Satan's Strategies of Deception

by Dennis W. Costella

Jesus describes Satan in Scripture as the “Father of Lies.” It is clear that the devil uses several different means to deceive men and women. The apostle Paul was aware that Satan had “blinded the minds of them which believe not” (2 Cor. 4:4), and he was concerned that even Christians could become deceived by the “god of this world” who wanted to corrupt their minds from “the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). Consider some New Testament examples of Satan’s various strategies of deception:

Opposition (Acts 13:1-12)

Bar-jesus was a false prophet who directly opposed the way of truth (vv. 6-8). He was evidently popular on the island of Cyprus for his religious activities and was even influential enough to gain the ear of one leading political official, Sergius Paulus. However, Sergius Paulus wanted to hear the Word of God and summoned Paul and Barnabas to tell him about Christ. But Bar-jesus withstood Paul and Barnabas, “seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith” (v. 8). Satan, the author of false doctrine, will do anything to thwart the proclamation of the gospel message.

The question is: How do we deal with someone who opposes sound doctrine? We must not allow personality conflicts, professional courtesy, clerical rivalry or anything else to cloud the issue at hand. The Lord required the apostle Paul to contend against whoever stood in opposition to the “faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). Paul exposed and opposed this false prophet Bar-jesus (also known as “Elymas the sorcerer,” vv. 9-12), and the apostle certainly named names! Why was God’s man so forthright about identifying exactly who was spreading the false doctrine? Because a sincere, seeking sinner—Sergius Paulus—was listening to the false prophet’s wicked doctrine. In no uncertain terms, Paul declared who was preaching the truth and who was speaking damnable lies. The eternal destiny of this man’s soul was at stake.

Faithful ministers of God’s Word must give careful attention to this text, for multitudes today are listening to a mixture of truth and error. We not only must proclaim the faith but also expose any teaching that is leading the lost (and saved) astray.

Patronization (Acts 16:11-24)

Satan used a rather different strategy of deception in today’s text: the damsel declared, “These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation” (v. 17). What she said was true. She seemed to support or lend credence to the genuine work of God. One major problem existed, however—she was “possessed with a spirit of divination” (v. 16). Even though the damsel was saying things that sounded right, she had a false spirit within. No doubt, the people of Philippi identified her “ministry” of soothsaying with that of the apostle Paul, which is exactly why the man of God was so grieved (v. 18). Truth was being identified with error, which only results in confusion. Paul publicly and sternly rebuked the girl so that no one would misunderstand what was of God and what was not.

We often hear professing Christians say they will join in ministry with anyone who says, “Jesus is Lord.” Wait a minute! Saying, “Jesus is Lord” entails more than merely repeating words; it also implies following Him as Lord and holding fast to what the Word of God—all of it—has to say concerning Him. The damsel mouthed sound theology, but due to an unregenerate heart, she actually spoke for the Devil. Even demons acknowledge Christ’s deity and transcendent glory, but that understanding does not equate with saving faith (Jas. 2:19). The Holy Spirit will never be the Author of any testimony of one who, in his heart, has no love for the truth. No one can say “Jesus is Lord” in truth unless the Spirit of God dwells within. Many are trying to do otherwise, but one day they will pay the price for their self-deception (Matt. 7:21-23).

Imitation (Acts 19:8-20)

Despite great opposition, all Asia heard the gospel (vv. 8-10). But did all believe? Certainly not (v. 9). Do not be perplexed when your witness is rebuffed. Satan is still hard at work, blinding minds and closing hearts to the Light (2 Cor. 4:1-5). Here in Asia, Satan devised a new technique for hindering the work of God—imitation. The sons of Sceva coveted the glory they assumed the apostle Paul was receiving in his ministry. They thought they also could receive glory if they imitated what God’s man was doing. The miracles wrought by the hands of Paul (vv. 11-12), however, vindicated his apostleship as well as opened the door for witness to the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles. This attempt by religious opportunists to mimic the work of the Lord met with dire consequences (vv. 13-16). Pious pretenders will, in God’s time and way, be made painfully aware of the dangers of trifling with spiritual things. Satan is a stern taskmaster; he does not treat his subjects kindly (vv. 15-16).

We can see this same deceptive imitation in the unbiblical movements of our day. They boast of great works in the name of Jesus (v. 13), but they sorely lack genuine fidelity to the Word and the one true faith. These religious counterfeits are like the sons of Sceva and are headed for a similar end (Rev. 18:4-8). The imitation may indeed have a “form of godliness” (2 Tim. 3:5)—perhaps even supported with supernatural power by the god of this world—but if it is not identified in truth with the “Jesus whom Paul preacheth” (v. 13), then we must avoid it and warn against it. Test all things by the Word (v. 20). Be wary—Satan, the arch deceiver, is seeking to destroy you!