DOCTRINE: Dealing with the demonic
EDITORS' NOTE: Today is the fourth day in a week-long series of columns on biblical doctrine by former LifeWay Christian Resources President Jimmy Draper. Today's column accompanies another column on the same subject. The series coincides with "Baptist Doctrine Study" week within the Southern Baptist Convention.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--In the last 30 years we've seen a fluctuating emphasis on the demonic. For a while there was little concern over the impact that the demonic has on our lives. Then we went through a period when some saw a demon behind every bush and every problem was said to be caused by demons. Today there is again little emphasis on this important area of theological and practical understanding.
One thing is for sure: the demonic is nothing to joke about. Even the archangel Michael, who has far more knowledge and understanding of such things, did not make light of the demonic. "Yet, Michael the archangel, when he was disputing with the Devil in a debate about Moses' body, did not dare bring an abusive condemnation against him, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!'" (Jude 9).
Satan and demons are real and just as active today. The Bible clearly teaches us about their activity (see, for example, Matthew 25:41 and Revelation 12:7-9). This is a serious matter and we must confront the demonic from a scriptural perspective.
A careful study of the New Testament reveals that demons are active in the world. At the beginning of His ministry in Galilee Jesus cast out demons (Mark 1:21-28). He gave His disciples authority over the demonic, but warned them not to become enamored with their authority over demons and not to forget that the greatest thing was that they had been saved (Luke 10:17-20). The conflict between our Lord and Satan in His temptations also confirmed the existence of demonic powers in the world.
The New Testament writers believed demons were real. They assumed the existence of Satan and demons. The power of these evil beings was central in their thinking (Ephesians 6:10-12; 2 Corinthians 2:10-11; 11:3; James 4:7).
During my 55-year ministry I have seen evidences of the demonic both here in America in communities where I have served and overseas in more primitive cultures. The heart of an individual will be occupied with something, If not God, then it may be indwelt by another spirit (2 Timothy 2:24-26). One thing is for sure. If a person lives a life of sin and persistently resists the Holy Spirit, he is vulnerable to attacks from the demonic.
The demonic doesn't always express itself in strange manifestations such as unusual voices coming from the throat of the one possessed, violent and erratic behavior, and so forth. In our more sophisticated society, demonic forces often express themselves in more clever ways so as not to call attention to their work. The spirit of unbelief is strengthened and resistance to the Holy Spirit is intensified with demonic influences. The spirit of unbelief may express itself in the inability to concentrate when reading the Bible or praying, spiritual doubt, inner turmoil and even depression or suicidal feelings. These problems often lead to outward compulsions and excesses such as violence, promiscuity, lying, drug abuse and the like.
Our society is ripe for demonic activity. Our preoccupation and even "flirting" with the occult invites demonic oppression. Even the seemingly innocent and careless use of occult tools is tragic. Things like the use of a Ouija board, astrological horoscopes, witchcraft, and even yoga are dangerous and provide openings for the demonic into unsuspecting lives.
In demonic oppression or subjection, we observe the continual struggle between the Lordship of Christ and the powers of darkness. Yet, in spite of all these horrific assaults of evil, Satan has been vanquished. He can only engage in the harassing and sniping endeavors of spiritual guerilla warfare. The chief concern for us as Christians is that people who suffer under demonic attacks and oppression be freed from that bondage.
What kind of activities do demons engage in today? We know that they can inflict diseases and cause physical problems (Matthew 9:32-33; Luke 13:11; Job 2:7). But not all physical problems are caused by demons. The New Testament sometimes distinguishes between physical illness and demonic disorders (Matthew 4:24; Acts 5:16). In Matthew 4 a lengthy list of illnesses is given, and being "demon possessed" is only one ailment in the list. The point there is that each of these ailments is listed separately and not all are assigned to the demonic. While demons can cause a multitude of problems, they are not the cause of them all.
We know that demons oppose Christians (Ephesians 6:12). That is why we are instructed how to resist these attacks (Ephesians 6:13-18). Demons may also spread false doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1). They can create doubt, depression and temptation to sin (Genesis 3:4-5; Matthew 4:1ff; John 13:2).
It is important for us to realize that we are the target of demonic activity. This is a personal battle. They are after you and me. They attack us in various ways. Their first assault is on our minds (2 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 4:17-24). God renews our minds through His Truth -- the Word of God (Romans 12:2). If Satan can get us to believe lies, then he can work in our lives and lead us into sin. That is why he attacks the mind. We must carefully guard what goes into our minds (2 Corinthians 10:4-6; Proverbs 23:7; Romans 8:6).
Satan will also try to destroy your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Philippians 1:20). That is where he attacked Job. He does this because your body is the dwelling place of God; it is His temple. Since God is spirit and cannot be seen, He is seen in our conduct and actions that either glorify or dishonor Him (Matthew 5:16). Satan attacks our bodies because they are God's weapons (Romans 6:12-13).
The Christian life is predominantly about submitting the will to the Lordship of Christ. We do what we do because we choose (will) to do so. But the goal of Satan is to control your will -- which could bring devastating consequences for you and those around you. And he desires to control our hearts and conscience. When we are disobedient, Satan attacks our hearts and consciences. He does this by accusing us before God continually (Revelation 12:10). He will attack us when we pray. There are times when obscene thoughts, forgotten sins and the like will flash through our minds distracting us from prayer. At times like that we must by an act of our wills commit ourselves more intensely to prayer.
It is important for us to understand the approach and techniques that Satan uses in his attacks upon us, and because we understand the enemy to choose consciously to obey God and rely on Him, for "the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (1 John 4:4).
Jimmy Draper is the former president of LifeWay Christian Resources.