When you hear someone mention Satan, what is the first thing you think of? Do you envisage a little red man with horns carrying a pitch fork? Do you think of fire and lava? Or simply that he is the ‘villain’ and Jesus is the hero of the Bible fairy-tale? When we start reading the history of God and humanity in the Bible, it doesn’t take long for us to be introduced to Satan, and the very first thing we learn about him is that he is a deceiver, a liar.
Early in the book of Genesis, taking the form of a serpent, Satan says to Eve regarding the fruit from the only forbidden tree in the entire garden,
“You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5). In reading what follows, we find that this deception leads to some pretty considerable consequences, not only for Eve, but for every single person to ever exist. However, this was not a one-off- throughout all of Scripture we find that being a liar is a core aspect of Satan’s character. We read of Jesus, speaking to some of the Jews and Pharisees who were still following their own sinful desires, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). And if this was not evidence enough, the Greek for the name ‘devil’ is ‘diabolos,’ which means to lie and slander. It should therefore come as no surprise to us that deception is one of the key ways Satan continues to attack God’s people today.
Before we start looking at the different aspects of the armour of God (quite fittingly beginning with the belt of truth), I thought it would be beneficial to explore some of the specific ways Satan works to attack Christian believers. It seems reasonable that if we are going into battle we should know what we are up against. And in particular, knowing that lying and deception is innate to Satan’s character, it is important to have knowledge of the lies we are susceptible to believing, so that we can apply truth specifically to those areas.
How Satan Works
The first thing to note from our passage in Ephesians 6 is that Satan has many ‘schemes’ (v11). He does not simply have one trick that he uses on everyone; rather, he has an array, an arsenal, at his disposal. What is important for us to be aware of however, is that typically (and particularly in regards to lies we believe), Satan does not transmit a ‘new form of evil’ inside us, but utilises our already present sinful nature. He affirms and accentuates the lies we are already tempted to believe; he plays and preys on our weaknesses. We see how this is the case broadly in a couple of warnings given in the New Testament. Earlier in the letter to the Ephesians we read ‘Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil’ (Eph 4:26-27). We are to not let the sun go down on our anger, because remaining angry gives Satan an opportunity to target our anger as a root of sinfulness. Our temptation to harbour anger is not new, but Satan encourages us to believe that we are entitled to be angry- we are hurt, we deserve to feel our emotions (they are from God after all), and the person has also sinned against God (so surely that makes it ‘righteous anger’). This is all based on our underlying self-centredness, self-righteousness, and tendency to forget the gospel – leading to resentment and lack of forgiveness. Another example is in 1 Timothy. In talking about desired qualities of church leaders, Paul says, “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil”. (1 Tim 3:6) This is a more overt example of pride at play, which gives a foothold to the devil. It seems that placing a recent convert in leadership is not inherently wrong, but Satan, knowing our susceptibility to pride, pounces on such opportunities, so it is risky and foolish to put someone in such a position.
You can see here how Satan uses our weaknesses as points of temptation. However, our flaws can be not only fuel for temptations, but also his accusations. Revelation 12:10 reads, “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.’” He plays on our insecurities, reminding us of who we were rather than who we are now in Christ, which gives rise to discouragement, fear, anxiety, doubt and depression. Satan’s accusations cause us to forget that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1) and that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
The Lies Satan Tells
All this is not new. Our secular western culture talks very little about Satan, demons and evil, which may give you the impression that there is little known about Spiritual Warfare, or that this is something new that we are still working out, or maybe that it’s different now to Bible times, and we just need to pray really hard because we have no idea what Satan is going to do and how he works. Well, the fact that Jesus himself had a prominent role in his ministry of casting out demons to demonstrate his power and authority over Satan gives us a pretty clear picture that this is not new (and also that we need not fear due to Jesus’ power and authority which reigns!). And the Bible is definitely sufficient for all we need to know about Satan and Spiritual Warfare; we do not need to look to other sources for information. However, a book written back in the 17th century by a man called Thomas Brooks is a fantastic resource for the application of what we are talking about. It has stood the test of time in being useful and applicable, and revealing of our heart’s sinful tendencies. The book is called Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. I’ll be honest and say I am yet to read it through (having only just recently discovered it). But looking through the examples he provides of some of Satan’s schemes (i.e. lies we believe), I thought this was a really useful resource, and I wanted to share a selection of them in the hope that some may resonate with you as areas to be conscious of, so that you can be focusing on applying the truth of the gospel to counter these lies Satan would have you believe.
1. ‘Shows you the bait and hides the hook’ – You see the short term gain and satisfaction, and fail to see the long term consequences and misery.
2. ‘Rationalises sin as virtue’ – Justifying our sinfulness as goodness. ‘I’m not greedy, just thrifty and wise with my money;’ ‘I’m not a gossip, I’m just concerned, they need prayer;’ ‘I’m not judgemental, I am loving them as I want what is best for them.’
3. ‘Shows the sin of Christian leaders and hides their virtues and repentance’ – ‘Well they swear all the times so it must be ok for me to swear too.’
4. ‘Over-stresses the mercy of God’ and that ‘Repentance is easy’ – We take the grace of God for granted. ‘God will forgive me anyway’.
5. ‘Makes you bitter over suffering and the hardships of holiness’ and leads you to ‘Compare one part of life to another’ – ‘I deserve this;’ ‘I work so hard do everything for God, he can’t expect me to be perfect;’ ‘I attend church and small group every week, I give my money generously, I volunteer heaps, so it’s OK if I still watch porn.’
6. ‘Shows how many “bad people” have ‘good lives’ – ‘Being good doesn’t pay off;’ ‘Following God doesn’t achieve anything, I’m no better off.’
These are all temptations. Temptations often lead us to view ourselves too highly or to view God’s grace and mercy too leniently.
As we have discussed, the other key way Satan attacks is through accusation, which is typically causing us to look at ourselves too lowly, and not view God’s grace and mercy highly or strongly enough.
Satan causes us to:
1. ‘Look more at your sin than your Saviour’ – To lose sight of the gospel, and what Jesus has done, and focus on our sinfulness and sinful acts.
2. ‘Obsess over past sins that have done damage that cannot be undone’ and ‘Reminding of frequent relapses into sinful habits’.
3. ‘See troubles as punishments’ – ‘This is only happening because I lied to my parents and now God is punishing me;’ ‘I lost the baby because I was lusting over another man.’
4. ‘Think that our struggles can’t possibly happen to Christians.’ – ‘I can’t be a Christian if I have doubts;’ ‘No one else in my church struggles with gluttony;’ ‘Everyone is judging me because I got drunk. They know I’m a fake, I can’t be a real Christian because none of them have ever done that.’
I hope that this may have provided some insight into devices and schemes Satan can use. In the coming posts, we will look at the armour of God, which altogether are a necessary defence in allowing us to stand firm in the face of all Satan’s attacks and lies.