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Satan, Demons, and Spiritual Warfare (Part 3) – Activity and Strategies

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The Bible does not give much information on the origins of Satan and the demons. However, there is a lot of discussion about what these entities are doing — it seems that God wants us to know more about what they do than about their history. In fact, God says we should not be “unaware of [the devil’s] schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11), so we will look more at various strategies employed to steal away and destroy the life God designed for us (see John 10:10). One strategy that is found in the Scriptures is commonly referred to as “Possession”. We need to recognize that while this may be the most spectacular strategy, it does not seem the most common, as there are many other strategies out there that we all encounter. We’ll focus on these strategies in this post and will turn to the topic of possession or “demonization” (including why that might be the better term) in the next post. I’ll try to highlight some of the most common tactics, recognizing that this list is not exhaustive of all tactics and methods we see in Scripture.

Deception – Creating and Spreading Lies
As I examine passages discussing the work of Satan and demons, I was struck by how often we are told that they are at work creating and spreading lies that we are then led to believe. Satan is said to be the “father of lies” (John 8:44) and one who seeks to deceive the whole world (Revelation 12:9; 20:3, 8). We see this in the first sin of humans as Satan  distorted and called into question what God said to Eve —  even saying that God lied and she would not die if she ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3). This strategy continued, as deceiving spirits appear in the Old Testament (see 1 Kings 22) and Paul says we too, can be deceived and “led astray from sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).

Part of this deception is how Satan and demons present themselves, being “false apostles” and disguised as “servants of righteousness” just as Satan disguised himself as “an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). This includes false teaching, with Paul noting that teaching comes from demons; this teaching is not to worship demons explicitly, but can come in the form of various rules about the world (see 1 Timothy 4:1-5). False wonders (a form of deception) are even performed to support these lies and untruths (2 Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 16:14). These lies can be false teachings in the church, and a method of pulling people away is to plant false believers in the church community (see Matthew 13:39).

This reality means that we need to be discerning in the truths we are hearing and be sure to test them. Just as we are to test the spirits (1 John 4:1), we are to test teachings and make sure they are found in the Word of God and not from other places. 

Obstacles – Preventing the Truth From Being Heard
In addition to spreading false truths, Satan and demons also hinder the Word of God from being heard by people. We see this image in Jesus’s parable of the sower (Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8) as Satan prevents some people from hearing the message and thus they do not believe and produce fruit. The Apostle Paul says that Satan blinds the eyes of some people so they will not believe (2 Corinthians 4:4). Daniel 10:12-14 shows that demonic forces seek to stand as obstacles to God’s angels that work in response to prayer. People can even be obstacles, whether it is Peter when he tells Jesus that he should not go to the cross (Matthew 16:23), or a figure like Elymas the magician who tries to turn someone away from the faith and is called a “son of the devil” (Acts 10:37-38). We also read about people not being able to travel to share the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:18) or being thrown in prison (Revelation 2:10). Therefore, persecution is a tactic of Satan, but sometimes that is not necessary (as persecution can also display the deep faith of individuals) and distraction is just as effective — if not more so! May we examine the obstacles around us and see these things as spiritual warfare.

Alternatives – Inspiring False Religions
We also read that other religious systems and false religions are the work of Satan and his demons. A number of places in Scripture link false practices with the work of the opposition (see Galatians 4:3-9; Colossians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 10:20), and there is a link in the Old Testament between idols and the ancient world (false gods) and demons (Deuteronomy 32:16-17; Leviticus 17:7; Psalm 106:36-38). When people do not worship God, they are ultimately choosing to worship these demons, either directly or indirectly (see Revelation 9:20), and thus can be said to be under the power and influence of Satan (see Acts 26:18).

Affliction – Inflicting Pain and Suffering
The story of Job shows how his suffering was orchestrated by Satan, with the ultimate hope that Job would curse God and die (of course Job proves himself faithful). When Jesus heals a woman who had a physical ailment that caused her to be unable to straighten herself, Jesus said that she had been bound by Satan for 18 years, further demonstrating that physical ailments could be the work of the devil (Luke 13:16; see also Acts 10:38). We also see demons harming people, either directly or indirectly (Mark 5:5; 9:18); they can also create physical limitations such as making someone unable to speak (Matthew 9:32; Mark 9:17) or hear (Matthew 12:22). Both Paul (1 Thessalonians 3:5) and Peter (1 Peter 5:9) link the concept of suffering with the work of Satan, showing that Satan tries to use suffering to tempt people away from faith. In 1 Samuel 16:14-23 we read about an evil spirit afflicting and tormenting Saul; we aren’t sure how this spirit inflicts pain (if physical or mental), but it does show that spirits afflict people. We aren’t sure what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” described in 2 Corinthians 12:7 was exactly (likely a physical ailment), but he describes this as a “messenger of Satan”, linking it to Satan’s work. While Satan might have used that ailment to try to hurt Paul’s faith, Paul found a greater awareness of God’s grace and strength that works in our weakness. We need to remember that what Satan intends as being evil, God can use for our good and His glory.

Accusations – Bringing Up Our Sins To Show That We Are Unworthy
As we saw in the last post, the title “Devil” has connections with the idea of slander or accuser, bringing accusations against God, and Revelation 12:10 calls him the accuser. That passage says that Satan “accuses them before our God day and night.” We find this concept in the Book of Job where Satan brings the accusation that Job only worships God because God blesses him, and also Zechariah 3:1-2. These are ways Satan seeks to bring division between us and God – either trying to convince God that we are not worthy of His love, or by seeking to convince us that we are not worthy of God’s mercy and grace. The good news is that these accusations are baseless and false. God does not heed them, and we need to remember that God is for us, and therefore, nothing can stand against us, even these accusations. In fact, we read these words in 1 John 3:30-22: “For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”

Creating Conflict – Pride and Jealousy 
One method Satan and the demons use seems to make us either think too highly of ourselves – which leads to pride – or focus too much on others and what they have – leading to jealousy. 1 Timothy 3:6-7 is a reminder how new believers can be easily puffed up with pride, with this being a trap of Satan. These verses also point out how one’s reputation among people can become a trap of Satan as well. James talks about “demonic wisdom” in his discussion of jealousy and selfish ambition that leads to quarrels (James 3:15). Pride and jealousy also seem to be at work in Cain, who was of the evil one according to 1 John 3:12; these things led to the murder of his brother. These tactics are also found in the Old Testament, as Satan incited David through pride to take a census (1 Chronicles 21:1), and Saul is both jealous of David and said to have an evil spirit at work (1 Samuel 18:10; 19:2). Pride and jealousy may also lead to other conflicts that we see caused by Satan, such as how quarrelling words lead to division (2 Timothy 2:22-26) and an evil spirit was at work in causing conflict between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem (Judges 9:22-23). 

Attacking When Compromised – Seizing Opportunities to Present
It is not just what Satan does, but also when he does them. A number of situations are noted that present special opportunities for the attacks of Satan. One is anger, as when we linger in anger, thoughts and options that are not honoring to God present themselves and can seem attractive – we thus are vulnerable to Satan’s device. Another situation in which we leave ourselves vulnerable to Satan’s attack is when there is disunity in marriage regarding sexual relations or a lack of intimcy in marriage (see 1 Corinthians 7:5). Another is when there is a lack of forgiveness and desire for vengeance after being hurt or when someone sins, as we see from a situation in which a person who has sinned continued to be punished by the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 2:10-11). This might also be a situation in which someone becomes isolated and thus susceptible to Satan’s attacks and temptation. Satan also sought to tempt Jesus when he was isolated and hungry in the wilderness, so those are also likely methods he still utilizes today.

Using  Other Enemies – Flesh and the World
We also need to recognize that Satan and the demons utilize the other two enemies that we face: the flesh and the world. The world system is one that is designed to oppose the things of God, and we read that this system of the world is under Satan’s power (1 John 5:19). We also sin because of our own desires (James 1:14-15), with Satan likely recognizing that and placing things in our way that will draw us away due to our own sinful tendencies. Above all, we know that Satan and his demons will use anything they possibly can to try to oppose God and thus attack His people. We need to be aware of that. 

Winning Battles But Has Lost the War
We know we have an enemy who is strong and highly organized – explaining his effectiveness – who wants to devour us (1 Peter 5:8); at the same time, we know that in Christ, he has and will be defeated. We need to remember that we have the resources in Christ to overcome temptations, that the One we have in us is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) and “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14-15). He will defeat Satan at the end of time and throw him into the lake of fire (Revelation 20; also see Matthew 25:41), but there is also a sense in which we experience this victory now, as we see that Christ has disarmed these powers and authorities through the cross (Colossians 2:15). Satan has lost the war, but he still is strong in battle. His power is limited both by the fact that he is not God’s equal – he is not omniscient or omnipresent though he is smart and strong – and that Christ has already defeated him. Therefore, let us be aware of his schemes and also of what we have in Christ, knowing that we can stand against his schemes (Ephesians 6:11-18) and that we can resist him (1 Peter 5:9; James 4:7). 

Questions about the Bible or theology? Email them to Pastor Brian at Theology@WeAreFaith.org. You can also request to receive weekly emails with our blog posts by filling out the information on the right side.

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