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When it comes to demons, there are three extreme positions Christians seem to take. Some just pooh-pooh it, saying that there are so such things as demons, and that they were just myths believed by the people of Jesus’ days. They say Jesus just went along with popular understanding and did not try to contradict them with information about psychotic experiences! A second group of Christians believe that demons are very active, and attribute every trouble to demonic interference. They bind and cast out demons left and right. A third group of Christians say that they believe in the activities of demons, but they are not disturbed about it because they believe that since Jesus has won a victory over demons they don’t have to worry!
The gospel narratives mention many times about Jesus casting out demons and how He authorised His disciples to do the same thing as also healing the sick (Lk.10:17-20). Demons are real, even though many people have never come across demon possessed people. Putting together truths from different parts of the Bible we can conclude that they are fallen angels who were thrown out of heaven along with Lucifer, the chief of the angels, who later became known as the Devil or Satan. They are furious with God because He threw them out, and because they are powerless against Him. Their fury has now turned to His creation, man, and especially to His children (Rev.12:17), and their goal seems to be to trouble and destroy mankind (Jn.10:10). Satan has organised demons in hierarchies (Eph.6:12), and some have been placed in charge of different areas (Dan.10:13,20), and we cannot rule out the possibility that there may be demons given the task of watching and studying each of us, reporting to Satan, tempting us and troubling us. Demons accuse us (Rev.12:10), oppose us (1Thess.2:18), attack us as in the case of Job, and deceive us (Rev.12:9). They have supernatural powers like causing large winds, bringing fire down from the sky, and inciting people to attack others, as we see from Job’s experience. One of the ways they deceive us is by counterfeiting the genuine work of God in our life such as by producing false signs and wonders (Matt.24:24) and false doctrines (1Tim.4:1).
We are warned to be careful because Satan is looking around for someone to catch (1Pet.5:8). We are to protect ourselves by putting on the full armour of God (Eph.6:11). We must be sober-minded and discern the schemes of the Devil so that we may not be caught unawares (2Cor.2:11). So, Satan and his demons are our declared enemies, and we must watch out against them. We cannot imagine that the victory Jesus won on the cross will automatically preserve us.
At the same time, we do not have to live in fear of the Devil or his demons. Jesus has not just defeated them on the cross, but stripped them of their power (Col.2:15). They are still on the earth trying to trouble us, but we have been given authority over them in the name of Jesus (Lk.10:17-20). At the appropriate time, they will be cast into a bottomless pit and locked up for a thousand years (Rev.20:2,3), and in the end, cast into a lake of fire forever (v.10). Our authority over demons is based on the name of Jesus, which means He has authorised us to use His name as a guarantee of the authority over demons that He has. Since His authority is settled forever, we do not have to relate it to our knowledge, experience, maturity, level of holiness, etc. The least of us can stand against Satan and command him because of this.
We can think of this like a traffic policeman on the road who signals a truck to stop. The truck driver stops, not because the policeman has any strength to overpower the truck, but because he represents the government that has the power to penalise the truck driver and to confiscate the truck! This is the boldness we need to have when we face demons in real situations, because they can easily see if we are scared or doubtful. They can try to scare us with dramatic behaviour to see if we will crumble. But if ‘we resist, firm in the faith’ they have to obey (1Pet.5:8,9).
We don’t have to go around casting out every demon we notice. In some cases, just binding a demon which is causing trouble is enough for that occasion. We must realise that if a man has given permission for a demon to possess or oppress him, even if we cast it out it can get back again. If he wants the demon to stay out, he has to repent, renounce the ways that opened up the access for the demon to enter or oppress, and accept the power of Jesus in his life.
As we see from the experience of Job, God has put a hedge around His children in such a way that demons cannot touch them without specific permission from God. We know that even for demons to enter pigs when they were being cast out from a demon possessed man, they had to obtain permission from Jesus (Matt.8:31). Therefore we do not have to fear that some demon or other may attack us whenever they like.
But the Bible tells us that there are ways in which we can make ourselves vulnerable to demonic attacks. Ephesians 4:26,27 says that if we continue in anger, we may give a foothold (foothold - NIV, place - KJV, opportunity - NASB) for the devil in our life. This is true of any sin that we continue in without repentance or resisting. It is not that if we fall into some sin, demons can get access into our life. But if we continue wilfully, that can open up the access. This is one reason we need to set things right with God and people as soon as we realise we have fallen. Another example the Bible gives about continuing in sin is about an unforgiving attitude that continues (2Cor.2:10,11).
We would have noticed, for example, if we get angry with someone and we chew over that anger in our mind, that we begin to get thoughts in our mind that stir us up about the person we are angry with, and that our anger is increasing fast. The Devil is putting ideas into our mind, and trying to control our thoughts and behaviour. If we accept these ideas and begin to act according to them, the Devil is beginning to control us. If this progresses and becomes worse and worse, we can even become possessed by demons. When someone is possessed by demons, he has practically lost control of his life and the demon is now controlling him.
The question comes if a born again believer in Christ can be possessed by demons. The simple answer is no. This believer has the Holy Spirit who is in possession of his life, and he cannot be also possessed by demons at the same time. But as we see from the warnings above about continuing in sin, it is possible that demons can begin to control a small part of the believer’s life where he is yielding continually to sin. That is the meaning of giving the Devil a foothold/place in one’s life.
Modern scholars use the word ‘demonisation’ instead of ‘demon possessed’ for better clarity of what happens. The Greek word that is translated as demon possessed by the KJV is daimonizomai, which actually means ‘to be troubled or vexed by demons’. Since the examples given in the gospels are those of demon possession, the translators may have chosen to use that translation. ‘Demonisation’ is to use the Greek word daimonizomai almost as it is as a new English word (transliteration). Demonisation can mean any activity of demons, from oppressing someone to possessing him. It becomes only a matter of degree. So, while believers cannot be possessed by demons they can be troubled or oppressed by demons, or in other words, demonised to a smaller or greater degree! We do not know for sure if this small level of demonisation happens from outside a person or when the demon enters a person. But that is immaterial as far as the effects are concerned, and a lack of understanding on this should not stop us from dealing with the problem.
This is more common than we would imagine. There are believers who may be controlled by demons in certain parts of their lives (anger, unforgiving attitude, pornography, drinking, smoking, sexual promiscuity, etc.) where they have virtually no ability to control themselves. Even when they do not want to yield to the temptation, they find themselves unable to stop. (This may happen even when they may be holy in every other area of life!) There may be demonisation, natural habits, or both. If they continue yielding to these, they find other forms of demonic activities in their lives such as repeated scary dreams, seeing black objects moving in the room, windows or doors opening or closing by themselves, lights going on and off, hearing voices, to begin with, and if it continues, going into confusion of mind, out of body experiences, madness, etc.
The next question is whether such ‘manifestations’ are really due to demons or psychological/psychiatric problems. Those who have the spiritual gift of discernment of spirits may be able to identify demonic sources. The other way is to check if people have given access to demons by their own activities. Also, when it comes to serious levels of demonisation, there will be a marked hostility towards Jesus. They may be unable to confess that Jesus is Lord, or pray in His name.
When we look at giving access to demons, apart from continuing in sin, two other gates are involvement in occult activities and idol worship. Occult activities such as Ouija boards, tarot cards, astrology, séances, crystal gazing, wearing of ‘charms’ or items that have been ‘blessed’ by occult practitioners, witchcraft, black magic, voodoo, table tipping, yoga meditation, transcendental meditation, etc., provide direct contacts with evil spirits, and it is no wonder if demons have been given access. Here again, it is not a one-time exposure to some activity that opens the access but a hearty involvement in the process. Sometimes it is possible that one participates in an occult activity without knowing that it is occult, such as freemasonry where Satan is being worshipped surreptitiously.
We know that idols are nothing in themselves (1Cor.8:4). They are man-made things of wood, stone or other materials. But we see that even supernatural things happen when people pray devotedly to idols. The power that works behind idols is from demons who impersonate gods (1Cor.10:19,20). Even ‘Christian’ idols are the same! That is how idol worship can give access to demons. There are cases where parents have dedicated their children to idols, and as they grow up they may experience demonic activities.
Some people bargain with demons that if they give power, money, position, answer to prayer, etc., they would serve them. But demons are out to steal and destroy (Jn.10:10). They grant the request, but afterwards begin to increasingly take control over their lives.
Now we see how we ought to walk carefully before God and avoid giving any foothold to the devil in our life.
If we need to cast out a demon(s) from another person, it is good to ask him how the demon got access, and explain to him that the access needs to be closed once the demon has been cast out. Then we can command the demon to come out and keep away from this person using the authority of the name of Jesus. We do not have to shout or scream or use a Bible or cross to do this, because the power to cast out demons is with Jesus and not with any of those! If the demon tries to scare us, we can calmly tell it that it has to leave because Jesus has defeated all demons on the cross and we are standing in His name.
After the demons have left, we need to help the person to repent, renounce all the activities through which the demons gained entry, and ask Jesus to forgive them and to be their Saviour. This is the only way that will keep demons out.
If we realise that we ourselves have been demonised through any of the ways mentioned above, and we have a true relationship with Jesus, we can ask the demons to leave using the authority of the name of Jesus. For that to happen, we must acknowledge to God what we have done that gave access to the demons, and ask Him for forgiveness and cleansing (1Jn.1:9). Then we need to break all connections with demons that we are aware of, and command them to leave us in Jesus’ name. But we must be aware that we can be tempted again, and therefore avoid all future possibilities of temptation and build up our relationship with God through reading the Bible, prayer and fellowship with other believers.
We need to be aware that even though demons are able to place ideas into our mind, probably through our spirit, they are not able to read our thoughts. For example, they had no idea that when they put Jesus to death He was going to come back to life and ruin all their plans for mankind! Only God, as the One who created every part of us including our brain, can know our thoughts (Psa.139:2). So, when we need to ask the demons to get out, we need to say it with our lips (even a whisper is enough).
There are many practical things we can learn about this subject as we deal with them in practice. However, one word of caution is to avoid making doctrines based on our experiences alone (which can be deceptive) without checking with the Bible. Most of the books on this subject are sadly based on experiences alone! Finally, it is foolish for us to get occupied with the thoughts of demons. It is far better to be occupied with God and fellowship with Him. The right way to protect ourselves is to wear the full armour of God. Hanging a cross on the wall, keeping a Bible under the pillow, sprinkling holy water, or sprinkling the imaginary blood of Jesus around the house will not help!
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