Satan has strategies.
What are some of his schemes for attacking us as believers?
And when he tempts, he is subtle. He tries to make obedience to God look bad. And he often uses legitimate desires as bait, encouraging you to pursue legitimate desires in illegitimate ways.
6. He attempts to misdirect a believer’s religious zeal.
One of the things that stands out as you look at what the Bible teaches about Satan’s schemes is how often he either uses or attempts to use apparently good things as a means of doing damage to the church.
We might think the only person who is danger of being tempted is the guy sitting in the bar, but listen, in the New Testament, many of the people we see facing temptation are facing that temptation as they go about their religious activity.
There are several specific examples of how Satan attempts to misdirect religious activity.
The first example is in Acts 5 and the story of Ananias and Sapphira.
There was some really sweet stuff happening in the early church where there were all these people who were selling pieces of property and giving the proceeds to the church to help with those who were in need, which is a pretty cool thing and these two people, Ananias and Sapphira had a piece of property and they decided to sell it and bring some of the money and lay it at the apostle’s feet.
Now that in and of itself is pretty awesome.
I am not asking for hands here, but I wonder how many of us have actually sold property and given money to the church.
The problem of course was that Ananias decided to lie about how much he was giving to the church, and the reason we assume he did that, was because he greedy and proud, and so Peter calls him out on it and says, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?”
So here’s this really great thing that is happening in the early church, people spontaneously selling property and giving the money to the poor, and what I want you to see is that Satan doesn’t sit back lazily as he sees this happening, instead he comes in and tempts someone to use this religious activity as a means of self-promotion.
And that I am convinced is one of his strategies. If you are going to be religious, he wants to get you to be religious for yourself. Satan doesn’t mind religious activity that is like that. He has no problem with religious activity that is for the purpose of self-promotion.
James if you turn to James 3, comes at this same thing from another angle. There were a group of people in the church there who were actually wanting to be teachers and so they obviously would have thought of themselves as fairly wise and so James decides to give them a test of whether or not they truly are, and he asks, ‘Who is wise and understanding among you?’ If you say that you are wise, let’s evaluate this and make sure you really are. ‘By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.’ In other words, if you are wise, prove it through your humble wisdom. ‘But,’ James says, ‘if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.’ If really what is motivating you to take a position of leadership in the church is you wish you were important like others or you want to be the most important, than stop lying. Now here it is, because this is serious, what does James think of that, “This is not the wisdom that comes down from above,” it is not God’s wisdom, but what is it then, “but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” In other words, what is the source of this kind of wisdom that on the outside appears to be about Christ but on the inside is really about self, the origin of that kind of wisdom is in the cosmic powers of darkness, the devil and demons.
I think sometimes if we are zealous for religious things, we assume that we are safe, but here’s the thing just watch out, test your wisdom the way James says here, because if you are religious, Satan will of course, try to misdirect your religious activity to be the kind of religious activity that doesn’t center on Christ, but instead centers on self.
There is another interesting example of how Satan attempts to use even religious zeal to accomplish his purposes and it is a little more subtle than the first, it is a little more sincere than the first, but it is found in 1 Corinthians 7:5.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul is giving instructions regarding marriage here, and specifically in this verse he is talking about the sexual relationship in marriage.
And he says, commands, “Do not deprive one another…” In other words, this sexual relationship is meant to be enjoyed.
Except, Paul says, and I like how he says next perhaps and it is almost as if Paul is saying o.k., maybe there might be a time when you fast from enjoying this relationship.
But notice if you are going to do that, he puts real strong limitations on it. “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer.”
It’s like Paul is saying, o.k., if you want to really have a time where you focus just on God, well, all right maybe, I will go along with that, as long as you both agree and you only do that for a short time, so that you can pray more.
But then, come together again.
Here it is, the end of verse 5, “so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
Which is what is so interesting, isn’t it? Here are these people who are going above and beyond to further their prayer life, they are actually not engaging in something that is totally legitimate, so that they can focus more on prayer, and you would think these are the kinds of people that are beyond Satan’s schemes, but Paul is saying, no, actually you need to watch out because Satan may look to use this as an opportunity, why, or how, how can wanting to focus on prayer be an opportunity for Satan, well it is because these people weren’t wise about their limitations, and as a result, what happened is that if they weren’t careful, they were going to actually expose themselves to unnecessary sexual temptation.
One of Satan’s schemes to misdirect religious activity is to get you to use it as a means of promoting self.
But another is to get you to go about your pursuit of Christ in a way that ignores the limits of self. It is almost like to pursue Christ in a self-deluded kind of way, where you think you are so far above needing what other humans need and can legitimately, biblically enjoy.
A third way he misdirects religious activity is tempt you to pursue religious activity as a means of saving self.
This is one of his biggest tricks, actually.
So instead of worshiping God and doing religious things because you know God has accepted you in Christ, Satan wants to get you to worship God and do religious things as a way of getting God to accept you.
He wants to get you to stop looking to Christ as your only Savior and get you instead to look to yourself as Savior.
And what makes this particular strategy so subtle is that the way it usually shows up is not with people who you know are not religious, but with people you think are and it’s not with them telling you to stop being religious, but with them telling you, that you need to be more serious about God.
I mean, the strategies of Satan where someone comes and tells you to do something that God says you can’t do, those strategies are obvious.
Like, if I come and say get drunk when God says don’t get drunk, you know I am lying.
But what’s not so obvious and what we have to watch out for is when someone comes and says that you shouldn’t do something God says you can do, because sometimes when people do that, it sounds religious or spiritual but it can be just as dangerous, if not more.
In fact over in 1 Timothy 4, Paul comes at this idea directly.
And he writes, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared.”
Now, if I stopped there and didn’t read anymore, what would you think they departed the faith for, what kind of teachings would you think they were going after, I would think really crazy stuff, going off and just being totally out there in the world, when Paul talks about teachings of demons and insincere liars with seared consciences.
But listen to this, what does Paul say these demons are teaching?
They are forbidding marriage and requiring abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
Do you see what is happening?
These guys weren’t forsaking the faith to go seep with prostitutes or get drunk in a bar, they were forsaking the faith for something that from a human perspective, looked tougher or for some, more spiritual.
These people were coming and telling people not to do stuff that God says they should enjoy for His glory. If you really want to be spiritual, then don’t get married or don’t eat certain foods, I mean really go for it in your relationship with God, and Paul says, that kind of instruction is actually demonic!
You have to watch out because Satan totally knows there is more than one way to miss Christ.
There’s the obvious way to miss Christ and that is to go out and just live for yourself in the world. And then there’s the less obvious way, where you miss Christ by replacing him with religious activity.
Where your religious activity doesn’t flow out of knowing you are loved by God because of Christ, but instead is a means of getting God to love you on the basis of your own efforts.
This is something we find Paul warning the church about repeatedly.
Take as another example, what he says in Colossians.
In Colossians 2:18 to be exact.
And this is another passage that illustrates some of the danger in religious activity.
Because there Paul says to the church in Colossae, “Let no one disqualify you,” and that is a pretty intense warning especially after he said back in Colossians 1:12 that God the Father is the one who qualified us, having been qualified by God, Paul’s saying watch out that you don’t let some human disqualify you.
This is the way they will attempt to disqualify you.
“Insisting on asceticism.”
Now that is where you hurt your body in the name of religion. You know things like those guys who whip themselves in the name of God or something like that.
So these guys would disqualify them through insisting on religious activity.
Paul goes on,
“And worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments grows with a growth that is from God.”
And what I want you to see is how these guys are attempting to disqualify people. It is not by getting them to engage in less religious activity, instead it’s by misdirecting their religious activity, turning it the wrong way, getting them to engage in religious activity that is not truly connected to and rooted in the person and work of Christ.
Paul calls that kind of religious activity, worldliness. When we think worldliness, we don’t usually think about religious activity do we? But Paul does.
You see he says in verse 20, “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why as if you were still alive in the world do you submit to its regulations – do not taste, do not touch – referring to things that perish as they are used – according to human precepts and teachings.”
What are these worldly teachings? Self-righteous religious activity.
A person can be totally worldly and religious at the same time, if he is engaging in religious activity for the promotion of self or if he is engaging in religious activity that is focused on salvation by self instead of Christ.
And this is a huge strategy of Satan, misdirection. Taking religious activity and turning it in the wrong direction. Lying, blinding, hindering, persecuting, tempting and misdirecting religious zeal.