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 has strategies he sets forth 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 advances 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). Satan has been advancing his agenda for millennia and has become very knowledgeable and skilled in what works. Charles Ryrie states:

By his very longevity Satan has acquired a breadth and depth of experience which he matches against the limited knowledge of man. He has observed other believers in every conceivable situation, thus enabling him to predict with accuracy how we will respond to circumstances. Although Satan is not omniscient, his wide experience and observation of man throughout his entire history on earth give him knowledge which is far superior to anything any man could have.[2]

Satan attacks God’s people in order to hinder spiritual growth and ministry. 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. 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. For example, 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; Rev 3:8). 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). Thomas Constable states:

We know that Satan is behind all of our temptations having received permission to assail us from God (e.g., Job 1–2). He uses the world system and our flesh (sinful nature) as his tools. He also attacks us directly himself and through his angelic emissaries. God has given us specific instruction in Scripture about how to combat these attacks. We are to resist the devil (1 Pet 5:8–9), flee the temptations of the world system (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life; 1 John 2:15–17), and deny the flesh (Rom 6:12–13; 7:18–24; 8:13)…Satan has consistently aimed his personal attacks at getting people to doubt, to deny, to disregard, and to disobey the revealed will of God (cf. Gen 3:1-7; Matt 4:1-11). The world system seeks to get people to believe that they do not need God but can get along very well without Him. The flesh tempts us to think that we can find satisfaction, joy, and fulfillment on the physical, material level of life alone.[3]

Spiritual advance means opposition, but nothing more or beyond what God permits. The Christian who learns God’s Word and lives by faith will have the greatest impact for God in this world. Living by faith means we learn God’s Word and consciously trust Him as we apply it to our lives (Rom 10:17; Heb 10:38; 11:6). God’s Word is powerful (Isa 55:7-11; Jer 23:29; Heb 4:12), transformative (Psa 119:9-11; John 17:17), and moves the hearts of those who are positive to God (Luke 24:27, 32). Living by faith is the basis for renovating our thinking (Rom 12:1-2; 2 Cor 10:3-5), and advancing to spiritual maturity (Eph 4:11-15; 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18).

The purpose of this study is to learn how Satan attacks, so that we “will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:11). Our enemy, the devil, is a brilliant commander who has manufactured schemes or strategies (μεθοδεία methodeia) he employs against the human race, and God’s people in particular. The same term—μεθοδεία methodeia—is used of false teachers who engage “in deceitful scheming” (Eph 4:14), in order to trap immature Christians with false doctrine. William MacDonald states, “The devil has various stratagems—discouragement, frustration, confusion, moral failure, and doctrinal error. He knows our weakest point and aims for it. If he cannot disable us by one method, he will try for another.”[4] Satan has many demons and carnally minded people on his side, and he fights dirty. As Christians, we don’t go hunting for the devil; rather, we stand firm (ἵστημι histemi) against his attacks when he comes against us.

Knowing Satan’s strategies enables us to identify an attack and to defend ourselves by taking up the armor of God. Learning God’s Word and living by faith is the key to victory. Wiersbe states, “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.”[5]

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).[6] 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; cf. Dan 2:21). 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 His power (2 Cor 12:7-10). 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. 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’s lying influence is so great that he “deceives the whole world” (Rev 12:9). People lie for various reasons (i.e., to avoid conflict, avoid consequences, to promote self, etc.). Satan, like many people, lies as a means of controlling others and circumstances. The lie is a powerplay. It also destroys trust. Satan lied to Eve and deceived her to eat the forbidden fruit, and she gave some to Adam as well (Gen 3:1-7). Satan’s lie allowed him to gain control of the world (Luke 4:6; 1 John 5:19). Satan tried his lies with Jesus and failed (Matt 4:1-11). Satan sends false teachers into churches to cause deception and disruption (Matt 13:38-39; Acts 20:29-30; 2 Cor 11:4, 12-15; 2 Pet 2:1). John tells us, “Many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Through his false teachers Satan introduces “doctrines of demons” among God’s people (1 Tim 4:1). 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). Several things are noteworthy about Paul’s statement. First, he treats the account between Satan and Eve as an actual historical event, not myth (as liberal theologians do). Second, he shows the mind is the battleground where Satan often attacks. Third, Satan’s intention was to lead the Christians away from “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” The immediate danger in Corinth was the Satan-supported false teachers who came with false messages (2 Cor 11:4; 12-15). Satan will use anything as an allurement to draw us away from our devotion to Christ, even things such as family, friends, a career, an education, entertainment, suffering, prosperity, etc. Satan’s lies are intended to warp our perception of reality and get us to turn from God and His will. 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).

Third, Satan promotes uncontrolled anger. Paul wrote, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph 4:26-27). By itself, anger is not sinful. Even God gets angry (Num 25:4; Deut 9:8, 20; Jer 4:8). Human anger is a natural response to an injustice, real or imagined. We get angry because we feel someone has wronged us, and the personal scales of justice need to be corrected. Ideally, this happens when the offender comes and apologizes and seeks forgiveness, or makes restitution for damage. However, we cannot always control other people’s thoughts, words, or actions, but we can control how we respond. Paul tells us not to let anger last beyond the day. If we let anger fester, then by our choice we give the devil an opportunity to turn it into something greater, which can enslave us in bitterness. Solomon wrote, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city (Pro 16:32), and “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Pro 19:11). James said, “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does achieve the righteousness of God” (Jam 1:19-20). Harold Hoehner comments:

While believers may at times be legitimately angry (with righteous anger against sin; cf. John 2:13–16), they are not to sin. The way to prevent such sin is to “keep short accounts,” dealing with the anger before the sun goes down. The reason is that the devil would like to intensify a Christian’s righteous anger against sin, causing it to become sin itself. This then gives the devil a foothold (lit., “a place”), an opportunity for leading that Christian into further sin. Then anger begins to control the believer rather than the believer controlling his anger.[7]

Apostle Paul

Fourth, 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 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 (Rom 5:3-5; Jam 1:2-4; 1 Pet 1:6; 4:12-13; cf. 1 Thess 5:16-18).


Fifth, 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 28:15-17), 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.

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” (Ex 7:10-11; 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, lies, uncontrolled anger, uses suffering to pressure God’s people, masquerades as a messenger of light, 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] Charles C. Ryrie, Balancing the Christian life (Chicago Ill., Moody Press, 1994), 130.

[3] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Eph 6:11.

[4] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments, ed. Arthur Farstad (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1952.

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

[6] Taking a census was permitted under the Mosaic Law (Ex 30:12); but God did not instruct 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 21:5).

[7] Harold W. Hoehner, “Ephesians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 637.

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