First John 3:8 gives us the overarching reason for Jesus’ coming into the world: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (ESV). Satan was busily engaged in his work in this world, and when the Son of God appeared he ramped up his activity (see Matthew 4:1–11; Luke 4:41). The good news is that Jesus’ power and presence destroys the devil’s work.
Keeping the “works of the devil” statement in context, we must read what leads up to it: “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:7–8). The apostle John is speaking of personal holiness. The child of God lives in righteousness. Those who live in unrepentant, continued sin show themselves to be children of the devil because they reflect the devil’s nature. The one who has Christ dwelling within him does not continue to sin because Christ came to destroy the works of the devil. Those satanic works no longer have an expression within the believer’s heart. Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, and that guarantees our sanctification.
What exactly are the works of the devil? Several passages in the Bible answer this question, but Jesus gives a clear and concise answer in John 8.44. In confronting the hypocritical religious leaders in Israel, Jesus says, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” According to Jesus, some of the works of the devil are murder and lying. These two sins summarize the character of the devil and his goals. He works to see people destroyed and go to hell (that’s murder), and he desires to deceive them into that destruction (that’s lying).
The works of the devil show up in the Garden of Eden, where Satan deceived Eve and led her into disobedience (Genesis 3:1–6). As a result, Adam also sinned and threw the whole of humanity into the bondage of sin (Romans 5:12). Satan lied to Eve with the goal of murdering her (that is, separating her from God); he wanted humanity to die.
Before we were saved, we were under the full effects of the works of the devil. In fact, we “were dead in [our] transgressions and sins, in which [we] used to live when [we] followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Ephesians 2:1–2). The works of the devil in our lives caused us to be “gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts” (verse 3). It is only through the love, mercy, and grace of God that we were rescued from the works of the devil (verses 4–5).
The works of the devil affect humanity morally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually. Morally, the devil entices people to sin, making evil seem appealing so that people choose evil over obedience to God (James 1:14). Physically, the devil can inflict disease, and he seeks to use physical trials to cause people to curse God (Job 2:4–5; Luke 13:11). Intellectually, the devil seduces people into error, teaching false doctrines (1 Timothy 4:1). He casts doubt and keeps unbelievers intellectually blinded to spiritual truth and the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3–4). He arranges distractions and promotes confusion that cause people to act hastily, irrationally, and foolishly. Spiritually, he takes every opportunity to snatch away the Word of God sown in a person’s heart (Matthew 13:19).
The devil desires to attack believers, too (Luke 22:31–32). He will try to cause believers to not follow Christ so as to keep them from their primary purpose of bringing glory to God and furthering His purposes and plans. If Satan can cause our love for Christ to cool (Revelation 2:4) or cause us to stop loving each other (John 13:34–35), then we lose our testimony before the world and displease our heavenly Father. If Satan can entice us into addictions such as entertainment, sex, or porn, then he entraps us in bondage to sin so that we cannot commune with God.
In summary, the works of the devil are to counter the work of God. As a murderer, Satan works against God, who is Life. As a liar, Satan works against God, who is Truth. In the lives of unbelievers, the work of the devil is to keep them from coming to saving faith in Christ, with the result that they experience the second death (Revelation 20:14 –15). In the lives of believers, the work of the devil is to tempt them to sin and thus blunt their effectiveness for Christ in this world.
Fortunately for us, Jesus Christ came to destroy the works of the devil. As the time of His arrest and crucifixion drew near, Jesus said, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31). On the cross Jesus accomplished many amazing things. He took the penalty for our sins and gave us His righteousness. Therefore, the devil has no power over the eternal destiny of believers in Christ. It isn’t that the devil can’t tempt a Christian to sin—and succeed sometimes—it’s that Jesus’ death bore all the wrath of God against that sin, and God doesn’t hold the sin against the Christian (Romans 8:1).
Not only did Jesus’ death destroy the works of the devil in relation to our eternal destiny, but it provided for our personal sanctification. Believers have the gift of the Holy Spirit who indwells them and leads them into Christlikeness. The Spirit seals those who believe in Christ, and the devil cannot remove them from His promises (Ephesians 4:30).
In His goodness, the Lord has also given us spiritual weaponry to do battle with the devil (Ephesians 6:10–18). The devil might bring on us a lot of things, but, if we keep ourselves suited up in God’s armor, the battle will be much easier. We must understand our enemy and recognize when he is approaching: “We are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11). More importantly, we must know where our strength and defense lie and trust “the perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2), the only one who can truly destroy the works of the devil.