Satan’s Strategy #8: Be Happy
Satan shows us the happiness and comfort that flagrant sinners seem to enjoy.
Some non-Christians scoff at God, indulge in spectacular sins, and yet still seem to thrive. The Evil One shines the spotlight on these men when they are healthy, wealthy, happy, and carefree to ensure that believers notice them. He uses the entertainment industry to bombard us with a non-stop parade of celebrities, athletes, stars, and business tycoons—all of them smiling and apparently content, yet all the while unconcerned with the things of God. Unbelievers live the good life while believers deny themselves (and often suffer hardship) for the sake of Christ's kingdom.
Few things are more trying than seeing ungodly men prosper. For millennia, the most mature of God's people have struggled with this temptation. “I was envious of the arrogant, as I saw the prosperity of the wicked,” confessed David. “They are not in trouble as other men." David was tempted to regard his own faithfulness to God as worthless: "Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure, and washed my hands in innocence." (Psalm 73:3,5,13) Most Christians understand intellectually that the ungodly man's pleasures are short-lived, but it is still emotionally difficult to see wicked men prosper.
Satan uses this to nourish disappointment and frustration in God's people. He presents to us friends, family members, coworkers, celebrities, and historical figures and whispers to us,
“Look at all these people! They are just like you... except they did not pursue holiness with the same seriousness as you. Look how happy they are! Look how blessed their children are! Look how satisfying their lives are!"
Then the Adversary tempts us to our faith: “Is obeying God really worth it?" Brooks has Satan doing his sinister work with these words: “If ever thou the freed from the dark night of adversity, and enjoy the sunshine of prosperity, thou must walk in their ways."
Satan frequently uses this mode of temptation when believers are sad, depressed, or otherwise discouraged. We compare our despair with the apparent happiness of non-Christians. When things are bad, it is easy for us to think, “Why try to resist sin? Look at how bad things are. Look at where my Christian life has gotten me. Who cares? What does one more episode of failure matter? What will a little more sin matter?"
Temptation preys upon self-pity; temptation says, “I can make you feel better. I can give you a quick fix. You can be happy like all those other people! And you deserve it!"
What the Deceiver does not disclose is the rest of the story.
It is simply not true that flagrant sinners suffer no hardship. Even in this life, sinful disregard for God's will frequently results in tragedy. Notice how frequently the rich and famous suffer through divorces, battle with alcohol and drug addiction, suicide, or heartbreak. Satan hides this from us. Not surprisingly, people tend to keep their personal pain private, and the media often does not report the not-so-happy stories of alcoholism, loneliness, family fighting, and sexually transmitted diseases. Thus we tend to see only part of the story, namely the attractive part of the story that Satan wants us to see. If we saw the entire picture – if we saw how unbiblical lifestyles frequently lead to disaster in this present life-we would not find Satan's temptations so alluring. "They have, indeed, a glorious outside," writes Brooks of the unbelievers who seem to prosper, “but if you view their insides, you will easily find that they fill the head full of cares, and the heart full of tears."
In some cases, however, non-Christians indeed suffer little disaster in this life. They sin flagrantly and enjoy prosperity. Christians must think biblically about such situations. "Then I perceived their end,” said David, after God showed him the eternal destiny of the ungodly men who prosper in this life. "Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment!" (Psalm 73:17-19)
We must remind ourselves that eternity is a long, long, long time. The pleasures of sin for a season do not compare with the pleasures of God, which Christians will enjoy forever in Heaven. Satan's temptations usually focus on immediate de lights in this present life. He labors to prevent us from thinking with an eternal perspective. God repeatedly instructs us to think rationally about time: our stay on this earth is actually quite brief, and the vast majority of our existence will be spent either in Heaven or Hell.
When you are tempted to live like the ungodly, be sure to consider the eternal destiny of the ungodly.
Previous posts in this series:
- Peeking Into the Devil's Playbook
- Satan’s Strategy #1: Bait and Hook
- Satan's Strategy #2: Sin That Seems Virtuous
- Satan's Strategy #3: Downplay the Danger
- Satan's Strategy #4: Great Men Sin
- Satan's Strategy #5: God Doesn't Judge
- Satan's Strategy #6: Just Say Sorry
- Satan's Strategy #7: What's to Fear?
Robert Spinney (PhD, Vanderbilt) is professor of History at Patrick Henry College, where he teaches American history and historiography. He is the author of City of Big Shoulders: A History of Chicago and World War II in Nashville: Transformation of the Homefront, as well as an American history textbook and numerous ministry-related booklets. Dr. Spinney formerly served as a pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Hartsville, TN, and at Winchester Baptist Church in Winchester, VA.
"Keeping Desire and Temptation in Their Place" by Richard Phillips
"The Labyrinth of Temptation": Calvin on Genesis 22 by Aaron Denlinger
"Lead Us Not Into Temptation" by Mark Johnston