Saturday, January 24, 2009
The Primary Deceptions of Satan
When Alice visited my office, it quickly became clear she felt desperate. After all, her psychologist had given her up as being hopeless. She opened our first session with these challenging words: "I probably know as much about biblical counseling as you do. I have read every book I know on the subject." After six more sessions, I concluded she was right. In her mind she knew the truth, but in the depth of her being, she believed a whole cacophony of lies that left her feeling guilty and tainted-thus her sense of desperation. Her mind seemed bombarded with horrid, even evil thoughts: "You're worthless"; "Nobody wants you"; "Kill your mother, brother, yourself." Along with the thoughts came terrible feelings of hopelessness and impotence. In a few minutes I discovered that despite these horrible inner feelings, Alice was an intelligent, personable, and beautiful young woman. A junior in college, she made excellent grades. But her spiritual and emotional life left her totally defeated. During one session, a breakthrough idea occurred to me. Jim was her prayer partner for the week. I motioned to him, seated at the back of the room, and said to Alice in my most authoritative voice, "I command you to get up, go to the back of the room, and punch Jim in the mouth with all of your might." Alice glared at me and said, "I won't do that!" "Do what? I asked. "I won't punch Jim in the mouth." "Have you been thinking about punching Jim in the mouth?" I answered. "Where did that come from? "What an awful, horrible person you must be to think such a thing!" I continued. "In fact, I think I'll leave. I certainly shouldn't stay in the same room with a person like you and I'm going to leave now!" As I moved toward the door, she yelled at me. "Just a minute! You put the thought in my mind, and now you are accusing me of thinking it! I didn't think that up. You said it to me!" Instantly, like the lights snapping on in a darkened room, it dawned on her that that was precisely what Satan had done with her-planted twisted thoughts and made her think they were her own genuine motivations and desires. Recently Alice called to tell me she was doing well. I asked her how I'd helped her and she related that my illustration of the enemy's intruding thoughts enabled her to see the truth about the enemy's ability to plant thoughts in our minds and make us think they're our own. For years she had heard of such a thing, but in that counseling session God moved it from her head to her heart. How hen does the enemy work? He operates through strategies based on lies about God and about us. Follow through these common methods. Strategy one: thoughts in our minds. Planting twisted, evil thoughts in our minds is Satan's primary tactic in leading us into sin. I have often wondered how many killers, rapist, child molesters, and abusers were led into their destructive ways through thoughts planted by the enemy. The power of suggestion is an awesome thing, as any hypnotist can attest. Satan will plant a thought, nurture it, deal with our argument, and try to persuade us to take sinful action. When we do and get a "charge" out of it, as all sin provides initially, he sits back and lets us run with it. Soon, he's out of a job and we're sinning along like there's no tomorrow. But Satan isn't the only one who can lead or motivate us through thought-plants. God can, too. However, His thoughts are altogether good and right. A good example of a thought planted by God can be found in Matthew 16:13-17, where Simon Peter answered Jesus' question, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" Ge said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," Where did this realization come from? Peter didn't dream it up on his own. No, Jesus follows Peter's answer with the statement that God Himself revealed it to him. Clearly, both God and Satan are in the thought-planting business. Remember, though, God only sows good, wholesome, truthful thoughts. He would never tell anyone to commit sin, even though criminals have claimed at times that God "told them to do" their crime. In a swift turn around, Satan attacked Peter in the next few seconds after Peter's declaration that Jesus was the Messiah. Perhaps Satan attacked in retribution, perhaps because he saw an opportunity in the pride that Peter may have felt because of his swift and correct answer about Jesus' identity. When Jesus told His disciples He would die in Jerusalem, Peter protested, saying, "This shall not happen to You!" Jesus immediately rebuked him, saying, "Get behind Me, Satan!" Jesus had quickly recognized the source of Peter's words. Clearly, this thought was not from God or ever Peter, but from the devil. In such circumstances, we see the essence of the spiritual battle. God can plant a thought: "Why don't you read your Bible now?" And Satan can immediately counter it: "Hey, aren't you hunger? Better see what's in the fridge first!" Suddenly, a battle rages in your heart: read the Bible or eat food? The choice is yours, but the suggestions may have come from the spiritual realm. Any and all of it can be directly out of the mouth of the forces of darkness. Let's be clear here about something important: It is not sin for us to have wrong thoughts. Merely "hearing" a thought flit through your brain inciting you to the most diabolical evil is not in itself sin. It becomes sin when we pick up on that thought, dwell on it, and then act on it (see James 1:13-15). Strategy two: distorting our belief system. A second method of attack from Satan is the distortion of our belief system. Satan distorts our belief system as he distorts who God is and who we are. The great deceiver may tempt us to believe, "Since God hates me, I ought to hate myself." Or "Since my body or parts of my body are evil, I will use them for whatever pleasure I can find." At times the enemy will say, "You can make it on your own. You don't need God; besides, He is not interested in helping you anyway. The Evil One implanted the thought and we bought into it. That is what Ananias did in Acts 5:2-3. We reason and make decisions using both our minds and our hearts. Proverbs 23:7a says, "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he." We live what we truly believe. How we act does not always reflect what we say, but it does reflect our belief system. If your life is immoral, dishonest, proud, or depraved, it is as sure sign that your belief system is immoral, dishonest, proud, or depraved. Linda had believed the enemy's lies since childhood. When she first came to me, she told me she was despondent, depressed, and suicidal. She had been used and abused much of her life. As a result of the immoral actions of abusive parents, her beliefs about God had become distorted. Their depraved actions and her own self-indulgence convinced Linda that God had no interest in her. "I have done so many terrible things in my life," she said, "I can't even forgive myself, let alone believe that God would forgive me!" She was broken and literally hated herself. Probing deeper, she told me, "I can recall, even as a little child, feeling as though everyone would be better off without me. Over the years, I planned many times to kill myself." Voices taunted her, goading her into self-hatred, deeper depression, and even suicide. We talked at length about the nature of the spirit world, how Satan influenced her and told her lies and how various strongholds had been built into her thinking. Gradually, through the use of Scripture and systematically taking each lie and exposing it, Linda began to see that her depression was largely the result of the skewed thinking Satan had nurtured in her life. She confronted each wrong thought, rejected it, and replaced it with the kinds of truths I'll show you in this writing. She refused to listen to the "voices" that begged a hearing. Some time later, she wrote me, "Today, I can honestly say I have not been depressed at all since that time spent in counseling with you, Dr. Copley. Different things in my life have saddened me, but I have not been depressed or suicidal since then! Also I have not heard voices in my mind." Her message to people ensnared in the same kinds of depression as she is that "all is not lost. There is help out there from that Someone mightier than we are, who will come to our aid if we will just ask Him!" Linda found that she did not have to remain a victim; she could counterattack using the Word of God to expose the enemy's lies and replace them with God's truth. Strategy three: sidetracking. A third device of Satan is what I call "sidetracking," I honestly think the church is the only outfit on earth that goes out to war not knowing who her enemy is. We think the enemy is the lost, or the Muslims, or the pope, or some such group of people. In reality, Satan is the true enemy, but we fight each other instead. The great deceiver succeeds with this lie, sidetracking us into fighting secondary issues rather than the main, important ones. Sidetracking occurs when Satan diverts us from the important tasks of learning to discern wolves and their ideas, and leads us into foolish pursuits-spending all our time on the pleasures of this world, the pursuit of power and wealth, or other worthless diversions that Scripture clearly condemns. The Evil One informs us we don't need to memorize Scripture, read the Bible, or learn doctrine in detail. He "sidetracks" us into thinking that the fall social, the church bake sale, and keeping up with all the local gossip are what really matter. Or worse, he suggests that because we hear the Bible exposited verse by verse on Sunday morning that we're somehow superior to the church down the street whose pastor is more concerned about the environment, or the poor, or influencing the government. When we hear the Word but fail to put it into practice, Satan has successfully diverted us into pride, one of his best spirit-killers. I honestly see such things as the greatest folly in the church today. Perhaps 90 percent of the men I counsel don't even read the Bible on a daily basis. Most of them haven't learned a bible verse since they attended Sunday school as children. They all give the same excuse: "I don't have time." That is simply a lie. Satan has sidetracked them and they've bought into it. They have time to watch television, play sports, and a multitude of other things, but real discipleship and growth don't seem like such priorities. Such "sidetracks" are the methods Satan uses to keep us in chains. How do you spot such a sidetrack and get back to the main line? Perhaps an example will help. A chief executive officer of a large business came to me with many personal problems. I asked him if he read the Bible, He gave me the classic answer: "I don't have time." I asked him if he took breaks at work. He answered, "Of course, " I then challenged him to take his Bible to work and read one proverb per day. He did so and, in time, began reading the Scriptures thirty minutes per day. Then, after the evening meal at home, he would share with his family what God had taught him that day. remarkable transformation occurred over a matter of months. Today he functions as an active church member and walks closely with Christ. When you look at your life, compare the Bible's prescribed priorities with what you are actually doing with your time. This will show if and how well Satan has sidetracked you. Perhaps you see that basic spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible study and memorization, church attendance and service, and sharing your faith have all been successfully pushed out of the picture. You have little motivation to show love to your family, neighbors, and strangers, though the Scriptures urge you to do so. In the place of these good disciples are endless hours at work, hours in front of the television, and more hours spent in hobbies or "neutral" pursuits. If this is the case, you need to reconsider what you're doing. Has Satan successfully sidetracked you into work, play, special projects, or extra sleep? None of these things is necessarily bad in itself. But that's the essence of the warfare: Satan makes you justify one or more of these activities and very important to make money or help you relax or just to give your mind a rest. Eventually they can completely stifle all spiritual involvement. Strategy four: Lies about God. A fourth arena Satan uses to fell us is to fill us with lies about God: "God couldn't love one like you!"; "God really can't help in this situation"; "God is far more concerned about the poor than your financial straits"; "Surely you're not going to trouble God with that trivia!" Such ideas all function as lies that not only keep us from trusting God in the crises of life, but even from seeking Him. Lies about God are Satan's favorite deception. And, of course, such lies often distort our belief system (which is Satan's strategy number two). Jennifer came to me perplexed. She had recently been delivered from twenty years in the occult. Despite her deliverance to Jesus, though, she believed Satan possessed more power than God. She had observed considerable demonic power as an occult participant, and had seen God seemingly powerless over such things. We prayed and searched the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit opened her spiritual eyes to see that Satan slanders and opposes God, saying things like, "He is weak," "He can't help," "He doesn't care about your situation," and "He's busy with other things." Such lies can lead an otherwise committed believer to think, "What's the use?" After several counseling sessions, Jennifer wrote me this letter: Dear Dr. Copley, I can't begin to find words to express my gratitude and praise for all the time you spent with me. The outcome is truly miraculous! I am now as free woman able to experience all the love and joy and miracles of God's bountiful blessings. I have come to know that obedience to His Word is the key to a personal and living relationship with our loving Lord..." God's truth can always overcome Satan's lies. But when we're weak in spirit and our circumstances severe, it's easier to accept the idea that God doesn't care, can't help, isn't sovereign, or doesn't really have a plan to give us hope and heart. Strategy five: Lies about ourselves. Satan tells us lies about ourselves. After his rebellion, he became the father of lies (John 8:44). From his own "I wills" in Isaiah 14 to his attacks on Adam and Eve and later on Jesus, he employs one lie as his favorite: "You can be your own boss; you can be in charge of your own life." That is Satan's main way to keep us rebelling against God. "No one should tell you what to do," he chides us, appealing to our selfish motives. The reality is that God works through authority. Jesus is Lord; we are not. God appoints those on earth to have authority over us, and as long as they do not require us to disobey God's commands, we must obey this God-ordained authority. We can never be "masters of our own fate" or "captains of our destiny" on any level. We may like to think that's the ways it is, and Satan will certainly suggest and stoke such ideas. But ultimately, God is in charge of the entire universe, and we only have the choice to listen to Him and obey or reject Him and rebel. Though the lie "I'm in charge" is the primary tool Satan uses to separate us from God, he suggests other lies about ourselves. Most of them attack our worth. I remember the lies Joshua had accepted. At age thirty, he was fired from his position as a staff member of a significant Christian ministry. He crossed some boundaries of modesty with young men who were receiving help from the ministry (no physical touching took place) and was dismissed. Joshua was sent to my office to be spiritually restored because his reputation was destroyed, and for other reasons he could not return to his former position. The story of how Joshua reached that juncture in life is not uncommon. His father was emotionally distant and worked two jobs. His older brother molested him before puberty. His mother was young and ignorant about certain aspects of child raising and became irrational at times. Joshua grew up being confused about his sexual orientation. In his teens, a sexual encounter with a homosexual adult further confused him, and though he was able to hide his struggle from nearly everyone, it remained fixed in the core of his thinking and emotional foundation. A good physical appearance, along with wit and charm, served to further conceal this tendency. Behind it all, though, stood an emotionally bleeding young man whose life was filled with lies and confusion about who he was. Enclosed in that shell, Joshua managed to avoid detection until his firing. In counseling we spent several days talking about God, truth, and lies. Joshua believed many deep-seated lies. It took many hours of prayer and counseling before he began to let down the internal walls of self-protection. Due to the former abuse, trust was a huge factor. When we came to this juncture, Joshua said, "I'm going to have to trust somebody and, Ken, I am choosing today to trust you." I believe that is very important in a counseling situation. I have learned that I cannot teach someone who doesn't think I like them. And I certainly cannot get to the heart of anyone who does not think he can trust me. When Joshua committed to telling the truth, I led him to forgive his absentee father, irrational mother, and abusive, hateful brother. It was then that the Lord began to speak to his heart about remaining bondage and lies in his life. Here are some of the errant beliefs Joshua had: That he had created a well-ordered life and should not be accused or wrongdoing. That the only way people would love and accept him was for him to keep up the masquerade. That the only way to be accepted was to appear to be larger than life and at times defiant in a subtle way. That his days were numbered. The Lord would certainly kill him while he was young. As we talked, Joshua told me he lived in a fantasy world. He imagined himself being born with a shroud of mystery around him. He fantasized that wherever he went, people would be drawn into his shroud. When he stepped into a room, something magical happened. I showed him that the enemy used his fantasy world to keep him in bondage. We discussed the truths that contrasted the lies above. At first, Joshua fought the idea that he was believing lies. He honestly thought his charm and deceit were friends when they were really enemies. In time, Joshua repented of his fantasy world and all that went with it. He committed to being honest without airs and to daily humbling himself before the Lord. With glad tears of repentance, Joshua whispered, "Lord, I do now choose to tell the truth and to believe the truth. I covenant before You that I will live in accordance with the truth of Your Word and I will reject the lies of the enemy, which include any fantasy." Today, Joshua meets with an accountability partner on a weekly basis. He is growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ, and he is learning to speak the truth in love. Strategy six: Lies about personal holiness. A sixth way Satan lies is to tell us we can never grow inpersonal holiness,God's commands, "Be holy, for I am holy" (I Peter 1:16). But Satan deceives us, saying, "You can't be holy, you're too weak. Give it up" or "God asks the impossible. He doesn't expect you to live up to this principle" or "Real spirituality is only for the most committed and knowledgeable Christians. You should simply be content with what you already have." The truth is that God wants us to grow into the likeness of Christ, becoming truly holy-separated from all sin-as much as possible. It's not that He expects us to become sinless, but as I've heard it said He does want us to sin less and less and less. An example of this is David, who as a believer was addicted to internet pornography. His wife caught hm viewing filth on the Internet at home late one night. She confronted him and he came to see me about his addiction. In my presence, he prayed what sounded like a prayer of repentance. I helped set him up with an accountability partner through his local church. This appeared to work until we discovered David merely hid his sin deeper, so that it was harder to catch him at it. He quit viewing pornography at home but began doing it at work. In effect, he lied not only to his wife and accountability partner, but also to God. One day, through, he was caught in the act and, as a result, lost his job as an engineer. It was at that point that he came to see me again and brought his accountability partner along. This time I saw a truly broken man who wanted freedom from his sin. Once again, we set up a process of spiritual discipline that his partner would qwuestion him about weekly. David, now seeing the consequences of his sin-which I believe God had "engineered" to bring him to real repentance-began to take seriously his situation. He listened to his wife and his counselors, and in time he became completely free of his lust for pornography. Satan told several lies that David believed. The first was that he could worship God and also worship pornographic images. A second lie was "No one will find out, so what's the problem?" A third one was "It's a harmless thing. What's the big deal?" A fourth seemed to let him welcme the temptations: "You cannot live a holy life in every area. God does not expect you to become holy in this area." As he said bluntly to me during one conseling session, "The positional holiness spoken of in church was to me simply pie-in-the-sky thinking. If God really expected this level of holiness, He would have created me with fewer male hormones." Pornography led David into an ever-deepining whirlpool of sin. Because of his addiction and sense of helplessness ("I can't avoid it; that's who I am"), he became spiritually apathetic. He lost his enthusiasm for the things of God. He even faked repentance in my office to get me and his wife "off his back." Ultiimately, though, all of Satan's lies were exposed and terminated. God, all-knowing and all-seeing, disciplined David and broke him. God showed him he couldn't worship pornography and also God. He proved that though humans might not know about David's sin, God still did and it mattered to Him. Finally, God demonstrated that there were terrible consequences of his sin: the loss of his job. The truth quickly convinced David that even more serious things would happen if he didn't own up to his sin and turn from it. It was then that David cried out to the Lord and repented of his sin in reality: He was truly set free. Dr. Ken Copley is available for counseling, conferences, and local church meetings.