Jesus succeeded against him during the temptation, as Jesus quoted Scripture and applied it with accuracy to Satan’s temptations. This is the weapon Paul has in mind when he says we do not use “weapons of the world” (2 Corinthians 10:4) but “divine power to demolish strongholds” (v.4) and “the knowledge of God…[to] take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (v.5).
Can Satan read our minds? For me the jury is out on that one. It seems only God would have the ability to read our minds, but there is some indication that at least demons have the power to suggest things to our minds, false things, of course, and we must sometimes exercise our authority in Christ to get them to stop. Peter seemed to have listened to Satan’s suggestion that Jesus didn’t need to go to the cross and this evoked Jesus’ “get behind me Satan” remark (Matthew 16:23).
If Satan doesn’t read our minds does he at least probe our spoken words for ways to attack us? Some Christians will not pray out loud for fear that Satan will hear and have an edge on them, but Christ and the apostles never feared praying out loud. Our prayers are protected. And it seems foolish to constantly monitor our conversation to make sure Satan doesn’t hear something we don’t want him to hear. The only admonition Scripture gives us about our speech is to monitor it for how it impacts others, making sure our words are wise, loving and life giving.
Can Satan possess a believer? Doubtful. But there are various levels of influence Satan or his demons can have over believers who fail to understand the power God’s truth has in their lives and who choose to stray from God and His protection. Peter says that Satan seeks to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). Persecution is one of his devouring tools (see verse 9). He is also able to inflict us physically if God so allows (see Job and Luke 13:11,16 for examples).
For more on Satan see these articles: Can Satan heal people? Has Satan been cast out of heaven with two thirds of God’s angels? Can believers be possessed by Satan? Can we chase demons through the attic?