We are not ignorant of his designs.  2 Corinthians 2:11

The Bible reveals to us the devil’s playbook.  How does he aim to defeat us?  To begin with, in these four ways:

One, a judgmental attitude.  In this passage in 2 Corinthians, the devil designs to make a church into a harsh environment, where people are “overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (verse 7).  Such a church stops feeling like Jesus.  It starts feeling like a scene out of Kafka.  How to defeat this satanic design?  Repent of self-righteous judgments, and eagerly communicate Jesus’ forgiveness, inclusion, honor.

Two, normal human instincts.  In Matthew 16:21-23, Jesus rebukes Peter, through whom Satan is speaking.  How did Peter open up to, of all things, satanic influence?  Not by consciously opening up to satanic influence.  All he did was think in normal human ways (“setting your mind on the things of man”).  All he did was set his heart on survival, making the way of the cross unthinkable.  Another of the devil’s designs.  How to defeat him?  Die to selfish survival.

Three, a spirit of accusation.  In Revelation 12:10 the devil is exposed as “the accuser.”  Another of his designs is to pierce our hearts with accusing thoughts about our sins – or even sins we haven’t necessarily committed, but we fear we have, or others say we have.  He spreads a mist of vague anxiety within ourselves and dark suspicion of others.  How to defeat this defeat?  Run to the cross for all our sins, and refuse to counter-accuse against our accusers.  A calm explanation might help at the interpersonal level.  But if the negative emotions are really intense, the only thing to do is not make the feeding-frenzy worse.  Wait on God to vindicate you.

Four, lying in order to win.  In John 8:44 Jesus calls Satan “the father of lies.”  It is his nature to lie, to deceive, to distort and twist and confuse.  He spreads his trademark behavior to others, especially in scenes of ungodly conflict.  He uses half-truths, self-serving accounts, spin.  How to defeat him?  Admit the plain truth, all of it, however embarrassing it might be.  We won’t die.  We will find it to be freeing.  Our safety and joy are always found in honesty before God and one another.

We have an enemy, and we know his strategies.  As C. S. Lewis taught us in The Screwtape Letters, we should neither ignore him nor obsess about him.  But fixing our eyes on Jesus, we can crush Satan under our feet (Romans 16:20) by humbly staying in, or humbly returning to, the ways of the gospel.

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16 thoughts on “The devil’s playbook”

  1. Thanks for the excellent post. Knowing Satan’s strategies, putting on the whole armor of God, and having faith that the battle is the Lord’s and He is the ultimate victor, keep us on the winning side.

  2. Thank you for your post, It is sometimes easy to see Satan in the gross sins, which he is, and forget he is also behind the more subtle sins of self-righteousness, unforgiveness worldly thinking and the illegitimate accusation of ourselves and others. We need to beware of both.

  3. Abby says:

    Satan never stops. I’ve been saying lately that “the devil is trying to make me marry him. He says if I do then he’ll stop abusing me.”

  4. Chris says:

    Ray,
    I have a sincere question for you. I first will admit to being judgmental over other protestant churches whose doctrine is lacking in orthodoxy founded in scripture.
    I am also very judgmental towards the Catholic Church.

    When does being a protector of the gospel cross the lines of being judgmental?

    Am I right to call out the Methodist Church for there liberal stances? Am I right to call out the Catholic Church as being led by a wolf claiming to be a high priest. Christ is the only high Priest.

    What is being judgmental and what is being a protector of the gospel?

    1. Ray Ortlund says:

      Thanks, Chris. Let me propose two thoughts.

      One, the root of a judgmental attitude is a lack of self-awareness. It is not wrong to object to false doctrine. It is right to do so. But we are very capable of standing up for right things in a wrong way, with a blindness to our own falsehoods. That is hypocrisy, and it is ugly, and it ends up undermining the very things we desire to stand for. We should be more eager to search out our own failings than we are to point out other people’s failings. That is humility, and it is beautiful, and it advances the gospel.

      I have a hunch that people with whom we disagree don’t mind that we disagree, but they are offended (and they have every right to be offended) when we disagree with no awareness of our own fallibility. We should not be cowardly and hold back on matters where God has spoken clearly. But we should remember our own ability to corrupt what we defend, and try to speak with a wise blend of boldness and humility. We can do this only as we depend on the Lord moment by moment.

      Two, Francis Schaeffer said somewhere, as I recall, that in a conversation with a liberal theologian Schaeffer would hope for two outcomes. One, that the liberal theologian would understand clearly how he and Schaeffer differ. Two, that the liberal theologian would walk away feeling loved, understood and respected.

      Thanks again. Hope this contributes.

      1. Chris says:

        Ray,
        First thank you for response.
        How would you guide or give wisdom to the young reformers like my self who are getting more bold with seeing the wolf in the Catholic Church.

        How does one stand for truth in boldness to call a wolf a wolf? Or do we treat the wolf as one who is lost but attack the doctrine of the church?

        I see many older reformers attack the pope as a person, and I always question is this correct or that older mans sinful ways?

        I hope this makes sense and I am not taking up too much of your time. I am grateful for the time you have already spent for answering my previous question.

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Ray Ortlund


Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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