Satan’s Power of Suggestion

(From a message given May 27, 2018.)

Did you know it’s impossible to lick your elbow?

I may not know everything, but there are two things I do know about trying to lick your elbow. For one thing, I know it’s not really impossible for everyone. A few people can lick their elbow. But more importantly, I know that just by suggesting that it’s impossible, some of you will try anyway.

Some years ago I spoke on some of the ways Satan attacks us, and how we are to respond to his attacks (http://dtjsoft.com/know-your-enemy/). I listed three different weapons Satan uses:

• The first weapon is deception. Satan is the father of lies. Whenever God tells us the truth, Satan contradicts Him. God told Adam and Eve they would surely die if they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan directly contradicted God and said they wouldn’t surely die. Eve believed Satan and suffered the consequences. He still deceives many today.

• The second weapon I mentioned is distraction. Satan tries to sidetrack us from God’s purpose for our lives. God wants us to keep our eyes on Jesus. Satan wants us to look everywhere else: on the stormy waves all around us for example, or the pretty but worthless baubles of the world.

• Satan’s third weapon is discouragement. Satan tries to get us to lose hope in God. He’ll use deception and distraction to try to accomplish this goal. If he can foster doubts in our minds about who God is, especially His sovereign power and absolute unconditional love for us, his hardest task is done.

Deception, distraction, and discouragement. These are very powerful weapons in Satan’s hands. But they’re not the only ones in his arsenal. Another weapon is division. Satan likes to divide us so he can weaken us. This isn’t division from worldly antagonism, but from within the church. He tries to set Christian brother against brother and sister against sister. If we fall, grudges are sometimes held for years, which can render us ineffective in building up the kingdom of Christ. I think we’ve all seen or experienced this at some time or other.

Today I want to talk about yet another one of Satan’s weapons. Perhaps it’s his most effective because it’s the power behind all the others. I think once you become aware of this weapon and learn how Satan uses it, you’ll recognize it everywhere. What is this weapon? It is Satan’s power of suggestion.

We’re all influenced by the power of suggestion. Turn on the TV and you’ll be bombarded with commercials that tell you how much you need the latest and greatest products. You need a Ginsu knife! You need a Snuggie! You need Flexseal! You need an new iPhone! You need a new car! You were content without these things until you saw them on the TV, and then you found you suddenly ‘needed’ them.

Marketing today is built on the power of suggestion. You may be happy as you are, but advertising is designed to make you unhappy until you buy the latest product. Today’s economy is based on Satan’s lie that you must have more to be content.

Did you know Satan invented marketing? It’s true. In Genesis 3, we see the very first advertisement for a product man did not need:

Now the serpent was more subtle than any animal of the field which Yahweh God had made. He said to the woman, “Has God really said, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?'”

The woman said to the serpent, “Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat, but of the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'”

The serpent said to the woman, “You won’t surely die, for God knows that in the day you eat it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

– Genesis 3:1-3 (WEB)

Isn’t this a powerful commercial? Today we have salesmen spouting off the advantages of new cars, washing machines, and deodorant… but none of them claim that if we buy their products, we’ll avoid death or we’ll be like God. Satan made this forbidden fruit very attractive in Eve’s mind. But notice he didn’t compel Eve to eat it. He didn’t say, “Here, eat this,” nor did he ask politely. All he did was suggest what the benefits would be if she ate:

• “You won’t surely die. You worry too much, Eve. God is probably just trying to scare you. Death is not certain.”

• “Your eyes will be open. Not only is the fruit not dangerous, it’s actually beneficial. It’s good for you! You’ll see better!”

• “You will be like God. You love God, don’t you, Eve? Don’t you want to be like the one you admire the most? Isn’t this a good thing?”

Satan merely planted an idea in Eve’s mind, and after thinking about the supposed benefits for all too short of a time, she ran with it. And just like buying a poor quality product on TV, only after she took the bait did she realize she was duped.

Satan suggested some other things in this short dialog:

• “God is not as good as you think, because He’s withholding something beneficial from you.”

• “God won’t keep His promise of death if you disobey.” (In other words, God is not trustworthy. He doesn’t keep His promises.)

• “God does not know what is in your best interests.”

Satan always seeks to get us to believe false things about God. He’s not about making our lives miserable. That’s just a means to an end. His goal is to corrupt our understanding of who God is. He always seeks to destroy our faith.

How many remember the Flip Wilson show. It aired back in the 70’s. It was one of my favorites shows, second only to Carol Burnett. One of Flip’s characters on the show was Geraldine Wilson. Whenever Geraldine did something wrong, she would blame it on Satan. Her most famous phrase was, “The devil made me do it.”

Geraldine was supposed to be a preacher’s wife. One day her husband sees her with an expensive dress. He got angry, but she blew him off with “The devil made me buy this dress.” Here’s how Wikipedia tells it…

“…She describes how the devil followed her on the street, flattered her with praise, showed her the dress in a shop window, pressed her into the shop, and then forced her to sign the preacher’s name to a check. The preacher is doubtful; he says that she is too quick to blame the devil, for instance the time she rammed the car into the side of the church. She counters by saying that, at the time of the car accident, she was trying to wrest control of the steering wheel away from the devil, and she was also trying to kick the devil, which prevented her from using the brake pedal.”

While “The devil made me do it” always got a laugh, too many believe this is the way the devil operates: that Satan can force someone to do something against his will. But unless we surrender control to him first, Satan doesn’t force anyone to do anything. Instead, he works by planting ideas in our minds. Sometimes he suggests something that we should so, but other times he doesn’t suggest any action at all. He knows we’ll come up with the action on our own… just like when some people try to lick their elbow when told it is impossible.

What are some of the things Satan suggests to us about God?

• “You can’t trust God.”

• “God doesn’t mean what he says.”

• “God isn’t absolutely righteous.”

• “God doesn’t mind if you sin a little now and then.”

• “God is good, therefore he won’t punish you for your sins.”

• “God can’t or won’t help you.”

• “God isn’t concerned about you.”

• “He doesn’t love you.”

• “God has abandoned you.”

And while these are lies, most of the time Satan does not call God an outright liar. He will only point you to circumstances so you can come up with that idea on your own.

Satan also suggests things about ourselves:

• “You’re strong enough now to handle this temptation on your own.”

• “It’s obvious that a lie here would be more beneficial than to tell the truth.”

• “You can compromise a little bit here. You can get closer to the line without going over.”

• “God knows what a weak-willed person you are. He’ll understand if you sin.”

• “You can get away with this one, small sin because others have gotten away with much worse. Besides, God understands and He’ll forgive you.”

• “Your way is better than God’s.”

• “You will be happier if you do things your way rather than God’s way.”

• “You will be safer if you do things your way instead of God’s way.”

• “You have the right to hold a grudge or to revenge.”

• “You can love the things of the world and still be a Christian.”

And don’t forget, Satan also suggests things about other people:

• “That person intentionally wronged you!”

• “That guy’s an idiot!”

• “That person is a worse sinner than you.”

We all remember the first part of the story of Job. Job was a spiritually mature, upright man who feared God and avoided sin. Job’s goodness irritated Satan. So Satan asked God’s permission to put Job through some trials, and (this is the scary part…) God allowed it. First Satan took away all of Job’s possessions. Then he took away his children. Last he took away his health and all comfort, giving him much pain and suffering in return. But Job continued to worship God through all this. He said, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Satan failed, and it seems he gave up his attacks… but he didn’t really.

At the end of chapter 2, three of Job’s friends showed up to comfort him. What they saw was so shocking, they were speechless for a whole week. Then Job complained about his situation (chapter 3). He wished he would die. He considered the dead as somehow ‘enjoying’ that state of death, and he wished he could join them. Extreme suffering will do that to you.

But Satan was still looking for a way to trip up Job… to get him to curse God, and he found a willing instrument to accomplish his goal. In chapter 4, Eliphaz, one the friends who came to console Job, spoke. For a short time, he commended Job for the good things he had done in the past. But then he let Job know what was really on his mind…

“Remember, now, whoever perished, being innocent? Or where were the upright cut off? According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity, and sow trouble, reap the same.

– Job 4:7-8 (WEB)

Where did that come from? Eliphaz was present to commiserate with Job and to comfort him. But at some point during that first week he must have asked himself, “Why did this happen to my friend?” As the gears in his head turned, he came up with the only solution that made any sense to him: Job must have sinned something terrible!

But really, where did he come up with the idea that Job had sinned? There’s a clue a little further down in the chapter. Eliphaz said:

“Now a thing was secretly brought to me. My ear received a whisper of it. In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, fear came on me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake. Then a spirit passed before my face. The hair of my flesh stood up. It stood still, but I couldn’t discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes. Silence…

– Job 4:12-16a (WEB)

Some time during that first week, Eliphaz had a dream… more like a nightmare. He was terrified. He saw a ‘spirit’ in front of him and his hair stood on end. Does this sound like the Holy Spirit? No, not to me. I believe it was Satan, and he had come to plant an idea in Eliphaz’s mind…

“…then I heard a voice, saying, ‘Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker? Behold, he puts no trust in his servants. He charges his angels with error.

– Job 4:16b-18 (WEB)

Satan spoke these words to Eliphaz in his dream. Satan, the angel God had charged with error. Satan, the one who was no longer trustworthy. But Eliphaz somehow mistook Satan for an angel of light.

“Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his Maker?”

Satan did not say anything that was an outright lie. He didn’t even directly accuse Job of sin. But the idea he planted would take root and grow in Eliphaz’s mind like an virulent, fast-acting virus. When he ran with it by boldly speaking critically of Job, the contagion to his other friends. They also took up the idea and relentlessly attacked Job. This one little satanic suggestion affected the three friends’ view of Job and influenced the dialog for the next 32 chapters.

Much of what the friends said was true in general, but they were wrong about Job, and more importantly, they were wrong about God. They were so off base that at the end of the book, God chewed out Eliphaz and his two companions:

“My wrath is kindled against you, and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job has.”

– Job 42:7 (WEB)

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar thought they were more righteous that Job, but God said it was the other way around.

Satan still works the same way today. He’s full of suggestions. He’ll plant ideas in our minds, knowing we’ll run with them. Where do these ideas come from? They’re on the internet. They’re in books and magazines. They’re in the movies. They’re on TV and the radio. (I think they call them television ‘programs’ because they reprogram your way of thinking.) If you’re aware of this, you can be prepared and resist him. Here are some examples I see.

Satan plants ideas on television, in movies, and in the news:

• “It’s okay to judge other people. It’s okay to drag their sins out into the open for everyone to see.”

• “It’s your right to be angry about anything and everything. Hate for people is appropriate when they don’t think or act the way you think they should.” Satan has us fostering uncontrolled anger in our minds about anything and everything: politics, race, religion, and so on. The most minor things set us off.

• “It’s okay to exact vengeance on others for the wrong they’ve done to you. Never wait for God to do so.”

• And then we’ve all seen the fools who do something stupid, dangerous, or evil because they saw someone else doing something similar.

Here’s a more specific example. I like watching Star Trek, but just like virtually all other television shows, it’s also a platform for Satan’s suggestions. Here’s what the show tries to tell us:

• “Man can improve himself without God.”

• “Life can be better without God.”

• “The happiness and peace of man is the highest good.”

• “There’s no such thing as sin.”

• “Fornication is good if the woman is beautiful.” (They always play beautiful music in those scenes.)

Satan also works through social media. Satan tells us it’s okay to post the sins of others (especially of political and other famous figures) on Facebook. Jesus confronted sinners every day when He was on earth, but you don’t see Him constantly bringing up the sins of others, other than their lack of faith in Him.

The world has lost its mind today because everyone buys into the things Satan suggests. It’s not just the world. What Satan did with Job’s friends, he does with us. It happens in the church. It happens in our church. It happens with you and me. I think most of us have been used unwittingly like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. He feeds us little ideas that sound good and we run with them. He put an idea in Peter’s head, and Peter told Jesus He would never suffer and die (Matthew 16:22). He put another idea in Ananias and Sapphira’s mind, and they lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-4). Always be on your guard because you are very susceptible to his suggestions.

What defense do you have against this attack? Well, first you must begin with awareness of your enemy:

Be sober and self-controlled. Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Withstand him steadfast in your faith…

– 1 Peter 5:8-9a

Satan is always on the prowl, therefore always be on your guard against the things he would have you believe. The devil is constantly trying to feed you information, so be aware of the source of the various ideas that enters your mind. Ask yourself if that thought is something Jesus would think and act on. Study your Bible to become familiar with the way Jesus reacted to various situations, and compare that with how you would react. If you find the thought contrary to the way your Lord would think, then resist the suggestion. Bring every thought “into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5) 1. Nip those fleshly, sinful suggestions and desires in the bud before they affect your lips and actions. Fight the good fight, and overcome! It is possible, otherwise the Bible would not tell us to do so.

Another thing to be aware of is your own susceptibility to Satan’s suggestions. Don’t let pride and self-confidence make you more vulnerable. They are your greatest enemies. Humbly rely on the Holy Spirit’s power in you to resist evil thoughts.

Satan’s suggestions are unavoidable. If you want to reduce the number of suggestions you hear, you could turn off your television and disconnect from the internet. But Satan has been deceiving people for much longer than there has been television and movies, and he will still do so with you. Even if you limit yourself to only ‘G’ or ‘PG’ movies, you will hear his suggestions. A show may not contain violence, adult situations and language, but it will likely contain lying, coveting, pride, self-reliance, selfish ambition, rebellion against authority, godlessness, and so on. Recognize it on the screen, even in the commercials.

Even if you abandon civilization and live isolated on some deserted island, Satan will still suggest things to you. Running away is not the answer. Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness for forty days, but Jesus didn’t try to run away. He didn’t put his fingers in his ears when the devil spoke to him. He listened to what Satan had to say, and instead of following the suggestions, He resisted and gave Satan the truth. This is the way to respond to Satan’s attacks.

Besides awareness and a dependence on the Holy Spirit, there’s another defense you can take. It’s especially useful when you see something you “must” have…

…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content in it. …

– Philippians 4:11-13

If you want a great advantage against evil suggestions, learn the art of contentment. No, it isn’t easy, for it isn’t natural. But it is do-able through the power of the Holy Spirit. And there are great benefits for your spiritual walk by doing so. Contentment is the cure for coveting and will inoculate you against most of Satan’s suggestions. Contentment would have prevented the Fall in the garden of Eden, which led to all the other troubles we have today. It would have prevented most of the wars that have been waged. It will prevent many falls in your life as well.

Don’t let Satan play you like a violin! Resist him! Test every thought that enters your mind, and choose the good, right thing.

Notes:

  1. God doesn’t work like Satan does. Satan suggests things, but God commands. And it’s always for our objective good. That’s why Paul told us to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.