What Satan is Doing in Our Lives and Church
What is Satan is Doing
in Our Lives and Our Churches?
Every day I or my wife handle at least one dispute between our children. At some point, the question is asked of one or both of them, “What is going on?” We want to know who did what. Who is responsible for the hurt and who needs to ask for forgiveness? Who needs to receive it?
We do this everyday in all of our relationships, too. We lay blame at people’s feet (or praise). We create narratives in our minds about why things happen. When situations are ambiguous, or we do not know the whole story, our minds creatively fill in the gaps. We make assumptions.
Assumptions are things that we consider to be true even when we do not have absolute proof. Why did such and such happen? “I assume it was because __________ ”. We don’t really know, we just make an assumption. Sure, some assumptions are more credible than others. But they are assumptions all the same. We say that every day. We hear that every day.
Are we creating assumptions which include a biblical understanding of Satan’s work in our lives and in our churches? What is going in the circumstance that you are facing today? No matter how big or small the situation is, do you calculate Satan’s part? Is Satan in the narrative that you create in your mind about what is going on in someone’s life (much less your own)?
It would advantageous to us to carefully consider Satan’s ways and ends. Satanic and demonic activity is as rampant today as in the times of the New Testament. Satanic work is often minimized down to demonic possession. But that is actually just a small portion of what the Bible says Satan does. In fact, the first work of Satan toward man in all history is not demonic possession. It is not getting kids hooked onto drugs or Rock ‘n Roll. The first thing that Satan did was get Eve to question God’s word. That is Satanic! The first time his voice is heard in Scripture he asks Eve, “Did God actually say…?” (Gen 3:1). And what does Satan say next? A flat lie. “You will not surely die” (Gen 3:4). The first and most subtle work of Satan is to get us to question God and believe a lie.
Satan deceived Eve with intent to kill. Thus in John 8, Jesus says of those who think Jesus is possessed himself, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
This is happening all around us. You don’t have to be “possessed” to do Satan’s bidding. Many will live Satanic enough lives simply by being persuaded.
And the question I want to ask is this — do we see this narrative in our lives and the life of our local church? When we question why something is happening or what someone did, do we consider the Satanic narrative throughout scripture as a component of our assumptions?
Satan (“that ancient serpent who is the Devil” - Rev 20:2) is still working the evil he sowed in the garden.
What is Satan Doing?
You may want to give time to these passages in more detailed study. But let this list of Satan’s work (thorough enough, though incomplete) help you see what Satan has been doing and continues to do today.
- Satan lied to deceive Eve. (Gen 1)
- Satan stood against Israel and incited David to distrust God. 1 Chronicles 21:1
- Satan was allowed to take Job’s possessions (even family). Job 1
- Satan is seen standing by Joshua the High Priest accusing him. Zechariah 3:1-5
- Satan tempted Jesus, trying to deter him from the ministry of the cross. Matthew 4
- The Devil sows seeds, sons of the evil one, in the world. Matthew 13
- Satan tempted Jesus for 40 days in the wilderness. Mark 1
- The Devil takes away seeds of faith planted in hearts. Luke 8
- Satan bound a woman for 18 years. Luke 13
- Satan filled Ananias’ heart to lie to the Holy Spirit. Acts 5
- The Devil oppresses people to the point they need healing. Acts 13
- Satan described as a power we should turn from. Acts 26
- Satan tempts due to lack of self-control. 1 Corinthians 7
- Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 2 Corinthians 11
- Satan was contributed for harassing Paul. 2 Corinthians 12
- The Devil takes opportunity when we go to sleep in anger. Ephesians 4
- The Devil schemes. Ephesians 6
- Satan hindered Paul from meeting other Christians. 1 Thessalonians 2
- Satan coming with all power and false signs and wonders. 2 Thessalonians 2:9.
- The Devil sets snares for believers to fall in and become prideful. 1 Timothy 3
- The Devil snares and captures some to do his will. 2 Timothy 2
- The Devil has the power of death. Hebrews 2
- The Devil prowls like a lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5
- The Devil has children in the world. 1 John 3 & John 8
- Satan contends with angels. Jude 9
- Satan is throwing some Christians into prison. Revelation 2
- Satan is the great accuser of our brothers. Revelation 12
Satan is a central character and player in the biblical narrative of creation and redemption. He is always lurking in and among God’s people. I mean, he incited David! We cannot rightly understand our world, grasp the glory of Christ, or wade through the waters of our relationships without seeing Satan in the gaps. We're playing with chess pieces which are invisible to the players.
And do not think that our church is off limites to Satanic attacks. As HB Charles said, "Satan will persecute the church. But if he can't kill the church, he'll join it".
Syllogisms and Seeing Satan’s Work
How can we tell if Satan is behind something? One of the things which Job and Jesus taught us is that we will not always know unless God wants us to know. As Donald Rumsfeld said in regard to reports of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2002:
Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know.
Job never actually knew the behind-the-scenes moments in Job 1 where Satan speaks with God. Peter would’ve never interpreted his life as encountering Satanic activity if Jesus hadn’t told him “Peter, Satan has requested to sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). But this has been revealed to us in Scripture. We have a better viewpoint than Job! We know what kind of work is going on in spaces of time and existence that we can’t see with our eyes. So how do we train our spiritual eyes to see spiritual things? How can we recognize satanic work?
I want to suggest we adapt a syllogistic approach. A syllogism is a rhetorical and philosophical tool for testing reason. I’m not asking us to get philosophical. But we can borrow from how syllogisms work. I think this is how Scripture wants us to be on the lookout for satanic work.
What is a syllogism? It is best understood with an example.
All flowers need light. (true)
Roses are flowers. (true)
Therefore, roses need light. (valid, believable proposition)
Now make that into a way in which we could spot satanic activity.
Sally lied to John. (true)
Satan tempts people to lie. (true)
Satan tempted Sally to lie to John. (valid, believable proposition)
These are valid and believable syllogisms. Is it possible that Sally lied to John solely because of her own sin and in no way because of Satanic temptation? Of course. Technically speaking, that means there may be a conflict in the Sally/Satan syllogism because it is possible Satan did not cause her to lie. But a syllogistic mindset says, “I know how Satan works. I know what he does. So when I see Sally lying, I do not only hear what is coming out of Sally’s mouth. I see a spiritual reality and spiritual possibilities too!”
This changes the way we respond to one another entirely! Sally doesn't need to fight John. Sally needs to help John fight Satan.
Imagine someone strolls onto your front yard shouting and screaming. You know what I think about shouting and screaming? I think it can be really annoying. So maybe you or I would rush toward the front yard ready to scorn the screamer. “Keep it down out there. I’m trying to get some peace and quiet!”. But what if when we come out to the front porch we find they are shouting because a snake has bitten them on the heal and won’t let go? Now it’s a different situation.
We can’t always see the serpent. But he is there working, tempting, accusing, and scheming.
I’m not really suggesting that we think a new way. We think in syllogistic terms all the time. Have you taken your car to the repair shop recently? If so, did you try to mimic the squeals and growls emanating from under your hood to the mechanic? If so, the whole shop was probably laughing at you. But also, you proved that you already reason in syllogistic terms. You think that if the mechanic recognizes the sound, he or she will know exactly what is wrong (or at least where to look). Why?
“Whar-whar-whar-whar” is the sound of a dead alternator. (true)
Your car is making the “whar-whar-whar-whar” sound. (true)
Therefore, your car has a dead alternator. (valid, believable proposition)
Scripture teaches us what Satan sounds like so we can recognize where and how he is causing problems.
To be clear, seeing Satan at work in our lives and others does not absolve anyone of personal responsibility for sin. As a child, I once yelled out to my brother, “Shut Up!” (words and tone not favored in the Loudin household). When confronted, I told my mother, “The devil made me do it”. Well, even if I was more theologically profound than I knew at the time, my mom didn’t discipline Satan that day. Rightly so!
But it would have been within biblical teaching to say, “Nathan, the devil didn’t make you do it. But that doesn’t mean the devil wasn’t inciting you (like he did David), tempting you (like he did Jesus), or harassing you (like he did Paul)”. Likewise, we and all those around us are living in a world where Satan is still doing what he did to Job. Satan has not changed since tempting Jesus in the desert. Satan is still prowling around like a lion, seeking someone to devour. He still lies and leads us to question God.
So when we see our family, our church, or even ourselves taking the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, know that there is a serpent in the garden. Know that in certain spaces of everyone’s life there is a devil who is work. Knowing what we know about Satan, what could be going on in someone else’s life?
What do we do?
Countering Satan’s Every Move
Learn Satan’s Tactical Moves
Look for Satan’s every move. We’re in a real-life version of the best spy thriller you’ve ever read. Think ahead of him. Paul says in Romans 7:21, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” It's a law. We can expect it and should not be surprised. We all live in a world governed by laws, such as gravity. There is this law, too. Every time your spouse or your church member wants to do good, evil lies right around their corner.
What happened the other day when the wheels seemed to fall off in your relationship? What happened when they sinned grossly against you or others? Where in the world did that social media post come from? Why did he speak to me like that? Assume there is Satanic activity involved, and know Satan’s ways.
Equip Yourselves Biblically and Oppose Satan Together
For the sake of length, this section can’t be all that is needed here. But consider how we equip ourselves to fight Satan. A few examples:
Ephesians 4:26–27 - Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (ESV)
Did you think about not going to bed angry as a tactical move against Satan?
Ephesians 6:10-11 - Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
The implicit command in all the equipping of the saints (Eph 4-6) is that we are doing this together — with and for each other (Eph 4:1-6). When you go to military training, you are not trained for the purpose of merely saving your own life. You go to fight a common enemy and protect those around you.
Read Ephesians 4-6 as it details for how we directly oppose Satan’s work as one church together.
Jesus prayed for his followers like this,
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:14–15 )
Jesus intercedes on behalf of those who are his — those who believe in him. Jesus looks to the Father to keep us. When it comes down to it, we are powerless before the dark forces. We are powerless without God’s armor and without God. Our peace in this battle comes not from our training, not from our expertise, but from trusting God keeps us from the evil one.
This, too, was Jesus’ encouragement to Peter (Simon).
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.…” (ESV)
Resist in Humility
James 4:6–7 But [God] gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
The posture of resisting the devil is not standing up with your chest puffed out telling the devil “Go ahead! Give me your best shot!” The posture for warring against Satan is humility before God. Submit to God. In whatever sin the Devil tempts you with — whatever sin you are tempted with — resist. Stand opposed to him. Firmly say no to gossip, anger, words that tear down, division, laziness, and all that is of Satan.
Call it What it Is
When we are talking with others and engaging with others, gently ask where Satan may be at work. Ask questions of each other:
Where is Satan in all this?
How do you see Satan tempting me based on my description of the situation?
If Satan had his way with me, what would I do in the situation?
What lies of Satan could be replacing truth we are believing?
Is what I/you/we are doing supporting of Satanic or Godly purposes?
Which particular peice of the armor of God is most needed for opposing Satan in this?
Include Satan in the narrative and fight Satan together. It is so wonderful when two Christians realize they are wearing the same armor and fighting under the same banner to oppose a common enemy (instead of each other). Oh, how often that actually is key to resolving conflict. Turn from facing and opposing each other to stand shoulder to shoulder together and oppose Satan together — helping each other stand in the armor of God!
Trust God for Satan’s End
Unless the Lord returns and renews all things, Satan will be around until the day we die. Don’t lose heart that this battle rages on. Victory is not merely in this life. The last enemy to be defeated is death itself (1 Cor 15). Jesus conquered all opposing powers when he rose from the dead! Death itself, Satan’s greatest power (Heb 2), is overcome!
More so, go forward with confidence and fearlessness in what end Satan will face. You’ll have a final and new relationship with Satan very soon.
For your obedience is known to all,
so that I rejoice over you,
but I want you to be wise as to what is good
and innocent as to what is evil.
The God of peace will soon
crush Satan under your feet.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
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