The devil tempts each of us in order to lead us to destruction. Satan uses temptation more than any of his other attacks because it’s just so effective.
Two types of temptation – indirect and direct attacks.
Satan’s tools of temptation can be classed into two broad categories, indirect and direct.
Indirect temptations come through things, places, or people that you encounter. The devil will use these types of temptations as frequently as he possibly can, because they easily slip under our defenses.
Direct temptations are probably more common than we think. The devil has the power to tempt us without using any other objects. He especially tends to use this means of temptation if you are working hard to resist temptation.
Indirect temptations are very common. Starting with our senses.
The devil doesn’t have to go to extraordinary means in order to lead us into sin. Thanks to original sin and concupiscence, (I’ll talk about these in a later post) human beings tend towards evil.
The first kind of indirect temptation comes in through our senses. A picture of a beautiful woman can lead us into sin. For instance, Victoria’s Secret catalogs come jam packed with images created to inspire lust. Temptation delivered right to our mailbox.
On a different note, the sensation of someone bumping into us while walking down a crowded sidewalk might lead us into anger. Someone cutting us off in traffic might lead to uncontrollable rage.
The scent of your favorite food might tempt you to overeating, also known as the sin of gluttony.
Temptations that come through the senses tend to be directed to our fleshly appetites like food, pleasure, and anger.
Temptations of place.
In Catholic moral teaching, the phrase “near occasion of sin” shows up pretty often. This phrase points out the second type of indirect temptation. These temptations arise from a location.
The friar in the story saw the demon sitting outside the bar, tempting the locals without any effort at all. Since the people were already in the habit of sinning at the bar, it didn’t require much effort to tempt them if they were nearby.
In our lives, certain locations tend to be linked to particular sins. It might be a friend’s house. A bar or restaurant. Los Vegas has cultivated an image as a place where sins can be indulged.
The devil can tempt us through negative relationships.
Now that I have kids, I definitely worry about making sure that their friends will be a good influence. Studies have shown the power of peer pressure on influencing “high risk” or sinful behavior.
We naturally want to please our friends, especially if we haven’t reached adulthood. A good (or influential) friend with a bad idea can inspire bad decisions and bad behavior.
The devil can tempt us through our media usage.
I’m not against technology itself, but there’s a huge amount of trash available. A vast majority of film, TV, social media, and music glorifies sinful behavior from adultery to murder and even the occult.
Modern media shows practically every kind of sinful behavior in a favorable light. This changes the way that we think about sin and makes it much more likely to make a sinful choice should the opportunity arise.
The devil can tempt us directly.
The devil is a spiritual creature, so he has the ability to attack us spiritually without using any other created thing. If you aren’t aware of these kinds of temptations, you might think that they are a normal part of your mental and emotional life. Discovering that the devil is working against us is actually liberating.
These are a little weird, because we don’t like the thought that the evil one is able to affect our lives so directly. But if you start paying attention to what’s going on in your mental/emotional life, you’ll begin to notice the smell of sulfur.
Take every thought captive.
The devil can directly influence our thoughts.
The first way is by stirring up your imagination and memory. If you are anything like myself, and did not always seek holiness and purity, your imagination and memory will contain images of all of your past deeds.
The devil will use those images like a stick to beat you, trying to either rekindle sinful desire or stir up shame for your past history. He will try to make you despair of the transforming power of God, saying “This is the person that you were, you haven’t really changed, you’re still that same sinner.”
These attacks are an attempt to weaken your resolve to resist sin and cling to the mercy of God, who makes all things new in Christ.
Whose thought is that?
The devil can skip the imagination and whisper directly into our thoughts. This is one of the weirder types of temptations, but I’m convinced that it is very common.
This is experienced as negative or sinful thoughts that you can’t seem to get rid of no matter how much you try. These thoughts aren’t necessarily your own. They are often the whispers of a demon sitting on your shoulder.
I have experienced this in my own life as a dramatic change in the tone or contents of my thoughts. I once used a lot of foul language, but I am pretty much entirely free of it. Even my thought life doesn’t contain vulgar language.
Unless there’s a demon. When foul language shows up in my thoughts, I start to pray, because I know that the evil one is at work.
It also might not be as obvious like that. This type of temptation will often contain false logic that will lead us to make false conclusions. Utopian delusions and false logic lead well meaning people off the edge when other types of temptation would have failed.
The devil can stir up evil desire.
A second kind of attack by the evil spirit that you might experience is a the stirring up of your carnal appetites. Rather than using images or memory, the demon would work directly on the appetite, attempting to stir any coals that might remain back into flame.
This type of attack would be experienced as a sudden increase in a particular desire where previously there was none. Examples include desires for sexual contact (lust), power, recognition, food, or revenge.
It gets weirder.
In the third type of direct attack, the evil one affects the sensitive powers of your soul. You experienced this attack as actual physical sensations that have no apparent source. Touches, smells, sounds. Weird.
These are probably the strangest types of attacks to experience because we don’t normally think of evil spirits as able to directly affect the body. It is good to remember the woman that Jesus healed whose back had been bound by the devil for 18 years experienced a physical affliction caused by spiritual action.
When I decided to fight against the sinful use of pornography, I went through a period of time when I actually felt the caresses of evil spirits, trying to excite lust. Totally freaked me out.
I think if you’re experiencing this level of spiritual battle, then you’re pretty close to victory. The devil likes to stay hidden. If he can mail you lingerie catalog that will lead you into sin, he’ll do that instead of sending disembodied hands.
What do can I do about these temptations?
This is an important question. Remember Jesus came us to free us from our sins. He has given us the tools we need to resist the devil. We just have to learn how to use them.
A monk walks into a bar.
St. John Vianney tells the story of a Franciscan friar who was given the ability to see what’s going on in the spiritual world around him. His guardian angel appears to explain what he sees.
When he visits the Chapter meeting of the Franciscans, the friar sees legion upon legion of demons. Thousands of demons of every possible description surround the gathering of Franciscans, looking for some opportunity sow temptation.
The friar’s guardian angel tells him that the demons attack the Franciscans so fiercely because they seek to do the will of God. They are a threat to the kingdom of the devil, because their poverty and simplicity convinces many people to repent of their sins and be converted.
The demons worked harder against the monks because they were seeking holiness.
The devil pours the drink.
The friar continued his journey, accompanied by his guardian angel. He came to a bar in the countryside, where he saw a single lazy-looking demon lounging outside.
A local from the area walked past the tavern. The demon casually lifted his hand and waved to the poor man to come have a drink. The peasant turned in his tracks and entered.
The guardian angel explained that the demon of drunkenness had the people in this area well trained. He didn’t have to work very hard to convince them to drink away their lives. And where there was drinking, all sorts of other temptation could bear fruit in sin.
Knowing the devil’s tactics is the first part of the battle. I’ll talk more about the ways we can fight back in future posts.
To read my story of how Jesus Christ snatched me from the snares of the devil, get my new book Demoniac on Amazon.com.