LCG Article

Know Your Adversary

Does Satan exist? What are his methods and his purposes? How do you combat his influence?

Douglas S. Winnail

Does Satan really exist? If so, what is he like, and what is he up to? For many, Satan is a devil with horns, a pointed tail, and a pitchfork, who entices unsuspecting people down the road to an ever-burning hell. Others are not so sure this is the case. Some feel that Satan is not a being who influences people from the outside, but merely a name given to an evil force that exists within every person. St. Augustine’s third-century philosophical notion that evil is merely the absence of good—in other words, that Satan does not really exist—is also held by some today.

But what is the truth on this matter? What can you prove from your own Bible? What advice do the Scriptures give for dealing with Satan? What do Christians need to know about this powerful spirit being?

Satan is Our Adversary

The Bible does not treat the subject of Satan lightly. Scriptural passages dealing with Satan are not written in a philosophical or speculative tone. Instead, the relevant verses are delivered in deadly earnest. The Apostle Peter was inspired to write, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8–9). Peter is warning his fellow Christians about a life-or-death matter. Peter cautions that we must be ready to resist Satan—indicating that it will not be easy. Numerous other scriptures make abundantly clear why Peter wrote so strongly on this subject. But where did Peter get the idea that Satan is our adversary? And why is it important for us to understand this subject today?

Satan is actually a Hebrew word used throughout the Old Testament that means opponent or adversary. As a verb, satan means to attack or to accuse. In the New Testament, satanas means the devil, or the accuser. In the Scriptures, God names people and creatures for what they are. Satan is referred to variously in the Bible as an adversary, an accuser, an enemy, an opponent, a devil, a serpent, and a dragon, whose sole focus is to deceive, divide, and destroy God’s people and defeat the purpose of God. The Bible refers to Satan as a very real and dangerous being—not a philosophical construction of the human mind or a product of superstitious mythology. But where did such a being come from? Did God create a devil?

Satan’s Origin

The inspired account of Satan’s origin is found in two chapters of the Bible. In Isaiah 14:12 we learn that Satan’s original name was Lucifer, which means “light-bringer” indicating that he was not evil from the beginning. Ezekiel 28:11–19 speaks of “the king of Tyre,” but the text describes a being that could not be human. Lucifer, who became Satan, the adversary, was created by God as “full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” with musical abilities and other talents (Ezekiel 28:12–13). He is described as “the anointed cherub who covers” who was “on the holy mountain of God” (v. 14). Satan was created to be one of two powerful spirit beings whose wings covered the throne of God. This is indicated by the models of two cherubs who covered the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle or temple in ancient Israel (see Exodus 25:17–22). To get an idea of what Satan looks like, study the descriptions of cherubs in Ezekiel 1:5–11 and Ezekiel 10.

The Scriptures reveal that Lucifer was perfect until “iniquity was found” in him (Ezekiel 28:15). Apparently, God has given even spirit beings free moral agency—the ability to make independent decisions. Lucifer became vain (Ezekiel 28:17). He developed ideas of personal grandeur that led to disastrous consequences. He asserted, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God… I will be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13–14). He actually attempted to take over God’s position by deceiving a third of the angels into a futile rebellion against God (Revelation 12:4). Lucifer became Satan, the adversary—by his own choice—as a result of a willful, rebellious sin. That sin perverted his thinking, corrupted his mind, and filled him with a violent nature (Ezekiel 28:16–17). But just what does all this have to do with human beings—especially Christians—today? Why does the Apostle Paul warn in 2 Corinthians 2:11 that we should not be ignorant of Satan’s devices?

Satan’s Methods

Satan’s rebellious actions resulted in his expulsion from God’s presence. However, the Bible reveals that he was allowed to remain—and still remains—the “god” of this world who blinds human beings to the truth of God and to the true nature of reality (2 Corinthians 4:4). When we understand how Satan operates, we can begin to understand why this world is in the condition it is. We can also begin to understand the nature of the temptations we all face and what we need to be able to resist.

Jesus stated that Satan was a liar and a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). He was referring, in part, to Satan’s use of lies to deceive Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1–13) and his role in cultivating Cain’s anger into murder (Genesis 4:1–8). Satan stirred Judas to betray Christ (Luke 22:1–6) and incited the Jews to kill the Messiah (John 8:38–44). Satan operates by deception. The Apostle Paul warned the church in Corinth, “I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3–4). Paul’s specific concern was false teachers preaching about “another Jesus… a different spirit… or a different gospel” (v. 4). The false, long-haired Jesus—who supposedly taught that we no longer need to obey the laws of God or be concerned about prophecy—is very different from the Jesus Christ of Scripture (see 1 Corinthians 11:14; Matthew 5:17). The idea that all Christians go to heaven immediately upon their death is clearly contrary to the true Gospel—that the saints will reign with Jesus Christ on this earth (see Mark 1:14–15; Revelation 5:10, 20:4–6; Daniel 7:26–27). However, Satan has—as the Scriptures say—deceived the whole world into believing in a different Jesus Christ and a different gospel (Revelation 12:9). Have you ever been misled by these lies? Many have been—today and down through the centuries.

The Spirit that motivated Jesus promoted love for God and one’s neighbor (John 14:15–18; 15:17) along with a teachable, peacemaking attitude (Matthew 5:9). That Spirit provided an ability to understand the truth of God (John 14:17, 26). The spirit that emanates from Satan is entirely different. Satan is wrathful and violent, an accuser and persecutor of the brethren (Revelation 12:10–13). He is a destroyer (Revelation 9:11–12). As the “prince of the power of the air,” Satan broadcasts attitudes that can be picked up by the unsuspecting human mind, which can then produce wrathful and disobedient behavior (Ephesians 2:2–3). Paul provides a detailed list of behaviors that Satan promotes: “adultery, fornication… idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness” (Galatians 5:19–21). These behaviors permeate our society today and are widely promoted by the media. However, such behaviors, if not recognized and controlled, can lead individuals and nations to destruction—which is one of Satan’s ultimate goals. This is why we must be vigilant and not be deceived by his methods. But why is this powerful spirit being out to deceive and destroy? Why is he our adversary?

Satan’s Purpose

As we have seen, Satan was once at the very throne of God. He understands the plan of God for mankind. He is out to thwart and disrupt that plan. The Scriptures reveal that God made men and women in His own image (Genesis 1:26–27). If we grow and develop the mind and character of God (Philippians 2:5) we will eventually be made eternal spirit beings (1 Corinthians 15:50–54) and have the opportunity to rule on this earth under Christ (Revelation 5:10; 20:4–6). In that capacity, we will replace the present god of this world—Satan. Human beings were created for the very purpose of becoming members of God’s divine ruling Family (1 John 3:1–3) and “joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16–17). Jesus came to this earth to show how to overcome Satan and his deceptive methods. Jesus had to endure temptations and overcome just as we must learn to do (Matthew 4:1–11; Hebrews 4:15; 5:8–9; 2:10–11; Romans 8:29). Satan understands God’s purpose for mankind. He knows he is to be replaced. He knows his time is growing short. This is why he walks about as a prowling lion seeking to deceive and destroy anyone who might become a future member of the Family of God. However, you do not have to be one of his victims.

Resisting Satan’s Temptations

Satan may be clever and deceptive, but God has given us warnings, instructions, examples, and a special weapon for combating Satan’s devices. Jesus warned repeatedly about being deceived (Matthew 7:15–20; 24:4–5, 11, 24). Paul informs us that Satan will even use ministers professing to be Christians to deceive people (2 Corinthians 11:12–15). Both James and Peter stress the importance of being able to recognize and resist Satan’s deceptive schemes (James 4:7–8; 1 Peter 5:8). When we sense our attitude becoming fearful, doubtful, accusative, angry, resentful, jealous, or lustful, we need to be alert to the source of those thoughts and begin directing our minds in a different direction. If we nurture feelings of unjust treatment or if we become resentful of constituted authority—in the family, in the church, or in society—we will be vulnerable to Satan’s attacks (2 Peter 2:9–15). If we become overly focused on ourselves, we could be on dangerous ground (2 Timothy 3:1–7). We must remain alert to the battle that goes on in our minds.

To help us in this challenging combat, God gives His Holy Spirit to those who are willing to repent—change—and obey Him (John 14:15–17; Acts 5:32). As we learn to nourish and exercise that Spirit, we will begin to show the fruits of it—strength, confidence, love, and discernment (2 Timothy 1:6–7). Additional fruits include, “joy, peace, longsuffering [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). The challenge that every Christian faces is to replace the works of the flesh with the fruits of God’s Spirit. In this world, influenced by the unseen yet powerful Satan, developing these godly fruits will be a constant challenge. However, the Bible clearly reveals that God will be with us if we do our part to seek Him, stay close to him, and strive to obey him (Matthew 28:19–20).

The reason Peter writes so knowingly and earnestly that we must be alert and resist our adversary is because he was blindsided on numerous occasions by Satan. He was plagued by doubts at critical moments (Matthew 14:26–31). He gave well-meaning but misguided advice to Christ (Matthew 16:21–23). He got caught up in a jealous rivalry with the other disciples (Luke 22:24–30). He denied Christ and lied to save his own life (Matthew 26:69–75). Yet Jesus told Peter—the sincere, though impetuous apostle—that “Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail” (Luke 22:31–32). Peter recorded his advice because he was aware of what Satan’s attacks were like and he understood Satan’s purpose. Peter also knew and experienced God’s help and support.

Big questions that face each of us are Do we know our adversary? and Do we understand what we are up against in our quest for a reward in the Kingdom of God? Do we recognize when Satan is focusing in on us, or does he repeatedly catch us off guard? Are we alert enough and close enough to God to sense when he is beginning to play with our thoughts, opinions, and perspectives? Do we regularly ask God for the strength to resist Satan’s attacks? Are we determined not to give in to temptations? This often means that we must do what we know we should but not what we feel like doing—which would be to take the easy way out. These are daily challenges we all face. We cannot afford to let our guard down and “go to sleep at the switch.”

The Bible clearly shows that Satan is real. He is a dangerous opponent of every Christian. His goal is deception, division, and destruction. He is out to thwart God’s plan of adding additional members to His divine Family. However, we can prevail if we know our adversary; we must follow God’s instructions, heed the biblical examples recorded for our admonition, and develop the fruits of the Holy Spirit that God makes available to those who love and obey Him. With God’s help, we can successfully combat and overcome our adversary