It's not all that common to hear Satan talked about in our churches, it seems - or if he does become the topic of discussion, it's usually in more victorious terms than warning. I think we'd all like to believe that because we've been saved, Satan can no longer touch us, tempt us, or even whisper in our ear.
But the Bible suggests that Satan is still a very real threat even to believers - not because Christ has failed, but because this earth is still under the domain of the Prince of Darkness, and will be until the cleansing Tribulation and Second Coming of Christ. Not that he has the power to "snatch us from the Father's hand," but he can easily prevent the unsaved from ever finding rescue if only he can cause the saved to become ineffective in their purpose - and he knows that his deception must be all the more subtle when dealing with those who know the truth. So instead of cloaking our vulnerability in premature claims of present triumph, we ought to be alert to his age-old tactics, fighting valiantly to keep them from creeping into the Church.
Here are five of his favorites, which you should become familiar with if you are seeking to be an effective tool for the glory of God:
Strategy #1: Distraction
I'm talking about more than letting your Facebook notifications distract you during church. While I'm sure the Enemy has used that tactic more than once, he snares his more astute victims in far more subtle ways. Paul's letter to the church at Corinth gives us an example:
Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. - 1 Corinthians 1:10-17
When Satan can tempt us to cling to a certain teaching method or messenger, he is able to weaken our resolve about the message itself - opening us up to, at best, unbiblical priorities, and at worst, incremental compromises that may find us eventually rejecting whole doctrines of the truth for the sake of our other allegiance.
And, as Paul said, "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel." So cunning is the Evil One that he may even employ our own doctrines against us if they can distract us from what is ultimate. Paul knows that baptism is good, but the Gospel is ultimate - and compromising on that could come at a heavy eternal cost. And what would Satan love more than to see a ministry like Paul's crumble?
Strategy #2: Discouragement
If you spend much time following the news and keeping up to date on world events, I'm almost certain the Devil has used this strategy against you at least once or twice. It's one of his favorites, and it's quite powerful against even the most spiritually mature and eternally effective believers among us.
In the book of 1 Kings, Satan makes this play against the prophet Elijah. Elijah has an amazing, if lonely, ministry to wayward Israel; he has seen God work through him in unbelievable ways. In fact, we meet him soon after one of the high points of his ministry: when he builds an altar to the Most High God on Mt. Carmel and proves Yahweh to be more powerful than the pagan god Baal.
But this victory has King Ahab seeking Elijah's head, and the prophet is forced to go into hiding - where he becomes completely paralyzed by discouragement.
Then [Elijah] came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” - 1 Kings 19:9-10
I don't think any of us would fault Elijah for feeling this way. King Ahab had already killed many of God's followers in the land and was seeking Elijah's life now too, and for all he can tell, the outlook for Israel is utterly hopeless.
Which is exactly where the Enemy's message thrives.
All Satan needs in order to render God's best men useless is the right catastrophe at the right moment... the well-timed stab in the back... the perfect jab of criticism when you're already down. The moment you believe that it's you against the world and there's nothing you can do, the Enemy has succeeded in bringing your ministry to a halt, because you believe yourself forsaken. You see only the size of the problem and are blind to the size of your God.
Strategy #3: Discontentment
Ah, discontentment. This one may seem the most harmless strategy on our list, but it's also by far the most prevalent - undoubtedly plaguing every believer in some way every day. Many of these ways seem small: I wish I had a nicer car, or why can't we have a marriage like theirs, or if only I could have a bigger sphere of impact.
But the inevitable result of the "grass is greener on the other side" syndrome is that at best, it blinds us to the goodness of our own grass, and at worst, it draws us across the boundary of God's will and places us outside His blessing. Take the nation of Israel, for example:
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.” - 1 Samuel 8:4-7
Why was Israel so discontent with their situation? Take note: God Himself was their King. We who are about to vote in the presidential election would probably be thrilled to have a perfect, righteous leader to choose! Yet Israel looked at her pagan neighbors and, blind to the incredible blessing and testimony of being led by a perfect God, they desired to be "like all the nations." And when that foolish desire was fulfilled, they lost a whole avenue of ministry to the onlooking world.
What part of our effectiveness might be snuffed out if we had a car like our rich neighbor's, a marriage identical to that great couple's at church, or a sphere of impact that's different from what God knows is ideal for us? God is not flippant - He gives us what we have for a specific set of reasons, and asks for our trust that His reasons are right.
Strategy #4: Defection
This one sounds obvious on the surface - too obvious, maybe, for a believer to fall prey to. But like most strategies of the Enemy, it starts out subtle - even appealing:
Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere—this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah—like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar. So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord. - Genesis 13:10-13
The land couldn't sustain Abram and Lot together, so a move made sense. The Jordan Valley would promise fruitfulness and sustenance to his family, so it's the obvious choice for Lot, and for awhile he lives in a happy compromise - just near enough to Sodom that he gets the benefits of the land without getting so close that he's part of their wickedness.
But such a compromise can hardly stand static when evil's beautiful voice calls. Reading on to Genesis 19, you'll find that Lot soon lived within the city of Sodom itself, and was narrowly rescued from its fire and brimstone demise - but not untouched by its influence. The rampant sexual immorality he raised his children among paved the way for his family line to be utterly violated by the actions of his own daughters, and through them, Lot become the father of two nations that would plague the children of Abraham for centuries.
For us, it likely doesn't begin with scouting out fertile land or pitching a tent in the wrong place. Maybe it begins with a redefining of church: a few families meeting together in a home for "house church" on Sunday mornings, instead of committing to an established congregation - and thus shaking off any accountability to the truth, because no one will check their teaching for accuracy or proper hermeneutics. Maybe it begins when church simply isn't a priority at all because Sunday mornings have become filled by something else, or because your husband has lost interest in going, or because it's just too hard to force a happy facade in front of so many strangers. In any case, the result is the same: believers walking alone, unaccountable, vulnerable. And the one that walks alone is easy prey for a lion.
Strategy #5: Division
Lastly - and perhaps most perilous of all - the Enemy delights in the division of the Church. For when one part of the body is pitted against another, or when one member refuses to pull his weight, or when there is sickness in the whole that isn't being dealt with, most of Satan's work has been done for him. The Church becomes all but bedridden, totally incapable of carrying out its purposes to the lost world because it can't even get control of itself.
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. . . . If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” . . . . But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. - 1 Corinthians 12:12, 19-21, 24b-26
On the flip side, nothing kills the campaign of Satan like perfect unity - because unity, which is built on selfless love (Colossians 3:14), is a foreign concept to a world that runs on selfishness and conflict. Jesus said that unity between believers is the best evangelism tactic we can display to those who have been ravaged by the effects of hatred, brokenness, pride, bullying, and individualism (John 17:20-21). The selfless love of the saints for one another in their families, their marriages, and their churches is intended to be an image of Christ's selfless love for humanity (Ephesians 5:25) - and that image is nothing short of a balm to hearts that have been broken by the empty promises of a "me-first" world. So rather than dividing over petty interpretive differences, rather than coming to church expecting others to fill us up instead of the other way around, we should be vigilantly protective of our unity - that we may be "one, even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me" (John 17:21).
The greater spiritual conflict that is happening behind seemingly-insignificant human actions and world events is not something we should treat lightly. I teach Satan's strategies not to scare believers, but to empower them to watchfulness - for though your salvation is secure in the grasp of the Savior, the eternal impact of your ministry is always at risk of being damaged by temptation, sin, and deception. To think that the battle is already won when the Word of God clearly says otherwise would be shortsighted, and sabotages the saints' ability to fight the battle at hand.
The Bible tells us that our best weapon in the spiritual war is the Word of God itself. So I've created a printable sheet of five passages to use as your Sword of the Spirit - one for each of Satan's common strategies. Grab yours below!