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THE SCHEMES OF THE DEVIL

by bruno sebrechts  
3/16/2021 / Bible Studies


The Devil’s Boots Don’t Creak.

In 2 Corinthians 11:3, Paul refers to the reality of Satan’s hidden schemes. Our enemy is a cunning genius who does not announce his presence or actions as he surrounds us, trying to distract us from our pure devotion to Christ. Knowing this should help us to keep a humble attitude and dependency on God.

Some Christians believe that wherever God is at work, there is immunity to seducing spirits. This not only contradicts Scripture,[1] but also the history of revivals[2] and what is happening in modern-day churches.[3] Satan seeks opportunities to interfere and cause confusion wherever God is at work. He attempts to thwart every work of God, preferably unnoticed, by sowing weeds among the wheat (Matt 13:25).[4] The “offspring of vipers” were drawn to John the Baptist (Luke 3:7). There is an old saying: “This is rottenest of all: the devil lurking behind the cross!” Lesson one in spiritual warfare is to heed the Scripture’s warning that the devil is crafty (Gen 3:1) and that he will exploit every opportunity he can find (1 Pet 5:8). To engage in deliverance ministry is to meet spiritual attacks, but we dare not presume to interpret those attacks according to our level of insight. Enemy attacks are, first of all, a major reason to draw closer to God, for we cannot fathom the realm of darkness, but Scripture offers us simple instructions to remain protected as long as we stay humble.

Warfare

“Weapons of our warfare … to the throwing down of strongholds” (2 Cor 10:4).

Paul compared the spiritual conflict to the wars of this world. Can secular military tacticians reveal lessons about the schemes of the devil?

Here are some quotes from a famous general of ancient China:

  • “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”
  • “Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”
  • “Take advantage of the enemy's unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.”[5]

Exhaustion and Starving

Our enemy knows that the easiest way to undermine our spiritual lives is to cut its source. In the Old Testament, we read several times of enemies using the strategy of exhaustion by starvation (Jdg 6:4; 2 Kngs 6:24-33). Reading God’s word and regular times of prayer are necessities for a healthy spiritual life. Apart from it we will get exhausted and are headed for defeat.

The Devil Creates Confusion

“… not to be quickly shaken in your mind, … either by spirit or by word” (2 Thess 2:2).

When an outsider once took part in a deliverance session, the demons involved reacted (using the voice of the victim) against his participation, pretending to fear his presence and his methods. Ultimately, he had a devastating influence on the course of the session, for their cries inflated his ego and seduced him into using unbiblical methods, trusting his own assumptions.

Another example is how the enemy sometimes pressures or entraps us in our presumptions. A new ministry opportunity arises that God has not called you to. Aware of this, the devil may pressure you into pursuing it while pretending to attack you. You conclude that his attacks imply that he does not want you to accept this task, which makes you all the more determined to go for it. And with the attacks to cease the moment you commit yourself, you feel confirmed. You are probably right about Satan attacking you, but overall, you failed to interpret the situation correctly. He did not attack to keep you from this new ministry, but to deceive you into accepting this task. He shored up the deception by inciting you to blame every criticism about your move as demonic. Blindly following your own feelings and interpretations gives the devil plenty of opportunities to play such games. He is like an expert boxer who feints and threatens, only to finally attack you from an unexpected angle.

Using God's Word to Substantiate Deception

"How do you say, we are wise, and the law of Yahweh is with us? But, behold, the false pen of the scribes has worked falsely" (Jer 8:8).

A beautiful love poem can inspire us to treat our spouse with more dedication and love. The same poem could also spice up an adulterous relationship, for its message touches the deepest human emotions. In the Bible, marital love and adulterous love are both compared to dripping honey (Song 4:11; Prov 5:3). This same principle relates to dealing with the word of God. It can touch people deeply, even when it is used improperly.

The devil tempted Jesus in the desert by quoting Scripture: “He then took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and said, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written: “He will give his angels charge concerning you …”’” (Matt 4:5-6). The devil is able today to carry believers up to heights of excitement in their religious activities, to seduce them to reckless claims and thrills—even using Scripture.[6]

Cherry-Picking Bible Verses

The enemy responds to human impatience and eagerness to get what they desire (2 Tim 4:3). “Kingdom Now” theology claims that all the blessings of the future kingdom are currently obtainable, and “Word of Faith” teachings have similar excessive claims. Signs of the Kingdom emerge in our physical world at times (Mark 16:17), but we are still defined by fragility and physical constraints (2 Cor 4:16). Signs and wonders are part of gospel preaching, but not arbitrarily claimable (Matt 4:3–7; John 7:3–6). The enemy sows confusion whenever we lose our sobriety.

Worry and Fear

“… the cares of this age, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things …” (Mark 4:19).

Satan can distract us if worry and anxiety dominate our thoughts, and he may overwhelm us with all kinds of conclusions, instead of seeking the peace that comes from resting in God as we commit our worries into his care. Worry, fear, and subjective judgements of people and situations are the devil’s playground, however sincere we may be. They hinder sober insight and provide poor counsel.

Abuse of Ambitions

“A zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Rom 10:2).

The enemy tries to manipulate our spiritual hunger and eagerness. Consider someone who eagerly desires to be “anointed.” He meets a teacher with nice-sounding but unbiblical doctrines, who prays for him and lays hands on him. When he experiences something inside, he is convinced that he has received a special and holy anointing. Deception takes root, for he has been focusing more on experiencing a particular sensation than on any deep and sincere call to live in obedience. His new “anointing” causes new levels of boldness and a loss of humility, and when the Holy Spirit challenges his boldness by inner unrest, he views the unrest as attacks from the enemy. The unrest is thus suppressed and out-voiced by more bold claims, with support from other like-minded believers.

Premature and Wrong Diagnoses

“He who gives answer before he hears, that is folly and shame to him“ (Prov 18:13).

Secular aid organizations often face real and sometimes false allegations, for example, of sexual abuse. False accusations can cast the credibility of genuine victims in a bad light. The same applies to unsubstantiated reports about secret societies, conspiracy theories, or ritual abuse. False rumors and slander can be just as devastating as direct attacks on real victims.

While being aware of secret and extreme practices, we should avoid jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions and remain focused on general biblical principles of spiritual life.

Counterfeit Experiences

“Satan masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14). Spiritual experiences or “revelations” containing accurate information or insights can seem impressive. The big question is not about the accuracy of the information, but about its source. Deceived people may readily find confirmation for their beliefs—even in the Bible—or gravitate toward other people with similar "revelations” that affirm their deception. But the purity of the information’s source is not guaranteed by other people’s confirmations or by repeated “revelations.” Even sincere Christians can be seriously misled and can reinforce each other’s deceptions. This is not a sign of ill will. It is just a result of inadvertently departing from God's word and a failure to examine things properly.

I remember the story of a woman who saw an “angel” standing beside her bed in the middle of the night. When she asked God whether she could trust him, the “angel” immediately transformed into a dark monster and disappeared. One of Job’s friends thought that he received genuine nocturnal revelations, which his other friends confirmed (Job 4:12–19). But those revelations were not from God. John warned us: “Beloved, don’t believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1).

In Matthew 24, when Jesus’ disciples asked him for the sign of his return, his first response was to be vigilant against deception. Satan constantly uses counterfeits to slander genuine works of God and to sow confusion. He hides wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15). Deceptive miracles are not by definition illusory. Although Satan is far from omnipotent, he can perform impressive miracles at times (see Ex 7:8-15; Matt 24:24; Mark 13:22; Rev 13:11-18). Those miracles are not any more fake than products bought by using counterfeit money would be fake products. Most people find it hard to imagine that demons at times can perform real miracles. If they could not, why would there be such clear warnings for it (2 Thess 2:9)?

Yet, we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Paul admonished the Corinthians firmly yet lovingly, rather than rejecting them. It is tempting to fall into one or the other extreme, of ruthlessly rejecting believers over flawed doctrines and deceptive experiences, or embracing everything they do without discernment.

Self-satisfaction

“You are already filled. You have already become rich” (1 Cor 4:8).

Paul’s letters warn about the range of deceptions that may occur among God's children, even in circles where the Holy Spirit is clearly at work. It may seem simple to see these deceptions in other groups, but much less simple to discern them in our own hearts. Therefore, we should live in a state of humility and openness to evaluation (Ps 139:23–24), never becoming complacent about being right just because we belong to the right group. After every victory, a sense of brokenness and unworthiness should follow, or our victories will lead us into wretched complacency.

We need to be pruned again and again. Every vine needs proper care, even the most beautiful ones that bear the best fruits. Without pruning and care, the vine would degenerate and become wild: “I had planted you a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then are you turned into the degenerate branches of a foreign vine to me?” (Jer 2:21).

Confusing Being Radical with Fanaticism

“ … gospel … is not according to man” (Gal 1:11).

The word “radical” is derived from the Latin word radix, meaning "root.” Radical commitment means allowing the central truth of the gospel to keep changing us, right to the very roots of our personality. However, when radicalism gets interwoven with fanaticism, its fruits are embarrassing and destructive, and play into the devil’s hands.

Fanatical behavior combines enthusiasm with refusal to accept correction—even redoubling the effort while forgetting the real aim. Fanaticism is often filled with self-delusion and self-defense, while radical believers should humbly draw attention to the message and person of Jesus Christ. Needless to say, fanaticism can greatly harm our ministries. Our challenge is to demonstrate Christ’s love by the way we live (Acts 2:47), even when our contemporary society may increasingly label radical Christianity as fanaticism.

A Slow Process

“… in the end it leads to death” (Prov 14:12)

The Komodo dragon offers a dramatic parallel. This large species of lizard hunts buffalo that are much bigger than itself. After it bites its prey, it slinks off as if it has been defeated. Because the poison works slowly, the buffalo is unaware of its fate, but the dragon stays close by—waiting. After about three weeks, the buffalo begins to succumb, and then a horde of dragons gather to quickly devour and kill it.

We should not live in fear of the demon world, but we must remain sober and humble before God, respecting his laws. Otherwise, an insidious poison could similarly infest our soul.

Deception by Trusting in Own Understanding

“Trust in Yahweh with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understanding” (Prov 3:5).

Our adversary is much more intelligent and cunning than we are. There is a story about a farmer whose pumpkins had been stolen. To discourage further thefts, he put up a sign in his field that read: “Attention! One of these pumpkins is poisoned.” No more pumpkins were stolen, so he thought he had solved the problem. However, at harvest time, the thief took revenge by adding a new sign: “Attention! Two of these pumpkins are poisoned.” Nobody was prepared to take the risk, so the farmer was unable to sell his pumpkins.

To think that we can outsmart the devil by our own understanding is unwise, which is why 2 Cor 10:3 tells us that we are not to use carnal weapons. “We live in this world, but we don't … fight our battles with the weapons of this world.” The schemes and tactics of the devil surpass our imaginations, yet God’s care and protection are more than sufficient for the believer who shelters under his wings and seeks to walk his ways.

An Important Guideline to Experience Inner Peace

“And the peace of God … will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7).

We have emphasized the need for guidance of the Holy Spirit, and that inner peace will often confirm his guidance (cf. Judg 6:23–24). But Scripture also indicates that the personal experience of peace is not the one or final judgment. The following scriptural principles relate to personal peace, and affirm that the experience itself should be put to the test: We must rely on God’s word and remain in it (John 16:33), know God in prayer (Phil 4:6–7), and be open to correction (2 Cor 13:11). Only within a healthy spiritual context can we trust God's peace as an indication of his guidance (Gal 5:22; Col 3:15).

One final remark: the increased tensions we experience during intense spiritual struggles should not be viewed as an absence of peace but rather as challenges inherent to spiritual life and growth.

Text is available in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Chinese, Russian, Arabic and Farsi. 

For a general treatment of the theme of spiritual deliverance, see
"Light In Our Darkness, Essentials of Spiritual Deliverance" –
 Bruno Sebrechts.­­­
Humble Joy Publishing  ISBN 9789083136400.
Spanish Edition ISBN
 9789083136417

 

 

[1] E.g. Gal 2:4–5, 2 Pet 2:1, Dan 11:35.

[2] “The devil can counterfeit all the saving operations and graces of the Spirit of God.... He cannot exactly imitate divine operations in their nature, though his counterfeits may be very much like them in external appearance.” Jonathan Edwards, 'The Religious Affections', 1746 (repr., Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2013), 85–7.

[3] “We are aware of the many abuses that masquerade under the name of the Holy Spirit, the many ways in which all kinds of phenomena are practised and praised which are not the gifts of the Holy Spirit as clearly taught in the New Testament. There is great need for more profound discernment, for clear warnings against delusion, for the exposure of fraudulent and self-serving manipulators who abuse spiritual power for their own ungodly enrichment. Above all there is a great need for sustained biblical teaching and preaching, soaked in humble prayer, which will equip ordinary believers to understand and rejoice in the true gospel and to recognize and reject false gospels.” From 'The Cape Town Commitment', Lausanne Movement, 2011, Online: http://www.lausanne.org.

[4] “Satan is not fighting churches; he is joining them. He does more harm by sowing tares than by pulling up wheat. He accomplishes more by imitation than by outright opposition.” Martin H. Manser, ed., 'The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations' (Louisville: Westminster John Knox press, 2001), 72.

[5] Tzu, Sun. 'The Art of War' (El Paso, TX.: El Paso Notre Press, 2009), 100, 3, 198.

[6] This was painfully demonstrated in the “Behind the Scenes” New York Times documentary movie Marjoe (1972) about Marjoe Gortner, the “revival” preacher who performed all kind of “miracles” in Jesus’ name, and finally admitted he had preached just for money, being neither a sincere believer nor even a Christian.

Bruno Sebrechts is a counselor and Bible teacher with over twenty-five years of pastoral experience. He saw God at work, especially in the healing and deliverance of the most damaged believers. His writings are the result of his extensive experience and continuous study. www.LightInOurDarkness.net

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