Thomas Brooks was an English Puritan pastor in the 17th Century. He listed “Satan’s devices” as one of “the four prime things that should be first and most studied and searched,” together with Christ, the Bible and the believer’s own heart; “If any cast off the study of these, they cannot be safe here, nor happy hereafter.”

Tactic #1: Emphasize the Benefits of the Suggested Sin

The first tactic of Satan to entice us to sin is to emphasize the pleasure or benefits one will enjoy in the suggested sin. No promise is too extravagant for him to make about the fruit of sin – it will make us happy, or fulfilled, or safe, or successful. All of this and more is promised, if only we succumb to the temptation and open the door of our hearts for it. But, as the demon in the Screwtape Letters observes:

[God] made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it’s better style. To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return—that is what really gladdens [Satan’s] heart.

Tactic #2: De-emphasize the Perils of the Suggested Sin

Paired with magnifying the benefits of the suggested sin is the tactic of denigrating its attendant dangers. First, he tries to convince us that it isn’t actually sinful. Brooks says that Satan “paints sin with virtue’s colours.” So he greed gets labeled good stewardship, and pride gets rebranded as dignity or standing up for one’s rights. So rather than enticing us to something bad, he frames it as something good. As a former CIA agent remarked on the terrorists with whom she had worked undercover: “Everyone thinks they’re the good guy.”

Second, Satan may admit that the action is sinful, but insists that it will cause little or no lasting harm. Brooks lists four variants of this approach:

  • It’s only a small sin – especially when compared with the sins other people commit
  • No one will ever find out about it
  • It’s not serious – you can stop doing it whenever you want
  • Don’t worry: God is merciful and repentance is easy

Finally, Brooks identifies a third demonic technique of enticing us to sin: the act is sinful and probably even harmful, but it is unavoidable in the situation – the lesser of two evils. As with the last approach there are several variants:

  • You’re too weak / tired / stressed / vulnerable / needy to resist it right now
  • It is necessary due to the situation or to fulfill your legitimate responsibilities (e.g. a salesperson has to lie to do their job)
  • It will enable you to do much good and glorify God (e.g. compromise on your beliefs to keep your job as a pastor)

Resisting the Tactics

Brooks offers four tips for resisting these demonic suggestions:

  • Re-establish a proper cost-benefit ratio of committing the sin by dwelling on the fleeting nature of the pleasures of sin and the true costs it bears
  • Remember that small sins are dangerous, not only because small sins can lead to bigger ones in the future, but also because they are less likely to shock the soul into repentance
  • Carefully avoid all occasions of sin – that is, keep away from situations where you are prone to be tempted or where you might fall into sin
  • Carefully select the raw material for one’s thoughts. Listening to “vain discourse” and viewing “wanton objects” provides the Tempter with much raw material to work with.

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