Ever since the first days of the Church, Scripture and the saints have described the Christian life in terms of a spiritual battle.
They talk about good versus evil, right versus wrong, God versus Satan, and heaven versus hell. Sometimes the language can sound too black-and-white, but language like this can help clue us in to the ways Satan tries to turn us from the Lord. So let’s take a closer look at this spiritual struggle so that we can learn the way to victory!
Dueling Goals. The mind is God’s most precious gift to us. It is capable of reasoning, imagining, understanding, deciding, and remembering. The mind is also the place of conscience—our ability to choose right over wrong. Now, we know that God wants us to use our minds in ways that glorify him and help build his kingdom. He wants us to use our wills, our intellects, and our imaginations to share the gospel, to feed the hungry, and to bring his justice into this world.
But God hasn’t left us to do all this work on our own. He wants to help us. He wants to give us his wisdom and show us his love so that our minds can be transformed to think in new ways. St. Paul goes so far as to say that those who have received the Holy Sprit have the very “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
As promising as this sounds, we have to know that Satan has a different goal for us. He wants to separate us from God and from each other. Through deception, accusation, greed, lust, and a host of other tactics, he is always trying to lead us into sin. His goal is to separate us from God and dull our consciences so that we are more prone to sin. Then, when we have fallen, he will whisper words of guilt to convince us that God can never forgive us. Thus, through a combination of temptation, guilt, and shame, the devil tries to keep us feeling hopeless so that we won’t turn to the Lord for his mercy and love.
The Deception behind the Story. What a clever, spiteful strategy! Once we begin to entertain a lie from Satan and allow this lie to influence our actions, more lies begin to appear. These new lies reinforce and build upon the initial lie. After a while, our judgment is clouded. We find it harder to tell right from wrong. We begin to consider some sinful behavior as acceptable—even though it is clearly opposed to God’s commands.
King David is one example of this cycle of lies leading to greater sin. David was attracted to a woman named Bathsheba, who was not his wife (2 Samuel 11–12). Filled with desire for her, he commanded that she be brought to him, and he slept with her.
Those are the basic facts of the story. But we can just imagine how Satan was working behind the scenes. Through his temptations, he was encouraging David down this sinful path from the beginning. Then, after they slept together, Satan increased his lies. He convinced David to have Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed so that David could cover up his sin and have her all to himself. It wasn’t until the prophet Nathan confronted the king that his eyes were opened to all the wrongdoing he had committed. Humbled and ashamed at what he had done, David repented and was able to reestablish his relationship with God (Psalm 51).
This story shows how deceptive the devil can be. It shows how Satan’s lures can lead us to make decisions that we know are wrong and how we can silence our consciences and somehow believe that actions that are clearly opposed to God’s commands are still acceptable. It also shows how Satan will tempt us in our areas of weakness. Had David been on the alert, he probably would have seen the temptation for what it was. He could have chosen to reject the temptation and walk away from it.
But that’s not all the story tells us. It also shows how merciful our heavenly Father is. No sin, not even adultery or murder, is outside of his power to forgive.
Strategies for Victory. Satan will use any means to defeat us. He will whisper to us words of low self-esteem or high self-esteem. He will try to weigh us down with guilt or dull our consciences with pride. He will tempt us to lash out in anger, or he will convince us to keep all our emotions bottled up inside. He will do anything to keep us from using our minds for God’s glory. He will use any strategy he can to convince us to make selfish choices that are opposed to God’s plans. When we let the lies of Satan remain unchallenged in our minds, when we let them become the motivation for our decisions as King David did, we will find ourselves hurting each other. Worse, we will find ourselves separated from God.
So how can we win this battle? Here are a few strategies:
• Build a Godly Database. Maybe we can all pray that a prophet like Nathan will teach us how to defeat the strongholds of Satan. Perhaps there is such a person in your parish or in your family. But wouldn’t it be better if God taught us how to defeat Satan’s temptations on our own? The truth is, we will choose God and reject Satan only to the degree that we know who God is—if we know about his love, his glorious attributes, and his plan for all humanity. The sidebar on page 9 lists many of these truths.
• I Am a Child of God. Equally important as building a godly database is discovering our true identity as children of God. Satan wants to convince us that God doesn't love us. He wants to hide our everlasting heritage from us. He downplays what Jesus did for us on the cross and tells us instead that we don’t need God. Don’t be like the child who goes though life completely unaware that his father has left him a million-dollar inheritance. Instead, lay hold of the heavenly inheritance that Jesus has won for you on the cross.
• Take Your Thoughts Captive. On a practical level, St. Paul tells us to “take every thought captive in obedience to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). When your mind is grounded in the truths about God is, you will be far better at counteracting the lies of Satan. With this foundation of truth in place, you will be better equipped to examine your thoughts and discern whether they are in line with the Lord.
With a love for God’s truth active in you, you can learn how to apply a godly discipline in the way you approach the philosophies of the world concerning things such as money and relationships. You can learn how to challenge your mind when it tends toward greed, lust, selfishness, and other “works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19). As you do, you’ll find God’s power helping you determine whether the thoughts in your minds are consistent with your desire to please the Lord. Along with St. Paul, you will find yourself adopting this motto:
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
Created for Freedom. God wants to help us win the spiritual battle. With this truth firmly planted in our minds, we don’t have to be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, using “prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,” we can tell God what we need. Then, God’s own peace “that surpasses all understanding” will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
God has given us the Holy Spirit. He has given us the Body and Blood of his only Son in the Eucharist. These provisions can be very powerful in helping us overcome the lies of the devil.
Winning the battle for our minds is not an easy task. Yet there is nothing more gratifying to us and more pleasing to the Lord than when we walk in victory and confidence. After all, God created us to be free!