When was the last time you thought about Satan? I mean, really thought about him. After all, Satan is real (cf. Job 1:7-12; 2:1-7; Mt. 4:1-11; 12:17); he is not a cartoon character or a mere figurative personification of so-called ‘evil’ influences on the heart. His purpose is to deceive the “whole world” (Rev. 12:9) and is actively preying on each one of us (1 Pet. 5:8).
The reality of Satan’s existence and his desire to devour the human soul should demand your full attention. The devil doesn’t want you to go to heaven. In fact, he is doing everything in his power to stop you. Whether or not we are willing to admit it, we are all involved in spiritual “warfare” with him (1 Tim. 1:18). Paul reinforced this thought when he said “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12, ESV).
The question is: are you actively fighting against him?
We know that the devil has multiple “designs” (or approaches, νοήματα) at his disposal (2 Cor. 2:11) and several “schemes” (or methods, μεθοδείας) up his sleeve (Eph. 6:11). These include suggesting thoughts of sin directly into our minds (cf. Jn. 13:2, 27), using agents disguised as messengers of God to deceive us (2 Cor. 11:14; 2 Thess. 2:9; 1 Jn. 4:1), and exploiting our own weaknesses (1 Cor. 7:5; cf. Lk. 4:2-3). All of the devil’s designs and schemes have one thing in common: they are meant to trick us. Being the “father of lies” (Jn. 8:44), Satan is a professional deceiver (2 Thess. 2:10).
Satan’s Secret Weapon
Perhaps the devil’s greatest weapon in his arsenal of deception, however, is something few people recognize. Satan is skilled at convincing us to delay action. He wants us to postpone any spiritual ideas or self-examinations. For example, thoughts about eternity, heaven, or hell – even thoughts about himself – are things which he vehemently tries to trick us into ignoring. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “It is funny how mortals always picture [the devil] as putting things into their minds: in reality [the devil’s] best work is done by keeping things out” (16).
Think about this: have you ever been alone – perhaps you were in your bed or your car – and the concept of eternity, the imagery of hell, or a question like ‘where will I go when I die?’ entered your head? If so, how long was it before something less weighty, such as a catchy tune or a flashy advertisement, popped into your mind and you began thinking about something else? What about when you take the Lord’s Supper to commemorate the Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection (Mk. 14:22-24; cf. 1 Cor. 11:26-32)? Is it exceptionally easy to lose your ‘train of thought’ and begin thinking about selfish or worldly things?
The devil doesn’t want us to dwell on anything but the physical and the temporal. Since he is the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4) and the “ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31), anytime we stop thinking about the present world and start thinking in terms of the eternal, his influence over us is threatened. He doesn’t want those who are in his camp (the lost) to think about their souls or ask where they will go when they die. He doesn’t want those who are saved to continually self-examine their hearts. Thoughts like these endanger his influence over us, so he does everything within his power to convince us to shut them out.
Our Method of Resistance
Realize the Danger
When the child of God no longer works out his salvation with “fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12) and thus stops self-evaluating his spiritual condition, he will undoubtedly begin “drifting” (Heb. 2:1), which will lead to his eventual return to Satan’s camp. Christians are commanded to examine their lives to ensure they are still living in Christ (2 Cor. 13:5; cf. Eph. 4:1). When this responsibility is neglected, we place our hearts in jeopardy of becoming hardened and risk falling away from Christ. Obviously, a Christian can “fall away from grace” (Gal. 5:4). The author of Hebrews has warned that when someone’s heart becomes hardened and falls away from Christ, it can ultimately become “impossible” for them to be restored again to repentance (Heb. 6:4-6).
Recognize Satan’s Devices
The way to combat Satan’s method of deception is simple. Don’t allow him to distract you from spiritual things! Don’t postpone thoughts about heaven, hell, God, Satan, or eternity. Examine your spiritual condition every day and ask yourself questions like, “Is my relationship with God where it needs to be?” Don’t be afraid to answer even if doing so requires a heavy dose of humility. The longer you wait to answer spiritual thoughts, the harder they become to answer in the future.
The author of Hebrews recognized the temptation for us to postpone spiritual things when he wrote, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 3:15, emp. added). “Today” means now. In other words, don’t delay. God has commanded that we submit to Him now (2 Cor. 6:2). There will never be a better time than today to give your life completely to Him.
Wear the Armor of God
James tells us that if Satan is resisted, “he will flee” (Jas. 4:7). Paul wrote that if we want to resist the devil and guard against his schemes, we must “put on the whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:13). He explains further,
Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:14-18).
Expanding on this, Christians must dedicate themselves to studying the Bible. Jesus said that God’s Word is “truth” (Jn. 17:17), which makes it the very antithesis of Satan, since the devil is the “father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). We are to love the truth so much that we actually thirst for it like a baby longs for milk (1 Pet 2:1-2).
We must be careful not to think we are stronger than Satan. If we ignore his tools of deception and discount his existence, we are sure to fall prey to his treachery (1 Cor. 10:12). As long as we are dedicated to serving Christ, God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability and will always provide a “way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13).
The devil doesn’t want us to think about spiritual things. Rather, he only wants us to dwell on our own selfish desires. Avoid the temptation to delay any thoughts of spiritual self-examination, and make it a priority to encourage others to examine themselves. As the Hebrews writer says, “[E]xhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13).
Lewis, C.S. (1942), The Screwtape Letters (HarperCollins, 2001)
English Standard Version (2007). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles