5. Satan’s MethodsRelated Media
What are Satan’s methods? How does he oppose God, his plan, and his people? In 2 Corinthians 2:11, Paul said, “so that we may not be exploited by Satan (for we are not ignorant of his schemes).” If we are ignorant of Satan’s schemes, we’ll more than likely be deceived by them. John MacArthur’s comments on the importance of knowing Satan’s strategies are helpful:
Every military leader devours intelligence reports on the enemy before he enters battle. The intelligence report on Satan is in the Bible. Therefore, ignorance of the enemy will never be a valid excuse for defeat. God has given Christians a decided edge in the contest with advance information on the enemy.1
In this study, we’ll consider many of Satan’s various methods so we can be more equipped to recognize, confront, and defeat them.
Satan Imitates God
From the beginning, this has been Satan’s chief tactic. In the heavenlies, when he became prideful, he said to himself, “I will make myself like the Most High!” (Is 14:14). Also, when he tempted Eve in the garden, he said if she ate the forbidden fruit, she would be “like God” (Gen 3:5 NIV). Therefore, Satan’s chief work is to imitate the things of God and lead people astray by them. Satan is not a creator; he is an imitator. In what ways do we see this?
1. Satan imitates God in that he has a false trinity.
In Revelation 13, we see one of the ways Satan will deceive the world is through the Antichrist and the False Prophet. In the narrative, Satan appears as a great dragon who gives his power to a beast (the Antichrist) who will deceive the world. Revelation 13:4 says, “they worshiped the dragon because he had given ruling authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast too, saying: ‘Who is like the beast?’ and ‘Who is able to make war against him?’” There will also be a second beast, the False Prophet (Rev 16:16); he exercises the authority of the first beast and deceives the world through all kinds of miracles. Revelation 13:12-14 says this about him:
He exercised all the ruling authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and those who inhabit it worship the first beast, the one whose lethal wound had been healed. He performed momentous signs, even making fire come down from heaven in front of people and, by the signs he was permitted to perform on behalf of the beast, he deceived those who live on the earth. He told those who live on the earth to make an image to the beast who had been wounded by the sword, but still lived.
Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet are an unholy trinity which, no doubt, are meant to imitate God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
2. Satan imitates God in that he has a rival kingdom, the world.
While the kingdom of God is God’s rule over people who submit to and glorify him, Satan’s kingdom is a system that is antagonistic to God and his people. First John 5:19 says, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” Charles Ryrie said this about the world:
Satan’s aim is to create a system that rivals God’s kingdom but that leaves Him out. It is to promote a counterfeit order. Basically, the cosmos is evil because it is independent of God. It may contain good aspects as well as overtly evil aspects, but its inherent evil lies in its being independent of God and a rival to Him. This sharp rivalry surfaces in such verses as James 1:27, where the believer is told to keep himself unstained from the world; in 4:4, where friendship with the world is said to be hostility toward God; and in 1 John 2:16, where John declares that all that is in the world is not from the Father. 2
What are characteristics of the world system? First John 2:16-17 says,
because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.
(1) The world system is focused on self (“the desire of the flesh, the eyes, and arrogance produced by material possessions,” v. 16). It’s all about our desires. (2) It is void of the true God and his will (“not from the Father,” v. 16b). (3) It is focused on the temporary things of this life instead of the eternal (“the world is passing away but the person who does the will of God remains forever,” v. 17). Satan is always trying to tempt people to live for self instead of God and to live for the temporary instead of the eternal. That essentially characterizes the world system which Satan rules over—selfish, anti-God, and temporary.
3. Satan imitates God in that he has a throne on the earth.
In Revelation 2:13, Christ said this to the church of Pergamum:
‘I know where you live—where Satan’s throne is. Yet you continue to cling to my name and you have not denied your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was killed in your city where Satan lives.
During that time, Satan had a base of operations in Pergamum (an area in modern-day Turkey). Apparently, it was a place that was tremendously hostile to believers and used to promote Satan’s agenda. Some have speculated if Pergamum was the place of Satan’s throne in those times, maybe it is Hollywood today where ungodly movies and TV shows are made, which negatively affect the entire world. Or, maybe, it is somewhere in the Middle East, in a country where the Bible is forbidden and Christians are openly persecuted. Who knows? We can only speculate. But, just as God has a throne in heaven, Satan has one on the earth.
4. Satan imitates God in that he has legions of demonic angels who follow him.
In Ephesians 6:12, Paul said: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” Scripture teaches that demons are fallen angels. Revelation 12:4 says that at Satan’s fall a third of the angels fell with him.
How many demons are there? We don’t know. But we do know that Satan could spare up to 6,000 of them to focus on one person. In the story of the demoniac in Mark 5:9, the demons said their name was Legion. A Roman legion consisted of up to 6,000 men;3 therefore, most likely fallen angels are innumerable. Satan has no shortage of minions, and all of them are seeking to destroy God’s people and God’s plans.
Paul does not teach us everything about demons, but many things can be discerned from Ephesians 6:12. What are some other characteristics we can discern?
- Demons are supernatural.
Paul says we don’t struggle “against flesh and blood.” This means that demons are supernatural and that our primary opponents are not evil people, but the power that works behind them. Wiersbe’s comments are helpful here:
The important point is that our battle is not against human beings. It is against spiritual powers. We are wasting our time fighting people when we ought to be fighting the devil who seeks to control people and make them oppose the work of God… The advice of the King of Syria to his soldiers can be applied to our spiritual battle: “Fight neither with small nor great, save only with the king” (1 Kings 22:31).4
- Demons are wicked.
Paul says our struggle is against “the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (Eph 6:12). Darkness symbolizes evil in the Bible. That is the demons’ character—there is nothing good in them. They are the spiritual forces of evil. John Stott says this about demons:
If we hope to overcome them, we shall need to bear in mind that they have no moral principles, no code of honour, no higher feelings. They recognize no Geneva Convention to restrict or partially civilize the weapons of their warfare. They are utterly unscrupulous, and ruthless in the pursuit of their malicious designs.5
- Demons are organized.
The demonic categories that Paul used in Ephesians 6:12 are not explained, but they seem to represent “differing degrees of authority, such as presidents, governors, mayors, and aldermen, on the human scale.”6
“World rulers” in Greek is the word kosmokratoras or, with an anglicized rendering, “cosmocrats.”7 It can also be translated as “cosmic powers” (ESV). This probably refers to demons that are set over nations or regions. In Daniel, we see powerful demons called “princes” over Persia and Greece (Daniel 10:20). The angel who spoke with Daniel was involved in a battle with these two demons. In the same way, some demons rule like princes and generals over nations and cities—seeking to turn the people and the culture away from God.
Rulers, powers, and spiritual forces of evil also seem to reflect varying ranks. MacArthur says this about the “spiritual forces of evil”:
The spiritual forces of wickedness are possibly those demons who are involved in the most wretched and vile immoralities—such as extremely perverse sexual practices, the occult, Satan worship, and the like.8
- Demons are territorial.
When Jesus was about to cast the demons out of the demoniac in Mark 5:10, they “begged Jesus repeatedly not to send them out of the region.” They wanted to stay in the region of the Gerasenes (Mk 5:1). As mentioned, evidently, certain demons are assigned to specific areas such as cities and countries. Again, in Daniel 10, two high ranking demons are named, the prince of Persia and the prince of Greece (v. 13, 20). These demons were in charge of leading those nations into various degrees of wickedness. Also, the fact that demons are territorial is seen in how they prefer to stay in a body, and when cast out, they forcefully try to return. In Matthew12:43-45, Christ said:
When an unclean spirit goes out of a person, it passes through waterless places looking for rest but does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the home I left.’ When it returns, it finds the house empty, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there, so the last state of that person is worse than the first. It will be that way for this evil generation as well!
Demons are territorial. They prefer to stay in certain regions and individuals, and probably certain families and cultures as well.
It should be noted that this aspect of Satan and his demons seem to reflect the order in God’s kingdom as well. In Daniel 12:1, the archangel Michael is called the “great prince who watches” over Israel. Evidently, he has a role in ministering to and protecting Israel. He also is called the archangel in Jude 1:9, meaning that he may be the chief over all the holy angels. Also, God has assigned angels to minister to and care for each believer. In Matthew 18:10, Christ said this: “See that you do not disdain one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” “Their angels” could refer to each believer having an angel assigned to him or her or angels in general. In addition, there may be angels assigned to individual churches or churches in a region. Revelation 1:20 talks about the “angels [or messengers] of the seven churches” which were seven congregations in Asia Minor.
What are some other ways that Satan imitates God?
5. Satan imitates God in that he has false teachers, prophets, and apostles.
In Matthew 7:15-16, Christ said,
Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they?
Also, in Matthew 24:4-5, Christ said, “…Watch out that no one misleads you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will mislead many.” In Revelation 2:2, Christ said this to the church of Ephesus:
I know your works as well as your labor and steadfast endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have even put to the test those who refer to themselves as apostles (but are not), and have discovered that they are false.
Even as God has many true prophets, teachers, and apostles, Satan has many false ones of whom we must beware .
6. Satan imitates God in that he has a false church and churches.
In Revelation 3:9, Christ said this to the church of Philadelphia:
Listen! I am going to make those people from the synagogue of Satan—who say they are Jews yet are not, but are lying—Look, I will make them come and bow down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.
Also, from Revelation 17, many people believe that Satan will rule over a universal church who will initially partner with the Antichrist in helping him rule the world, and then, the Antichrist will later destroy her. She is pictured as a great prostitute sitting on the beast, who represents the Antichrist. She is a prostitute because she has turned away from God and pursues false gods. In the Old Testament, Israel was often pictured as a prostitute when she worshiped other gods (Hosea 1:2). Revelation 17:3-6 says,
So he carried me away in the Spirit to a wilderness, and there I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. Now the woman was dressed in purple and scarlet clothing, and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She held in her hand a golden cup filled with detestable things and unclean things from her sexual immorality. On her forehead was written a name, a mystery: “Babylon the Great, the Mother of prostitutes and of the detestable things of the earth.” I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints and the blood of those who testified to Jesus. I was greatly astounded when I saw her.
Then, the Antichrist and his rulers will destroy the prostitute. Revelation 17:16-17 says,
The ten horns that you saw, and the beast—these will hate the prostitute and make her desolate and naked. They will consume her flesh and burn her up with fire. For God has put into their minds to carry out his purpose by making a decision to give their royal power to the beast until the words of God are fulfilled.
For a season, Satan is willing to be worshipped indirectly through the various religions of the world, but one day, that will not be so. He will want to be worshipped directly. In 2 Thessalonians 2:4, Paul said this about the Antichrist, who will be empowered by Satan: “He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, and as a result he takes his seat in God’s temple, displaying himself as God.” Satan imitates God. He has a false church and churches. Currently, most worship him indirectly, but one day, at some point during the great tribulation, he will require them to worship him directly.
7. Satan imitates God by placing false believers within the true church.
This is described throughout the New Testament. In Matthew 13 (v. 24-30, 36-43), Christ gave the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds. In the parable, God plants wheat in a field, which represents the kingdom of God, and Satan plants weeds. Initially, they are indistinguishable. But as they grow, it becomes clear that some are wheat (true believers) and some are weeds (false believers). Christ said that at the end of the age, the angels will gather the wheat into the barn, and the weeds will be burned. Likewise, in Matthew 13:47-50, Christ described God’s kingdom as fishermen throwing out a net which collects good fish and bad fish. The good fish will go into a container and the bad fish will be thrown into a furnace. Christ then explained it as angels separating the righteous and the unrighteous within his kingdom at the end of the age. God’s kingdom is the place of God’s rule. Therefore, any who profess to follow Christ are part of this kingdom, even if they are not truly saved.
Because of this reality, Scripture commonly calls people to test and prove the reality of their faith. Consider the following verses:
I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things they do.
Acts 26:20 (NLT)
Put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize regarding yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you—unless, indeed, you fail the test!
2 Corinthians 13:5
Therefore, brothers and sisters, make every effort to be sure of your calling and election. For by doing this you will never stumble into sin.
2 Peter 1:10
Satan imitates God by planting many false believers within God’s church.
8. Satan imitates God by promoting false doctrines and false gospels.
In 1 Timothy 4:1, Paul said, “Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings.” The enemy has demons who promote their teachings through false teachers. How does Satan do this? (1) Sometimes, Satan adds to Scripture. For example, he adds the necessity of works to salvation. (2) Sometimes, Satan subtracts from Scripture. For example, he removes the necessity of obedience to God after being saved by faith. (3) Sometimes, Satan overemphasizes certain parts of Scripture causing the teaching to become unbalanced and harmful. For example, he overemphasizes the sovereignty of God in salvation to the point that people do not need to share the gospel or repent to be saved. Or, he overemphasizes human responsibility to the point that people don’t need God’s grace to be saved. (4) Sometimes, Satan denies the inerrancy of Scripture. He teaches that some or all of Scripture is untrustworthy. Satan imitates God by promoting false doctrines and false gospels.
Certainly, there are many other ways that Satan imitates God. He is not a creator; he is an imitator. He draws people away from the true to the false, which will never save, sanctify, or satisfy.
What are some other tactics of Satan?
Satan Tempts People
Satan tempts people. How does he do so? James 1:14-15 says: “But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death.”
What can we learn about how Satan tempts people from this verse and how one can have victory over those temptations? Temptation’s steps are often summarized by four words beginning with “D”:
1. Temptation begins with “deception.”
The verbs “lured” and “enticed” are very instructive. “Lured” was used of a hunter setting a trap to catch an animal, and “enticed” was used of a fisherman baiting a hook to lure fish.9 With fishing specifically, the fisherman hides the hook inside the bait, and the fish is drawn to the delicious looking bait, which is hiding the deadly hook. In a similar manner, Satan, like a hunter, entices and lures people through temptation to do evil.
The deceptive bait is that sin is always presented as fun, exciting, fulfilling, and as if we can’t live without it. However, the consequences, which ultimately lead to our destruction, are the hook. Eve would never have eaten from the tree if Satan tempted her by saying, “Eat this, you will constantly fight your husband. The discord in your marriage will show up in your children’s lives. Your older son will kill your younger son. Eventually, the whole world will be destroyed because of your offspring’s evilness!” No, the deception was, “Eat this and you will be like God!” Temptation starts with deception. It shows the fun of hanging out with friends or the fulfillment of some desire; it doesn’t show the continually worsening after-effects.
Therefore, in order to stop the process of temptation, we must recognize the deception—the hook which will eventually hurt us and others. We recognize deception by thoroughly knowing the truth, which is God’s Word. David said, “In my heart I store up your words, so I might not sin against you” (Ps 119:11). Like Christ being tempted in the wilderness, we must respond to every wrong thought with God’s Word and then turn away from it—shut the TV off, close the book, change the conversation, leave the situation to stay away from the potential temptation.
2. Deception aims to cultivate evil “desires.”
The word “desires” is neutral—it can refer to both good and bad desires. In this context, it refers to natural desires fulfilled in an evil way. There is nothing wrong with being hungry, but when we continually overeat, it becomes gluttony. There is nothing wrong with leisure—sleeping and watching TV—but when we do it too much, it turns into slothfulness. Sexual desire is good. It was meant for enjoyment and to produce offspring inside the marriage union of a male and female. However, when it happens outside the marriage union, it is sexual immorality. Likewise, Satan constantly tempts us to fulfill our natural desires in evil ways—dragging us away from God and his perfect will for our lives.
To stop the temptation process at this point, we must recognize ungodly desires and repent of them. If we fight temptation on the heart level, it will never become an action. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul described spiritual warfare as taking “every thought captive to make it obey Christ.” As we repent of wrong thoughts, ask for God’s grace to overcome them, and fill our minds with God’s Word, we can control our sinful desires. In Psalm 119:37, David prayed, “Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.”
3. Evil desires lead to “disobedience.”
James said when desire conceives, it brings forth sin (1:15). He leaves the hunting and fishing terminology and begins to use pregnancy terminology. Sin does not only refer to a specific act, it refers first of all to an accepted and nurtured ungodly thought. Christ said that to lust after a woman is to commit adultery (Matt 5:28). It’s important to consider that James says desire leads to sin, which means desire or being tempted is not necessarily sin. When tempted both from within by our sin nature and also from without by the world and the devil, we are not sinning. In fact, since “tempted” in the original language is in the present tense, that tells us that temptation will be constant and continual. We are bombarded with temptation all the time. Temptation becomes sin when we choose to continually think on it which cultivates our sinful desires. If we see something provocative, it’s not a sin to see it; it’s a sin to continually look at it and cultivate the evil desires that arise from seeing it. If we have a wrong thought, we haven’t sinned; it’s the acceptance and cultivation of that wrong thought which is sin.
The fact that being tempted is not a sin is very important to consider because some Christians are especially sensitive to sin (which is good), but because of this, they get overly discouraged when constantly tempted with wrong thoughts or inclinations. Satan can essentially depress and immobilize them by constantly attacking. He will even tempt them to think they’re not Christians because of their struggles! Because of this reality, it is crucial to remember that it is not a sin to be tempted. This will be our battle while living in bodies affected by sin and living in a sinful world. Growing in spiritual maturity doesn’t mean that we will battle temptation less; it just means that we will become more victorious over temptation and that temptation will have less power over us.
4. Disobedience leads to “death.”
After sin is birthed and becomes fully grown, it gives birth to an even uglier child called “death” (1:15). To be “full grown” refers to going from cultivating a sinful thought, to practicing a sinful action, probably to making the sinful action a habit, and so on (v. 15). Sin always has drastic consequences, which is especially true for God’s children. Hebrews 12:7-8 says,
Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons.
The writer says that every child of God receives discipline, and if he doesn’t, he is illegitimate. When a child of God is in sin, God rebukes him through the Word, often by his reading the Bible or through another believer. If he doesn’t repent, God disciplines him through trials that are meant to turn him away from sin and back to God (Heb 12:5-6). If he still continues in sin, it may result in death. There are three possible types of deaths that James may be referring to (1:15).
(1) God may discipline a believer by allowing him to experience an early death. This is what happened with the Christians in 1 Corinthians 11. They were abusing the Lord’s Supper, and in 1 Corinthians 11:30-32, Paul said this to them:
That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.
Part of God’s discipline for these believers who continually abused the Lord’s Supper (and one another by doing so) was an early death. Therefore, James warned these believers against continually practicing unrepentant sin, and consequently, experiencing an untimely death because of God’s discipline. Ananias and Saphira experienced early deaths as well (Acts 5:1-10), and John warned the believers in Ephesus of the same thing when he said this in 1 John 5:16-17:
If anyone sees his fellow Christian committing a sin not resulting in death, he should ask, and God will grant life to the person who commits a sin not resulting in death. There is a sin resulting in death. I do not say that he should ask about that. All unrighteousness is sin, but there is sin not resulting in death.
(2) In addition, since James is writing to some who professed Christ but weren’t truly saved (cf. James 2:17-19, faith without works is dead), he also might be saying that continually practicing unrepentant sin might prove that they are not saved—which ultimately results in eternal death. Eternal death is separation of the body and soul from God’s blessing eternally (cf. Jam 5:19-20). Since James continually used the Sermon on the Mount as a template for the book, unsurprisingly, Christ taught the same thing as well. In Matthew 7:22-23, Christ said:
On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’
These professing believers who continually practiced unrepentant sin while professing to know the Lord were ultimately separated from God eternally. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul also warned believers that the continual practice of unrepentant sin might prove false faith:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God.
It is not that believers are saved by their works or kept by them; it’s that a continual life of sin may prove that one had never been saved—that they never truly “knew” the Lord (Matt 7:23). Those who are born again are new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), and there should be changes in their lives, including how they relate to sin. First John 1:6 says, “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.”
(3) Finally, James might also have in mind how sinful desires commonly lead to death in the sense of murder—including suicide, homicide, abortion, and war. Cain was jealous of his brother Abel—leading Cain to murder him (Gen 4). David’s lust led him to commit adultery and then murder (2 Sam 11). Judas’ betrayal of Christ led to Christ’s crucifixion, shame for Judas, and ultimately Judas committing suicide (Matt 27:3-5). In James 4:1-2, James later shares how these scattered Jewish believers were warring with one another and murdering one another because of their unfulfilled, evil desires. We must realize this when dealing with temptation. Satan desires to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10)—his ultimate goal with temptation is to lead people to death and its various forms.
Because of the grave consequences of temptation, James strongly warned the believers he wrote: Temptation gives birth to sin and then sin to death—either an early death, eternal death, or murder. Therefore, to not fall to Satan’s temptations, we must consider the final outcome of temptation—death in its various forms—and abandon the course before it’s too late.
Ways to Conquer Temptation
What are some further ways to conquer temptations that Satan may bring? Here are a few:
- To conquer temptation, we must discern our special areas of vulnerability. Though we all experience common temptations, certain temptations are stronger for some people based on exposure or even genetics. For instance, if I’m put in a room with cocaine, I won’t have any temptation towards it—because I’ve never experienced it. However, for a person that has, he or she might have a major battle in that area. Satan knows our special vulnerabilities and will aim to lead us into those temptations. Therefore, we must study ourselves to help conquer temptation.
- After knowing our special areas of vulnerability, we must devise strategies to avoid tempting situations. For a person who struggles with great insecurity, he or she needs to avoid things that feed those insecurities. Sometimes for women that means avoiding magazines that teach their bodies need to look a certain way or even avoiding people that continually feed those insecurities. For a person who struggles with lust, that means avoiding anything that might stir it up—movies, television, Internet sites, and even establishing extra boundaries in relationships. For the person struggling with depression, that might mean avoiding activities and thought processes that lead to discouragement and practicing ones that lift him up. For a person who struggles with temptation towards drunkenness, it might mean not drinking at all and not being around people enjoying that freedom. Often, because of our vulnerabilities, we need to take special precautions that others might not need.
- In addition, we should memorize specific Scriptures that help with our special vulnerabilities. Christ used specific Scriptures which corresponded to the temptations he experienced in the wilderness (Matt 4). We should do the same.
- Finally, we should find accountability partners—people that we trust, who will ask us hard questions and lovingly hold us accountable. In 2 Timothy 2:22, Paul told Timothy, “But keep away from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faithfulness, love, and peace, in company with others who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Also, Proverbs 13:20 says, “The one who associates with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” Everybody should develop these types of relationships—being around people who are serious about the Lord and serious about our faithfulness to him. We should find them and follow the Lord together—confessing sin to one another, praying for one another (Jam 5:16), and helping each other avoid and conquer temptation. If we lack these people, we miss much of God’s grace given through his body to walk victoriously over temptation.
Satan is a tempter. He tempts believers to sin. Temptation begins with a deception that is meant to secure our desires, then our sinful desires lead to disobedience, and then disobedience leads to death in its various forms.
What are some of Satan’s other schemes or ways he works in the world?
Satan Blinds and Controls Unbelievers
Satan blinds unbelievers to keep them from coming to Christ. In 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, Paul said,
But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God.
Charles Ryrie provides good insight into how Satan blinds unbelievers. He says:
In relation to unbelievers Satan blinds their minds so that they will not accept the Gospel (2 Cor. 4:4). He often does this by making them think that any way to heaven is as acceptable as the only way. Again, a counterfeit. This blindness attacks the minds of people, and while unbelievers may think and reason, a power greater than Satan must remove that blindness. Human reasoning and convincing arguments have a ministry, but only the power of God can remove satanic blindness. Sometimes the devil comes and takes away the Word that people have heard in order to prevent their believing (Luke 8:12).
In promoting blindness Satan uses counterfeit religion as detailed in the preceding section. This may include everything from asceticism to license, from theism (for being a theist does not necessarily mean being saved) to occultism. In other words, Satan will use any aspect of the world system that he heads in order to keep people from thinking about or doing that which will bring them into the kingdom of God (Col. 1:13; 1 John 2:15–17).10
Also, Ephesians 2:2 calls Satan “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience.” Satan energizes unbelievers to do evil, whether that means rebelling against God, mocking his Word, or doing other evil deeds. Though unbelievers may be unaware of Satan and not even believe in him, Scripture says he in fact works through them, leading them to various types of disobedience. No doubt, he does this through his many demons.
Satan blinds unbelievers, keeping them from coming to the truth, and he also works through them—leading them to disobey God.
Satan Deceives Nations
Satan not only deceives individuals; he also deceives entire nations. In Daniel 10, we see that there are ruling demons assigned to nations. An angel ministering to Daniel mentioned both the prince of Persia and the prince of Greece—who were, no doubt, demons meant to lead those nations into immorality, the persecution of the righteous, and even war. Daniel 10:13 and 20 says,
However, the prince of the kingdom of Persia was opposing me for twenty-one days. But Michael, one of the leading princes, came to help me, because I was left there with the kings of Persia… He said, “Do you know why I have come to you? Now I am about to return to engage in battle with the prince of Persia. When I go, the prince of Greece is coming.
Furthermore, in the end times, not only will Satan deceive the nations through the Antichrist (Rev 13:3-4), but specifically various demons from the mouths of Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet who will gather the nations to war against God. Revelation 16:13-14 and 16 describes this:
Then I saw three unclean spirits that looked like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of the demons performing signs who go out to the kings of the earth to bring them together for the battle that will take place on the great day of God, the All-Powerful… Now the spirits gathered the kings and their armies to the place that is called Armageddon in Hebrew.
Finally, after Christ returns and reigns on the earth for 1000 years, Satan will be let loose one more time to deceive the nations. Revelation 20:7-10 says:
Now when the thousand years are finished, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to bring them together for the battle. They are as numerous as the grains of sand in the sea. They went up on the broad plain of the earth and encircled the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and devoured them completely. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are too, and they will be tormented there day and night forever and ever.
Satan is a deceiver. He not only deceives individuals but also nations. In the same way Christ desires to draw the nations to himself, Satan desires to draw them away from God and his ways. No doubt, Satan also deceives them to war against one another and destroy one another.
Satan Attacks the Mind
In considering Satan’s deception of individuals and nations, the primary way he attacks them is through influencing the minds of people. In 2 Corinthians 11:3, Paul said to the Corinthians, “But I am afraid that just as the serpent deceived Eve by his treachery, your minds may be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” Satan was aiming to attack their minds. A good example of Satan attacking through the mind is seen in the account of Christ rebuking Satan who was working through Peter. Matthew 16:21-23 says:
From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”
What gave Satan the door into Peter’s life? It was his secular, worldly thinking. He was mindful of the things of men and not the things of God. People don’t want to sacrifice—they want prosperity, wealth, and health. Acceptance of death and sacrifice for God is not part of one’s natural nature. Therefore, many people open doors to the enemy simply because their minds are still secular—their thinking has not been transformed through God’s Word (Rom 12:2).
Why does Satan attack the mind? Proverbs 23:7 (NASB) says, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” Also, Proverbs 27:19 says, “As in water the face is reflected as a face, so a person’s heart reflects the person.” Our mind is a reflection of who we truly are. John MacArthur put it this way:
Who one is on the inside determines who one is on the outside. Thus, Satan attempts to corrupt minds so he can corrupt lives. Satan’s chief activity in the lives of Christians is to cause them to think contrary to God’s Word and thus act disobediently to God’s will. The seventeenth-century Puritan preacher Thomas Watson put it this way: “This is Satan’s master-piece …; if he can but keep them from believing the truth, he is sure to keep them from obeying it.” 11
Therefore, if Satan can attack and influence our thought life, he can lead us. No doubt, he does this through the media—ungodly music, TV shows, movies, and news stations, which corrupt. He does this through the education system, which often teaches views that contradict the Bible. He does this through cultures, which often lead people in directions contrary to Scripture. Therefore, to combat Satan’s attacks on our mind, we must guard what we allow in our mind through the media—what we read, listen to, and watch—and our relationships. In addition, we must confess wrong thoughts before the Lord. In describing the Christians’ warfare, Paul said this in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5:
for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ.
Furthermore, Paul said this to the Philippian church:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.
To think about what is worthy of respect, we must choose to not entertain what is disrespectful. To think about what is just, we must reject the unjust. To think about what is pure, we must reject the impure. From this, we can discern why so many fall prey to the enemy—they have unguarded minds. We must guard our mind against what is evil, and saturate it with what is good, which is God’s Word. This is one of our greatest defenses against the enemy. We must learn to “take every thought captive to make it obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).
Here are some ways Satan attacks the minds of believers, as shared by John MacArthur:
1. Materialism: I prize material and physical blessings more highly than my spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ (Job 1:1–2:13) …
2. Defeatism: Because I have failed, I am no longer useful in the King’s service (Luke 22:31–34) …
3. Negativism: My weakness prevents me from being effective for God (2 Cor. 12:7–10) …
4. Pessimism: The difficult circumstances in my life cause me to doubt that I will ever accomplish anything significant for God (1 Thess. 2:17–3:2).12
Satan attacks through our mind because our mind controls our feet. Therefore, we must guard against ungodly thoughts and views and saturate our mind with what is good.
Satan Attacks Through the Open Door of Sin
In Ephesians 4:26-27, Paul says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger. Do not give the devil an opportunity.” Anger and the practice of sin give the devil a foothold in our lives—an avenue to continually attack us—and that of our communities. This is especially true when it comes to the sin of unforgiveness. The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:23-35 represents this truth. In the parable, a master forgave a servant a great debt, but the servant did not forgive his fellow servant a much lesser debt. Because of this, the master handed the servant over to torturers. Matthew 18:32-35 shares the master’s judgment:
Then his lord called the first slave and said to him, ‘Evil slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me! Should you not have shown mercy to your fellow slave, just as I showed it to you?’ And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed. So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.
Obviously, the master reflects God and the servants reflect believers, but who are the torturers? No doubt, they are Satan and his demons. We see this throughout Scripture. When Saul was in unrepentant sin, who did God hand him over to? A tormenting spirit (1 Sam 16:14)! In the Corinthian church, when an unrepentant man was fornicating with his stepmother, who did Paul call for the church to hand him over to? Satan (1 Cor 5:5)! They would do this by putting him out of the church.
Sin opens the door for the devil into our lives. No doubt there are many Christians who, as a result of unrepentance, have psychological or physical problems that are demonic in origin. There are Christians being tormented in their minds, bodies, emotions, work, and relationships because they have been handed over by God to the enemy until they repent.
Satan Attacks to Kill
In John 8:44, Jesus said, “You people are from your father the devil, and you want to do what your father desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him…” Likewise, in John 10:10, Christ said this, no doubt, in referring to Satan, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” Where there is manslaughter, suicide, genocide, abortion, and war, we can be sure Satan is involved. Satan is a murderer, and for a season, he has power over death. Hebrews 2:14 says this about why Christ had to become human and die for our sins: “…so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil).”
The fact that Satan is a murderer should also challenge us to not compromise with sin. No doubt, when Satan leads people into ungodly language, secular thinking, selfishness, or compromise, though those sins may seem harmless at the time, he ultimately wants to lead people committing those sins to their destruction. The devil is nobody to play with—he is a destroyer.
The only reason he has not killed us is because God is the ultimate sovereign. As in the story of Job, God sets boundaries on how far the enemy can go (Job 2:6). If Satan cannot kill us, he is content to attack our bodies, our sleep, our joy, our peace, our testimonies, our callings, and our relationships. Our enemy is a murderer, and our only hope is our Great Shepherd, Jesus (Heb 13:20; cf. Ps 23).
Satan Attacks in an Overwhelming Manner
In Ephesians 6:13, Paul said this in the context of our battle against Satan and his demons: “For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand.” William MacDonald said this about the “evil day”:
The evil day probably refers to any time when the enemy comes against us like a flood. Satanic opposition seems to occur in waves, advancing and receding. Even after our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness, the devil left Him for a season (Luke 4:13).13
Job experienced the “evil day” when the devil attacked his body, his family, his finances, and his friends for a season. This happens with many believers. Satan desires to make people give up, get angry at God, and turn away from God (cf. Job 1:11). We should not be surprised when temptations and demonic trials come like an overwhelming storm. Satan comes at us like a storm to discourage us and make us want to quit. However, by finding our strength in God, we can stand, even in the evil day. Again, Ephesians 6:13 says, “For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand.”
Satan has many methods and schemes by which he attacks people. By understanding them, we’ll be more effective at defeating them. Satan imitates God, tempts people, blinds and controls unbelievers, deceives nations, attacks the mind, attacks through the open door of sin, attacks to kill, and attacks in an overwhelming manner. Thank you, Lord, that you have defeated Satan, and we need only to walk in the victory you gained on the cross (Heb 2:14, Rev 12:11). Thank you, Lord. Amen!
- What stood out most in the reading and why?
- What are some of Satan’s methods for opposing God and his people?
- In what ways does Satan imitate God?
- What are some characteristics of Satan’s world system?
- What are some characteristics of Satan’s demons?
- What is the process of temptation, as displayed by the acronym DDDD, and how can we conquer temptation?
- What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?
Copyright © 2021 Gregory Brown
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1 MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R. (Eds.). (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (pp. 685–686). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
2 Ryrie, C. C. (1999). Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (pp. 173–174). Chicago, IL: Moody Press.
3 Accessed 10/31/2015 from http://global.britannica.com/topic/legion
4 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 57). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
5 Stott, J. R. W. (1979). God’s new society: the message of Ephesians (p. 264). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
6 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1952). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
7 Hughes, R. K. (1990). Ephesians: the mystery of the body of Christ (p. 215). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
8 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 341). Chicago: Moody Press.
9 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 342–343). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
10 Ryrie, C. C. (1999). Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (p. 169). Chicago, IL: Moody Press.
11 MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R. (Eds.). (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (pp. 685–686). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Related Topics: Satanology