Satan’s Four Snares

It’s extremely significant that in the one place in the Gospels we see Jesus and Satan do battle directly, the focal point is on identity. It’s remarkable to me because if we were to say to a movie producer today, “Okay, the Son of God—the ultimate force for good in the universe—and Satan—the chief force for evil—are going to do battle,” they’d likely depict some epic battle in a city where they are shooting lightning bolts and hurling buildings at each other.

It would make a cool movie, but it’s not how the Bible depicts it. In Scripture, this epic battle is two guys out in the wilderness having a conversation about how Jesus sees himself.

Likewise, the root of so many of Satan’s temptations for us is the question of who we are and how God feels about us. The rest of his temptations are secondary. After all, Satan wasn’t out in the wilderness showing Jesus pictures of naked women or offering him drugs. Satan started by making Jesus question who he was and how God felt about him. And that’s exactly where he starts with us.

This story gives us a deeper look into Satan’s attacks and provides four categories, or snares, he uses: circumstances, comparison, competition, and condemnation.

1. The Snare of Circumstances

Satan often starts with the accusation that if God really loved us, our lives would be different. “If you are the Son of God,” he says. Which is absurd, because the story just before Jesus’ temptation ends with the Father saying, “You are my beloved Son!”

Satan may be sneaky, but he’s apparently not very creative. Because all throughout the Bible, he loves to take the focus off of what God has already declared over us and put the focus onto our current circumstances.

It’s Eve in the Garden of Eden, when Satan whispers, “Why would God tell you to not eat from this tree? He’s obviously trying to hold back something good from you.”

It’s Joseph, betrayed by his brothers, falsely accused, sitting in prison, when Satan whispers, “Does this feel like love? Like God is for you?”

It’s David, on the run from Saul, hiding in caves, when Satan whispers, “Why are you, the anointed king, out here in the wilderness while that villain Saul sits comfortably on the throne?”

It’s Jesus’ disciples, interacting with Jesus on a daily basis, seeing him change and restore lives, when Satan whispers, “If he’s really the Messiah, why are Roman soldiers still abusing and oppressing God’s people with impunity?”

It’s us, as the friendship crumbles, when the pregnancy test comes up negative again, or the diagnosis returns, when Satan whispers, “If you really were a son or daughter of God, and God really cared about you, he wouldn’t let this happen.”

We have a choice in our lives as to whether we’ll determine God’s character by what’s going on around us or by what he declares about himself. We can be certain that the promises are all true; the tomb is still empty. God is still on the throne. God is who he is, his Word stands secure, and his promise never fails.

2. The Snare of Comparison

Satan also likes to quietly attempt to get us to establish our identity on what we can do and how we measure up to others. He asks us to prove it, getting us to question our intellect, our looks, our merit, and our worth, all in light of those around us.

But comparison is a trap for disciples of Jesus. After all, everyone is on different development timetables. Some of us are like poplar trees, growing like weeds the moment they’re planted. Others of us are like bamboo trees, showing no growth for several years until they suddenly tower over 90 feet. We are specifically designed for God’s purpose, and Psalm 139 says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made for that purpose. And when it’s all said and done, we’re not compared to anyone else, only what we did with what God allotted to us.

3. The Snare of Competition

Competition isn’t inherently sinful; it can be good, bringing out the best in us. But when competition is used to create or maintain a self-image, as Satan attempts to do, it becomes deadly and brings out our worst. If we only feel good about ourselves when we win, we become frustrated at losses because we could have done better, and then we fume about them for weeks in our humiliation. For many of us, competition makes us anxious, hateful, bitter, jealous, and most of all, exhausted. All because competition is tied to our identity.

4. The Snare of Condemnation

This is where Satan uses our personal failures and shortcomings to tear us down. He urges us to base our identity on what we have or have not accomplished, rather than what God says about us. He says, “Look at all you’ve messed up. You’ll never amount to anything” or “Someone with sinful weaknesses like yours will never make a Christian. God sees through you. No way he counts you as a Christian.”

When we mess up, God says, “I love you. I’ve never stopped loving you. You are my beloved child. I can give you the power to be that!” He doesn’t ignore our mistakes, but he doesn’t fixate on them, either. He offers a way through our sin to the forgiveness and wholeness on the other side.

Satan starts with what we did and tears down who we are; the Holy Spirit starts with who we are in Christ—our identity—and repairs what we’ve done.