What Satan Does When He Can’t Get You to Sin

Person holding a snake.

There’s this thought about Satan that’s been rattling around in my head for a while now. It’s a fairly simple concept, but one that for whatever reason often remains in the shadows of our minds, much to the adversary’s advantage.

He picks on all of us, and none of us overcomes his temptations one hundred percent of the time. But every so often we catch Satan red-handed. We recognize the potential for sin and immediately sidestep. Those are great moments.

Yet, Satan and his cronies aren’t the kind that just hang their heads and walk away.

What does Satan do when he can’t get you to sin?

Scattered Chess pieces

You’ve read this scripture dozens of times, but check it out again:

For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.

And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

From these verses, we learn that Satan will have some success convincing people to flat-out rebel “against that which is good.” But if that doesn’t work, he’ll try out the tactic in the next verse: Complacency.

At the end of the day, Satan doesn’t need to convince us to openly rebel against God, he’s perfectly content with getting us to ignore Him; to be apathetic towards Him and our circumstances. If he can’t get us to sin, at least he can get us to sit in stagnation. If he can’t turn us into a sinner, he’ll do his best to turn us into a sitter.

Speaking of fence-sitters, it seems that God was fully aware this would be one of the adversary’s tactics. Here’s what He says in Revelation:

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

Life is an uphill drive, but putting the car in neutral is just as good as putting it in reverse.

If you can’t get a soldier to switch teams, convincing them to drop their weapon and sit criss-cross applesauce in the dirt is a fantastically effective alternative.

In The Book of Mormon, when one army cannot overwhelm an enemy city outright, one strategy is to surround them, cut off their resources, and wait until they crumble from the inside. Satan seems to do the same thing. If he can’t incite us to rebellion, he’ll try to surround us, cut us off from the scriptures, prayer, church, love, compassion, feeling, honesty, charity, etc., “and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell … yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.”

This is the grand deception. Satan gets us to substitute sin with spiritual immobility, which is its own kind of sin altogether. The great commandment is clear,

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

There is no room for apathy. Indifference towards God is disobedience towards God.

What does stagnation look like?

Corroded metal

When you and I start to fall into mind-numbing gospel routines, that’s one way spiritual stagnation starts.

When we start to forget our morning and evening prayers, when scripture reading becomes less and less frequent, that’s a symptom of stagnation.

It also comes in the form of sins of omission, which are “the thoughtful, caring deeds that we ought to do but fail to do. Then we feel guilty for not having done them.”

Stagnation always wears the dangerous mask of complacency.

Stagnation can be extremely tempting because it happens within the realm of our comfort zones. It doesn’t take a whole lot of work. It’s the antithesis to being “anxiously engaged in a good cause,” and if we let ourselves sink into Satan’s trap for too long we quickly end up completely “past feeling.”

Keep moving

Hand extended holding a compass; sunset in background.

One of my favorite movies is World War Z. At one point Gerry Lane and his family are welcomed into another family’s apartment as they take temporary refuge from the zombie apocalypse happening outside. Gerry explains to the host family that they cannot simply stay in their apartment and hope to survive. “Movimiento es vida,” he says, “Movement is life.”

The host family stays behind and quickly join the ranks of rotting zombies (except their young son, who escapes). The Lanes keep moving and survive. Movimiento es vida.

The same principle applies to water. Life thrives in moving water. Stagnant water grows bacteria and quickly becomes toxic. Running water is much cleaner and safer to drink. Maybe that’s why Christ is so often likened unto a “living spring” or a stream of water.

To ensure spiritual survival we must keep moving.

Keep reading the scriptures daily. Pray often. Don’t give your testimony a chance to decay. A zombie plague or bacterial infection might be preferable to what Satan will turn us into.

We would each do well to take a moment, step back from ourselves and assess our lives. Is Satan succeeding at stirring us up to anger, or has he moved on to more subtle tactics? Are we becoming spiritually stagnant?  It’s hard to change, to repent, but it’s worth it. For the sake of our selves, our families and our happiness, let’s give it all we’ve got.

David Snell is a proud member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He's the Founder of The Sunday Pews, and has experience writing for Mormon Newsroom Pacific, KBYU11, Classical 89 Radio, FamilyShare.com and plenty more. He tries not to take himself too seriously and just wants to brighten your day a bit.