Sin, Evil, the Devil, and Demons

I asked myself recently

What is sin? What is the devil? Are they always connected? Does all slacking from the road to perfection count as sin? Is the devil responsible for all bad things? etc.

So here’s my first bash. Sorry if this is very sketchy and terse.

Jesus gives us two commandments:

12:29 Jesus answered, “The greatest is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one: 12:30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’* This is the first commandment. 12:31 The second is like this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’* There is no other commandment greater than these.”

(Mark, World English Bible)

So we can regard sin as failing to follow either of these commandments. Given that the commandments are rather vague — what does it mean to love God? What does it even mean to love one’s neighbour? — it must be possible for someone to sin (i.e. to fail in following these commandments) without knowing it, or to sin “in good faith”. So sin must be regarded as error, wandering accidentally from the path. Hence, I suppose, the metaphors of lost lambs.

Jesus also tells the worst sin of all is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy is always a conscious act. I don’t think you could blaspheme without knowing it.

I think that consciousness, that wilfully turning away from the Good (i.e., from Jesus’ two commandments), is the extra step that turns sin into evil. Evil is knowing what is good, recognising it as the Good, and choosing to turn against it.

The Devil is the personification of evil. In particular, the forces tempting people to turn consciously away from the Good can be regarded as forces “coming from” the Devil. n.b.: I don’t mean forces tempting people to stray from the path, I mean forces tempting people to renounce the path.

Demons I think are different. I liken demons to passions, in Spinoza’s definition (see Jesus is tempted by the Devil). I am struck by the account of the demons in Mark 5:12:

All the demons begged him, saying, “Send us into the pigs, that we may enter into them.”

The demons themselves are unhappy and ask to be released from the man. Why are they demons themselves unhappy? Perhaps demons are personifications of sin(s), of error and confusion.


  1. candidchatter said

    The devil is a fallen angel. Have you read the Old Testament? His name was Lucifer. And he was very beautiful. He had a huge pride thing going on and wanted to be greater than God. He wants to be worshiped. God punished him in a major way and now he roams the earth seeking to devour. His punishment is not over. Someday he will be thrown into the lake of fire. Hell was made for Satan.

    Demons are also fallen angels who decided to follow Lucifer rather than stick with God. They are very, very real and not just a representation of an emotion or a decision. They will also be thrown into the lake of fire.

    There is an unseen battle raging on all around us. Good vs Evil. We (humans) seem to be stuck in the middle of it. Most of us are unaware.

    I am telling you that it’s all real. It’s as real as the baby inside my stomach. It’s as real as my fingerprint. It’s as real as the words on this screen.

    I’m dead serious.


  2. Ivan said

    Dear Heidi

    Thank you for your comment.

    I had a go at reading the Old Testament a few years ago. I got as far as Numbers but Numbers finished me off. I’ve read some of the later books: Song of Songs, Esther, Ruth, … If this experiment with blogging my way through the New Testament works well, I’d like to do the same with the OT. This blog was supposed to be a fairly light whizz through the NT blogging about the bits I like. It seems to be getting a bit more serious.

    re my language: I don’t want to demean or diminish the reality of any of this. Please forgive me if I’ve given a bad impression. I’m trying to explain the message to myself, and I’m using the language and the kinds of concepts I use generally. I think in that way the message might be more likely to filter nto my life. I’m open to other more concrete ways of talking.

    re the Devil. By coincidence I’m reading Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann. It’s all about a genius composer (Adrian Leverkuhn) who makes a contract with the devil. The devil offers Adrian a higher better perfection, a realer reality, to make his music out of. I’m only halfway through.

  3. […] I’m building myself a framework to help me work through the messages in the New Testament. Using Spinoza’s definition of God, I read Jesus as the perfection of the human, and the Holy Spirit as the human striving after (human) perfection. What is sin? What is the devil? Are they always connected? Does all slacking from the road to perfection count as sin? Is the devil responsible for all bad things? etc. [done: see Sin, evli, the Devil, and Demons] […]

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