Satan’s Tactics

By James M. Rochford

The Bible teaches that Satan has certain methods of operations. Paul writes, “Stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). The Greek word for “schemes” is methodia—the root from which we get our term “methods” or “methodology.” Likewise, he writes, “We are not ignorant of [Satan’s] schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11).

Why does he use the same tactics?

It might seem odd that Satan would repeatedly use the same tactics over and over. But like a pitcher’s knuckle ball or a fisherman’s lure, he might not change his approach because the methods are so effective on humans. In fact, even when we know that we’re being manipulated by one of Satan’s tactics, it is still very difficult to counter them.

It’s important to learn Satan’s methods, so that we are aware of who we are fighting. Theologian Merrill Unger writes, “Missions involving espionage are frequently as crucial to winning a war as actual battles. Without intelligence of the enemy’s strength and position, the results of any military encounter would be highly dubious. Yet believers sometimes display an obvious disinterest in what the Bible reveals about Satan and demons. Or, what is even worse, they manifest a morbid fear of such a study. This apathy or dread is almost as perilous as the opposite extreme of fanatical occupation with evil.”[1] What are Satan’s methods against believers?

Satan twists God’s truth

Satan is a masterful liar. Jesus said, “Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). Satan’s accusations were so persuasive that he convinced a third of the angels to rebel against God (Rev. 12:3-4). Commentators aren’t sure if this happened in the past or in the future. But the point is this: Satan is persuasive enough to even draw angels from God’s presence.

Readers might wonder how Satan could deceive angels, who had been in the direct presence of God. But Satan clearly persuaded humans to rebel against God—even though they were in God’s presence (Gen. 3:8). So this really shouldn’t be too surprising.

In Daniel 10, an angel comes to visit Daniel. Daniel writes, “His body also was like beryl, his face had the appearance of lightning, his eyes were like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a tumult” (v.6). He gives us a window into the nature of spiritual warfare. The angel tells Daniel that he heard his prayer (v.12), but he was held back for “twenty-one days” by the “prince of the kingdom of Persia” (v.13).

What could’ve lasted for twenty one days? While medieval paintings usually depict angels as battling with swords and spears, this seems to be anthropomorphic. When Jesus battles with Satan, he doesn’t arm wrestle or kick box him. Instead, he argues with him, quoting Scripture back and forth (Mt. 4; Lk. 4). Thus this angel in Daniel 10 was probably arguing—not physically fighting. The angel couldn’t leave this battle over truth, because if one lie was left unanswered, the power would’ve shifted. We might speculate that failure to retort false claims would be tantamount to admitting defeat. Matters of truth matter more in the spiritual realm.

This is why Paul writes, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Our method of battling the demonic is to “pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints” (Eph. 6:18).

Satan seeks to destroy humans

Satan’s life is ruined, and his future will end horribly. Thus he relishes in seeing the lives of people being destroyed as well. We see this in Job, as he destroys Job’s family, estate, and tortures Job with sores all over his body (Job 1-2). Jesus said, “[Satan] was a murderer from the beginning” (Jn. 8:44), and he “comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (Jn. 10:10). When people come under the influence of Satan, they regularly inflict self-harm. Mark 9:22 states that the demon “has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy [the possessed boy]” (cf. Mk. 5:5). He is probably restrained to some degree by God (Job 2:6). Otherwise, what would stop him from killing all people immediately?

In some cases, Satan uses persecution to scare and even kill believers. In many Muslim countries, it is a capital crime to lead someone to Christ. Church history is filled with persecution of this kind. For instance, the Huguenots were members of the Protestant Reformed Church (16th and 17th centuries). 200,000 of them were driven from France, and King Louis ordered them killed. Likewise, the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre resulted in 30,000 killed. We need to prepare and convince believers that suffering is the norm—not the exception for Christian believers (Mt. 5:10; Acts 14:22; Jn. 15:18-20; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Thess. 3:7; 1 Pet. 4:12-19). Moreover, when we endure persecution, we need to be sure to remember Jesus’ suffering (1 Pet. 4:1), show love and grace to our persecutors (Mt. 5:44; 1 Pet. 2:21-23), performing good works (Titus 2:10), persevering in God’s will (1 Pet. 3:17), and defending our faith graciously (1 Pet. 3:14-15).

Satan accuses (1) God, (2) us, and (3) fellow believers

During Zechariah’s time, Satan accused the high priest Joshua, but the angel of the Lord (Jesus?) interceded for the man.

(Zech. 3:2-5) The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. 4 He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” 5 Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the LORD was standing by.

The angel of the Lord explained this by saying, “[Joshua and his friends] are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch. 9 For behold, the stone that I have set before Joshua; on one stone are seven eyes. Behold, I will engrave an inscription on it,’ declares the LORD of hosts, ‘and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day” (Zech. 3:8-9).

1. Satan accuses God

Satan will often bring accusations to a person against God. Theologian Merrill Unger writes, “If his victim is an unbeliever, he whispers in his ear, ‘Don’t ever become a Christian! You will really ruin your life!’ If his target is a believer, he sneers, ‘Don’t be a fool and give your life to Christ! You really want to be miserable, don’t you!’”[2] We might add that he will tell a person:

“God is sadistic.”

“God doesn’t even exist… You’re fooling yourself over a myth.”

“God doesn’t care about you or your life.”

2. Satan accuses us

While God’s view of us never changes, Satan will make us feel filthy before God. He’ll tempt us into a certain sin by saying, “You deserve it… Just unwind a little bit.” But then immediately afterward, he’ll whisper, “You would get into that right before meeting with other believers? You’re a hypocrite and a fake!”

How do we know if a thought is coming from Satan, rather than from God? In order to identify fake currency, we need to hold it up to the light to see if the ghost-image of the figure is present in the bill. Similarly, when thoughts enter our minds, we need to hold them up to the light of Scripture.

Does the thought get you to dwell on your failures from the past?

“Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:13).

Does it make God seem sadistically restrictive?

“You shall not eat from any tree of the garden” (Gen. 3:1).

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10).

Does it contain a kernel of truth (a half-truth)?

“You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5; cf. Mt. 4; Lk. 4). This is a half-truth. They would be like God—but what a terrible cost! They came to base morality off of themselves, and it led to our fractured world.

Does it push you toward God or away from God? Does it push you toward or away from other believers?

Adam hid in the Garden—blaming Eve (Gen. 3:12).

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (Heb. 10:25 NIV)

Does it urge you to serve, or does it create a feeling of defeatism or fatalism? Does this make me feel stupid for trying to minister to others?

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal. 6:9).

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).

“Since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:1).

“Be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near” (Jas. 5:7-8).

Often, Satan will whisper, “You should quit serving Christ. You’re not getting anywhere,” or “Nobody wants to hear this. None of this will ever work.” He will even make us feel inadequate in following Christ altogether. Of course, this is a half-truth. The claims that you are unworthy are actually true enough. But, instead, you need to learn to serve under grace (2 Cor. 3:4-6).

Does the thought convince you that you’re so unique that God’s word doesn’t apply to you?

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

“It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” (1 Thess. 4:3 NIV)

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely” (1 Thess. 5:23).

Does it get you to compare yourself with others?

“When they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Cor. 10:12).

We might also ask: Do these thoughts make me feel worthless or hopeless? Would God ever want me to feel this way? Or is this something God would ever say about me?

3. Satan accuses fellow believers

Satan plays an integral role in causing suspicion in the Body of Christ (2 Tim. 2:26). He’s called “the accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10).

He might whisper, “People don’t love you around here… You could have deeper friendships elsewhere… They’re all talking about you behind your back.” He might get us to entertain the thought, “Your husband thinks you’re incompetent, worthless, and stupid… He’s thinking about other women at work,” or “Your wife thinks you’re weak. She’s disappointed in the way you provide for her. She’s jealous of your neighbor’s lifestyle.” If we don’t take these thoughts captive, this can lead to division.

Division in the Body of Christ is a serious sin. Paul says to “reject a factious man after a first and second warning, 11 knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11). He writes, “There may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25), and he writes, “[Be] diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). When we start to buy into Satan’s accusations against fellow believers, this makes communication and reconciliation very difficult.

Division is more often passive than active. Passive division refers to silently retreating from others in suspicion or distrust. Superficial love results in emptying the church of biblical love. Gossip would also be included here as well (Prov. 20:19; 1 Tim. 5:13; 2 Thess. 3:11; Prov. 11:13).

When we find division in the Body of Christ, it’s important to ask fellow believers questions like, “Do you think it’s possible that you’re deceived on this issue? How do you know? Do you think it’s possible that Satan is using your hurt feelings to cause division?” Those in the midst of bitterness rarely realize that their hurt feelings can be used to hurt others. We need to teach that the way to cure bitterness is not expecting others to grovel before us or to leave fellowship. Instead, the solution is to confront the person (Col. 3:16), forgive them (Col. 3:13), and seek mediation if necessary. If you find yourself feeling suspicious, ask a number of questions:

Is my suspicion based on objective knowledge and facts, or hearsay, my imagination, or circumstantial evidence?

Have I taken the time to suspend judgment until I hear the other side of the story from the person I’m suspicious of?

If the wrongdoing is real, is it significant? Or is this a common failing that people have all the time, and not important enough to make a big deal out of?

Am I being self-righteous? Am I upset about sin that is no different from what I do all the time? Can I recall times when I struggled with a similar problem? Should I show more grace?

Am I judging motives? Is it the deed (or the motivation I suspect) that upsets me?

If the problem is real and serious, am I prepared to help the person? Am I an armchair critic, or an engaged believer prepared to extend loving discipline or advice?

Satan fills believers with doubt

It is not a sin to doubt. Jesus healed a man’s son when the man made the affirmation: “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mk. 9:24). Jude writes, “Have mercy on some, who are doubting” (Jude 22). Moreover, when Thomas doubted Christ (Jn. 20:24), he was met with evidence—not judgment (Jn. 20:27-29). While unbelief is certainly sinful, doubt is not.

Doubt versus Unbelief



Wrestling with what God says

Refusing to believe what God says
Searching for evidence to support the Bible

Denying good evidence that supports the Bible

A crisis of our faith

A close-minded certainty against faith
Often stems from intellectual issues

Often stems from moral or spiritual issues


The Bible doesn’t emphasize our amount of faith, as much as it values the object of our faith. For instance, a man could be nervous to cross the Golden Gate Bridge—even though the bridge is structurally sound. And another man could be fully confident in crossing a rickety bridge—even though the bridge is dilapidated and falling apart. Here’s the point: Which man will cross the bridge safe and sound to the other side? Of course, the man with the small faith in the Golden Gate Bridge will get across safe and sound, while the man with the great faith in the unsafe bridge will perish.

In the same way, the Bible doesn’t emphasize the amount of our faith; instead, it emphasizes God, who is the object of our faith. Jesus told his followers that they could move mountains, if they had the faith of a “mustard seed” (Mt. 17:20).

Doubt is usually most potent during times of ministry failure, moral failure, or suffering. It is not a sin to have doubts. It is what you do with doubts when they emerge that matters:

Share your doubts with God and other Christians. This diffuses the accusation that no other Christians wrestle with doubt. They can also often provide answers to your doubts. Remember that everybody doubts.

Move TOWARD your doubts, rather than SUPPRESSING them. By suppressing doubt, it will pop back up like holding a volleyball under the water in a pool.

Study or get around believers who have a deeper grasp of the issues. Don’t freak out when someone comes to you and opens up about doubts. This doesn’t help. Instead, calmly walk through the doubt and read good material on the topic.

Check your personal walk with Christ. Lack of spiritual feeding and ministry will rob us of subjective personal assurance and make us more vulnerable to doubt. Willful rejection of God’s moral discipline may also make us vulnerable to doubt. When we don’t act in faith, cognitive dissonance develops (i.e. a contradiction between what you say you believe and what you do). Eventually, this dissonance drives out one or the other.

Learn to doubt your doubts. Redirect your doubt on other worldviews. Don’t reserve all of your skepticism for the Bible. Spend some time challenging other suggested answers to life’s questions. We live in a unique age of Christian scholarship. God isn’t going to be merciful for the lazy Christian thinker, who wouldn’t do the study. We are expected to fight for our faith, learn good answers (1 Pet. 3:15), and take our thoughts captive (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

Satan opposes the efforts of believers to spread the gospel

Satan opposes the spread of the gospel DIRECTLY. He diffuses the power of the gospel before a person can grasp what they have even heard. Jesus said, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart” (Mt. 13:19). Paul wrote, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel” (2 Cor. 4:4), and “Satan hindered” him in his ministry (1 Thess. 2:18).

Satan opposes the spread of the gospel THROUGH FALSE RELIGION. Paul wrote that idol worship is really “sacrificing to demons” (1 Cor. 10:20). McCallum writes, “Satan fosters religion that allows people to view themselves as gods, and by so guiding, he causes them to believe they’re close to God when in fact they are not.”[3]

Satan opposes the spread of the gospel through FALSE BELIEVERS. When Paul came to Philippi, a demon-possessed girl followed him around to distract people from Paul’s message (Acts 16:16-18). Paul warned, “[Satan’s] servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Cor. 11:15).

In our own day, false believers of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) make Christianity seem so strange and sadistic that they turn the message of the gospel into a message of hate. For instance, consider the lyrics in their parody of “Joy to the World” dubbed Doom to the World.”


Doom to the world

The time has come

For God to punish you

He listened to your blasphemy

He will ignore your cry and plea

No prayer will change his mind

No prayer will change his mind

It’s too late; it’s too late to change his mind


This nation’s lost

It’s way too late

For God to bless this land

We warned you not to marry fags

So many dead in body bags

But you ignored our words

But you ignored our words

There’s no excuse, because you heard the words

In 1996, Fred Phelps (leader of the WBC) led a protest against the US Holocaust Memorial Museum stating,

Whatever righteous cause the Jewish victims of the 1930s-40s Nazi Holocaust had… has been drowned in sodomite semen. American taxpayers are financing this unholy monument to Jewish mendacity and greed and to filthy fag lust. Homosexuals and Jews dominated Nazi Germany… Jews, thus perverted, out of all proportion to their numbers energize the militant sodomite agenda… Jews are the real Nazis.

This “church” consists of only 40 members, yet regularly garners the attention of national news! As it turns out, Fred Phelps’ children reported that he beat his wife and children with the handle of an axe, and his grown son Nate hasn’t spoken to him in years. His other son Mark left the WBC in 1973, and doesn’t believe his father is even a Christian. Since 2004, WBC has lost twenty of its small population of members. Even reading the quotes of the WBC makes us sick!

Similarly, Brother Jed travels to OSU’s campus every year to preach God’s wrath on the student population. Wilson Dizard (a student journalist) from the school paper (The Lantern) writes,

Each spring, Brother Jed makes his pilgrimage to Ohio State’s Oval. He comes with his wife, Sister Cindy, and fellow preachers Brother Bro and Brother David. “We want to teach and preach the Bible,” Smock said. “And prepare the students for their final exam – judgment.” Smock said the path to salvation is repentance of sin, belief in Jesus Christ and obedience to God. While this sounds simple enough, Smock found fault in seemingly normal student behavior. “God’s going to be tanning your hide for good one of these days,” Smock yelled to a shirtless man tossing a Frisbee. “He called me a stupid Jew,” said Corey Washer, a sophomore in psychology, referring to Smock’s partner, Brother Bro. “He said there would be another Holocaust at the end of time and since I did not accept Jesus, I would die in this Holocaust,” Washer said. “He also said the first Holocaust was divine punishment for the Jews’ rejection of Christ.” L.J. Hose, a sophomore in political science and international studies, recalls Brother Bro saying “slavery was God’s will for black crimes.” “They say all Muslims go around killing people,” said Michelle Mendel… But Mendel, who is a Muslim, did not leave the circle of students around the preachers, saying she shows up “mainly because this is hilarious.”

By flooding the market with fakes, Satan makes true Christians blend in as wackos or extremists (cf. Marjoe Gortner in “Marjoe” 1972 Academy Award for Best Documentary Film).

Satan opposes the spread of the gospel through MANIPULATED BELIEVERS. After Ananias and Sapphira brought hypocrisy into the early church, Peter asked, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?” (Acts 5:3) Paul said that believers should “escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:26). This doesn’t refer to demon possession, but just, manipulation. When believers fall prey to Satan’s lies, this becomes a slippery slope. The logic of disbelieving God in one area can quickly be used to disbelieve in another.

Satan opposes the spread of the gospel through CORPORATE DECEPTION. We see church leaders who direct millions of believers, who themselves don’t even believe in the Bible. Other leaders place additional sources of authority alongside the Bible (e.g. Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.). In extreme examples, church authorities tortured Anabaptists for teaching that adult converts to Christ should be baptized again.

While churches in the episcopal model of church government solve this problem through a hierarchical approach, this is misguided. If leaders become distorted, then who corrects them? Instead, the solution is to have public reading of Scripture (1 Tim. 4:13), good hermeneutics (2 Tim. 2:15), and learning “not to exceed what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6).

Satan inhibits believers by the SLAVERY OF SIN. Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (Jn. 8:34).

Return to “Satanology”

[1] Unger, Merrill. What Demons Can Do to Saints. Moody Publishers: Chicago. 1991. 17.

[2] Unger, Merrill. What Demons Can Do to Saints. Moody Publishers: Chicago. 1991. 32.

[3] McCallum, Dennis. Satan and His Kingdom: What the Bible Says and How It Matters to You. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2009. 52.