The Strategy of Satan
From beginning to end the picture given in the Bible is that all human beings, without exception, regardless of how clever or educated or cultured they may be, if without Christ, are helpless victims of satanic control. Under the control of satanic forces human beings are uncomfortable and unhappy, but they are also completely unable to escape by any wisdom or power of their own.
But the good news is that some have been set free, some have been delivered. Through the coming of that "stronger one," Jesus himself, who came "to destroy the works of the devil," deliverance is obtained. Through the amazing mystery of the cross and the resurrection, Jesus has broken the power and bondage of Satan over human lives. Those who individually receive and acknowledge this (that is, those who believe, for Scripture always addresses itself to belief) are set free to live in the freedom and liberty of the children of God.
But they are not set free to live unto themselves. That is a common misconception. Many believe that Christ has come into their lives by means of the cross, and the things which have bound them and blasted them and ruined them have been stricken away, and they have been set free to do as they please, to live as they want to live.
Not so, we are set free in order to battle. That is call which comes to all Christians. We are not set free merely to enjoy ourselves. We are set free in order to do battle, to engage in the fight, to overcome in our own lives, and to become the channels by which others are set free.
We must now give closer attention to the actual conduct of the battle. If this conflict is the basic problem of human life, how much devolves upon us in conducting or fighting this battle? How do we accomplish this? Paul's, answer in one Phrase: "Put on the whole armor of God." Full provision has been made for us to win the battle. This is the amazing truth we must learn. it is something we seldom take seriously--God has made full provision for us to fight these great and powerful forces which hold world in their grip.
But it would be a mistake to begin our discussion an examination of the armor of God. If we start there we find that this figure of armor strikes us with a note of unreality; it seems like a game. We will end up talking about on the armor of God, but we cannot start there. Rather, we must begin b seeing what it is we are opposed by. Armor is made for defense, and we will find no value in these Pieces designed for our defense until we see what we are defending against. Let us realize something of the cleverness, the cunning wiliness of the forces against which we are battling and we will begin to appreciate the armor with which we have been provided.
Armed with Cruel Hate
For now, I want primarily to look at this phrase of Paul's, "The wiles of the devil." The first step for any soldier in training is to be introduced to weapons which the enemy will use against him. The Devil is a very cunning and wily strategist. Martin Luther is quite right when he writes,
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great
And, armed with cruel hate:
On earth is not his equal.
The record confirms this truth. Read the Old Testament and. you will see that every saint, every prophet, every patriarch, every one of the great and glorious kings of Israel was defeated at one time or another by the devil.
The wisest and greatest of men are absolutely helpless in attempting to outwit the Devil by themselves. Yet, as we have already seen, the Bible indicates that it is quite possible to walk in victory. James says, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). Think of that. This clever, cunning strategist who has held the world in defeat for centuries, whom no man is able to out-maneuver, will flee from you when you learn, like Paul, not to be ignorant of his devices.
Now, the questions we must ask are, "What is the general strategy of the Devil? How does he plan to do this? How is it that he keeps the world in such bondage?" The only one in all history who has ever consistently defeated the Devil, not only in his life but also in his death, is the Lord Jesus Christ. He put his finger squarely upon the strategy and the tactics of Satan when he said, 'The devil is a liar and a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44). The strategy of the Devil is to murder. The tactic by which he accomplishes this is to lie. If we consider these phrases carefully, we will see how accurate the are.
How does the Devil plan to oppose the work of God in the world? By murdering, by destroying. One of the names given to the Devil in the Book of the Revelation is Apollyon, the "Destroyer." What is it to destroy? It is to create chaos, to lay waste, to ruin, to make desolate. There you have the explanation for the whole tragic story of human history: A Destroyer at work among men. Our God is a God of beauty, harmony, order, and perfection, of love, of light, and grace. There is enough evidence left in the world of nature, including our own being, and in the world of ideas, to see this marvelous symmetry, beauty, and perfection of God. God is a god of harmony and order. The world was created as orderly, and this includes man.
But then a Destroyer came on the scene. It is his delight to smash, to tangle, to twist, to mutilate, to disfigure, to darken, and to blast in every way he can. It does not make any difference whether it is bodies or souls, flesh or ideas, matter or spirit, the aim of the Devil is exactly the same in every case. That is why the Devil can never offer anything positive to human life. He can make nothing. He has never made anything, and he never will make anything. All he can do is destroy what God has made. His power is totally negative, completely destructive in every way.
What are e tactics the Devil employs? He destroys by deceiving, by lying, by distorting, by counterfeiting, by play-acting and masquerading, by illusion and fantasy. This is what Paul calls "the wiles of the devil." Read through the Bible and see how many times the work of the Devil is referred to in that manner--the snares, the traps of the devil, the illusions, the stratagems, the wiles. We shall content ourselves now with a general survey of these wiles, and in the next chapter we will take a much look at actual tactics the Devil is employing in your life and mine to defeat us and keep us in weakness, to ruin and lay waste our lives.
The Bible makes clear that the tactics of the Devil fall into two major divisions. He attacks the human race both directly and indirectly. He is capable of a direct confrontation with human beings, and an indirect approach. And through these two avenues he maintains worldwide control over the race of men. The Bible indicates that there are fallen hosts of angels called "demons," whom Paul refers to here as "the principalities and powers, the world rulers of the spiritual hosts of wickedness in
Now, "heavenly places" does not mean far off in somewhere. "Heavenly" means "the realm of the invisibilities," the invisible realities of life. The Devil and his hosts are not visible. That is what he is saying. The Devil's activity is in this realm of the invisible reality of life, the heavenly places, where God works.
In the Bible we are told very little of the origin. of the Devil and his angels. But there is enough written to suggest that here was a being created originally as in angel of might and strength and beauty and power. There is a brief reference to the fall of this great angel, whose name was Lucifer, and who was lifted up by pride. Pride is always the mark of the Devil. Lifted up by pride, he chose to rival God and, in doing so, he fell from his station of might and glory and beauty and became the Devil (Isaiah 14: 1 2-15; Luke 10: 18). He drew a third of the angels with him, and these constitute the principalities and powers, the organized kingdom of darkness as opposed to the kingdom of God. It is through these lists of wicked spirits that Satan is able to make a direct assault son human life.
This direct assault covers what the Bible refers to as "demon possession," the outright control of human personality by the power of a wicked spirit. It also extends to such activities as soothsaying, occultism, spiritism (or spiritualism), and related black magic arts such as astrology, horoscopes, voodooism, fortune telling, and the like.
A word of warning is in order right here. There is no question that there is much chicanery and deception in is whole field of black magic. There are charlatans at work who make their living off the superstitious fears of people and who engage in deceptive tricks which give the impression they are genuine] dealing with the occult. It is very difficult to tell the difference between the genuine and the false in this field. Great care must be displayed by anyone attempting to investigate it. While there is a great deal of smoke, the Bible makes clear there is considerable fire as well. There is truth behind this black magic.
The Bible warns consistently against dabbling in these matters. Under the law the people of Israel were strictly forbidden to have anything to do with wizards "that peep and mutter," those who try to make contact with the dead or deal with the world of the occult. This prohibition was largely because any investigation into this realm immediately lays one open to powers beyond men's ken and makes possible control and influence beyond the will of the individual investigating. This is dangerous ground. In fact, it often opens the way to outright demon possession.
As to this subject of demon possession, I am very well aware there are people who are incredulous. They say, "Surely you believe in that, kind of stuff any more. In this twentieth-century-day you're not telling us there are such things as demons! After all, the days in which the Bible was written were primitive times and people believed in that type of thing, but we're much better informed now. What was once called demon possession we now know to be only mental illness, and we can treat it with drugs and other therapy."
A Careful Distinction
What is our reply to that? Simply this: First, the Bible is not as primitive a book as many people imagine; it is very careful to distinguish between mental illness and demon possession. The writers of the Scriptures were certainly aware of this distinction. One of them, Luke, a physician himself, was certainly acquainted with the distinctions between physical diseases and mental illnesses and demon possession (Luke 4:40-41). In Matthew also, a careful distinction is made between those who were afflicted by diseases, those who were demon possessed, and those who were lunatic or mentally ill (Matthew 4:24).
Second, it is important to notice that the biblical cases of demon possession do not conform to the clinical pattern of any known mental disease. There are diseases of the body and there are diseases of the mind. Diseases of the mind, like those of the body, present standard clinical patterns which can be readily recognized. But when you examine carefully the biblical accounts of demon possession, you find these do not fit any of the standard patterns of mental diseases. They are not the same thing, they do not conform.
In the first place, there is always a debasing element in the biblical cases of demon possession, an uncleanness, a moral debasement. Also in the biblical accounts of demon possession there was an immediate recognition by the demon of the character and identity of the Lord Jesus Christ. When Christ approached these demons, many times they would call out and say, 'What have we to do with you, thou Son of God?" They used titles for him which the victims they were possessing were not at all acquainted with. There is often this immediate and strange recognition of the authority of Jesus Christ.
Further, there is always the presence of a totally distinct and different personality involved. In some cases many personalities were involved, as in the incident when Jesus asked the name of the demon and the reply was, "My name is Legion; for we are many" (Mark 5:9). Finally, there is the ability on the part of Christ to transfer demons from an individual to animals. How do you explain the case of the Gadarene swine? If demon possession is merely mental sickness, if it is only hallucination, or if it is some kind of schizophrenia, then bow can the demons have left the man and entered the swine, causing them to rush down the hillside and drown themselves in he sea? These cases simply do not conform to any clinical pattern of known mental disease.
A third factor is that Jesus himself invariably described these cases as demon session, and he treated them that way. In sending out his disciples he gave them authority to cast out demons. "Well," someone says, "we have an explanation for that. It is simply a recognition that Jesus was accommodating himself to the thought of the men of his day. They believed in demons and devils and he is simply speaking their language." But it is impossible to take that position and be consistent with the rest of the account Of Christ's ministry, for we see him constantly correcting misconceptions like that. On one occasion he said to his disciples concerning another matter, "If it were not so I have told you." He came to reveal the truth about things.
Throughout the Christian centuries there have been various outbreaks of demon possession described by missionaries in many lands. It is a rather commonplace phenomenon in many places in our world today. And it is significant, I think, that wherever Christian teaching spreads, the direct assault of these evil powers upon human life is kept in abeyance. Even secular teaching, which is based upon the Bible and Christian values and is moral and uplifting, has an ability to keep these manifestations under control.
But when education becomes purely secular and denies the Bible and God, then, even though men and women reject superstition and profess a degree of sophistication about these matters, this is not enough to keep these powers at bay. As our world grows more and more godless and more and more secularized, we will find an increasing tide of demonic manifestation creeping into our culture and insinuating itself into our civilized life. There is no power in man to withhold these or to stand against them.
When Christians are confronted with what we suspect is demon possession the one thing we are told to order to help such people is to pray. These cases of demon possession, Jesus said, yield to concerted and persistent prayer. Prayer is the recommended therapy in any case of this type. Let us give ourselves to prayer and nothing more.
For the sake of a balanced perspective, I must say I feel there is altogether too much. concern among Christians about this matter of demon possession. I know certain Christians who feel they must bind Satan before they do anything. When the go into a room to have a meeting, they will pray to bind the powers of darkness. I know others who ascribe every common problem of human life to some manifestation of demon activity.
The New Testament gives absolutely no warrant for this type of approach. The apostles very seldom mention the direct attack of Satan against human beings. There are a few instances of it, but after our Lord had physically left the world there seem to be a diminution of evidences of demonic activity. These dark were stirred up by his presence on earth, but to a large degree faded away after he left, so that in the Epistles we do not find the same concern for demonic activity as we do in the Gospels.
There is much about Satan in the letters of Paul but there is little of the direct attack of satanic forces. Nowhere do we read that Christians are instructed to go around binding the powers of darkness before we enter a room or that we are to ascribe all the common problems of life to demonic activities. The idea is not in the New Testament.
By far, the majority of the attacks of the Devil against Christians are not direct but indirect. That is why they are called the "Wiles" of the Devil. Wiliness means deviousness, circuitry, something not obvious. We need to examine this more thorough for the major attack of the Devil and his powers against human life is not by direct means, but indirect-by satanic suggestions through the natural and commonplace events of life.
Channels of Subversion
This indirect approach comes largely through two media or channels. One is what the Bible calls "the world," the other, "the flesh." We often hear the idea, "The enemies of the Christian are the world, the flesh, and the Devil," as though these were three equally powerful enemies. But there are not three. There is only one enemy, the Devil, as Paul brings out in Ephesians 6. But the channels of his indirect approach to men are through the world and the flesh. Earlier in Ephesians, writing to Christians, the apostle says,
And you he [that is, Christ, the stronger one," who comes to set us free] made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world [there is the first channel, the world], following the prince of the power of the air [there is a description of the Devil], the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:1-2).
He says, "Do not forget, you Christians, that you, too, once were following the course of this world-under the grip and in the control of the prince of the power of the air, the evil spirit which is now at work in all the children of disobedience." Further, he says,
"and these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh [there is the flesh], following the desires of body and mind ["Oh " you say "we were not aware of any control of the devil." No, of course not. You did what you felt like doing, the natural desires of the body, and the mind. You responded to these so-called "natural" stimuli], and so [because, we were doing these things, following the course of this world under the direction of the prince of the power of the air, and obeying the impulses of the body and the mind] we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Ephesians 2:3).
Do you see how consistently the Bible presents this picture? Now, the most basic of these two channels of approach to subverting the Christian life is the flesh. When the Bible speaks about the flesh, of course, the term is used in a symbolic sense. Many of us, when we approach middle age, are troubled with too much flesh. But that is not the sense in which the Bible uses the term. The flesh, in this context, is not our bodies not the meat and blood and bones of our physical life. It is a time which describes the urge to self-centeredness within us, that distortion of human nature which makes us want to be our own god that proud ego, that uncrucified self which is the seat of willful defiance and rebellion against authority.
You recognize that we are all born with this. None of us bad to go to school to learn how to do these things. Who taught us to lie? Who taught us to be proud and bitter and rebellious and defiant and self-centered? We never had to take classes in these, did we? We were all experts in them by the time we were ready to o to school. We were an born with the flesh, and- it is the presence of this which makes us sinners.
James calls this the wisdom which is from beneath, which is, "earthly, unspiritual, devilish" (James 3:15). Devilish! It is the Devil attacking indirectly through the essential character of human nature, distorting it, twisting it, and changing it from what God intended. Paul says in Romans, as J. B. Phillips translates it, "Everyone has sinned and has missed the beauty of God's plan" (Romans 3:23).
The Kingdom of Satan
The world, on the other hand, is the corporate expression of all the flesh-centered individuals who make up the human race. Since the flesh is in every one of them--acting satanic, devilish, sensual, earthly--the total combined expression of such beings constitutes the world and determines the philosophy of the world. It is that tremendous pressure of the majority upon the minority to conform, adjust, keep in step, not to digress or to be different. When the Bible addresses itself to Christians it says,
"Be not conformed to this world"; that is, "Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold." Why? Because the world is flesh-centered, flesh-governed, and as Jesus said to Nicodemus, 'That which is born of the flesh is flesh" (John 3:6). In order to be changed, it must be born of the Spirit. So this is the world-that human society which insists on satanic value judgments and is guided by satanic pride and philosophy. While the world is totally unaware o it, nevertheless, it is under the control of satanic philosophy.
Remember this--the aim, the goal of Satan in all this clever stratagem, by which he has kept the human race in bondage through these hundreds of centuries, is to destroy, to ruin, to make waste. That is his purpose toward you and me. A young man I know, who had been raised in church, though he is only twenty-one years old, has already become a mental and physical wreck. Why? Because he has turned aside from the truth and followed the philosophy of Satan. Satan is accomplishing his aim, destroying this life which God loves. That is what he is attempting to do with us. Against this, we who are Christians are called to bat not only for ourselves, as we will see in this account, but for others as well.
Battling against these forces of darkness is what makes human life possible on this earth. If Christians, who are the salt of the earth, were not giving themselves to an intelligent battle with Satan and satanic forces, fighting along the lines which Paul suggests--being "strong in The Lord and in the power of his might," it would be absolutely impossible for human life to exist on this planet.
If this were not going on, life on earth would be one horrible, unending bell. It is the presence of Christians-and those who are affected by their testimony and by their teachings--and the spread of the gospel throughout the world which makes possible those moments of enjoyment of life which even the non-Christian is able to know.
We thank you, Father, that the victory is already won. Thank you for the privilege we have of moving over into the kingdom of God, and for the chance to stop fighting a battle already lost and to begin to fight a battle already won. In Christ's name, Amen.
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