Wiles are tricks or manipulations designed to deceive someone. The tongue-in-cheek phrase a woman’s wiles refers to the seductiveness of femme fatales in using charm or sex appeal to elicit a desired response from men. Wiles of the devil are those clever schemes used by Satan to ensnare us through temptation, threat, or intimidation. Ephesians 6:11 warns us to “put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (KJV). Other Bible versions speak of the “devil’s schemes,” “strategies,” or “evil tricks” rather than “wiles.” Scripture gives us insight into our enemy’s tactics: “We are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11), and we are wise to heed its warnings.
Here are some of the devil’s wiles we see in Scripture:
1. Challenging God’s Word. Genesis 3 gives us a detailed look into this tactic of our enemy. It led to the first human sin, and Satan still uses it because it works so well. The first recorded words of the devil, through the serpent, were these: “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:1). With those words, the devil invited the woman to reconsider what she understood God to have said. By adding her human interpretation, she convinced herself that God’s Word was far too restrictive.
By suggesting that we should reexamine the clear teaching of God’s Word, Satan invites us to add our own interpretation and thereby nullify God’s stated will. Entire church denominations are falling prey to these wiles of the devil. “Did God really say that homosexuality is wrong?” he hisses, and churches crumble. “Did God really say there are only two genders?” he suggests, inviting us to put our own spin on reality, making ourselves gods in place of the Lord. Ephesians 6:11 says that we need to be clothed in the whole armor of God to withstand such wiles.
2. Challenging our identity. Luke 4:1–13 gives insight into several of the devil’s wiles. Satan came against Jesus to tempt Him in the wilderness. On two different occasions, Satan began his temptations with these words: “If you are the Son of God.” Satan knew exactly who Jesus was (Mark 1:34). Jesus was there when Satan fell “like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Significantly, the devil chose a time when Jesus was physically weak and hungry to attack His identity.
Satan does the same with us. To make his wiles more effective, he hits us during a crisis or a spiritual struggle and suggests, “If you were a child of God, this wouldn’t happen. If you were actually a Christian, God would help you right now.” Again, we need the “helmet of salvation” firmly in place to withstand such attacks against our identity and God’s character (Ephesians 6:17).
3. Twisting Scripture. Another of the wiles the devil used against Jesus was to quote Scripture, but with a twist. In Luke 4:10–11, Satan quotes Psalm 91:11–12 in an effort to persuade Jesus to act in the flesh rather than follow the Spirit (see Galatians 5:16, 25). But Satan failed to complete the thought of the psalm. The next verse, Psalm 91:13, says, “You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.” Those animal references are metaphors for fierce and dangerous enemies—and the devil is likened to both a lion and a serpent in Scripture (Genesis 3:15; Revelation 20:2; 1 Peter 5:8; cf. Romans 16:20). The true meaning of the passage in Psalm 91 is that God will protect and empower His servants as they overcome the enemy, Satan. One of the wiles of the devil is to leave out key parts of Scripture in order to twist its meaning to fit his agenda.
We see these wiles of the devil in action today, as prosperity teachers and false prophets quote Scripture in selfish and misleading ways. They use enough of God’s Word to sound authoritative, but they twist it to fit their personal agendas. Cherry-picking the Bible for verses that affirm whatever we want to believe or do is a widespread problem, and most participants have no idea they have fallen victim to one of the wiles of the devil.
4. Offering a tempting alternative to obedience. Another scheme or wile of the devil used in the temptation of Jesus was to suggest another path, avoiding strict obedience to God’s will. Cunningly, Satan knew better than to suggest that Jesus forget the whole salvation plan and go back to heaven. Instead, he offered an alternative. In Luke 4:5–7, “the devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’” This temptation was aimed at the humanity of the Son of Man. Jesus now knew what it felt like to be in the flesh. He knew what spikes would feel like in His hands and feet. He knew what rejection and mockery would feel like when He was stripped naked and paraded before the crowds. Satan was offering Him a compromise. What if Jesus could “save the world” without having to suffer crucifixion? What if He could take a shortcut and possess all the world’s kingdoms now?
One of the most sinister wiles of the devil involves his ability to offer a religiously tainted compromise. He knows he can’t come at mature believers with a frontal attack on their values and convictions. So he slides in the back door, posing as a friend with a reasonable alternative: “Well, yes, technically it might be wrong for someone to move in with a boyfriend, but you can witness to him better as he watches you live out your faith.” Or this: “You don’t need to go to church to be spiritual. You connect better with God alone in the woods. Those people are all hypocrites anyway, and you are too righteous to associate with them.” We must beware of the devil’s wiles when he offers something other than total obedience to God’s will.
The New Testament writers often pointed out the wiles of the devil to those in the church who were falling for them, and we should take note. The presence of false prophets (1 Timothy 6:3–5), busybodies (1 Peter 4:15), adulterers (1 Timothy 1:9–10), and seducers (Revelation 2:20) are all part of Satan’s masterplan to undermine the church from within.
To combat the wiles of the devil, followers of Christ must stay clothed in the armor of God. We must stay immersed in His Word so that we recognize deception. And when we realize we have been caught in the wiles of the devil, we must quickly repent and seek godly accountability. Psalm 37:23–24 encourages those who desire to live godly lives: “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.” When the Lord holds our hand, the devil’s wiles cannot harm us.