By Fr Billy Swan
The Gospel of John emphasises the importance of Christians being people who know Christ. But knowing Christ also means knowing his enemy the devil for ‘it was to undo all that the devil has done that the Son of God appeared’ (1 John 3:8). Here I reflect on four tactics used by the Evil one that try to alienate us from God and his kingdom.
Satan is at it from the get go in the first few pages of Scripture, sowing doubt and confusion into the minds of Adam and Eve about what God did or did not say – ‘Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’ (Gen. 3:1). Here is a classic tactic of the Evil one – to blur the lines of distinction between what is true and what is false. With the help of the Holy Spirit, Christians discern the truth from what is false. In contrast, Satan deceives us into thinking either that the truth is not worth discerning or when it is discerned we can live a life inconsistent with it. In the former case, the truth is conformed to our world rather than our world conforming to the truth. In the latter case, we know deep down in our gut what is true and what is right but we convince ourselves it’s OK to live contrary to that truth, even once in a while.
The devil drives a wedge between us and God. In the garden of Eden, Satan tempts Adam and Eve to cut loose from God, to be independent and come of age (Gen. 3:1ff). This means deciding for ourselves between good and evil, right and wrong. God then becomes our competitor and a threat to our freedom. This dividing work of the devil reaches everywhere, beginning with our inner selves. As St Paul testifies: ‘I do not act as I mean to but I do the things I hate’ (Rom. 7:15). Moving out from there, the Evil one alienates people from each other, often along the lines of race, religion and social class. Tragically, this can and has lead to bloodshed and war. We evangelize with the Gospel’s power to unify. The Gospel insists that we are made for unity and partnership with God in a way that results in our freedom, fulfilment and joy.
We see this with Jesus’ temptation in the desert as the devil tries to divert him away from obedience to his Father with the lure of pleasure and power (Matt. 4:1ff; Lk. 4:1ff). All Christians are prone to this temptation – to lose our sense of purpose and sense of mission. This happens when we lose focus on Christ and his Kingdom, getting overly preoccupied with ourselves. Diversion can also occur by absorption in our tasks – the success of my projects becomes the priority rather than a joyful witness to the love and mercy of Christ.
We are part of a Church with its feet on the ground but we are also a Church on the front foot and on the march. With the Spirit in our sails, we courageously bring the power of the Gospel out into the world. It is the Gospel of the Kingdom that has already triumphed over the kingdom of Satan. The gates of hell will not prevail against it.
We are easily discouraged. We can lose can lose focus on the Lord’s love for us and our love for him, leaving us dry and sterile. As we bear witness and evangelise in his name, Jesus is always with us as he promised and is the power behind everything we say and do. At times of discouragement, the Lord encourages us to hold fast, stand firm and never give up when trials come our way.
Deception, division, diversion and discouragement – four strategies of Satan as he tries to prise us away from God. So don’t be deceived, divided, diverted or discouraged. Stay close to Jesus and the fruits of his victory – truth, unity, purpose and hope.