by Mike Sullivan

The Subtle Strategies of Satan


Revelation 12:9-11

Teaching t07969

People don't take Satan seriously. How could they after watching Dana Carvey play the church lady on Saturday Night Live? His famous line, "Could it be... Satan" is part of our popular language; it reflects the widespread belief that Satan is a mythological figure, occupying the same category as Easter Bunny, unicorns and Santa Clause. He may be primitive man’s attempt to personify the abstract concept of evil in the world, but nothing more than that.

But the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, teaches that a personal being named Satan exists, a being who is bent on keeping human beings away from God and destroying them. If you’re open to the possibility that God exists, I would encourage you to be open to the possibility that other beings exist as well. In this case Satan – a spiritual being who is opposed to God.

Video highlighting the way Satan is portrayed in the popular media.

The video, like our culture tends to focus on dramatic things that Satan does or is imagined to do. Linda Blair rotating her head 360 degrees in the Exorcist. Tonight I want to consider what we’re more likely to encounter: The Subtle Strategies of Satan (Ppt).

Subtle ways he tries to lead us away from God.

Our base text is Rev 12:9-11

In this text Satan is described as a great dragon, the serpent who deceives, and the accuser of the brethren. (show each name in vs 9,10 on Ppt)

These three names describe 3 ways Satan attacks but more than that they reveal his utter devotion to destroying people.

His first role is that of accuser (Gary's Rev 12:11 grid on Ppt).

Satan says that you are unworthy of forgiveness, that you have no business following God, that God is offended by you and wants nothing to do with you.

What's our countermeasure? We resist him with "the blood of lamb."

The blood of the lamb is a reference to the blood Jesus shed when he died on the cross. His blood covers, washes away our sin so that God can accept us as is, dirt included.

If we ask Satan, "Will God ever accept me?", his answer is a resounding NO. The blood of the lamb tells us otherwise. It shows the depth of God love for us and his desire to have a personal relationship with us.

I want to focus on another face of Satan: Satan as the serpent who deceives. Consider this passage:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. - 2 Cor 4:3-4

Satan here is referred to as the "God of this world." And Paul claims that Satan is bent on keeping humanity apart from God and in darkness.

The implications are profound. If this passage is true, then…

…you, if you're here today and don't know Christ, have been blinded from the real truth.

…what you think is really important, what you think really matters may not matter at all.

…there is a big piece of the puzzle, a big part of what life is really all about that you and many others may be missing.

e.g. Have you seen the Matrix? It's a great flick. In the movie, all of humanity is kept in bondage by machines. In reality, the machines use people like batteries to provide them with energy. But to keep humans from rebelling, the machines create a virtual world for people to live in called the Matrix. In this scene, Keanu Reeves is learning for the first time that his whole life has been lived in the Matrix, and that what he thought was real was an elaborate lie.

Matrix clip

This passage is saying that mankind is in a similar situation. That the "wool has pulled over our eyes," that human beings are being kept in darkness by Satan, the god of this world, a malevolent being bent on our destruction.

I know what you're thinking. This guy has seen one too many movies! Come on, this is too fantastic to believe! But if the Bible is true (which we could make a strong case for if we had time) then this is the situation mankind is in: locked in deception.

How does Satan deceive? Primarily through seduction.

I'm not using this word like they do on Melrose Place, where seducing someone means getting them to sleep with you.


By seduction, I mean "leading away." Satan seduces us by moving our focus off of God and onto something else. It doesn't matter what, as long as it isn't God!

e.g.. If you want to take a toy away from a baby, you can't just grab for it. The baby will hold on tight and start to cry. First you have to get a rattle or some other toy and shake it in front of him. When the baby becomes captivated by your rattle, he will drop the toy in his hand without even realizing it.

In a similar way, Satan wants to seduce and distract us so that we "drop" God and pick up something different.

What does Satan hold before us to captivate our attention and keep us from God?

Pampered chef cookware? NFL football? Key Lime Pie?

As captivating as those may be to some of us, thankfully there is nothing intrinsically wrong or Satanic about them. If pampered chef cookware is of the devil then my kitchen is a den of iniquity!

Actually - Satan holds our attention with something much more sophisticated - something the Bible calls "the world."

The Greek word most often translated world in the NT is "kosmos."

It can refer to the physical earth that God created. - Acts 17:24

It can refer mankind that God loves. - John 3:16

But "the world" that Satan uses to seduce us away from God is something different.

It is a "a system of false values, an 'atmosphere', a climate of thought, originated by Satan, that he uses to keep people in darkness." (Ppt)

Here is the world (show picture of man who is trampled down in the mud with a footprint on his face). This is from an advertisement in Wired magazine for Internet stock trading software: The company's slogan: "Our apologies to the meek and the world they shall not inherit." A value is being promoted here (crush people who get in the way of your self advancement), a value that is opposed to God.

The world is in the media. It's in our educational institutions. It's in our popular literature. It's in the movies and music. And it's even in our churches.

Not that everything in these institutions is evil (e.g. I learned a lot of valuable things in college), but the Bible urges us to beware, to realize that as we are interacting in these different arenas we’re being exposed to a system of values that can lead us away from God.

e.g. Coming upstairs after a day of painting a basement and realizing you've gradually been effected by paint fumes.

The world is like that. The apostle Paul describes it an atmosphere. It's the prevailing attitudes, values, and priorities all around us. We breathe it in, we breathe it out, and we're effected by it, whether we're aware of it or not, whether we believe in God or not.

"The world is an atmosphere, a mood. It is nearly as hard for a sinner to recognize the world's temptations as it is for a fish to discover the impurities in the water. There is a sense, a feeling that things aren't right . . . but just what it is eludes analysis." (Eugene Peterson, quoted in Stephen Eyre, Defeating the Dragons of this World (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1987), p. 19)

Where does this definition of the world as an atmosphere, a system of values come from? Many passages use the word kosmos world in this way. One of the clearest is in 1 Jn 2:15-17.

I John 2:15-17 read

In this passage, "world" doesn't refer to the physical globe or to humans alienated from God. Instead, the world is comprised of three things, three values that are opposed to God: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the boastful pride of life.

Satan holds these three false values before us, persuades us that they are "what we need, what will make us happy, what will be GOOD for us, etc."

e.g. When I was a teenager, my family went spent our vacation at Virginia Beach. One day, as I stood in the sand, I noticed a large wave moving in. My sister Meri was on a raft in the water facing me. I instantly thought, "wouldn't it be funny if that wave broke and knocked her off the raft." The flesh is weak. She had no idea the wave was coming. I yelled and waved to her to keep her distracted. I didn't want her to see the coming danger. Finally, the swell rolled in, broke, and threw her off the raft. My plan to keep her eyes off of the coming wave worked.

This is the purpose of the world and it's values. Satan uses them to them keep our eyes off the big wave, off a great danger that is looming: the possibility of living our whole lives so distracted by these values that we never find God.

Let's take a closer look at Satan's rattle, if you will, the values he uses to distract us:

1. The "Lust of flesh" is an inordinate desire for physical pleasure - HEDONISM

e.g. This is the potato chip principle - you can't eat just one. It's the law of Ben and Jerry's. It's 11pm, I'm hungry, and I need a pint of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream right now!!!

The lust of the flesh takes a legitimate need - like hunger - and extends it beyond need to obsession so that in trying to satisfy it, we hurt ourselves or others.

The lust of the flesh takes a legitimate desire - like having sex - and urges us to satisfy that desire NOW regardless of the consequences

The lust of the flesh wants gratification, NOW, whatever the cost.

And here's the kicker...

e.g. have you ever opened the lid of a grand piano, pressed down the loud pedal and sung a note. Do you know what happens? The piano signs back to you. The cord that most closely matches your voice resonates.

According to the Bible, we're like that piano. When Satan opens our lid and yells his values through the world around us, we resonate, it appeals to the part of us the Bible calls our sin nature. He yells, it strikes a cord with us, and our sinful nature says "Yes, that is exactly what I need." And the result is that we're led astray from God.

Can you relate to this? It rings true, doesn't it?

2. The "lust of eye" is when we see something and get an inordinate desire to obtain it. - MATERIALISM

e.g. Have you ever seen the home show they run on network TV Sunday morning. They show video clips of houses while a narrator describes them. "This 5 bedroom, 2 and 1/2 bath home is nicely appointed with a 3 tier deck and covered jacussi." I could watch this show for hours. I like to imagine owning those homes. And when it's over I feel a need for a new house that wasn’t there before.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong homes and decks and other things. But isn't it true, that like the lust of the flesh, what we see can consume us?

We can easily derive our sense of meaning, significance, security, etc. from owning and enjoying them. Like the lust of the flesh, we look at things instead of God to meet our basic needs.


e.g. I've had a few experiences sitting in traffic in my 11 year old Toyota Tercel where someone my age will pull up next to me in a 2000 Ford Explorer. I look over at him (actually up, and over). He's sitting higher than me, better dressed, obviously making more money, chatting away on his cell phone, probably on his way to the airport to vacation somewhere exotic and interesting. I know what he's thinking - that guy in the Tercel is on the fast track to nowhere. Then I get a sudden, intense urge to buy myself a bigger, nicer car.

We're captivated by the lust of the eyes when we look at things like that Ford Explorer, instead of God, to boost our value and sense of self worth.

Little things…

The lust of the eyes is not just about big toys. It can relate to the time we take to focus on and fuss over the little things as well.

"Satan the deceiver understands his business well. Anyone who can keep you feverishly hunting for the Perfect Deodorant without letting you realize what an ass you are is supremely competent." John White, The Fight, p. 90.

This is funny because it's true. We have so many little choices to make (toothpaste - tartar control, brightness, cavity prevention; home decor - tuscan, colonial, art deco). And it's not without cost. Are you going to spend every evening for a week reading consumer reports ratings so you can pick the perfect leaf blower, or are you going to spend time with your daughter? Are you going to hop on E-trade and tweak your investment portfolio with every shift in the stock market or are you, perhaps for the first time in your life, going to devote a week or two to investigating the possibility that God might exist?

Little decisions about what our eyes see distract and seduce us from the big ones like what do about God.

3. The "Boastful pride of life" is an inordinate desire for the praise of men. - EGOTISM

e.g. This is tough area for me. I want to be respected and listened to. When I speak, I want a hush to fall across the room. I want to see people listening attentively, craning their necks to hear. I like to hear second hand that good things are being said about me.

Now there is nothing wrong with having a healthy sense view of yourself — knowing that you are a significant person who can accomplish valuable goals, impact others, etc.

But the boastful pride of life wants more than that. It looks to praise and recognition to inflate one's sense of value and self worth.

Can you relate to this? e.g. Have you ever caught your self day dreaming that people you respect were saying great things about you?

Praise and recognition is volatile stuff. We're supposed to pass it along to God like firemen passing on a water bucket to put out a fire. But we stop and keep it for ourselves.

C.S. Lewis, in his book Christian Reflections, points out that like it or not, our significance is derivative. As Christians we are significant - but we derive our significance from God by being forgiven, adopted and gifted by Him.

Instead of living in humility and gratitude for this derived significance, the boastful pride of life tries to attain significance independent of God, based on other humans' approval.

This is what pride is all about

C.S. Lewis says it best: "Pride is a fall - a fall of the creature's attention from what is better, God, to what is worse, itself." C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, p. 7.

God wants us to have a healthy appreciation for how valuable we are. He sent that message when he died for us. But he's opposed to egotism and prideful self importance.

So, there are the values that the world, the kosmos, is characterized by. We need to know them, be able to identify them, and reject them.

How can we resist the seductive power of the world?

1. Make time to investigate the claims of Christ

Often when I ask people what they think about God they say they haven't put much though into it.

Maybe you're the same way. You've been too busy, you've had too much on your plate, you're too preoccupied to look into it.

According to the Bible, you're being preoccupied is no coincidence. That's by design. That's how the world seduces us and prevents us from ever knowing God.

During this brief window in your busy life that you're spending here, I want to take the opportunity to show you an important truth about God, a truth that the world is designed to conceal:

Eph 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast.

Surprising isn’t it? If you interviewed people at Easton, on the OSU campus, or at other places where people gather and asked them, "what do you need to do to be accepted by God?" 9 out of 10 would probably say, “be a good person.” Satan, the accuser, wants people to think, "I need to clean my act up and get my life together first, then I can approach God."

That’s not what is being said here. Instead, our starting point is faith.

Putting our faith in Christ is our first act of resistance to the world’s seduction.

"And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" - 1 John 5:4-5

Notice, here, as in Ephesians 2, the emphasis is on belief/ faith.

You probably didn't walk in here thinking about God, and an hour after this teaching you probably won't be either. If fact, you could easily live the rest of your life and never give this offer of a relationship with God another thought.

I urge you not to do that. Investigate the claims of Christ. This is too weighty an issue to put on the back burner. If you haven't decided what to do about Christ, make it a priority to look into it and make a decision whether or not to put your faith in him.

Is it possible for a Christian to be seduced, distracted by the world from pursuing God? Even after being given a heads up like this in 1 John 2? Of course it is, and we’ve all been there. I brought another clip from the Matrix. It focuses on Cipher, a character in the movie who knows the Matrix is a lie designed to hold humans in bondage. He gets tired of life and in the real world and asks the machines to plug him back into the Matrix, back under their domination.

Show Matrix clip.

Obviously, making the choice Cipher made is something we want to avoid. How can Christians avoid being distracted by the world’s values?

1. Actively pursue spiritual growth and ministry.

If God doesn't want us to pursue to lust of flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life for fulfillment, what does he want us to pursue?

When we do open bible, and see God's priorities, we realize that people are what matter to God most.

"For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy." - 1 Thessalonians 2:19,20

Aside from God and the truth, people are the only things that last forever.

We need to replace the values of the world with loving other people. Unless we fill the void with serving people in a meaningful way, we will likely be drawn back into the kosmos.

It’s interesting how Paul always couples rejection of worldly values with a positive replacement:

1 Tim 6:11 - But flee from these things, you man of God; and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.

2 Tim 2:22 - Now flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

WE can’t just say no, no, no! to the world’s values, we have to turn towards a positive replacement.

I didn't begin to see real victory over besetting sin in my own life until I was practically involved in serving other people. When I started meeting friends to show them what I was learning in the Bible and saw the impact I was having in their lives, going back to old habits seemed less attractive.

Type A personalities, listen up. If you don't actively and aggressively pursue serving others, you are going to get bored, your going to look for fulfillment elsewhere... most likely back in the world.

To avoid being distracted by the world, we have to actively pursue spiritual growth and ministry.

2. Take corrective steps when needed

Christian or not, we all get seduced by the world from time to time.

e.g. How many times in a relationship with someone have we realized we're looking to the person, and not to God, to meet our deepest needs? "I’m not acting for this person's benefit (as much as I’d like to think so). What I’m doing is taking. I’m looking to them, instead of God, to make me feel secure." The same thing can happen at school, in our career, and in many other areas.

If we wake up and realize we've been seduced like this, if we've dropped God and grabbed for something else, James urges us to make changes:

James 4:4-5 - You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"?

You won't find this passage on a wall plaque at the Christian bookstore. But periodically we need to check our heart and humbly recognize that we've gone astray. Once we've done this, we need to take practical steps to return our focus to God.

e.g. Think about a sin like adultery. What type of life changes in your life would you be willing to make if you were being tempted to betray your spouse? You would have to avoid being around the person you're attracted to, start talking with close friends about your struggles, and possibly pursue counseling. Deliberate action would be needed to protect your relationship with your mate.

We'll need to be just as deliberate about restoring our relationship with God anytime we're seduced by the world.

e.g. My friend no is longer playing drums in a popular band. Being a musician placed demands on his time, thoughts, and energy that took his focus off of God. He weighed out what was important to him, and decided to stop playing drums for a while.

e.g. A few years ago I took a full time job at OSU and was planning on going back to school to earn a PhD. I was a new father and leading a new home group at the time. It dawned on me that I couldn't pursue a PhD and hold down a full time job and have a vital relationship with God and a strong ministry and a healthy home life at the same time. Something had to go. PhD's aren’t evil, but it wasn’t the right time in my life to get one. It wasn't worth compromising my relationship with God or the quality of my ministry and home life.

Music is great. There's nothing wrong with playing in a band. I still hope to get a PhD. But sometimes even good things can threaten to steal our affection away from God. When that happens changes are needed. We’ll face many decisions like this that seem small, but really have a momentous impact on the quality of our relationship with God and our usefulness to him.


As John says in Revelation 12, Satan truly is the serpent who deceives. But we can resist the seductive power of the world he has set up to distract us by (1) taking the time to investigate the claims of Christ (2) actively pursuing growth and ministry, and (3) taking corrective steps when needed.