In a world of shysters and cons, you are wise to be alert to their strategies. When at the train station in Rome, pickpockets are everywhere so keep money and important documents secure. When you receive internet requests for money, ignore them. When you are promised a 10% return on your investment, don’t give up a penny. And when you have an enemy who is always out to get you, stay current with his schemes.
Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Cor. 2:10-11)
Here is a kind of security check on Satan’s strategies.
Expect subtlety. Don’t expect heads to turn 360 degrees or basso profundo from a small girl (like in The Exorcist). Instead, expect well-timed questions and appeals that ring true, both when times are good, as they were in Eden, and when times are hard, as they were in the wilderness.
Expect accusations that God is stingy. Satan’s opening words are, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1.) He questions God’s words, goodness and generosity. Often he waits until we have lost something dear to us because that’s when the stinginess accusation has the most resonance. How does the Apostle Paul respond? God rains lavish grace on us (Eph. 1:3-14). He holds back no good thing.
Expect suggestions that the consequences for sin are overstated and its benefits understated. Satan’s next words to Eve are, “You will not surely die” (3:4), then he goes on to say that there will be benefits to her sin. He sticks with the theme that God is stingy and hints that God is deceptive. We hear echoes of this in Psalm 73 where the psalmist is on the brink of spiritual insanity when he sees bad people prosper. And we hear echoes of the myth of sin’s benefits in every single sinful act and thought. Paul counters this with, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).
Expect hints that God is impersonal and distant. In Genesis 2, God is always “Lord God,” which is his personal revealed name that connotes faithful love (Ex. 34:6-7 adds more detail to this name). But following the serpent’s lead, Eve uses the more generic and impersonal name “God” (Gen. 3:1-3). Note Satan’s subtle but brilliant strategy in this name change. It would be like someone trying to elicit doubts about my wife’s commitment to me by referring to her “the Cavanaugh’s daughter.” If I responded with that same name, I would be distancing myself from her and the resulting conversation would not go well. But if I said, “You obviously do not know her, because she is my wife—we are done talking” then we are headed in the right direction. In other words, instead of letting Satan define what you call God, be prepared for his devices with your favorite names for the Lord, such as “My God,” “My Father,” “Jesus the Christ, My Lord.”
Listen to yourself. Do you hear anger or lies? When we have been under Satan’s influence, we are angry and live deceptive lives in the shadows. As such, Paul gives these two matters priority as we turn from sin.
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Eph. 4:25-27)
With lies, be on high alert to white lies, blame, self-justification and cover-ups. With anger, since we can be blind to it, best to ask someone else if it is becoming part of our native language.
Notice when you have forgotten that you are cleansed from past sins (2 Cor. 2:10-11, 2 Pet. 1:9). The scam is cleverly devised. Suggest that sin is no big deal, and then, when someone is duped, bring on its full force. Satan does this either by encouraging habitual sin to the point of a numb conscience, which leads to death, or by suggesting that there is no forgiveness for the agitated conscience, which also can lead to death. Our response? To remember the death of Jesus for sins and his resurrection that assures his sacrifice was sufficient. These always have the last word. Sin revealed and confessed, forgiveness remembered and applied—these are inextricably connected.
We live in an era when Satan’s power is limited but he still prowls around like a lion. Our security remains a major concern. These are just some of the clear ways that the Spirit prepares us.