Tucked into Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is this phrase: “…for we are not ignorant of the schemes of the devil” [2 Corinthians 2:11]. It’s a curious statement because it implies a foregone conclusion that these Christians knew the strategies the devil used to attack them. That’s profound to me because I’m not sure how many Churches can say their members are aware of the devices of the devil. Our culture often presents the devil, usually dressed in red or with red eyes and so on, as some unpleasant caricature with horns looking to scare us. If we take this portrayal too seriously, we can be fooled into thinking that our enemy is obnoxious and overt, rather than a clever and subtle adversary meticulously plotting our downfall.
To understand the schemes of the devil, we must first remember that we are creatures. One sage pointed out that a creature is a dependent being whose principle of existence comes from another, not itself. Consequently, the proper disposition of a creature is obedience to its creator. This expectation is commonplace in everyday life. For instance, a computer programmer expects his software to function as designed, and an inventor expects his invention to behave in a predetermined fashion. When the things we create don’t behave as expected, we claim something is wrong. It’s C. S. Lewis who once said that: “from a moment a creature becomes aware of itself as self, and God as God, the terrible alternative of choosing God or self for the centre (i.e., who is pre-eminent in its life) is open to it. The devil slithers in as we wrestle with this conflict, and he aims to get us to choose self.
From the beginning of creation, all God ever asked of us was obedience – not because our compliance adds anything to Him, but because it’s the best possible thing for us. Because He’s a loving Father, God gave us the freedom to choose to obey or disobey Him. I used to wonder why God took such a risk. But I’ve now realised that without that freedom, we couldn’t love Him. I only know my wife truly loves me because no one is forcing her to do so. In God’s kingdom, our love for Him is demonstrated in our obedience to His commandments [John 14:15]. However, our willingness to obey God is tested when our desires are at odds with His commandments. Some of us our vulnerable in these moments, so our sinister foe, a liar and a murderer [John 8:44], shows up with seductive alternatives to obeying God. Like a trojan horse, his alternatives will only lead to our demise. It takes a conscious effort to resist his enticements.
I wonder how many of us spend our days oblivious of the fact that we have a cunning adversary prowling around like a lion looking for an opportunity to devour us [1 Peter 5:8]. If we aren’t wise to this fact or aware of how he attacks, how can we resist him [1 Peter 5:9]? I tell myself that burying my head in the sand doesn’t change this fact, and neither does ignoring nor fearing the devil. Both reactions give him the upper hand. Simply put, anyone who declares their allegiance to Jesus is Satan’s target, whether they believe it or not. The only way he leaves you alone is if you’re already part of his kingdom. So, if I do nothing, I’m easy prey, and the worrying thing is that I’ll be unaware of my predicament until the consequences begin to manifest [Proverbs 7:6-23].
Amazingly, the devil went after Jesus shortly after His 40-day fast in the wilderness. He knew who Jesus was, and the Bible stresses that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit after He returned from the wilderness [Luke 4:1-2]. The timing baffles me, as does the nature of the temptations. Satan audaciously questioned Jesus’s identity [Matthew 4:3] after His Father had already declared who Jesus was [Matthew 3:17]. Didn’t he hear that declaration? Next, Satan tested Jesus’s understanding of the character of His Father by cunningly misappropriating Scripture [Matthew 4:5-7]. Lastly, he tempted Jesus with the trappings of this world [Matthew 4:9]. These were real temptations to Jesus because He was fully human. Being the only witness, Jesus ensured His experience was documented for posterity because we would face the same temptations.
The devil has no new tricks, but His methods are effective. He always tries to sow doubt after God has already spoken concerning us and our circumstances. Satan knows what God has said about you, but do you? Are you unreservedly persuaded by what God has already declared? What doubts do you currently have? What decisions are you making as a result of those doubts? God says: “give me first place in your life, and I’ll give you everything else” [Matthew 6:33]. Yet, does how we spend our time and resources reflect that God is number one in our hearts? How many of us chase the trappings of this world to the detriment of our relationship with God? Has money, ambition, power, relationships, work, ministry, fame, etc., usurped God’s place in our lives? How about misappropriating God’s word for self-serving means? Do we have the wisdom, humility and willingness to rebuff this temptation? Do we recognise the devil at work as we face these temptations? Are we consciously choosing God or self?
As Jesus demonstrated, we need God’s word to resist the devil. Obviously, we’ll be easily manipulated if we don’t know what God has said. But, just knowing God’s word isn’t enough. We must understand its principles and be able to appropriate it wisely [2 Timothy 2:15]. Then, we can deploy it with wisdom to rebuff the temptations we face. This is warfare that lasts a lifetime. Are you battle-ready [Ephesians 6:10-18]?