How do Satan and his agents tempt us today?
The great Puritan Thomas Brooks wrote one of my favorite books on spiritual warfare, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices. Brooks uses a wonderful illustration that explains why Jesus rejected Satan’s simple offer of bread. Brooks says that our Enemy will bait our hook with anything that we find desirable. This means that he will gladly give us sex, money, power, pleasure, fame, fortune, and relationships. Satan’s goal is for us to take the bait without seeing the hook, and once the hook is in our mouth he then reels us in to take us captive. His gifts are often very good things offered for sinful uses. He’ll challenge us to examine the gift to ensure its quality. That is the essence of the trap. The gift may be good, but the giver is evil. In this way, Satan and demons are akin to a pedophile who seeks to entice children into trust with gifts of candy and toys, only to destroy them.
When we take the gifts that Satan and demons give, we are in essence biting down on the bait. As a result, the hook of sin is in our mouth, and Satan reels us in as his captive so that, as Jesus says in John 8:34, we become slaves to our sin. Satan baits the hook for each of us in various ways, even with good things that eventually become sinful idols when they replace God in our lives. Having taken the bait, we’re reeled into darkness and sin, which, apart from Jesus, inevitably leads to death. Without Jesus our lives would continue to descend into darkness until we find ourselves with Satan, in hell, forever.
What specific tactics does Satan employ against us today?
Despite the fact that he is a doomed, limping enemy, the old Dragon remains crafty, as Scripture says. To fool you, Satan will use various tactics that Scripture warns us about. I want to tell you about some of these tactics because 2 Corinthians 2:11 says that Satan cannot trick us if we become familiar with the tactics he uses against us.
- Satan will lie to you because he is a liar. If you believe him, your life will be destroyed, because you will be trusting the person Jesus calls the “father of lies.” Your response to lies must be reading your Bible and listening to Jesus, who throughout John’s Gospel repeatedly says, “I tell you the truth.” Furthermore, when you hear the lies, speak honestly about them with godly friends so that Jesus can speak truth into your life through them. Remember, you never have to persuade the liar that he is wrong and you are right. Instead, be like Jesus, who, in Matthew 4:8–10, ignored the liar’s lies and remained devoted to the truth of Scripture.
- Satan will come to you when you are weak and tempt you to sin just as he did Jesus, because he is the tempter. The goal of his temptation is to draw you near to him and away from Jesus in rebellion. Your response to sinful temptation must be to resist the devil so that he will flee from you. When you do sin, you must keep short accounts with God by repenting of your sin to Jesus and anyone else you have sinned against.
- Satan will come to you as your accuser. Satan’s accusations often come in the form of a second-person speaker. Some people who claim to hear voices or have negative self-talk may, in some instances, be undergoing demonic opposition. For example, people frequently report thinking or hearing such things as “You’re worthless,” “God could never forgive you,” “You deserve what was done to you,” and “You should just kill yourself to end your pain.” When we think or hear such things we must realize that Jesus would never say such things to God’s children, and if you are hearing accusations like this in the second person, then a demon may be whispering in your ear, hoping you will believe them over Jesus.
- Satan will come to you, often during a season of God’s grace being poured out, to rob you of joy by condemning you. He will remind you of past sins that Christ died for and that you have earnestly repented of. In doing so, he will attempt to get you to disbelieve in the sufficiency of Jesus’ work on the cross for you. If you believe the Dragon, you will either doubt God’s forgiveness or seek to do something in addition to Jesus’ work to merit your own forgiveness. Either way, you disbelieve in the finished work of Jesus on the cross for your sin, and you will be compelled toward either despair or religion but not toward Jesus. In these seasons, you will find an anchor for your soul by meditating on Romans 8:1, which says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
- Satan will use your sincere heart to heap upon you a very vague, general conviction that, if not recognized, will propel you into deep introspection as you frantically search for some sin. This is because Satan mimics God and perverts his work. God convicts you of specific sins so that, with his compassionate help, you can repent and move on to freedom and joy. Satan, however, will seek to defeat and discourage you through guilt that is so general that you never know exactly what to repent of and are thereby left in paralyzing bondage and despair. In John 8 we are told that Satan is basically like an abusive parent and, like all abusive parents, his intent is not to correct you but to harm you, causing suffering and grief so that you feel destroyed without any clue as to what you have done or how to fix it.
- Because so many sins of both omission and commission have been committed against you, Satan will also seek to gain ground in your life through bitterness (Eph. 4:17–32). The sad truth is that there is virtually no way that everyone who has ever sinned against you will come forward to repent and ask your forgiveness. If you wait for the people who have sinned against you to repent before you can forgive them, you will be prone to bitterness, which Hebrews 12:15 describes as a root that will feed other demonic weeds in your life. Therefore, as God the Holy Spirit brings to mind the people who have sinned against you, you must forgive them. This does not mean minimizing or accepting what they have done, but rather entrusting them to God for his justice through Jesus’ suffering on the cross or their deserved torment in hell. Your part in forgiveness is giving up your just right to hurt them for the hurt they did to you. God may also ask you to confront some of them in order to give them an opportunity to repent, and if they do not, you must trust Jesus to judge and sentence them justly on the day of final judgment.
- Satan will seek to get your eyes off of Jesus. In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis writes, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” To be sure, we can err in one way by diminishing or even denying what the Bible teaches about Satan and demons. The Bible exhorts us to fix our eyes on Jesus, and not Satan or demons. Even though they are real, real problems occur when we obsess over them, hunt for them, or blame everything on them.
- Satan will seek to use your unbelief in him. Satan has great freedom in his work with you, to the extent that you have functionally disbelieved in his existence and as a result overlooked his active work in your life. As you grow in your understanding of how Satan and demons work, however, my caution to you would be not to blame everything on them as Eve did, but rather continue to take responsibility for your own sin and entrust the punishment of those who sinned against you to the Lord.
- Satan will seek to use your pride. Because the root of Satan’s work is pride, you must also continually speak, think, and act in humility, as God’s grace to you requires. As Jesus said in Luke 10:20, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
*Portions of this blog post were adapted from Who Do You Think You Are? (2013, Thomas Nelson), by Mark Driscoll, Death By Love (2008, Crossway), by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, and Doctrine (2010, Crossway), by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears.