How does the devil trick us into sin? What is spiritual warfare?

May 16, 2018

How does the devil trick us into sin? What is spiritual warfare?

Do you find that keeping up with your spiritual life is often challenging? Do you sometimes feel like giving up, but you keep on struggling? Well, this is perfectly normal and it means that you are actually on the right track. Giving up is never an option—this is precisely what the devil wants us to do. Knowing this, we therefore keep on fighting the good fight. However, why is spiritual life so hard? Because there is a spiritual war on us, and most of the time, we are not even aware of it. St. Anthony the Great says: “Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.” Thankfully, there is good news: there are means that can help us stay on track. One of those means is to understand who the devil is and how to respond to his deceitful tricks. It is precisely for this purpose that we decided to initiate this mini-series, where we hope to expose his main techniques used against us. Like in sports, games or wars, a good strategy always requires an understanding of the adversary’s tactics. When using this knowledge, we can know what to expect. We can be more alert and more successful in our war against the devil.

We are going to discuss one of his most powerful tricks. Nevertheless, we first need to quickly understand who the devil is and what his attributes are. The devil used to be a good and powerful angel. He was created as good, but by his free will became evil. He lost his goodness, but kept his power. In short, because of his pride, he attempted to make himself equal to God and seduced some of the angels in the process. His desire was to be worshiped the way God is worshiped, though the devil is quite unlike God to say the least. In John 14:30, God says of him: “the ruler of this world is coming and he has nothing in me.” There is no communion or fellowship between God and the devil. This means that he lacks all of God’s ontological virtues. In other words, if God is love, the devil is hatred. If God is peace, he is anger. If God is truth, he is the source of lies. Actually, the word devil means “slanderer,” which means a malicious way of damaging someone’s reputation through lies. This is precisely how Christ speaks of him in John 8:44. As Christ was speaking to the Jews and was telling them that they were from their father the devil, He went on to say that the devil does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources for he is a liar and the father of it.

So far, we saw that he was evil, prideful, powerful, and the father of lies. In addition, he is incapable of love. Actually, he is the epitome of hatred. Which explains why St. Peter would advise the Church members in 1 Peter 5:8 saying: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” He is a roaring lion. He has no pity. Christ also describes him in a similar fashion when He is talking to St. Peter in Luke 22 when he says: “Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat [meaning to knock him down]. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail…” It doesn’t end there. Moreover, this roaring lion is very experienced. He has thousands of years of experience and has

waged war on millions of souls. In contrast, each one of us is living for the first time. Thankfully, God protects us and has given us the Church to guide us against his wiles. This is ultimately the reason why we never fear the devil… Well, as long as we are united to God that is. We still need to acknowledge that he is there and we need to gain knowledge on how to defeat him through God’s grace.

One of the major tricks the devil uses on all of us without exception is the method of gradual fall. Meaning he makes us fall into permanent sin, but in a very gradually way., which is really a very smart way of attaining his final objective, which is our eternal perdition. Why does he do that? Simply because it works! Often, when someone commits a sin that is relatively substantial for him, his reaction is “I can’t believe I just did this…” and he immediately repents. Sometimes, the person can even become spiritually stronger after his repentance. One of the best Biblical examples of this circumstance is the denial of St. Peter. Although he denied Christ, he repented and re-became a leader amongst the apostles and assumed a big role in establishing the Church. Nonetheless, his quick temporary fall didn’t achieve the devil’s objective. Therefore, the best way for him to ensure our fall is by gradually leading us in taking small steps backwards. The intention of this trick is twofold. First, he wants to destroy our good habits; and second, he wants us to develop bad ones. For example, if you are used to praying every morning before leaving the house for let’s say 20 minutes, he starts attacking this habit. He knows and understands more than us how such a good habit is keeping us united to God throughout the day. If we are united to God, then he has no authority over us, so he wants to break it! St. John Cassian describes this very well. He says: “The demons have no means of taking possession of a man’s spirit or body, no power to forcibly enter his soul, unless they first deprive him of all holy thoughts, and make him empty and devoid of spiritual contemplation and prayer.” He thus wants to separate us from God, so he can have authority over us. Now, if he proposes to us to stop praying altogether, we wouldn’t listen to him because the trap is too obvious, so he suggests just skipping a day and gives us a good reason to. For example, he would say something like: “you have an exam or an important presentation today, wouldn’t it be smart to rest a bit this morning?” He always presents to us a logical temptation. It seems to make sense, at least from an earthly perspective. Even if the person falls, he wouldn’t tempt him the next day. It would be too obvious. He would lay off a bit and occasionally tempt him. Gradually, but surely, he makes the person take a small step backward and keeps him there until his conscience is appeased, until he doesn’t feel the remorse anymore. Then he resumes his efforts in further breaking this good habit. And if the person is not aware of what is happening to him, it is only a matter of time for him to stop praying altogether.

The devil uses the same method in developing bad habits, which leads to addiction. I’ll share with you this beautiful story from the desert fathers that truly drives the point home: “One day a monk asked his spiritual father, ‘Please give us a word of advice about sin.’ The spiritual father called all the monks and asked them to follow him. As they started walking, the spiritual father saw a small plant, so he told the monk, ‘Remove this plant.’ So the monk pulled the plant and it was easily uprooted. Then, as they continued walking, they saw a small tree. Again, he told the monk: ‘Remove this tree.’ The monk must have asked him, ‘What does this have to do with sin?’ But as the spiritual father urged him to go on, the monk tried to remove the tree, but he couldn’t. The spiritual father told the other monks to help him out. After much effort, they were able to remove the small tree. As they continued walking, they saw a huge tree. So the spiritual father told the monk, ‘Remove this tree.’ As they were barely able to remove the small one, the monk responded, ‘It is impossible!’ Then, the spiritual father responded, ‘This is what sin is like.’” When temptation or sin is being introduced to us, it is like this first plant which is easily uprooted. When we let the bad habit of sin remain in our lives for a while, it grows up to become a tree and it requires much effort and time for it to be removed. The worst case is when we leave the sin in our lives for long enough that it becomes a huge tree. Once again, the devil has no problem in being patient until our consciences are at ease with each small gradual step backward. After a while, he pressures us furthermore until we develop these huge trees in our spiritual lives. The additional problem is that at every step in the process we become weaker and weaker. The further we step away from God, the weaker we get, and the more he is able to persuade us to move in the direction of perdition. He never forces us—he can’t. He only suggests. But since we have become weaker, we give in. Think about it: no alcoholic woke up saying, “I want to be an alcoholic today.” Neither did the drug addict, nor the pornography addict did. It doesn’t happen in one shot, but gradually. Fortunately, even if a believer attains this level of sin, God works with him in cutting the tree down and gives him back his freedom. But it takes much repentance, much time and effort. It is much better not to allow ourselves to get there in the first place. And better yet, let us not only aim in avoiding sin, but in gaining virtues. Our Christian objective is not only to escape sin, but more importantly to become saints.

Remember know your faith, live your faith and teach your faith, and Glory be to God forever, amen.

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