It seems to me that if we are engaged in a war with an enemy who has strategies, we would want to know what those strategies are.
God in His Word gives us a guidebook to the enemy’s strategies and so far, we have identified four.
1. He lies.
This is is his basic approach.
2. He tries to keep people from seeing the glory of Christ.
He blinds unbelievers and tries to distract believers.
3. He attempts to hinder the church’s missionary work
He uses people to confuse and distort the truth.
He seeks to make it difficult for young believers to receive the support that they need.
4. He tries to intimidate the church through physical persecution and suffering.
He wants to make us frightened to do what is right because of the possible physical consequences.
He attempts to make disobedience to God’s will seem attractive.
Which sounds almost too obvious to say.
This is probably the first thing that we think of when we think of the devil’s schemes, and that is good because it is one of his main strategies.
In fact, it is so true of who the devil is and what the devil is about that one of his names is simply, “the tempter.”
We saw how Paul told us in 1 Thessalonians 2 that Satan had been hindering him from getting to the church there, and he goes on to tell us in 3:5 that this was a big burden to him, because he was concerned about Satan using that opportunity to tempt the Thessalonians. In Paul’s words, he says, “that when he could it bear it no longer, he sent to learn about the Thessalonians faith, ‘for fear that somehow the tempter tempted’ them and that as a result his labor would be in vain.
What according to Paul does Satan do? The tempter tempts. That’s what he does and what is temptation? Temptation is making disobedience to God seem attractive.
Now the Bible gives us some illustrations of how Satan goes about making sin look attractive like that.
One of the big ones of course is the Garden of Eden and the other big one is in the wilderness, where he tested Jesus. As we think about these two scenes where Satan is tempting men, we can identify three of the possible ways Satan may even still go about accomplishing this strategy of tempting us to sin.
If we go back to the Garden of Eden the first thing we can say as we think about the way Satan goes about making sin look attractive is that he is subtle at the start about the whole thing.
That is actually not my observation but Paul’s in 2 Corinthians 11:3.
Paul says, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning.”
How did Satan fool Eve? By his cunning.
And that word cunning, it means trickery, basically.
Which tells us Satan is not usually very straightforward about temptation. He is sometimes so sneaky that it takes you sometime before you actually even realize you are being tempted to disobey God.
That’s why when you talk to a Christian who just gave in to sin or to one who is about to give in to sin, they usually will have about a million different reasons why this one time, giving in to sin is actually a good thing.
Satan and demons are experts in packaging temptation. When they try to sell you sin, they don’t write on the label, this could kill you. There is not usually a skull and crossbones and danger sign on the package. Instead they try to present sin to you as a good thing.
Which is is why when you find yourself making excuses for sin, you need to watch out! It’s not because this one time sin really is good, it’s because Satan is very cunning and subtle about the way he goes about tempting Christians to sin. He is usually very subtle.
A second thing we can say as we think about the temptation accounts is that when Satan tempted God’s people, he presented God’s commands in the worst possible light.
He tried to make sin look good by making obedience look bad.
And you know in the Garden of Eden he did that in two ways.
One way he did that was by exaggerating the difficulty of the command God had given and by making it seem harder to obey than it really was.
You can think about when Satan came to Eve, what did he ask?
“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the Garden?”
You can almost hear the sneer in the serpent’s voice as he said that, and what makes his statement so ridiculous is that is obviously not what God said.
God actually said the opposite.
“You may surely eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat.”
God never said they couldn’t eat of any tree in the Garden. Satan’s totally exaggerating how difficult God’s command to Adam and Eve was. And why did he approach Eve like this? It’s probably because he wanted to encourage her to think of God’s commands in a negative way.
And when Satan gets us thinking, poor me, aah, poor me, he’s got us where he wants us.
Because Satan wants us to think of God’s commands as burdens not reasons for delight; and so when you are wanting to disobey God, just listen to how you are talking about God’s commands, and so often you will find yourself exaggerating those commands and talking about them in ways that are much more difficult and impossible to obey than they really are.
I think of maybe for example the wife who is commanded to submit to her husband, and how she might be tempted to say, how can God expect me not to have a brain and just do whatever my husband says?
Well, how can he expect that, that is not what God expects, it is an exaggeration of God’s command, and it’s one of Satan’s strategies to make sin appear attractive. He makes sin look good by making obedience look bad.
A second way he went about putting God’s command in the worst possible light was by lying about God’s motivation in giving Adam and Eve the command.
He tried to make it sound like God gave Adam and Eve this command because He wanted their worst, when the reality was just the opposite. God is good, and when He gives us a command it is for our good.
In fact when we look at the Word of God and we see God commanding us to do something or not do something, what we are seeing is not just a command, it is a word of grace to us, we are actually blessed as we obey; but Satan, in order to make sin look attractive to us comes and presents God’s commands in a very negative light, often exaggerating what God asks of us and then distorting why God expects that of us.
A third thing we can say about Satan and the way he went about tempting people in God’s Word is that he encouraged the people he was tempting to pursue legitimate desires in illegitimate ways.
We can see that clearly in the account of Jesus in the wilderness.
When Jesus was out there in the wilderness, he was fasting and Matthew tells us that after forty days of fasting, he was hungry which sounds like an understatement and you know, what did the devil come and say to him at that point?
He came and said, ‘if you are the Son of God command these stones to become loaves of bread.’
Now that sounds like a strange temptation to us. Because obviously Jesus being hungry wasn’t wrong and it wasn’t wrong for Jesus to eat bread. There even were times later where Jesus’ multiplied food for people.
But from Jesus’ response to the devil in the wilderness, we see that what was wrong about what the devil was saying, was that he was trying to get Jesus to make his personal comfort and convenience a greater priority than trust and obedience in God’s Word. I think that’s what was going on there, and he’s still doing that kind of thing today.
There are so many times where the problem with what you want to do is not the root, not the desire itself, the desire is like being hungry, it’s normal, it’s human, it’s fine, but the problem is with the way you are thinking about going about fulfilling that desire and those kinds of situations are so tricky because you are sitting there thinking, it’s a good thing I want, how can it be wrong, well yeah, it might be a good thing, but the way you are thinking about getting what you want isn’t in line with faith in God’s promises and obedience to God’s commands and that makes the good thing you want a bad thing for you right now.