Satan’s Strategy #2: Sin That Seems Virtuous

Scripture reports that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Understand that Satan's deception extends beyond disguising his person; he also disguises his activities. Especially when Satan tempts Christians, he presents sins as things that are not so bad, and sometimes even good.

Wasn't this what Satan did in the Garden of Eden? He claimed the forbidden fruit would open the eyes, make man like God, and impart the ability to know good and evil. Eve’s conclusion: It was good to eat the fruit (Gen. 3:6-7). 

Brooks gives several examples of this kind of temptation that resonated with his seventeenth-century culture. Believers are tempted to be proud (says Brooks) when Satan deceives us into thinking that pride is really only neatness and cleanliness. Christians are tempted to covet when covetousness is repackaged as thriftiness. Drunkenness is recast as nothing more than enjoying fellowship with friends. Riotous living is excused as merely a stage through which all youth pass. 

Here are several examples that may resonate with today's culture:

  • Men are tempted to give free rein to their bad tempers when this sin is portrayed as merely exercising firm leadership as the head of one's family. 
  • Women are tempted to nag and manipulate their husbands when they are deceived into regarding such behaviors as only encouraging their spouses to do what's right. 
  • Children are tempted to dishonor their parents when they think they are only exercising their God-given rights as individuals.
  • We allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity when we rationalize it as suffering unfairly for Christ's sake. 
  • Believers are tempted to indulge in pornography when Satan persuades them that they are merely fulfilling normal sexual desires in a way that doesn't hurt anyone. 
  • Impatience is justified as a determination to get things accomplished. 
  • Irreverence in worship is excused as friendliness, warmth, and avoiding stuffiness. 
  • When we are argumentative in religious discussions, we are tempted to justify our lack of kindness because we are defending the truth. 
  • We are tempted to wear immodest clothing when we recast the subject as fitting into our culture for the sake of the gospel. 
  • An employee is tempted to steal from his employer when he regards his theft of money, goods, or time as a just compensation for the employer's alleged injustices. 

Sadly, sin corrupts our minds so that we make ingenious defenses for sinful conduct (e.g. Eph. 2:3; 4:17, 18; Titus 1:15; 2 Tim. 3:8; Col. 1:21; Rom. 8:6-7). Indeed, we are chillingly adept at putting a virtuous face on sin. Satan encourages this activity; he excites the remnants of sin in us to think about sin itself in an unbiblical (and sinful!) manner. 

A sanctified mind is one of our best defenses against temptation. Sin frequently appeals to our feelings; in this regard, it is often irrational. It uses our emotions to overwhelm our better judgment. But when our mind is informed by the Word of God, it exposes sin to the purifying light of God's truth. It is our mind that says, "No! This sexual lust will not make me happy. It will not fulfill; it will make me miserable. It will destroy the joy and contentment that only God gives.” 

A biblically-informed mind argues against the often emotional appeal of temptation; it unmasks sin that masquerades as virtue. In so doing, a sanctified mind promotes real godliness (and real contentment).

Previous posts in this series:

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.

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