Can Satan Implant Thoughts Into Our Minds or Read Our Minds?
This is a two-part question:
I. Can Satan or his demons know our thoughts and read our minds?
II. Can Satan or his demons put thoughts and desires in our minds and hearts?
Let’s look at the first part.
I. Can Satan or his demons know our thoughts and read our minds?
A. The Bible never says directly that Satan cannot know our thoughts or read our minds, but it never shows him doing it and implies that he can’t.
Satan and his demons would only be able to do this if this was an ability God created angels with.
Remember, Satan and his demons are fallen angels. What defines their power and abilities is their angelic nature, not their evil nature. How they use their power and abilities has to do with their evil nature.
It is not stated anywhere in Scripture that he is able to do things that other angels cannot do.
So if Satan can do it, so can all angels.
The Bible clearly shows that angels can wield tremendous power in the physical realm. They have struck people blind, shut the mouths of lions, executed God's judgment.
See Gen.19 and Dan.6:22, and 2 Ki.19:35. But it says nothing about the mental realm.
Even though angels exist in the spirit realm that does not necessarily mean they can read our minds.
Even though demons can possess the bodies of unbelievers and even speak audibly through them (a physical manifestation), that does not necessarily mean that they possess their mind, only their physical bodies.
B. There are “clues” in the book of Job that imply Satan cannot read the minds of humans.
Look at Job 1:1- 5:
“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil. And seven sons and three daughters were born to him. Also, his possessions were seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and a very large household, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the East.
And his sons would go and feast in their houses, each on his appointed day, and would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did regularly.”
Notice the text does not say, “he thought to himself,” but rather “he said” so Satan could hear him.
‘Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. And the LORD said to Satan, ‘From where do you come?’ So Satan answered the LORD and said, ‘From roaming through the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.’ Then the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?’”
Notice, God does not appeal to Satan to examine Job’s heart. God appeals to Job’s outward life, which is a reflection of his inward life. We can tell this from the entire passage. If someone can read minds, then it seems to me that God would focus on that rather than that the outward.
“So Satan answered the LORD and said, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!’ And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.’ So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.”
Notice, Satan does not appeal to any knowledge of what was going on in Job’s mind. If he could read his thoughts, he could tell God what Job had been thinking. We can assume that Job had some doubts about God at times, but he never allows himself to hold onto those doubts and turn away from the Lord.
In the whole situation with Job, Satan and God deal with Job on the outside in the physical realm as a reflection of his spiritual walk with God.
C. Now compare that to what the Scriptures show that God can do as a divine being. Look what David says about God in Ps.139.
“O LORD, you have searched me and known me. You know m y sitting down and my rising up; you understand my thoughts afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, you know it all.”
David appeals to God’s knowledge of both the inward and outward.
God can read our minds and knows us in the deepest part of our being. I believe that is a divine attribute.
Peter tells Jesus that he knows what Peter’s true commitment is which is obviously based upon Jesus’ divine knowledge of what is in Peter’s mind and heart even though his life didn’t always show it.
“He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to Him, ‘Lord, You know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed My sheep. Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.’”
John the apostle mentions this attribute about Jesus in Jn.2:23-25, he says,
“Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs, which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.”
This knowledge John is talking about here has to be more than just a general knowledge of what humans are like. It has to refer to knowing divinely the sinfulness of man’s heart.
II. Can Satan implant thoughts or desires in our minds and hearts?
The answer is no.
Along with what we have already seen in Job are more passages that show Satan is focused on the external.
Again an outward expression of Job’s inward heart and mind.
“Then Job arose, and tore his robe and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, ‘Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this Job did not sin, nor charge God foolishly.”
Notice, again, everything is focused on the outward expression of Job’s inward faith. Job did not sin as evidenced by the fact that he did not verbally charge God with wrongdoing.
“Again there was a day when the sons of God [angels] came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord. And the Lord said to Satan, ‘From where have you come?’ And Satan answered the Lord and said, ‘From roaming through the earth, and from walking up and down in it.’ And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that fears God, and shuns evil? And he still holds fast his integrity, although you moved me against him, to destroy him without cause.’ And Satan answered the Lord, and said, ‘Skin for skin, yes, all that a man has will he give for his life. But put forth your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.’ And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, he is in your hand; but save his life.”
Again, everything is focused on job’s outward expression of his inward integrity. Satan never says Job will turn away from God in his heart or will doubt him. He appeals to the verbal. Satan says Job will verbally curse God.
“So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord, and struck Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself; and he sat down among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still retain your Integrity? Curse God, and die.’ But he said to her, ‘you speak as one of the foolish women speaks. What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.’”
The last phrase shows the focus. Job did not sin with his lips.
Why doesn’t the Scriptures focus on what was going on in Job’s mind and God’s knowledge of that. I believe it is because the focus of the passage is on what Satan does to Job. Because Satan can’t read Job’s mind he can’t talk about that or attack him there.
Notice that Satan only attacks Job externally. There is no mention of implanting thoughts or desires in Job’s mind or heart.
Why? Satan does not have the ability to do that. Again, implanting thoughts in a person’s mind goes along with the ability to read his or her mind. If you can do one you can do the other. If you can’t do one you can’t do the other.
Also, God never tells Job that his trials came from Satan nor is Job ever encouraged to identify the source. He is only encouraged to trust the Lord. The focus is always on the Lord and His power to overcome.
Let’s look at three passages that seem to imply that Satan can implant thoughts in a believer's mind.
A. Matthew 16:21-24
“From that time forth Jesus began to show to his disciples, how he must go to r Jerusalem, and suffer many things by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him aside, and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Be it far from you, Lord. This shall not be happen to you.’ But he turned, and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan; you are an offence to me, for you are not thinking of the things that are of God, but those that are of men.’ Then Jesus said Jesus to his disciples, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.’”
In the expression “Get behind me Satan” or “Get out of my sight Satan!” Jesus addresses Satan as the originator of the lie that Peter just articulated.
The lie Peter articulated is the primary lie that Israel had been deceived by Satan into believing.
The lie is that the messiah was to come and set up his kingdom without any need of dealing with sin, both individually and corporately in the lives of the Jewish people. They saw no need for humbling themselves before God and repenting of their sins.
Peter got this lie from the unbelieving people around him, from the “world”.
I call this the Satanic information network. It is the compilation of lies that Satan implants in a culture or society through unbelievers.
I don’t believe that Satan put that directly into Peter’s mind, he had implanted it in the nation and culture. Peter was saying what many were saying.
Jesus was emphasizing that Satan is behind this lie and warning Peter and his other disciples about it.
This lie is the fundamental scheme of Satan because it is his lie.
Then he addresses Peter and says that he was looking at things not from God’s point of view, but from man’s.
He no longer addresses Satan. He would not tell Satan that Satan is looking at man’s point of view. Satan never looks at things from man’s point of view; man’s perverted point of view comes from Satan.
The lie is implanted in man’s point of view (which is the world’s point of view) – this is a clue to how Satan works.
“The things of men” also tell us that Peter was articulating the views of men he had heard from his culture and society. Had Satan put that into his head, Jesus would have said “the things of Satan.” However, Satan had implanted that in the culture.
It was a lie and Peter had fallen into believing it. Jesus rebuked him for that.
B. Acts 5:1-5
Ananias and Sapphira had deceived the apostles and people into believing that they had given a larger amount of money than they had actually given. They did this out of pride and a desire for prestige.
“But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being knowledgeable about it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own power? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God.’”
Peter asks them,
“Why has Satan filled your heart that you should deceive the Holy Spirit?” but then he says, “Why have you conceived this thing in your heart?”
The lie that Ananias had believed was that prestige was highly important in life.
When Peter says that Satan has filled Ananias’ heart, does he mean that Satan has implanted the thought or desires into his mind?
It doesn’t say, but there is an clue in v.4
v. 4 “What made you conceive of such a thing?” which literally translated is “Why (is it) that you have put in your heart this action?”
He is putting the responsibility of this action squarely on Ananias. Ananias has put this into his heart.
But didn’t Peter say Satan has filled his mind? Doesn’t that mean that Satan put that into his heart?
Peter never says Satan has put that into his heart, just that Satan has filled his mind.
Ananias, like Peter had allowed himself to believe one of Satan’s lies so that it moved him to sinful action. That is what “Satan has filled you’re your mind” means?
“Fill” means that Ananias had focused on prestige so much that it had moved him to action. Stan’s lie had “filled his mind” i.e. become the focus of his mind.
How had he heard this lie? He had heard it the same way we do from unbelievers around us who value prestige so much. John calls it the boastful pride of life in 1 Jn.2:16.
Ananias wanted to receive recognition and praise for giving a gift to the church and he wanted to do it without actually giving the full gift.
One commentary says: “Satan filled his heart” means he not only suggested it to him, and put it into his head, but hurried him on with resolution to do it.”
But the reality of this passage, it does not actually say that any more than the passage with Peter in Matt.16.
By the way always be careful about developing doctrines in the narratives, the gospels and Acts. Narrative reports words and actions, they do not explain them. Caution is necessary.
So God never says clearly and directly whether Satan can actually implant a thought in our minds. As we have seen there is no clear Biblical evidence that he can.
The clear Biblical evidence focuses on Satan’s external activities as he works through the world and unbelieving people around us.
The Bible does clearly say that the heart is deceitful so we have to be careful how we identify what is going on in our minds and hearts.
“Do you not understand, that whatever enters in at the mouth goes into the belly, and is cast out of the body? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”
C. 1 Chron.21:1-4
It says, “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, ‘Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it.’ And Joab answered, ‘May the Lord make his people a hundred times more than they are, but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? Why then do you my lord require this thing? Why will he be a cause of guilt to Israel?’ Nevertheless the king’s word prevailed against Joab.”
This says that Satan provoked David to commit a grievous sin by pridefully counting the number of troops he had to reveal how great he was rather than to trust the Lord and focus on God’s power for defense.
The Hebrew word “provoke” means to “incite or arouse or stir up.”
This is Satanic temptation. Satan tempts, incites or provokes David to pride.
However, the text says nothing about how Satan does it. When we first read it, it may seem like Satan does it internally, implanting a thought in his mind or heart, but that is not what text says.
It doesn't tell us how, so we don't know.
Again, because the Scriptures never say that Satan implants thoughts or desires in humans, it better to assume that Satan provoked him in a way that is consistent with what the Scriptures say about how Satan tempts people.
This is especially important when we are dealing with a believer such as David. What we have seen in the above Scriptures is that Satan tempts externally.
3. What are the practical ramifications of understanding all this?
A. We deal with God on the most intimate level. We can speak to God with our minds and with our mouths.
We know that God can read our minds and knows our hearts. That gives us assurance that we will never be misunderstood by God. He knows us better than we know ourselves.
We don't have to hide from God because we can't. We can give ourselves to God in the fullest way without reservation because his knowledge of us is so intimate.
God will never make a mistake in our lives as he works out his will for us based on his knowledge of us.
B. We are safe from Satan's and demons'attacks in our minds. Satan cannot overwhelm us. He will attack us through what we see and what we hear in the world, but we can always turn away from him and his external attacks.
If Satan or demons could attack our minds from within, we would be hopelessly confused and easily overhwelmed.
The desires that we have to sin are from our fleshly natures, not Satan. Those desires are from within and we can allow them to become powerful in our lives, but they are not Satanic. They are not demonic.
We do not have to fear them, but we do have to control them. And we can when we trust and obey God.
Satan is powerfully active in spreading his lies throughout the world and those lies create very real temptations to us as believers. Watching for his lies and always examining ourselves to make certain that we are not believing those lies is what we need to do on a daily basis to turn away from his attacks!