How do we tell the difference between Jesus and the Devil. Both Jesus and the Devil can give us a sense of assurance, a sense that we're going in the right direction. Both will shower us with bible verses to help us solidify our opinions and both will woo us with a sense of acceptance by surrounding us with people who share our opinions and direction. When Jesus and the Devil "conversed" in the dessert both used scripture, both had logical arguments (what's more logical than eating when you're hungry?), and both seemed quite sure of themselves. When Adolf Hitler didn't die in an assassination attempt by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and friends, who believed they were doing what was right, Hitler gained new motivation and a renewed sense that he was going in the right direction.
It's just interesting isn't it? But more than interesting, it's downright frustrating. When do we know we're right? How can we be certain that our way is the right way? And all along the way we get glimpses of assurance, little encouragements that tell us we're doing what's right... but so are our oppressors and those people who so strongly disagree with us. We could talk forever about how this works between Christians and non-Christians, but just think about how it works between Christians alone. Two people might be heading in opposite direction, both in Jesus' name, and both feeling God's encouragement... Is God just a giant kindergarten teacher saying, "yes, just keep going, everybody's a winner" even when one person must be right and the other must be wrong? Does he even care? Or could it be that we're just not that good at telling Jesus from the Devil?
I think there is a broad way to tell the difference and it starts by looking at how Jesus dealt with the Devil in his temptation. The Devil prompted him, with good logic too, to do certain things. He told him to do things that just make sense in the world as we know it... if you've got the power to do something do it. The Devil even quoted the Psalms at one point, but each time Jesus responded with something from Deuteronomy, something from the Torah (which is called "the Law" in the New Testament). What was going on here? The Devil quoted specific texts, texts that can be taken out of context. The Devil proof-texted from more obscure passages. Jesus, on the other hand, quoted from foundational texts. Jesus quoted from the heart of Scripture which is the Torah. Jesus received his encouragement not from just one random passage or from any strange interpretation of the obscure but from the basic fabric of the whole Biblical narrative.
What does that mean for us? It means that perhaps our encouragement is really from God and not from the Devil when it comes from the heart of scripture and not from some interpretation of the obscure. The Torah is the heart and the Torah is all about love. Paul wrote, "Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10). Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35). Love is the indicator. If your direction is love, which is the fulfillment of the heart of Scripture, then you know you're headed in the right direction and you know your encouragement is from God. But if you're militant, vengeful, you basically figure it's ok not to love certain people, and your direction isn't love, if it's not based on the whole Biblical message but upon some obscure interpretation, then you can count on going the wrong way. If love is not the foundation, at all costs, of your work then you can bet your encouragement, if ever you receive it, is not from God. Move by way of the whole narrative which is a story of God's love for the world, even for his enemies, and not by way of peripheral ideas. Look to the big picture. It may be true that the Devil is in the details.
Here's a small example of how we might confuse the obscure for the heart and how we might confuse the Devil for Jesus: you might say that all the Palestinians should be killed or displaced so that Israel can have the land that was promised to them in scripture or you might decide that even if Scripture does in fact promise that land to Israel, the lives of the Palestinians are more important than prophesy. Which do you think is love?
It's easy for us to confuse the Devil for Jesus or Jesus for the Devil when we're actually doing nothing. If we're not actually working and we're just "thinking" then I think we have more time to get confused. My suggestion is if you're confused, just start walking, start actually working for the Kingdom of God and perhaps all the stuff you're confused about won't matter quite as much.
My final suggestion on this topic is this: abandon your need for certainty. Move ahead in uncertainty and in the humility it takes to say, "I'm still just trying to figure things out." Move ahead with a listening ear and try to see things from another perspective. And let nothing but love be your most precious prize. Don't ever think that encouragement means that you're "right" and everyone else is wrong. Moving forward in that kind of humility, with that kind of doubt is that path to true spiritual growth. As Frederick Buechner once put it, "Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don't have doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving."