Last Sunday, I preached on Jesus casting out demons. I highlighted three points in reference to this.
- Demon possession is possible today though I suspect rarer than in Jesus’ day
- Christians cannot be demon possessed because we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit
- The demon exorcisms in the Gospel help us to understand the wider spiritual battle we are in today.
I would like to enlarge on those comments a little bit more here.
Demon possession today
As I said in the talk, I believe that there was a particular concentration of demonic activity during the time of Jesus. When you look through the Bible, this seems to be a specific activity that clustered around his time on earth. There was a heightened sense of spiritual warfare as the true king entered his domain that had been under the tyrannical reign of Satan.
At the same time, there are recorded incidents of demon possession and exorcism around the world today. Again, I would not be surprised if there were clusterings, first of all when we seen missionaries crossing boundaries and taking the gospel to new places and secondly, where people have engaged in the occult and exposed themselves to spiritual danger.
Fascinatingly, I frequently here accounts from Muslim community contexts where the church have received a call for help because the Iman has said that he is unable to deal with demons but the Christians can.
So, we should avoid the twin dangers of either taking a secular view and vacating life of all spiritual experience, there is more to this universe than the visible creation, or finding demons in every situation.
Practically, I would not rush to assume demonic activity. I would exhaust other explanations first such as mental health issues or simply hard hearted sin. Evidence of demonic activity is likely to include:
- Engagement in occult practices
- An adverse and seemingly irrational reaction to the name of Jesus, The Gospel and the Cross
- A fear of church buildings
I think that some Christians will be attuned intuitively to the spiritual atmosphere and will be able to identify when things are not right. However, the biggest clue of all is that when we look at the New Testament, the demons tended to identify themselves.
How do we respond? Well, I think we should first of all put aside anything we’ve seen in films or read about in books. You don’t need crucifixes or holy water, you certainly don’t need special clothes or fancy words to say. I would very simply read Scripture with the person and pray asking God to work and drive out the forces of darkness from the person’s life.
Christians and Demon Possession
You will sometimes meet people who will spend hours trying to cast out demons from the lives of believers. I have sometimes been asked by Christians if I offer a deliverance ministry. As I said in the sermon, there is no need for this with those who belong to Christ. We have been removed from the realm of darkness, we have been seated with Christ in the heavenly places, we have been filled with the Holy Spirit so that there is no space in our lives for demons.
Talk of demonic activity is therefore in my view usually a distraction.
- It may be a way of seeking attention by emotionally vulnerable people who simply need to know they are welcomed and loved as part of the family
- It can be a way of avoiding dealing with the true root of the problem – unconfessed sin in the believer’s life.
- It may reflect a mix of mental health issues combined with poor teaching.
- It may be that the Christian has been spooked either by hearing about possible demonic activity or by encountering it – or just by watching a nasty film.
A number of years back I attended the Keswick Convention as part of a UCCF student house party. The deal was that we got cheap accommodation in return for missing some of the evening events to get involved in some street evangelism with a Christian theatre company. There was a girl in the party who at certain points in the convention meetings would go into convulsions with blood curdling screams. She then disclosed that she had been told that she had a demon. The demon had been bound but not cast out (such an unbiblical concept was probably a clue that something was amiss). Oddly, the “demonic” activity only seemed to happen at certain points and was restricted to specific preachers speaking. She also managed an entire hike chatting away to a few of us with the name of Christ freely mentioned and yet no sign of the demon emerging (which to be honest was a bit of a relief up on top of Catbells).
I want to gently suggest that she was not demon possessed. However, the devil did manage to make a lot of use of the situation that week. Her actions and reactions unnerved a mission team, soaked up a lot of attention including from Keswick Convention speakers and Council members and will have also distracted and unnerved people from hearing God’s word in the tent. This will lead neatly to our third point.
The wider spiritual battle
One reason I don’t rush in looking for demonic possession is that I have seen that the devil and demons have plenty of other tactics up their sleeves to cause disruption and harm. Every piece of evidence of brokenness and harm in the world is a consequence of demonic activity that has tempted and led this world into sin and rebellion.
Furthermore, the devil’s primary tool for attacking believers is much more subtle and much more deadly than throwing people into screaming convulsions. Rather, his weapon of choice is accusation. He wants to whisper in your ear that your sin is unforgivable and so you should hide away from the church in shame. That’s why Christ defeated and disarmed Satan at Calvary. His power to accuse and condemn is gone.
This also helps us know how to respond to those situations where the issue is not actually demonic. Looking back now I think that the student in question must have been quite desperate to act in that way. I even suspect that this was not a conscious thing but what we were seeing was a deep, guttural cry for help from her sub conscience. I do not know what had caused this need but it must have been something deeply distressing.
I think that in our churches we find a lot of deeply damaged, deeply hurt people. We meet abuse victims and we engage with people who carry a deep sense of shame because of their own sin and failings. This is just as much evidence of demonic damage as are the convulsions and screams.
The good news is that the same Jesus who could heal two demon possessed men so that they were free and in their right minds can still set people free from Satan’s power today and offer forgiveness and healing, light and hope.