Resist the Devil: What Satan Can and Cannot Do

by John Piper

Prayer is not mainly a peace-time activity in the New Testament. It is surrounded by a sense of urgency and alertness and warning. It is a war-time instrument. It’s made for battle. And the point this morning is this: We need to know the designs of Satan and how to focus our prayer successfully against those designs. We need go beyond general, peace-time conversations with God and learn how to use prayer in a focused, war-time thrust against specific Satanic designs.

So what I want to do is give a quick overview of Satan’s designs. Then, we will look at Christ’s victory over Satan. And finally we will relate prayer to this victory.

Satan’s designs

Can you say this morning with the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:11, “We are not ignorant of his designs!” We should be able to say that. That’s why I list now ten things that the Bible says Satan does. These are some of his designs.

Satan lies, and is the father of lies.

John 8:44, “When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” As soon as he appears in the Bible in Genesis 3, the first words on his lips are suspicious of the truth (“Did God say, You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?”) and the second words on his lips were a subtle lie (“You will not die.”). John says, “He has nothing to do with the truth, because there is not truth in him.” We are dealing with the essence of falsehood and deception.

Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers.

2 Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of the Son of God.” So he not only speaks what is false. He hides what is true.

Satan masquerades in costumes of light and righteousness.

In 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 Paul says that some people are posing as apostles who are not. He explains it like this: “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” In other words Satan has servants who profess enough truth to join the church and from inside teach what Paul calls in 1 Timothy 4:1 “doctrines of demons.” Jesus says they will be like wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15). Acts 20:30 says they will not spare the flock, but will draw people away to destruction.

Satan does signs and wonders.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:9 the last days are described like this: “The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with signs and wonders of the lie.” Some people say that Satan can only fake miracles. I doubt that, and even if it’s true his fake is going to be good enough to look real to everybody.

One reason I doubt it is fake is that in Matthew 24:24 Jesus describes the last days like this, “False Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” There is not a hint there that the signs and wonders will be tricks. The fact is, our faith better be grounded in something more sure and firm than someone’s ability to do signs and wonders. (Even in the name of Jesus! Matthew 7:22).

Satan tempts people to sin.

This is what he did unsuccessfully to Jesus in the wilderness—he wanted him to abandon the path of suffering and obedience (Matthew 4:1-11). This is what he did successfully to Judas in the last hours of Jesus’ life (Luke 22:3-6). And in 2 Corinthians 11:3 Paul warns against this for all the believers, “I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

Satan plucks the word of God out of people’s hearts and chokes faith.

Jesus told the parable of the four soils in Mark 4:1-9. In it the seed of the word of God is sown, and some falls on the path and birds quickly take it away. He explains in verse 15, “Satan immediately comes and takes away the word which was sown in them.” Satan fights the word because he hates faith which the word produces (Romans 10:17).

Paul expresses his concern for the faith of the Thessalonians like this, “I sent that I might know your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and that our labor would be in vain.” Paul knew that Satan’s design is to choke off the faith of people who have heard the word of God.

Satan causes some sickness and disease.

Jesus healed a woman once who was bent over and could not straighten herself. When some criticized him for doing that on the Sabbath he said, “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” Jesus saw Satan as the one who had caused this disease.

In Acts 10:38 Peter described Jesus as one who “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” In other words the devil often oppresses people with illness. This too is one of his designs.

Satan is a murderer.

Jesus said to those who were planning to kill him, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth” (John 8:44). And John says (in 1 John 3:12), “Do not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.”

To put it in a word, Satan is bloodthirsty. Christ came into the world that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Satan comes that he might make life wretched and destroy it wherever he can.

We are seeing it more and more clearly—from the vampire murders, to the human sacrifice in Satan worship, to the bloodbath of four thousand shredded unborn babies a day in the abortion mills of our land. You look into the eyes of the hardened men and women who run these clinics around the Twin Cities, where some 200 babies a week are ground up, and tell me if you don’t see the darkness of the devil. He is a murderer, a hater of life. And I fear the church is ignorant of one of his darkest and ugliest designs.

Satan fights against the plans of missionaries.

Paul tells of how his missionary plans were temporarily frustrated in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-­18, “We endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face; because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.” Satan hates evangelism and discipleship, and will throw every obstacle he can in the way of missionaries and people with a zeal for evangelism.

Satan accuses Christians before God.

Revelation 12:10 looks to a future victory and says, “I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.'” It’s with us the way it was with Job. Satan says to God, “They don’t really love you; they love your benefits. Their faith isn’t real. They just learned it from their parents. They just like the music. It’s socially respectable.” And so on. Satan accuses us before the throne of God.

These, then, are some of the designs of Satan. Peter says he is our great adversary. He roars around like a lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). And today in America he is showing his teeth more clearly than in many years. And here at the beginning of 1989 we as a church need to take heed, be sober, and serve him notice that we will not be intimidated! For all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ and He has sent us in this power to plunder the strongholds of Satan. So let’s look now to the victory of Christ over Satan.

The Victory of Christ over Satan

The more real Satan appears in our day, the more precious the victory of Christ will become to those who believe him. The New Testament teaches that when Christ died and rose again Satan was defeated. A time of limited freedom is granted to him, but his power against God’s people is broken and his destruction is sure.

1 John 3:8, “The Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil.” Hebrews 2:14, “Christ took on human nature that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” Colossians 2:15, “God disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.” In other words the decisive blow was struck at Calvary. And one day, when Satan’s time of limited freedom is over, Revelation 20:10 says, “The devil . . . [will be] thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone . . . and will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” (See Matthew 8:2925:41).

What does this mean for those of us who follow Jesus Christ? “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies!” (Romans 8:33). “Neither angels nor principalities nor powers nor anything else shall separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ” (Romans 8:38f). “He who is in us is stronger than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). “We conquer him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony” (Revelation 12:11).

Therefore, the trumpet call here at the beginning of 1989 is this: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you!” (James 4:7) He has been defeated, and we have been given victory. Our task now is to live in that victory and make Satan know his defeat.

How do we do that?

Prayer and the Defeat of Satan

The answer we want to emphasize during this week of prayer is this: focused, war-time prayer is an essential part of our assault on the strongholds of Satan.

Jesus said to Peter in Luke 22:31f, “Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” In other words Jesus gives us an example of how He opposed a specific Satanic threat with prayer. Satan aims to sift you Peter, but I interpose with prayer. I block him with prayer, I frustrate his design with prayer. Do you know how to do that? Do you pray in a focused, war-time way as part of your assault on Satan?

Jesus commanded us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,”—that is, deliver us from the successful temptation of the evil one. Meet the designs of the devil with the determined power of prayer. Do you know how to do that?

Ephesians 6:18 says that we are to “take the sword of the Spirit, praying at all times in the Spirit.” In other words all spiritual warfare—all use of the armor of God—is to be done by means of prayer. Focused, war-time prayer is an essential part of our assault on the strongholds of Satan.



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