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Know Your Opponent

by Kenneth M. Orel

By examining the biblical description of Satan and patterns in your life—you can overcome sin.

I can still remember Room 101. That high school biology classroom reeked of formaldehyde, a constant reminder of chemically preserved frogs that were dissected by students.

Room 101 served another purpose during the fall football season. My team spent many hours sitting in there with shades drawn watching game tape of opposing teams on a rickety projector.

We would always study the opponent we would go to battle with the next game. No team was invincible, we were taught, so what could we discover on those 8-millimeter film rolls to secure an advantage against our next foe?

In competitive sports, studying game tape of your opponent can reveal their favorite plays and, more important, their weaknesses. Knowing and exploiting your challenger’s deficiencies is crucial to winning any contest.

Our coach demanded a lot from us. He made sure we studied who we would be individually going up against: “If you know what he will do before he does it, you gain the advantage. Study him!”

Yet studying our own game footage also exposed our weaknesses.

Painful memories of my own mistakes being watched over and over remain etched in my memory forever. The thought of an irritated coach detailing my mistakes in front of the team still sends chills up my spine.

“What were you thinking?” our coach would bellow as each mishap replayed ad nauseam. Rather than slicing up frogs in that room, we would dissect every imperfection in our performances. Personal disappointment of my miscues turned to embarrassment as I sunk deeper into those old, uncomfortable wooden chairs. In the end, however, the exercise showed me where I was wrong—and helped me become a better player.

In fact, taking a hard look at my own playing became even more important than watching game tape of the other team. Finding and rooting out my weaknesses meant opponents would not be able to exploit them, which drastically increased our chance of success.

For those high school football games, relatively little was at stake. A win-loss column cannot compare to what is on the line for Christians: rulership in God’s kingdom and eternal life.

Our adversary Satan continuously works to gain a competitive edge against us. He seeks to discover our faults, entice us through temptation, and ensnare us in sin. Knowing how he operates is crucial.

Yet we must also take a hard look at ourselves, find the weak chinks in our armor, and overcome them with God’s help.

By studying the “game tape” of life, we can do just that. We can gain victory!

What We Are Up Against

Everything we need to know about the devil is readily available in the Bible. There is little excuse to not know how this opponent will attack us and what his tendencies are. God’s Word is crystal clear about this being’s strengths.

Satan is deceptive (Rev. 12:9) and disguises himself as an angel of light (II Cor. 11:14), which means his way and ideas can seem right—though they ultimately lead to death. Add to this that he is subtle and devious (Gen. 3:1).

Perhaps most important to know is that the devil, as “god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4), is also “the prince of the power of the air.”

Ephesians 2 explains: “Wherein in time past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience” (vs. 2).

Similar to radio, television and other mass communication mediums, Satan injects and broadcasts his wrong thoughts, moods and attitudes throughout the Earth.

Verse 3 continues: “Among whom [the children of disobedience] also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”

Note two things in this verse: Every Christian has been under this influence before, which led us to fulfill “the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” Also, we were once all “by nature the children of wrath.”

This means that even after repentance, baptism and receiving God’s Spirit (Acts 2:38), Satan’s nature—in the form of human nature—is still at work in Christians. Overcoming the pull to sin is a lifelong struggle.

Though we are no longer directly tuned into Satan’s wavelength, he can still influence us. Ephesians 6:16 shows that he shoots “fiery darts” of doubt meant to destroy our faith in God’s promises. He is also known as “the tempter” (Matt. 4:3; I Thes. 3:5).

Our time yielding to the devil’s nature—vanity, jealousy, lust, greed, envy, resentment, hatred, anger, pride, rebellion, foolishness, deceit and hostility toward God—leaves us particularly susceptible to temptation.

What is temptation exactly? The Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible entry for the words tempt and temptation includes “to test, endeavor, scrutinize, entice,” “solicitation” and “provocation.”

Satan tests us, probes for weaknesses, and looks for the perfect places where we can be enticed and provoked. He looks for the areas of our character where our nature most matches his nature.

Make no mistake, the devil knows our character flaws well and will relentlessly attack where we are weakest. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He is “full of wisdom” (Ezek. 28:12), albeit used for dark purposes. Revelation 12:10 states that he accuses the brethren “day and night” before God’s throne, which means he is carefully watching for slip-ups so he can rail against us.

Put this all together. The devil injects wrong thoughts and desires into our minds—which means we must defeat Satan. He has the ability to influence the over seven billion people alive today simultaneously—which means we must avoid the temptations of society. Finally, Christians still have human nature—which means we must overcome self.

These three opponents, Satan, society and self, are what every Christian must battle to overcome sin and build God’s holy, righteous character.

Arguably, the greatest of these adversaries is self. Consider. Satan and society are powerful influences on us, yet they do not force us to do anything. The pulls of these two enemies all ride on decisions we make. If both Satan and society were removed from the picture, Christians would still have to overcome their own self-will and natural weaknesses.

Yet there is a clear way to accomplish this.

Proving Ground

While temptation can seem like a great stumbling block for those living God’s Way, it actually has an incredibly inspiring purpose.

Realize that temptation in and of itself is not wrong. Instead, it is a proving ground. Rather than always leading to sin, temptation can be used to build godly character, willpower and spiritual stamina.

The test of temptation can refine and ultimately strengthen us. This was the case in the story of Job. Note that God invited the devil to test His servant because God knew Job could handle it. (Read Job 1:6-8.) Also, He knew Job had a deep-seated self-righteousness problem, which would surface under pressure and therefore could be addressed.

Although God allows temptation in our lives, never lose sight of the fact that He cares for us. Be confident that He will not allow us to have more than we can handle. Notice: “There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it” (I Cor. 10:13).

Have faith in this promise as temptations and trials come. God never allows more enticements than “you are able” to handle. By relying on Him, you will gain “a way to escape” and “be able to bear it.”

Also, whenever temptation comes, remember its crucial importance: to strengthen you.

Know Yourself

Christians should never blame Satan when they sin. “The devil made me do it” is a childish excuse! Every sin we commit is ultimately our own fault. James 1:14 makes this clear: “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.”

We are tempted by our own lusts. Thayer’s Greek‑English Lexicon of the New Testament defines the word lust in this verse as “desire, craving, longing” and “desire for what is forbidden.”

Enticed means “beguile,” “allure,” and “deceive” (ibid.). In other words, it involves influence by trickery and delusion.

Each time we give in to temptation, it is our own fault. We desire something that is forbidden—contrary to God’s Law—and then delude ourselves into thinking it is okay to sin.

Whenever this occurs, we must study the game tape of our lives.

Proverbs 24:16 states, “For a just man falls seven times, and rises up again…”

When we do sin, we must rise up again and ask God for forgiveness and repentance. Then we must examine why we fell by looking at the circumstances that led up to it. We must identify our weak spots because we will continue to be attacked in these areas. Meditation is a key component in preparing for the next attack.

It is helpful to ask yourself a series of questions while analyzing where you went wrong:

  • What were the circumstances that led up to the sin?
  • Where were you when everything occurred? Did just being there set you up for failure?
  • What specific thoughts came into your mind to set you up?
  • Did you blow past the promised ways of escape?

Do not answer these questions lightly. If we are serious about defeating sin, we have to be fully and brutally honest with ourselves!

We all battle the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). The key is to master control over our flesh so it cannot be used to seduce us.

Notice Romans 8: “If you live after the flesh, you shall die: but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live” (vs. 13).

Recognize where you are weakest, and do not let pride stop you from addressing the problem before temptation strikes.

We must take the time to study and learn the scriptures that apply to our weaknesses so we may bring them to mind when we perceive temptation.

When we do fail, remember that our mistakes can teach us how not to do something. Meditating on past events in our lives can be our game tape to teach us and reinforce right behavior. Do not allow this great teacher—experience—to slip by. We must take advantage of what we have suffered so we can become wiser and not allow ourselves to be trapped again.


God gives us an even greater aid to defeat the pulls of the flesh: “For we have not a high priest [Jesus Christ] which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

Jesus Christ is our high priest and intercedes on our behalf (7:25)—He is a “mediator between God and men” (I Tim. 2:5). Because He was tempted just as we are and knows what we are up against, He can perfectly fulfill His role as an intercessor between Christians and the Father.

With all this in mind, we must follow Hebrews 4:16: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

When we need help during temptation, or mercy and forgiveness when we sin, we should boldly go before God in prayer. He will help us!

Know that Satan’s greatest defeat came during his challenge of Jesus. The accounts in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4 reveal the greatest matchup between these two beings. The encounter is instructive for every Christian in battling sin. Note that each attack from the adversary was met with a Bible passage. Knowing Scripture is key to overcoming temptation.

Take comfort that Christ has overcome the world—and Satan. Jesus stated: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

We can do the same!

Even when we do successfully thwart temptation, we have to understand that we cannot let our guard down. Overcoming sin is a lifelong pursuit.

After Christ triumphed over Satan’s temptations, the adversary had no plans to give up: “And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from Him for a season” (Luke 4:13). Satan has not changed.

Just like Christ, we must never let our guard down.

Preparation is key to defeat and frustrate Satan and our own sinful natures. All the while, keep in mind that temptation is the ultimate proving ground.

Strive to rid your life of earthly lusts. Study Satan’s tactics by reading Who Is the Devil? Continue to study yourself and think of everything that is at stake. You do not want to lose!