Is the Devil Real? / Spiritual Meditations

devil w/ little people below in fire

A friend asked me if I believe there is a devil.  My immediate reply was ‘no’ because I have never seen any evidence of one.  (Knock on wood) Sure, I’ve seen people do a lot of evil things, but why would I attribute these things to an outside agent instead of their own selfish, demented or hurtful motives?  Yet the Bible contains accounts of Satan and its minion demons, including scenes where Jesus expels them.

The following is the first explanation I’ve read that addresses the conflict between my own experience and what the Bible tells us.  In an excerpt from his book Wounds That Heal, Stephen Seamands reveals his thoughts and spiritual  counseling with a seminarian named Bill who is demonized.


Demonization is the exception, not the rule, so we should never immediately assume there’s a demon lurking behind every area of brokenness or bondage in our lives. Instead, we should generally consider the possibility of demonization only after we’ve explored other possible spiritual, psychological and even physiological causes.

Nevertheless, there are a significant number of Christians who have diligently sought help and have explored  various causes yet continued to live in defeat and bondage. Terry Wardle, a counselor and professor of spiritual formation says “I do not believe a demon lurks behind every bush.  But I do believe that a level of demonization can be at least a contributing factor and under some circumstances the primary cause of the problem some people face.”

An Example of Demonization & Dissolving It

For Bill, the two most persistent sins were explosive anger and sexual lust. In chaotic situations when he felt out of control, he would erupt like a volcano. But rather than depleting his anger, venting it on those around him only increased it.

Giving into lust also became a way of dealing with chaos. At times he turned to fantasy, masturbation, pornography or promiscuity for comfort. However instead of relief, anger and lust only lead to guilt and depression which, in turn, caused pain and chaos, thus fueling the cycle all over again.

Under certain conditions, having gained an entry point in our lives, demons can act as hyper catalysts, piggybacking on existing problems so that at times our behavior seems almost compulsive. Our willpower simply isn’t strong enough to withstand their onslaughts. For Christians who are demonized in certain areas of their lives, the playing field, instead of being level, is a steep uphill incline.  It’s almost impossible for them to run the race for Christ victoriously.

Bill had previous counseling for his anger and lust, so he was on the right path.   Having sufficiently discussed these issues which may have been creating opportunities for direct demonic influence in his life, we then entered an intense period of prayer where we brought his spiritual and emotional garbage to the cross of Christ.

Next, we turned to John 1:7-9, which states that “the blood of Christ, His son, cleanses us from all sin“ and “if we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.“ On the basis of these verses we then declare that Bill was forgiven and cleansed.

Finally, with Bill’s permission and with the authority of Christ, I directly confronted any demons that might have gained influence in his life through the garbage that had been there.  After they had been identified and it was established that  they no longer had any right to be there – all that had been taken away through Christ’s cross – I commanded the demons to leave, and they soon did. 

As Bill and I rejoiced over what Jesus had done, I invited the Holy Spirit to fill him anew and afresh. In those areas of his life where there had been demonic influence, we asked the Spirit to take control. Finally, we discussed how he needed to abide in Christ through regular times of prayer and Scripture reading if he expected to walk in victory.

Are Demons Internal or External?

Among evangelical Christians there is broad consensus that Satan uses demons to tempt and attack believers. But generally, such demonic activities have been considered external in nature. Demons, then, exert pressure on us from the outside, in much the same way other human persons might seek to influence us to do something. They might suggest to us, plant thoughts in our minds, entice us to play out our fears and weaknesses. However, such “demonic influences” or “demonic oppression” (phrases that are commonly used to describe such demonic activity) is always from the outside and therefore limited.

But can demonic activity go beyond this? Can demons also exert internal and therefore more direct influences on believers? Can a Christian be demonized, that is, inhabited or controlled by a demon? Since the 1970s a growing number of pastors, counselors, teachers, theologians and Bible scholars in North America and Europe have said yes.

For many Christians, however, to suggest that demonization is a possibility immediately raises questions. One of the most frequently asked is:

Does the idea of internal demonic control or influence imply that the believer is demon possessed?

In response, those who affirmed the possibility of demonization insisted that it not be confused with demon possession. This issue stems from an unfortunate translation in the King James version of the Bible. The KJV translation renders the Greek verb daimonizomai as “demon possessed” or “possessed by a demon” even though the idea of possession isn’t inherent in the word. 

Not only does the word possession stem from a poor translation of the Greek, but it is also an all-or-nothing word implying total ownership and control.  Demonization is a better choice because it is both more accurate to the Greek and more compatible with the varying degrees of internal control that demons may exert on persons. It’s also a word that can be used to describe genuine Christians.

There is no question that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior and that they thus belong to him. But they still may be described as demonized because in certain areas of their lives demons continue to exert a significant measure of internal control.

Another common question is:

Can a Christian who is indwelt by Christ (Colossians 1: 27) and a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) also be inhabited by demons?

Such either-or thinking is based on the law of physics that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  The problem with applying a physics law to spiritual matters, however, is that spirits don’t occupy space the way material bodies do. Space contains bodies, not spirits. Even the distinction made between spirits being located internally or externally, inside or outside the person, must not be pressed too far.

Much of the spatial language in Scripture used to describe spiritual realities is metaphorical and must not be taken too literally. Often the authors of scripture are seeking to convey the idea of authority and control. To be “Spirit-filled”, for example, is not primarily about space – like filling up a cup with water. We can easily be misled when we conceive of it in that way. Rather, it’s about being totally yielded and under the control of the Spirit.

Levels of Demonic Activity

Terry Wardle reveals how demonized persons experience demonic activity in four primary ways and there is progression moving from one type of demonic activity to the next indicating a deeper level of control or influence:

Harassment

Much the same as when a hornet flies around a person’s head, annoying and distracting him, so it can be with this level of demonization. The demon  does not keep the person away from his or her appointed course but does seek to bother and discourage him.

Oppression

This level of demonic activity is much like a fog that settles in upon a person. The individual finds it more difficult to stay on track, and often battles varying levels of emotional and spiritual oppression. It can be more difficult for a person to keep focused on what is true and right.

Affliction

Jesus often cast out demons when people suffered from physical sickness. At this level of activity, demons seek to bring emotional, spiritual and physical suffering to a person in an effort to defeat and demoralize them.

A previous post provides an example from the life of a friend of mine. You can read it here:

Defeating Evil Spirits

Bondage

The demon spirit is exercising a certain level of control in an area of a person’s life. This demonization is possible because of personal choices that give room for this type of bondage.  Despite personal efforts to move beyond the problem of sinful behavior, the individual finds it difficult to resist, and repeatedly fails to find freedom.

How was the Devil Defeated at Calvary?

In cases of demonization, the redemption and victory that was accomplished and won through Christ’s death on the cross must be applied in the area where the person is experiencing these types of demonic activity. Through forgiveness, healing and deliverance, the spiritual and emotional garbage must be dealt with and the demon cast out, otherwise, the person will continue to experience defeat.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus was engaged in warfare and combat with Satan. Through his death on the cross, he  “destroyed the one who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death”.

Yet how was the devil defeated at Calvary? How did Jesus win this great battle with Satan? According to Colossians 2:15, through his obedience to the point of death Christ “ disarmed” the dark powers and  “triumphed” over them. He freely choose to lay down his life in obedience to the Father. He demonstrated that he wasn’t bound by the dark powers.

Notice how the victory Christ won over the powers of evil is bound up here with what Christ did in forgiving our sins. How then did Jesus win the decisive battle against Satan and his evil principalities? Not by overcoming power with power through a direct, violent encounter with the prince of darkness.

Jesus won the battle by erasing the record that stood against us and satisfying its legal demands.

Through his death then Jesus has stamped ”paid in full” on the record that stood against us. Through the just payment for our debts, he has taken away every legal claim that the evil powers had on us.

By liberating us from sin, he has also liberated us from Satan.

That’s why “Christ died for our sins” is the dominant note in the New Testament understanding of the cross. But because of that primary liberation, a significant secondary liberation – from Satan and all his demonic powers – has also occurred.

Understanding this truth is crucial; otherwise we may end up giving Satan more power and authority than is actually his. For although the New Testament clearly teaches that human beings have become victims and  prisoners of Satan, it never attributes our enslavement to some inherent power or rightful dominion he has over us.

Our captivity is a consequence of our own rebellion, for which we ourselves are responsible.

Demonization occurs in Christians when there are certain areas in their life where Christ’s blood has not been appropriated. That is not because they aren’t truly committed Christians. They have received Christ as Savior and Lord and are sincerely seeking to follow him. But they are demonized (not demon possessed) in the sense that demons still maintain a significant level of control or influence in specific areas of their lives.

Don’t be too Quick to Believe Demons are the Cause.

Sometimes well-meaning Christians involved in deliverance ministry will immediately attempt to engage in a direct frontal attack on demons. So, they shout and rail at demons and resort to various other commando tactics. This “Rambo” approach to deliverance gives the demonic more due than it deserves.

Make no mistake, there is a legitimate time in place for direct confrontation, a time when, in Jesus’s name, we take the authority he has given us and command demons to leave. But that should not be our primary focus. The main problem is not the  demonic rats but the garbage consisting of things like our persistent sinful behaviors, our sinful reaction to our emotional wounds, and sinful generational influences and patterns. When we take responsibility and deal with these issues, when we get rid of the garbage, the rats don’t have anything to feed on, and it’s easy to get rid of them.

Our focus, then, should be on the spiritual and emotional garbage – the basis for demonic influence and control – not on the demons themselves. This is how Christ won the victory over the darkness; that is how his victory is worked out in our lives too.

Of course, in some cases demonization is much more complicated. Attaining full freedom may involve a long, drawn out process. But the basic principle always holds true: take away the garbage, deal with the area of sin and brokenness in your life. Bring the power of the cross to bear upon those areas. Experience the forgiving, cleansing and healing power of Christ’s blood. Make that the focus and freedom will follow.

Could there be an area of your life where you are experiencing demonization’s? Please don’t jump to the conclusion that there is. Before you assume anything, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth. Then sit down and talk with someone like a wise pastor, an experienced counselor, spiritual director or someone who specialize in healing prayer. Persons like these can help you discern if there is a significant demonic component to your problem or whether it is only spiritual, psychological or physiological in nature. They can also help set you free from direct demonic influence if that is necessary.

Conclusion

I wish I understood more about the spiritual realm. I do know that when a person becomes a Christian they enter the domain of the Prince of Peace. In Christ they are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5: 17) and under new management. I also believe that generally at conversion or baptism there is an invasion of the Holy Spirit that breaks most of us free from any direct internal demonic attachment. This must be the reason I cannot attest to any demons in my experience.

Yet for some Christians, this doesn’t appear to be the case. Because of certain unresolved spiritual and emotional issues in their lives, demons can maintain an internal grip on them in some areas; they aren’t automatically expelled. And unless their presence is acknowledged and the underlying cause dealt with, they can continue to wreak havoc on the believer’s life.

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Relevant Scripture

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,[ drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. (Matthew 10:8)

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)

Reference

Wounds That Heal by Stephen Seamands

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