One of the events that contributed to the Union army winning the Civil War occurred when a Yankee soldier found a detailed copy of Robert E. Lee’s orders for the Antietam campaign on a cigar wrapper. The wrapper quickly passed through the ranks until Northern officers found themselves holding a cheat-sheet to victory. A subtle and cunning enemy is far easier to counter when you know with precision what his next move will be.
Christians are in a position similar to the Union army before Antietam. Paul remarks in II Corinthians that we are not ignorant of Satan’s devices. This is true. Between the revelation of Scripture and the accumulated wisdom of 4,000 years, the devil has no new tricks to play. His effectiveness is not a product of ingenuity or lateral thinking. Rather, like a dried up womanizer, he relies on a handful of stock pickup lines to entrap the gullible and defenseless. For men, this means that the age-old principle ‘Know thy enemy’ has spiritual application. To avoid sin, the tactics of the enemy must be understood and anticipated. We must act on the wisdom of Proverbs: ‘In vain the net is spread in the sight of a bird’ (1:17). To see the trap is half the battle.
Trap 1 – Dilute the Evil of Sin
Why did Israel struggle incessantly, repeatedly, and uniformly with idolatry? The answer is because idolatry felt normal. Never in the history of the world, until Sinai, had anyone said that making idols was wrong. Every culture adjacent to Israel made use of idols. Carved images were as ubiquitous in the Ancient Near East as smart phones are in America. Therefore, since Idol worship did not feel evil, a lot of Israelites made the mistake of thinking that it was not evil. They confused feeling for truth.
This confusion was not accidental. It was part of a sinister plan hatched by Satan, a strategy he is still employing today. Satan loves nothing more than to dilute the social awkwardness of sin, to numb its discomfort, so that God’s own people begin to accuse Him of being puritanical. Kierkegaard says, ‘Most people believe that the Christian commandments are intentionally a little too severe – like putting the clock on half an hour to make sure of not being late in the morning.’ But God’s wisdom is not high-strung. It is exact and purposeful. To doubt the judgment of the Almighty is to play into the hand of Satan.
Trap 2 – Sin Is Containable
David thought that he could manage sin. He could have an affair with a neighbor’s wife without getting caught. Yet sin is no more containable than an atomic bomb. Once unleashed, sin imperils the life of anyone in the blast zone.
Men need to realize that sin is a foreign operative working on behalf of Satan. To permit sin to inhabit the heart is like giving security clearance to a known terrorists. The consequences will be dire. The job of sin is simple: to disintegrate and destroy the soul of a human being. This known, a man should more readily set his foot on a landmine than willfully permit the least noticeable of sins to settle in his life. The worst a landmine can do is send a man to the grave. The worst sin can do is send a man to Hell.
Trap 3 – No Hook in the Bait
We have all seen a commercial on TV for some new drug that promises to heal a frustrating disease such as psoriasis or impotence. After mentioning the positive benefits and likelihood of success, by law, the advertisement then is required to list all of the risks and potential side-effects associated with the treatment. Typically, this list of possible cancers and major organ malfunctions is narrated while the camera drifts to children laughing on swings and a dad playing fetch with an exuberant golden retriever. What is the logic of the sophistry? Drug manufacturers want their audience to focus on the good, the bait, while ignoring the danger, the hook.
Satan attempts to do something similar with sin. He advertises the pleasure, the momentary relief, but hides the fact that the wages of sin are always death. To outsmart the devil men need to identify the hook. They need to understand that they have a better chance of enjoying a poisonous mushroom than getting any lasting pleasure from sin. The river of pleasure ebbs from the feet of the Most High. To look for satisfaction anywhere other than God is as useless as traveling to a desert in search of water.
4 – Repentance Is Easy
Anyone who believes that repentance is easy has never truly repented. The heart is made of a quick-drying cement that hardens in an instant but takes hours, days, sometimes years, to break. Esau learned this the hard way. Selling his birthright was as fast and simple as making a credit card transaction. However, repairing the loss was as painful and difficult as paying off credit card debt. The writer of Hebrews says, ‘For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it with tears’ (13:17).
Men, if Satan whispers in your ears, “Repentance is easy,” remind yourself of the stories of Esau, Saul, and Judas. Satan’s objective is to not to maim, but to kill. He longs to slip the noose around the neck. Nothing good can come from lingering in his presence.
5 – God Is All Mercy
God is infinite. His mercy is infinite, but so, too, is His justice. We ought rather to face the fury of a hungry grizzly bear than the holy vengeance of God. Satan wants us to forget this, to believe that punishment is somehow beneath the nature and goodness of a righteous God. This is a myth. God is unchangeable. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New. Thus, any man resting in grace while actively pursuing sin needs to think hard about Psalm 50:22: ‘Now consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you in pieces, and there will be none to deliver.’ Thomas Watson was speaking the truth in love when he said, ‘God is the best of friends, but the worst of enemies.’ Men, don’t play games with Satan, but more importantly, do not play games with God. To choose sin is to mock God, and the God of glory is mocked by none.