Whoever first said, “To be forewarned is to be forearmed,” could have been thinking of the believer’s defense against Satan. The more we know of the tactics of any enemy, the better able we are to prepare our defenses and, thereby, remain unmoved. With regard to Satan’s strategies, we find numerous examples in Scripture.
1. He twists the Word of God.
2. He disguises himself.
3. He imitates.
4. He counterfeits.
5. He steals, kills, and destroys.
6. He afflicts and oppresses.
7. He accuses.
8. He blinds.
9. He hinders.
How Does Satan Attack Us?
He Twists the Word of God
Jesus said that lies are Satan’s “native language” (John 8:44, NIV). If he ever does quote God or His Word accurately, it is not because he agrees with it and wants to promote it but because he has an ulterior motive. Satan came to Adam and Eve and called into question the prohibition God placed on eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:1). He even misquoted God, saying that Adam and Eve were prohibited from eating from any tree in the Garden. Eve corrected that misquote, so Satan tried again, telling the couple they would not actually die—that God had lied in an effort to keep them from becoming as wise as God Himself (Genesis 3:4-5).
When Satan confronted Jesus in the wilderness, he used the truth of God for purposes that wouldn’t glorify God. Yes, God can turn stone into bread (just as Jesus later turned water into wine—John 2); yes, God could command the angels to catch Jesus from falling (when He was arrested, Jesus said He could summon twelve legions of angels if needed—Matthew 26:53); and yes, Jesus was destined to become a king (He will one day be crowned King of kings—Revelation 19:16). So everything Satan tempted Jesus with was legitimate—it was the truth. But it was the truth misapplied. The truth misapplied is no better than error applied.
He Disguises Himself
Satan, in his masquerading mode, can make himself appear righteous and religious. The classic evidence of this was the apostle Paul’s run-ins with false apostles in Corinth:
2 Corinthians 11:13-15
These false apostles, empowered by Satan, gave the impression of being righteous workers for God. In reality, they were ministers of Satan. The Bible makes it plain that not everything that appears to be light is, in fact, light.
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When the apostles took the Gospel of Christ into Samaria, they encountered a satanically inspired magician named Simon (Acts 8:9-24). Simon was known as “the great power of God” by the Samaritans, and “they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time” (verses 10-11). When he offered to buy the power of the Holy Spirit from the apostles, Peter rebuked him saying, “Your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness” (verses 21-22).
In the last days before the return of Christ, Satan’s chief emissaries on earth, the Beast and the False Prophet, will perform great signs and wonders reminiscent of those performed by servants of God through the ages (Revelation 13:13; 16:14; 19:20).
God has power, and Satan has power, and there is nothing to stop Satan from imitating the power of God to accomplish his deceptive ends.
When Satan imitates, he does something genuine for ungodly purposes. When he counterfeits, he does something false so as to make it appear genuine. To that end, Satan sows counterfeit Christians among the members of the Kingdom of God. Jesus told a parable to His disciples, illustrating how an enemy would come and sow weeds among the wheat. Because they look identical in the growing stage, it is not until harvest that the farmer knows that counterfeit wheat has been sown in his field. “The enemy who sowed [the weeds] is the devil” and “the [weeds] are the sons of the wicked one,” Jesus said (Matthew 13:24-30, 38-39).
So Satan is able to make lies look like the truth and unbelievers look like believers. He is a master counterfeiter.
He Steals, Kills, and Destroys
While these strategies don’t sound subtle, Satan can make even stealing, killing, and destroying subtle. He can steal the Word of God from the heart of someone who hears it by asking, “Has God really said?” (Genesis 3:1; Matthew 13:19) He can actually kill someone by stirring up rage in the heart of another person (Acts 7:57-60). And he can destroy the work of God among the people of God by filling the heart of some who are not wholly committed to God (Luke 22:3; Acts 5:3).
These acts of Satan, while seemingly violent, can appear to be very explainable, not out of order in the normal course of events. But behind them are the works and strategy of the enemy.
He Afflicts and Oppresses
Spiritual darkness was so rampant in the period prior to Christ’s ministry that demons had afflicted many with diseases, both physical and mental (Luke 13:16). Jesus would often drive the demons out of multitudes of people in a given setting (Matthew 8:16). Peter related how “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38). When Jesus sent the seventy disciples out on a ministry trip, they returned rejoicing that the demons had been subject to Jesus’ Name through them (Luke 10:17).
Not every illness or affliction should be attributed to Satan, but the possibility should not be ignored. Satan can gain access to the life of a person through willful, unconfessed sin (Ephesians 4:27), or by the permission of God for purposes of discipline (1 Corinthians 5:5), testing (Job 1:12), or growth in grace (2 Corinthians 12:7). Even Christians who have not learned to resist the devil can be harassed by demons (James 4:7). Nonbelievers can be completely controlled by demons and tormented beyond belief if Satan is not confronted by the power of Christ (Mark 5:1-17).
The Greek word diabolos (devil) means “slanderer” or “accuser.” Satan once entered the presence of God to accuse Job of being a faithless believer, claiming that Job was only a worshiper of God because of the blessings God had bestowed upon him (Job 1:6-11). This was slander of the first order; according to the American Heritage Dictionary slander is defined as: “Oral communication of false statements injurious to a person’s reputation; a false and malicious statement or report about someone.”
Jesus Christ serves as an advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1) to defend Christians against the slanderous attacks of Satan. When we sin and Satan accuses us of being unworthy of the grace of God, Christ steps in to plead the efficacy of His own blood in our defense. It is true that we sin, so that part is not slander. But it is not true that we are unworthy of God’s grace and forgiveness. We are worthy because of Christ’s worthiness.
When a non-Christian hears the Gospel or a new Christian hears a deeper truth from Scripture, and there seems to be no receptivity at all, it could be because “the god of this age” has blinded the person’s mind (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). This blindness could come in the form of confusion, resistance, justification, rationalization, defensiveness, pride, or other underlying mental, emotional, or spiritual processes.
When someone doesn’t understand algebra or trigonometry, we think it is purely an intellectual issue. Not so with spiritual truth. The truth of God has to be spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14). And if a person’s spirit is being clouded by interference from Satan, it will be difficult for that person to embrace truth. With algebra, we repeat the formula enough times until the person understands. With spiritual truth, repetition is not the issue—spiritual openness and discernment is. Satan can be the reason such discernment is missing.
Often we use the word “circumstances” to describe the seemingly inevitable delays and obstacles in our daily lives. Too often we fail to discern whether Satan might be the cause of such hindrances. Paul clearly identified Satan as the cause of his failure to make it to Thessalonica to visit the church there (1 Thessalonians 2:18). We don’t know how Satan accomplished such a hindrance, only that he did.
We have more detail on how Satan can hinder in a conversation between Jesus and Peter (Matthew 16:21-23). After Jesus explained to the disciples that He would soon be killed in Jerusalem, Peter rebuked the Lord for such talk—which earned Peter a rebuke in return: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Peter was unwittingly being a hindrance to Jesus in carrying out the will of God for His life. Unbeknownst to Peter, Satan was using him to be a stumbling block to Jesus.
Scripture reveals that Satan can hinder through people or circumstances. Like illness, not every hindrance should be attributed to Satan directly. But the possibility of a connection should at least be considered.
Satan’s Strategies Are Deceptive
Satan has been unmasked as to his strategies in this world. Twice Paul uses the word “schemes” (NIV) to describe Satan’s activity. The American Heritage Dictionary says a scheme is a “systematic plan of action,” which sounds innocent enough. But then it adds “a secret or devious plan; a plot.” Certainly not all schemes are devious or secret. But in Satan’s case, all are. It is the nature of who he is to operate below the radar.
Our Defense Against Satan’s Attacks
Satan has been unmasked as to his strategies! It is as if, through the Bible, we have been handed a playbook for how Satan operates. This explains why the New Testament warns us to “watch and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6), to “live soberly” (Titus 2:12), to “gird up the loins of your mind, be sober” (1 Peter 1:13), and “be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
The picture of a roaring lion could argue against Satan acting in secret. Lions roar to establish their identity and presence. But when it comes to the attack in the Serengeti of Africa, they creep silently through the tall grass or lie patiently in wait for hours, until they are within striking distance of their prey. Lions roar when they’re walking around; but when they attack, it’s always a surprise to the one being pursued.
The believer, therefore, should not think that because Satan is not roaring and drawing attention to himself that he is not there. He has roared throughout history—his presence is not a matter of question. The only question is when, where, and how he will strike next. (That is not an invitation to fear, as will be detailed below. Rather, it is an invitation to watchfulness and preparedness.)
Our Assurance Against Satan’s Attacks
This article is an excerpt from Unmasked—Revealing the Truth Behind Satan’s Lies.