Satan’s Strategies to Defeat God’s People

The Bible reveals that Satan is the enemy of God and he attacks His people. Peter warns us, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8).[1] In his efforts, Satan employs strategies to accomplish his purposes. A strategy is a plan of action one creates and employs in order to achieve an objective. Satan’s major objective is to make himself like God and rule in His place (Isa 14:12-14). But there is only one sovereign God (Isa 45:5-6), and He keeps advancing His own agenda, which cannot fail, because He cannot fail. However, Satan’s desire, like his reasoning, has been corrupted by his pride (Ezek 28:17). We might say he’s mad. Because Satan cannot touch God Himself, he goes after His people, seeking to frustrate our efforts as best he can. Sometimes he’s permitted to have his way.[2] We help him when we think and act like him. But we guard ourselves against his attacks when we humbly submit ourselves to the Lord by learning and living His Word on a daily basis.

In this article, we will consider six major strategies Satan employs to attack God’s people and hinder spiritual growth and ministry. The purpose of this study is to learn how Satan attacks, “so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor 2:11). Knowing Satan’s strategies of war enables us to identify an attack and to defend ourselves by putting on the armor of God. Learning God’s Word and living by faith is the key to victory. “Everybody in this world lives by faith. The difference between the Christian and the unconverted person is not the fact of faith, but the object of faith. The unsaved person trusts himself and other humans; the Christian trusts God. It is your faith in God that is the secret of victory and ministry.”[3]

Fallen angel     First, Satan promotes sinful pride. Sinful pride tempts us to think we don’t need God, believing we can operate independently of the Lord, not obeying His Word or seeking Him in prayer. God hates pride. Pride was the sin that brought Lucifer down, as we are told of him, “Your heart was proud because of your beauty; and you corrupted your wisdom on account of your splendor” (Ezek 28:17 NET). The angel, Lucifer, became Satan when he set his will against the will of God (Isa 14:12-14). Satan takes every opportunity he can to promote sinful pride in others. Solomon wrote, “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD” (Pro 16:5a), and “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Pro 16:18). Uzziah was king of Judah and God had blessed him greatly. But Scripture tells us, “when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the LORD his God” (2 Ch 26:16a). When David was king, we are told, “Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel” (1 Ch 21:1).[4] From the divine perspective, we know God was angry with Israel because of some unnamed sin (2 Sam 24:1), and He permitted Satan to have his way so that the nation might be judged and humbled. Satan was glad to initiate this attack, and David’s pride was the open door for national disaster (1 Ch 21:2-7). Afterwards, David humbled himself before the Lord (1 Ch 21:8-15), demonstrating humility by obedience and sacrifice (1 Ch 21:16-30). Another example of pride is seen in Nebuchadnezzar, who was a great king, but like others, sought to live independently of God. God came to him in a dream (Dan 4:1-18), which Daniel interpreted as a revelation about the king’s downfall if he did not humble himself (Dan 4:19-27). The dream was intended to help Nebuchadnezzar realize “that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Dan 4:25). God’s revelation was a warning not to steal His glory. But Nebuchadnezzar’s pride kept him from accepting God’s message, and twelve months later (Dan 4:29), the king said to himself, “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan 4:30). Afterwards, God judged him with a mental disorder that drove him to live like an animal for seven years (Dan 4:31-33). After his period of suffering, Nebuchadnezzar obtained humility and recognized God’s sovereignty, and he praised Him as He deserved (Dan 4:34-37). Unfortunately, not everyone responds to God’s corrective suffering, and there are many who die in their pride (Rev 9:20-21; 16:9-11). Humility is what God wants in His people. Humility is a lowliness of mind in which we realize our impoverished condition to function apart from God, His provision and power. The humble person seeks God and His will above all else and relies on Him in everything, praising Him for His goodness.

     Second, Satan is a liar who twists God’s Word. Jesus said of Satan, “Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44b). Satan lied to Eve and deceived her to eat the forbidden fruit, and she gave some to Adam as well (Gen 3:1-7). Falling for Satan’s lies had lasting consequences upon the creation and the human race (Gen 3:8-24; Rom 5:12; 8:20-22; 1 Cor 15:21-22). Satan still promotes lies; and his lies are intended to get us to turn from God and His will. Paul was concerned about the Christians at Corinth that they would fall prey to Satan’s falsehoods and wrote to them, saying, “I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor 11:3). Satan twisted Scripture in his efforts to lead Jesus away from the Father’s will, and three times Jesus resisted Satan by the proper use of Scripture (Matt 4:1-11). Knowing God’s Word helps us identify Satan’s lies. Applying God’s Word by faith enables us to resist Satan’s attacks. The Christian mind is the battleground, and “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).

Apostle Paul     Third, Satan uses suffering to pressure us to turn from God. Satan can, on occasion, afflict God’s people with suffering (Job 1:1-2:10; Luke 13:16; Acts 10:38); but this is only done with the Lord’s permission. Satan’s use of suffering is intended to get us to turn away from God, who is the source of life, goodness, and strength. Job is the classic example of a believer who was attacked by Satan (Job 1:1—2:10). Though Job suffered greatly, he understood his life was in God’s hands and he kept faith, saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). And on another occasion he said, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him” (Job 13:15a). Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). Satan’s request was granted. But the Lord also told Peter, “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Peter did return to the Lord and was strengthened (John 21:15-17). The apostle Paul knew suffering and said, “there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me” (2 Cor 12:7). Paul understood the reason for his suffering, and twice said it was intended “to keep me from exalting myself” (2 Cor 12:7). Paul prayed three times for the Lord to remove his suffering (2 Cor 12:8), but God denied his request, saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9a). God refused to remove Paul’s suffering because it kept him humble and close to the Lord. Paul accepted God’s answer and, by faith, said, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9b-10). The key for us as Christians is to trust in God’s love and goodness when we face Satan’s attacks against our flesh. This is a faith response not born of feelings or circumstances.

sheep-wolf     Fourth, Satan masquerades as a messenger of light. Satan was created as a beautiful cherub (Ezek 28:12-14), and he retains all his outward attractiveness. Inwardly he is prideful (Ezek 28:15-16), and this is part of what makes him dangerous. Satan uses his outward appearance as a disguise to deceive others, and many of his messengers do the same. Paul wrote, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Cor 11:14-15). The Pharisees were satanic deceivers. They referred to themselves as God’s children, saying, “we have one father, God” (John 8:41b). But Jesus said of them, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father” (John 8:44a). The Pharisees were very religious. They read the Scriptures, prayed, fasted, offered sacrifices, and spent much of their time at the temple. Jesus said they had “seated themselves in the chair of Moses” (Matt 23:2). This was because they coveted positions of power. Jesus said, they “tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders” (Matt 23:4), they “do all their deeds to be noticed by men” (Matt 23:5), and they “love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men” (Matt 23:6-7). But Jesus also revealed their true identity as “hypocrites” (Matt 23:13-15), “blind guides” (Matt 23:16-19), and those who “neglect justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt 23:23). Outwardly they look attractive, “but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence” (Matt 23:25), and are “like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt 23:27), and “outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt 23:28). Jesus established policy for His disciples when He told them on a previous occasion, “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matt 15:14). He also warned them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt 16:6), by which His disciples understood leaven to refer to “the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt 16:12b). Knowing God’s Word helps us identify and avoid Satan’s beautiful messengers, who outwardly appear righteous, but twist Scripture and promote false doctrines.

     Fifth, Satan accuses us before God. The apostle John tells us Satan is “the accuser of our brethren”, and he “accuses them before our God day and night” (Rev 12:10). This activity goes on in heaven before God. But there’s good news, because “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Jesus continually defends us based on His shed blood (1 Pet 1:18-19), and He clothes us in a robe of righteousness (Isa 61:10; cf., Phil 3:9). When Joshua the high priest was accused by Satan in heaven as being defiled with filthy garments unbefitting a high priest (Zec 3:1-3), the Lord handled the problem directly.

He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” Again, he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the LORD was standing by. (Zec 3:4-5)

God then charged Joshua to “If you will walk in My ways and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house and also have charge of My courts, and I will grant you free access among these who are standing here” (Zec 3:7). Paul, who wrote to the Christians in Ephesus, describes God’s great mercy and love toward us (Eph 2:4), and even though “we were dead in our transgressions, [He] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:5-6). As a result of our heavenly position in Christ, we should now live holy and righteous lives before the Lord. Paul states, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). God, who makes us right in heaven, calls us to live rightly on earth. Our performance in life should represent our position in heaven.

     Sixth, Satan empowers his false prophets to perform miracles in order to deceive. When Moses was executing God’s plagues upon Egypt, it is recorded that three times “the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts” (Exo 7:10-11; cf., 7:21-22; 8:6-7). Moses warned the Israelites who were about to enter the land that they should guard themselves against false prophets and dreamers of dreams who arise and give them a “sign or wonder”, and then seek to lead them away from God (Deut 13:1-4). Jesus warned of “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matt 24:24). And Paul spoke of the coming Antichrist, “whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Th 2:9-10). Those who know God’s Word and live by it will guard themselves against the deceiving power of false miracle workers.

Satan desires that we turn from God and His Word and live independently of Him. He promotes sinful pride, twists God’s Word, uses suffering to pressure God’s people, masquerades as a messenger of light, accuses us before God, and empowers false teachers to perform miracles in order to deceive. Knowledge of God’s Word informs us about Satan’s strategies, and the humble believer who lives by faith will be able to stand when he attacks.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

  1. The Gospel Message
  2. The Sovereignty of God
  3. Standing Against the Forces of Darkness  
  4. Satan as the Ruler of the World
  5. Satan’s Evil World-System
  6. Demons and How They Influence mankind
  7. Holy Angels and How They Influence Mankind
  8. Restoring Fellowship With God
  9. Steps to Spiritual Growth
  10. The Filling of the Holy Spirit
  11. The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer

[1] Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard Bible (The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[2] Christians who are advancing spiritually and engaging in effective ministry pose a threat to Satan’s agenda. Naturally, he will oppose our efforts and try to hinder us. Paul wrote, “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us” (1 Th 2:17-18). We’re not sure why Satan was permitted to hinder Paul and his companions. Though frustrated, Paul continued to seek the Lord and to minister where an open door presented itself (Acts 14:27). But an open door of ministry does not mean there will be no opposition. In fact, Christian ministry often means there will adversaries, as Paul wrote, “I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Cor 16:8-9). Jesus told the church at Philadelphia, “I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name” (Rev 3:8).

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Strategy of Satan: How to Detect and Defeat Him (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996), 95.

[4] Taking a census was permitted under the Mosaic Law (Ex 30:12); but God had not instructed David to do this thing, and David’s motivation was pride, so that he would have an idea about the military strength of his kingdom (1 Ch 21:9).

About Dr. Steven R. Cook

Dr. Steven R. Cook is a Christian educator. He is protestant, non-charismatic, and dispensational. Studies in the original languages of Scripture, ancient history, and systematic theology have been the foundation for Steven’s teaching and writing ministry. He has written several Christian books, dozens of articles on Christian theology, and recorded more than seven hundred hours of audio and video sermons. Steven currently serves as professor of Bible and Theology at Tyndale Theological Seminary, and hosts weekly Bible studies at his home in Texas.
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