What are Satan’s Schemes? (Part 1)
What is Satan doing today? Depending on who is asked, the Devil is either responsible for just about every evil thought, deed, and event or he’s a mere theological construct existing in people’s minds along with the tooth fairy. One cowers in fear at the unseen, the other dismisses the invisible, usually rejecting the supernatural altogether. As for the latter, German theologian, Hans Hubner, once commented, “A belief in the devil has lost its plausibility. Whoever today still feels threatened by the devil or believes in fangs is probably himself in the fangs of a fanatical sect.” Nevertheless, Satan’s schemes are more than “plausible.”
When C. S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters, he recognized this tendency of people to gravitate toward such extremes. On the one hand, denying the existence of the Devil and his minions and on the other, speculating far beyond what Scripture teaches.
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
Toward the end of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:11). There is much that can be said about this armor, but it’s the last phrase that draws our attention here.
Satan is the “devil”, the chief slanderer of God and His people. Since the beginning, he has sought to undermine the Word, wisdom, and redemptive work of God (Gen 3; Job 1; Matt 4). Even now the church must be sober and alert because, “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8).
Paul says we must stand against the devil’s “schemes.” This word refers to “craftiness” and is similar to our word “methods.” Satan employs cunning methods and wicked schemes in his onslaught against the church. Fanciful ideas about these schemes abound. Some believers think Satan can possess believers, read our minds, is omnipresent, and personally behind every bad thing that happens in one’s life. However, he doesn’t possess us, read our minds, or undermine everything because he doesn’t have to. The schemes of the devil are far more subtle than this.
His schemes are far less sensational than what many might think. What we usually find in Scripture is Satan exploiting common situations in the lives of believers. Richard Sibbes said, “It is Satan’s practice to go over the hedge where it is lowest,” thereby gaining a foothold that has often been provided by the believer himself. So how does this ancient foe exploit the people of God? Following here are a few areas often overlooked because they lack the lurid melodrama of a Frank Peretti novel, but they are far more serious if ignored.
What are Satan’s Schemes?
1) To exploit carelessness in our walk with Christ (Eph 6; 1 Pet 5:8)
In Ephesians 6, Paul commands believers to stand in the full armor of God, abiding in His all-powerful grasp (v. 10). This is a life of marked by truth, integrity, and righteousness (v. 14), gospel readiness (v. 15), abiding faith (v. 16), standing in salvation truths (v. 17a), and firmly wielding the Spirit’s sword—His Word (v. 17b).
Paul commands this because believers often fail to see what is theirs in Christ. In a similar way, Peter knows that suffering can lead to carelessness in our walk, so regarding Satan he says, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert” (1 Pet 5:8). To not “take up” what the Lord has provided is spiritual negligence (Eph 6:13) that leaves the believer prone to a weakened faith.
2) To foster perpetual immaturity among believers (Eph 4:14)
An immature church is a church whose spiritual fortifications have been breached. Using the same word “schemes” earlier in Ephesians 4:14, Paul says, “We are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” Churches must embrace biblical leadership (Eph 4:11) so that the church is equipped for ministry (Eph 4:12) resulting in Christ-like growth in the body (Eph 4:13).
The work of Satan easily flourishes in spiritually immature congregations where solid food is rejected and vital spiritual health is dismissed in favor of the latest silly fad or bloated movement. We must heed such warnings: “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim 4:1). A steady diet of healthy teaching helps believers graduate from milk to solid spiritual food and over time, through practice, they learn to discern good and evil (Heb 5:14).
3) To exploit division in the church (Eph 4:26–27)
In a number of passages, Paul specifically connects the work of Satan with varied temptations in the church. One such occasion is Ephesians 4:26–27. He says, “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.” While Paul does seem to be arguing for a righteous anger that is not reactively caustic and sinful, implied is that most anger does indeed lead to sinful responses.
Jerry Bridges wisely cautions, “I suspect that much of our anger is not a result of significant injustices or wrongs against us but is the manifestation of our own pride and selfishness.” When we allow anger to fester and dominate our fellowship we are opening the door for Satan to exploit our communion.
Paul Lamey is the pastor of one of our nine TES campuses, having served as pastor of preaching and leadership development at Grace Community Church in Huntsville, AL since 2002.