Sermons & Devotional Messages

Excerpts from

The Strategy of Satan

By Ray C. Stedman


...we will never understand and comprehend what is going on in our world for these many centuries until we accept the biblical diagnosis of life. Paul puts this diagnosis very plainly in Ephesians 6:

"For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." [Eph 6:12-13]

...Paul says the battle is not against flesh and blood; it lies deeper than that. The basic problem is that this is a battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, and that man himself is the battlefield....


...the whole race, according to this passage, has fallen under the control of satanic forces, whom Paul calls, "the world rulers of this present darkness" -- a most significant phrase. ... The picture of the Bible from beginning to end is that all human beings, without exception, regardless of how clever or educated or cultured they may be, if without Christ, are the helpless victims of satanic control. Under the control of satanic forces human beings are uncomfortable and unhappy, but also completely unable to escape by any wisdom or power of their own.

But the good news is that some have been set free, some have been delivered. Through the coming of that "stronger one," Jesus himself, who came, as John tells us, "to destroy the works of the devil" [1 Jn 3:8b], deliverance is obtained. Through the amazing mystery of the cross and the resurrection, Jesus has broken the power and bondage of Satan over human lives. Those who individually receive and acknowledge this (i.e., those who believe, for Scripture always addresses itself to belief), are set free to live in the freedom and liberty of the children of God.

But they are not set free to live unto themselves. That is a common misconception of Christianity. Many believe that Christ has come into their lives by means of the cross, and the things which have bound them and blasted them and ruined them have been stricken away, and they have been set free. All too frequently they feel they have been set free to do as they please, to live as they want to live. But they are set free in order to battle. That is the call which comes to all Christians.... We are set free to do battle, to engage in the fight, to overcome in our own lives, and to become the channels by which others are set free. Thus there comes this call to us in this closing chapter in the letter to the Ephesians:

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, [Eph 6:10-11a]

...If this conflict is the basic problem of human life, how much devolves upon us in conducting or fighting this battle? How do you do this? Paul's answer is in one phrase: "Put on the whole armor of God." Full provision has been made that you might win in this battle. ... God has made full provision for us to fight these great and powerful forces which hold the world in their grip. But it would be a mistake to start there, to begin with the armor of God....

Armor is made for defense, and we will see no value in these pieces designed for our defense until we see what we are defending against. Let us realize something of the cleverness, the cunning wiliness of the forces against which we are battling, and we will begin to appreciate the armor with which we have been provided. Therefore we shall start there. Today, I want primarily to look at this phrase of Paul's,
"the wiles of the devil." The first step for any soldier in training is to be introduced to the strategy and weapons which the enemy will use against him....

James says,
Resist the devil and he will flee from you," [Jas 4:7b]. Think of that! This clever, cunning strategist who has held the world for centuries in defeat, whom no man is able to out-maneuver, will flee from you when you learn, like Paul, not to be ignorant of his devices.

..."What is the general strategy of the devil? How does he plan to do this? How is it that he keeps the world in such bondage and such powerlessness?" The only one in all history who has ever consistently and unbrokenly defeated the devil, not only in his life but also in his death, is the Lord Jesus Christ. He put his finger squarely upon the strategy and the tactics of Satan when he said,
"The devil is a liar and a murderer from the beginning," John 8:44]. The strategy of the devil is to murder. The tactic by which he accomplishes this is to lie. If we consider these phrases carefully we will see how accurate they are.

How does the devil plan to oppose the work of God in the world? Well, by murdering, by destroying. One of the names given to the devil in the book of the Revelation is "Apollyon," the "Destroyer." What does "destroy" mean? It is to create chaos, to lay waste, to ruin, to make desolate. There you have the explanation for the whole tragic story of human history: A destroyer is at work among men. Our God is a God of beauty, harmony, order, and perfection, of love, of light, and grace. There is enough evidence left in the world of nature, including our own being, and in the world of ideas, to see this marvelous symmetry, beauty, and perfection of God....

But into this scene a destroyer came. It is his delight to smash, to mangle, to twist, to mutilate, to disfigure, to darken and blast in every way he can. It does not make any difference whether it is bodies or souls, flesh or ideas, matter or spirit, the aim of the devil is exactly the same in every case: It is to distort, to blast, to twist, to destroy.... His power is totally negative, completely destructive in every way.

What are the tactics the devil employs to accomplish this dastardly destructiveness.... How does he do it? Well, by deceiving, by lying, by distorting, by counterfeiting, by play-acting and masquerading, by illusion and fantasy. This is what Paul calls "the wiles of the devil."...

The Bible makes clear that the tactics of the devil fall into two major divisions. He attacks the human race both directly and indirectly. ... there are fallen hosts of angels called demons, whom Paul calls here
"the principalities and powers, the world rulers of this present darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places." Now "heavenly places" does not mean far off in heaven somewhere. "Heavenly" means "the realm of the invisibilities," i.e., the invisible realities of life. The devil and his hosts are not visible....

In the Bible, we are told very little of the origin of the devil and his angels, these principalities and powers.... There is a brief reference to the fall of this great angel, whose name was Lucifer, and who was lifted up by pride. Pride is always the mark of the devil. Lifted up by pride, he chose to rival God and, in doing so, he fell from his station of might and glory and beauty and became the devil. He drew a third of the angels with him, and these constitute the principalities and powers, the organized kingdom of darkness, as opposed to the kingdom of God. It is through these hosts of wicked spirits that Satan is able to make a direct assault upon human life. This direct assault covers what the Bible refers to as "demon possession," the outright control of human personality by the power of a wicked spirit. It also extends to such activities as soothsaying, occultism, spiritism (or spiritualism), and related black magic arts such as astrology, horoscopes, voodooism, fortune telling, etc....

The Bible consistently warns against dabbling in these matters. Under the Law, the people of Israel were strictly forbidden to have anything to do with wizards "that peep and mutter" [Isaiah 8:19], and those who try to make contact with the dead, or those who deal with the world of the occult....

...throughout the Christian centuries there have been various outbreaks of demon possession described by missionaries in many lands. It is significant that wherever Christian teaching spreads, the direct assault of these evil powers upon human life is kept in abeyance. ... But when education becomes purely secular and denies the Bible and denies God then, even though men and women reject superstition and profess a degree of sophistication about these matters, this is not enough to keep these powers at bay. As our world grows more and more godless and more and more secularized, we will find an increasing tide of demonic manifestation creeping into our culture and insinuating itself into our civilized life. There is no power in man to withhold these or to stand against them....

By far, the majority of the attacks of the devil against Christians are not direct but indirect. That is why they are called the wiles of the devil. Wiliness means deviousness, circuitry, something not obvious. A direct attack of the devil upon a human life is an obvious thing, but this is something devious, something circuitous, difficult to detect....

This indirect approach comes largely through two media, or channels. One is what the Bible calls
"the world," and the other, "the flesh." We often hear the idea, "The enemies of the Christian are the world, the flesh, and the devil," as though these were three equally powerful enemies. But there are not three. There is only one enemy, the devil, as Paul brings out here. But the channels of his indirect approach to men are through the world and the flesh. If you would like to see these in Scripture in one passage, I suggest you study Ephesians 2:1-3...

"And you he [i.e., Christ, the "stronger one," who comes to set us free] made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world [there is the first channel, the world], following the prince of the power of the air [there is a description of the devil], the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience." [Eph 2:1-2]

He says, "Do not forget, you Christians, that you too once were following the course of this world, under the grip and in the control of the prince of the power of the air, the evil spirit which is now at work in all the children of disobedience." Further, he says,

"Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh [there is the flesh], following the desires of body and mind ["Oh," you say, "we were not aware of any control of the devil." No, of course not. You did what you felt like doing, the natural desires of the body and the mind. You responded to these so-called natural stimuli.], and so [because we were doing these things, following the course of this world under the direction of the prince of the power of the air, and obeying the impulses of the body and the mind] we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." [Eph 2:3]

Do you see how consistently the Bible presents this picture? Now the most basic of these two channels of approach to subverting the Christian life is "the flesh." I would like to say a word about it now: When the Bible speaks about the flesh, of course, it uses it in a symbolic sense. ... It is a term which describes the urge to self-centeredness within us, that distortion of human nature which makes us want to be our own god, that proud ego, that uncrucified self which is the seat of willful defiance and rebellion against authority.

...We were all born with "the flesh," and it is the presence of this which makes us sinners. James calls this the wisdom which is from beneath, which is
"earthly, sensual, devilish," [Jas 3:15 KJV]. Devilish! It is the devil, attacking indirectly, through the essential character of human nature, distorting it and twisting it, changing it from what God designed it to be.... Romans 3:23 says, as Phillips translates it, "Everyone has sinned and has missed the beauty of God's plan."

The world, on the other hand, is the corporate expression of all the flesh-centered individuals who make up the human race. Since the flesh is in every one of them -- acting satanic, devilish, sensual, earthy -- therefore the total combined expression of such beings constitutes the world, and determines the philosophy of the world. It is that tremendous pressure of the majority upon the minority to conform, adjust, keep in step, not to digress or to be different.


When the Bible addresses itself to Christians it says, "Be not conformed to this world" [Rom 12:2a], i.e., "Do not let the world around you squeeze you into its mold." Why? Because the world is flesh-centered, flesh-governed, and as Jesus said to Nicodemus, "That which is born of the flesh remains flesh. It needs a new birth in order to be changed. It must be born of the Spirit," [cf, John 3:6]. So this is the world -- that human society which insists on satanic value judgments, and is guided by satanic pride and philosophy. It is totally unaware of it, yet nevertheless it is under the control of satanic philosophy....

Battling against these forces of darkness is what makes human life possible on this earth at all. If Christians, who are the salt of the earth, are not giving themselves to an intelligent battle with Satan and satanic forces, fighting along these lines which Paul suggests -- being
"strong in the Lord and in the power of his might" -- it would be absolutely impossible for human life to exist on this planet. If this were not going on, life on earth would be one horrible, unending hell. It is the presence of Christians, and those who are affected by their testimony and by their teachings, and the spread of the gospel throughout the world which makes possible those moments of enjoyment of life which even the non-Christian is able to know....

Many are falling by the way. Many are slipping back under the control of satanic ideas and satanic philosophy and are denying the essential truth of God. But these are the days when, more than ever before, we are to respond to this mighty call:
"Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might."

Our Father, we pray that you will awaken our hearts and minds, and tear away the delusive veils by which we have allowed ourselves to be defeated and weakened and rendered powerless and ineffective in this great battle. Help us to understand that we would have no possibility of fighting in this battle were it not for the delivering work of the Lord Jesus who, as the stronger one, has come to bind the power of darkness. We thank you that the victory is already won. Thank you for the privilege we have of moving over into the kingdom of God, and for the chance to stop fighting a battle already lost and to begin to fight a battle already won. In Christ's name, Amen.

Read the whole sermon here:

See also The Armor of God  | Unequal Contenders in the Spiritual War

The Nature and Tactics of Satan | Three kinds of temptation

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