How does temptation work?

Question
How does temptation work? Can Satan read my mind?
Answer
This is an interesting question. Satan is a limited created being (cf. Ezek. 28:13, 15). He is not divine. And although he may be the ruler of this world (John 12:31), the god this age (2 Cor. 4:4), the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2), and a thief who comes but to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10), he is still answerable to the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; 19:16).

Satan is not all-powerful but is instead a defeated being (cf. Col. 2:13-15). He has limited access to heaven (Job 1:6-7; 2:1) and has limitations to his power as well (Job 1:8-11; 2:1-6). He doesn't even have absolute freedom of speech at times. In Zechariah we observe Joshua, the high priest, standing before the Lord (Zech. 3:1) wearing filthy rags that represented his sin (Zech. 3:3). Satan, the accuser, was standing right there also but could not say a word: "The Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?’" (Zech. 3:2). Speechless!!!

Only God is omniscient and can know our thoughts (Psa. 139:4). Satan was even ignorant of the power and effectiveness of the cross until it happened. As the Apostle Paul states:

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:6-8).

So, no, Satan can't read minds. This said, it can seem like he does read our minds at times. Why? Because he is the first fallen one, the author of evil, and the master manipulator. He and his cronies know the ins-and-outs of how temptation works. He is a master tempter with thousands of years of experiencing what makes people tick or function.

Fundamentally, temptations fall under three main headings: (1) the lust of the flesh; (2) the lust of the eyes; and (3) the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17). When a person is tempted, it will concern at least one or more of these three areas. I'll briefly explain how this works from a life example.

I'm a former homicide detective and have dealt with numerous attorneys. When preparing for a case, a good attorney will first do a background workup on all the witnesses to be cross-examined and next construct a flow chart of questions to cross these same witnesses. Attorneys are taught to never ask a question on cross-examination that they don’t know the answer to. The attorney will ask a question and depending on the answer, there are certain paths he is already prepared to go down. All he does is follow his flow chart; he knows before even asking where he's going and how to get there. Ultimately his flow chart ends at his goal of trapping and discrediting the witness.

Satan operates in much the same way. He's very familiar with fallen human nature. He is very familiar with you as a person. He's watched you and knows all the right buttons to push. He begins with a temptation that will entice you. Being the epitome of evil itself and with thousands of years of experience, he has a flow chart of sorts. How you respond initially dictates how the temptation will proceed. Enticement after enticement will come and result in thought after thought. All he does is follow his flow chart. Before he tempts, he knows where he's going, and how to get you where he wants you. His ultimate goal is also a trap. As James says, "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death" (Jas. 1:14-15).

So we shouldn't be ignorant of Satan's devices (2 Cor. 2:11). He is always prepared with his line of questioning/temptations (cf. 1 Pet. 5:8). And this is why we always need to be ready to stand against him, "casting down every imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:4-5, KJV). To be winners against temptation we must recognize it is a spiritual battle (Eph. 6:12), and we need spiritual tools and armor, to be victorious (Eph. 6:11, 13-18). We need the Holy Spirit's power and direction (Zech. 4:6), mountain-moving prayer (Mark 11:23), and a good understanding of God's word (Isa. 55:10-11) to defeat the Devil in his tracks (cf. Matt. 4:1-11).

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Who is the Prince of Tyre?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).