One of the events that contributed to the Union army winning the Civil War occurred when a Yankee soldier found a detailed copy of Robert E. Lee’s orders for the Antietam campaign on a cigar wrapper. The wrapper quickly passed through the ranks until Northern officers found themselves holding a cheat–sheet to victory. A subtle and cunning enemy is far easier to counter when you know with precision what his next move will be.
Christians are in a position similar to that of the Union army before Antietam. Paul remarks in II Corinthians 2:11 that we are not ignorant of Satan’s devices. This is true. Between the revelation of Scripture and the accumulated wisdom of thousands of years, the devil has no new tricks to play. His contemporary effectiveness is not a product of ingenuity or lateral thinking. Rather, like a dried up womanizer, he relies on a handful of stock pickup lines to entrap the gullible and negligent. For Christians, this means that the age–old principle ‘know thy enemy’ has spiritual application. To avoid sin, the tactics of the enemy must be understood and anticipated. We must act on the wisdom of Proverbs: ‘In vain the net is spread in the sight of a bird’ (1:17).
But what are the choice snares that the devil uses to entangle the feet of careless pilgrims? Here are four that every Christian should watch out for.
TRAP 1 – To Dilute the Evil of Sin
Why did Israel struggle incessantly, repeatedly, and uniformly with idolatry? The answer is because idolatry felt normal. Never in the history of the world, until Sinai, had anyone said that making idols was wrong. Every culture adjacent to Israel made use of idols. Carved images were as ubiquitous in the Ancient Near East as smart phones are in America. Therefore, since idol worship did not feel evil, a lot of Israelites made the mistake of thinking that idol worship was not evil. They confused feeling for truth.
This confusion was not accidental. It was part of a sinister plan hatched by Satan, a strategy he is still employing today. Satan loves nothing more than to dilute the shame of sin, to numb its discomfort, and to erase its boundaries so that God’s own people begin to accuse Him of being legalistic. Kierkegaard says, ‘Most people believe that the Christian commandments are intentionally a little too severe – like putting the clock on half an hour to make sure of not being late in the morning.’ But God’s wisdom is not high–strung. It is exact and purposeful. To doubt the judgment of the Almighty is to play into the hand of a diabolical strategy.
TRAP 2 – To Convince Us That There Is No Hook in the Bait
We have all seen a commercial on TV for some new drug that promises to heal a frustrating disease such as psoriasis or rheumatoid arthritis. After mentioning the positive benefits and likelihood of success, the advertisement goes on to list all of the risks and potential side–effects associated with the treatment. Typically, this list of potential cancers and major organ malfunctions is narrated while the camera drifts to children laughing on swings and a dad playing fetch with an exuberant golden retriever. What is the logic of the marketing? Drug manufacturers want their audience to focus on the good, the bait, while ignoring the danger, the hook.
Satan attempts to do something similar with sin. He advertises the pleasure and momentary relief of sin, but hides the fact that the wages of sin are always death. To outsmart the devil Christians need to identify the hook in temptation. They need to understand that there is more hope of getting enjoyment out of a poisonous mushroom than getting any lasting comfort from sin. The river of pleasure ebbs from the feet of the Most High. To look for satisfaction anywhere other than God – especially in a direction that is opposed to God – is as useless as traveling to a desert in search of water.
TRAP 3 – To Make Us Believe that Repentance Is Easy
Anyone who believes that repentance is easy has never actually repented. The heart is made of a quick–drying cement that hardens in an instant but takes hours, days, sometimes years, to break. Recognizing this, no one is more foolish than the person who goes into a sin thinking that he can quickly find his way back out again. There is an ancient Greek myth about a wicked king, King Minos of Crete, who built a labyrinth so intricate that it was impossible to escape from. To make matters worse, Minos put a man–eating Minotaur in the midst of the labyrinth that was always hungry – and searching – for food. This story provides a sobering picture of the reality of sin. Getting into a sinful pattern of behavior is as easy as making a credit card transaction. Getting out of a sinful pattern of behavior is as difficult as escaping from a cruel and bewildering maze.
In view of this, Christians should take care whenever they hear the voice of Satan whispering, ‘You can always repent afterwards.’ We must remember that Satan’s objective is not to maim, but to kill. He wants to lure us into a maze that will confuse, disorient, depress, and, if possible, incapacitate us. Knowing this, we should no more play with temptation than we would play with a pit–viper. Repentance may be free, but it is not easy.
TRAP 4 – To Make Us Think that Sin Is Containable
During the Cold War, the US government’s policy toward communism was one of containment. The US had no strategy for eliminating communism; the goal, rather, was to restrict its spread. Many Christians have a similar attitude toward sin. Rather than take up the New Testament call ‘to put to death the deeds of the body’ (Romans 8:13), they are happy to cohabit with sin so long as its growth is limited. The problem is that sin is a power that refuses to be contained. To attempt to make peace with a known sin is like negotiating with a terrorist group. The only peace terrorists are interested in is the peace of fear, subjection, and conquest. So it is with sin.
The classic example of this spiritual truth is the sin of David. David thought that he could manage the sinful passion of lust. He could have an affair with a neighbor’s wife while controlling the collateral damage. Such a mindset is painfully naïve. Before David could catch his breath, adultery was producing deceit, which was producing murder, which was producing a callous and indifferent pride. One sin lead to another with the spontaneity and speed of a raging virus. And although in the end David’s sin was fully forgiven, the consequences were not mopped up without residue. Bitter side–effects of a single choice continued to plague David for years to come.
The Bible is not exaggerating the truth when it describes the devil as a roaring lion looking for someone to devour … If we are to avoid becoming prey, alertness and care must mark our steps day–by–day. We must be on guard against the hunting tactics of our enemy and use the full amour God has to fend off his attacks.
Christians need to ponder the warning of David’s fall. The Bible is not exaggerating the truth when it describes the devil as a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). If we are to avoid becoming prey, alertness and care must mark our steps day–by–day. We must be on guard against the hunting tactics of our enemy and use the full amour God has to fend off his attacks.
Joe Barnard is the pastor of Holyrood Evangelical Church, the director of Cross Training Ministries (www.xtrainingministries.com). You can find out more about this subject of killing sin in his newly released book Surviving the Trenches: Killing Sin before Sin Kills You.