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One of the major reasons the concepts of "spiritual warfare" and "deliverance" have a bad name in some circles is that many who are involved in deliverance ministry seem to think that every personal problem they see can be solved by binding or casting out a demon. In the process, they substitute exorcism for repentance. But this won't work. Damage which is caused by the sinful attitude of a person's heart cannot be repaired by casting out a demon, even if a demon is tangentially involved in the situation. Simply stated, you can't exorcise an attitude.
This is not to say that demons aren't real or that we are not to take authority over them when they confront us. The Scriptures give many examples of demonic activity in people, and of Jesus and the Apostles dealing decisively with them. The Scriptures also give several examples of territorial spirits having authority over cities or regions (see below), and affirm that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Ephesians 6:12. Nor would I assert that demons were active only during the age of the Apostles, so that the last demon left the earth at the death of the Apostle John. Plainly, there are still false spirits on Earth, working with the power of Satan, animating all of humankind's false religions and all of the Christ-denying cults and heresies that have gone out of the Church. Dt. 32:17; I Cor. 10:19-22; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; 2 Thess. 2:3-12; 1 Tim. 4:1-2; 1 Jn. 2:18-23; 1 Jn. 4:1-3. Nothing in the New Testament even suggests that the demonic hordes either disappeared or changed their modus operandi when the last of the Twelve Apostles died. Nor am I aware of anything in the New Testament which says that, after the end of the First Century, when faced with a demon, Christians are now required to roll over and play dead. In reality, if we have died with Christ, we don't need to play dead: we are dead, and Christ now lives through us. Rom. 6:3-7. The Son of God was manifested to destroy the works of the devil. 1 Jn. 3:8. Christ living through us still has all authority to deal with demons, when we are, in fact, confronted with them.
However, we must be careful to accurately identify demonic activity. It is a waste of time to bind or cast out a spirit we suppose to be involved with a person or situation, when the true cause is the sinful heart attitude of someone involved (or, worst of all, our own heart attitude). It is also positively harmful, because it takes the focus off of the sin, delays repentance, and encourages everyone involved to substitute ritual exorcism for holiness.
Of course, while he walked among us, Jesus often dealt with demonized people. So did the Church in Acts. In most cases, the visible effect of the demonic activity was a physical illness or disability. For instance, demonic activity is explicitly associated with the blindness, dumbness, epilepsy and paralysis of certain individuals. See, e.g., Matt. 9:32-33, 12:12; Luke 9:37-42, 11:4. In other cases, Jesus or the Apostles are said to have "healed" a person afflicted with a demon, reasonably implying that the presenting sign of the demon's presence was an illness. Matt. 4:24, 15:22-28; Luke 6:17-19, 7:21; Acts 5:16, 8:7. In some other cases, the outward sign of the demon's activity was what would now be called a mental illness. For instance, in the case of the Gerasene demoniac in Luke 8:26-33, the activity of a legion of demons lead to unnatural physical strength, rejection of human society, a behavior which may have been a compulsive sexually-motivated behavior (compulsive nakedness) and self-destructive behaviors. When the Legion was cast out into a herd of pigs, the pigs destroyed themselves. Likewise, the demon the sons of Sceva could not cast out in Acts caused its host to exhibit both unnatural physical strength and immoral behavior. Acts 19:13-16. The demonization of the boy healed in Matthew 7:14-18 caused both seizures and compulsive self-destructive behavior. Finally, if the immoral woman who anointed Jesus' feet in Luke 7:38-50 was Mary Magdalene, as many commentators believe, the "seven demons" Jesus cast out of Mary Magdalene, Mark 16:9, were also associated with immoral behavior. Indeed, immorality is so frequently associated with demonic activity that demons are often referred to in scripture as "unclean" (Greek, akathartos, unwashed, not purified) spirits. Thus, when an individual who is not in a position of worldly authority is afflicted by a demon, the usual outward result appears to be physical or mental illness, often accompanied by compulsive immoral or destructive behaviors.
On the other hand, when a demon afflicts a person in a position of religious leadership, the usual outward result is not manifest illness but idolatry, witchcraft or false and destructive teaching. What the pagans sacrifice, they offer to demons and not to God. I Cor. 10:19-21. The Bible is quite clear that all of the world's false religions have demons behind them. 2 Cor. 4:3-4; Deut. 32:17; Ps. 106:37. However, the influence of demons over religion doesn't stop with the world. False prophets and false teachers are secretly introduced into the Church by the devil. Gal. 2:4; 2 Peter 2:1. These have demons behind them, and come to create division in the Church and to lure the saints into immoral behavior or into self-righteous religion for the false teachers' own profit. Titus 3:9-11; I Tim. 6:3-5; Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Peter 2 (all). False leaders are sent in to separate the saints from the true Head of the Church, to cause them to put something, anything, in the place of (Greek, anti-) Christ. They are motivated by that spirit of anti-Christ of which John warns us. I John 2:18-19, 2:26, 4:1-3.
Finally, when a demon afflicts a person in a position of political leadership, the usual outward result is not illness but decisions that are destructive to those under the afflicted leader's authority. This can be true even of otherwise godly leaders, such as when satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number the people. I Chr. 21:1. However, it is more commonly said of ungodly rulers who have given themselves over to territorial spirits. Just as the false religions of the world are operated by demons, so to it appears that nations, regions and their governments are also influenced and, to varying degrees, controlled by demons. Ephesians 6:12, previously quoted, uses language which appears to imply both an evil spiritual hierarchy and its association with human governments. Moreover, several of the peoples neighboring Israel are referred to in the Old Testament as the people of their false gods, and their lands are referred to by the names of those gods as well. See, e.g., Num. 21:29; Judges 11:24; Jere. 48:46-47. In Isaiah 14, Lucifer is identified with the king of Babylon. Similarly, in Ezekiel 28, the "prince of Tyre," obviously a spiritual power behind the "king of Tyre" addressed in the same passage, is described, in terms similar to those of Isaiah 14, as having been in Eden and having there walked among the stones of fire. Likewise, in Daniel 10:13, the angel sent in answer to Daniel's prayer said that he was hindered from bringing the answer by resistance from the "prince of Persia" until Michael the Archangel came to his assistance. This "prince of Persia" is, thus, obviously a spiritual entity able to oppose an angel. Daniel 10:20 then speaks of both this "prince of Persia" and a similar "prince of Greece."
Thus, it appears that there are demonic entities that have power over geographic regions and their governments. However, although the world's governments are demon-influenced and many of their leaders are under outright demonic control, God ordained human government to execute His justice upon evildoers, and He remains in ultimate control. Romans 13:1-8; 1 Peter 2:13-15. God retains the authority to establish and depose kings, and He sets up in authority the basest of men. Daniel 5:17, 25. The heart of the king remains in the hand of the Lord, who is able to move even the most hostile ruler to do His bidding. Proverbs 21:1; see, e.g, Daniel 5 and Esther (all). This sets human governments apart from the world's false religions, the leaders of which were not ordained by God and which are totally under the enemy's control.
As can be seen above, I do not minimize either the role of satan and his demonic forces in this world or the need to combat them in prayer in order to do the work God has given us. However, I do wish to point out that the Scriptures describe the types of activities in which demons are involved, as discussed above. I also wish to point out that nowhere in the Bible are the common sinful attitudes described as the work of demons. Thus, for example, a greedy person is guilty of the sin of coveting, contrary to God's command, but is never described as an innocent victim of a "spirit of greed" which may be cast out. Likewise, an envious, lustful, angry or proud person is guilty of sin, displaying the fruit of the flesh, the sin nature within, not the victim of a separate, exorcisable spirit "of" their sin. Galatians 5:19-21.
Such a person's first need is to repent, not to have the spirit "of" their predominant sin cast out of them. The real problem is the flesh, not the demons that may be pushing its buttons sometimes. This is generally true of sins in believers' lives also. Usually we need repentance, not exorcism.
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© 2003 Ian B. Johnson
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