Four Ways Satan Moves You From Desire to Death

Sin starts small, as a desire deep in our hearts. But as it grows, it gets stronger and stronger. Desires become ingrained ways of thinking. Ingrained ways of thinking become habits. Habits become addictions and life trajectories. And that leads to spiritual death.

Here are four ways Satan tries to move us down the road from desire to death.

1. Sin is the Satanic off-ramp offered to us in a trial.

When we lose our confidence in God and turn to other things to give us comfort and peace, we cease to “let steadfastness have its full effect” (James 1:4 ESV). Like the children of Israel in Exodus 32, we’re quick to think God has forgotten about us in times of trial. So we elevate our own idols and do what we think is right. If God isn’t going to help us out, we’ll help ourselves out.

Except we’re not helping ourselves out at all. Neither are we making our own decisions. Any decision to abandon God in times of trial has its origin in one heart—Satan. He almost always offers a substitute for trust. He whispers, “Here’s a creature comfort, here’s a pleasure, a compromise, a way to maintain control.” Any way he says it, he’s saying, “God’s not worth waiting for, he’s not going to come through.”

In all of the sins that we commit horizontally—materialism, adultery, complacency—it begins with an unbelief vertically.

2. Sin leads to death.

The indulging of sinful desires feels so right in the moment, so natural, but it only leads to destruction. Satan always uses our wayward desires to lead us to destroy our very souls.

If we knew we were being led to our death, of course, we wouldn’t go for it. But Satan isn’t so foolish as to say, “Come over here, I’d like to destroy you!” He entices us with things that feel right, deceiving us into thinking they’re actually good for us.

When I was serving overseas, there was some unrest in the city I was living in. An angry mob stormed the streets, searching for believers and chanting for their death. They ended up lighting a few cars on fire and imprisoning a couple of my friends. It was horrifying.

I was able to watch some footage from the riots. The combination of the violence with their chanting made me think, “This is evil stuff. This is Satanic.” Most of us would have felt the same.

Around the same time, I was evacuated out to a different city, to lay low while the violence passed. I was exhausted. I was alone. And as I checked in at the hotel, I handed the young woman at the front desk my passport. She said, “I’d be happy to hold this for you.” Then, touching my hand, she said, “Is there anything else you’d like me to hold for you tonight?”

I think it was the grace of God that I had so recently seen the footage from those riots. Because the first thing that popped into my head was that chant: Death! Satan was as interested in my demise in that moment as he would have been if I was caught in the street by an angry mob. The image in front of me was very different. But Satan’s desire to destroy? It hadn’t changed a bit.

3. The longer sin grows, the harder it becomes to kill.

Sin starts with a desire that turns into an action, which becomes a habit, then an addiction, and finally, a life trajectory. The further down the road we go, the harder the pattern is to break.

Sin must be killed while it’s young. We can’t live under the impression that our fantasies aren’t harming us, even when they’re kept “under control.” The roots have already begun sinking deep into our hearts.

J.C. Ryle once wrote, “Habits, like trees, are strengthened by age. A boy may bend an oak when it is a sapling—a hundred men cannot root it up, when it is a full-grown tree.” We must take sin seriously and kill it at the “desire” stage, because if we don’t it will grow until there’s nothing left of us.

4. Satan is in the desire-cultivation business.

Our Enemy’s main tactic is not always to attack us directly. In fact, I’d say it’s almost always the opposite. Satan quietly and subtly cultivates our sinful desires, reinforcing them until we can no longer escape.

Russell Moore says, “Sometimes the Bible uses the language of predator and prey to describe the relationship between tempter and tempted, but often the Scripture also speaks of temptation in the language of rancher and livestock. You are not just being tracked down—you are also being cultivated.”

What desires are we cultivating in ourselves? Materialism, lust, bitterness, anger, gossip, rage? Or the fruit of the Spirit—things such as love, joy, peace, and patience? Make no mistake: What you choose to cultivate has life-or-death implications.