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The Center for the Study of Biblical Demonology.

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FINAL POST

April 2, 2014

2 April 2013
Thanks to all you readers of Demondope. I hope it’s been informative and helpful. I continue to write books on biblical demonology: the newest, Spiritual Warfare Jesus’ Way, from Chosen Books, will be released in September.

Thanks again for reading demondope.

Larry Richards

Overcoming evil

March 18, 2014

Overcoming evil

I’ve just started working on a new book on spiritual warfare. This one is different . . . like nothing I’ve written or read. In the process I got to thinking about Satan’s “grand strategy.”

We know from Isaiah 14 that Satan’s goal was to replace the Creator as the supreme being in the universe. The Bible pictures an initial battle in which Satan and his followers were defeated and, as each passage describing the battle tells, were thrown from heaven to earth. Now we can picture Earth as sort of a holding cell, while Satan awaits final judgment.

So, if Satan has already lost the initial battle, what kind of strategy has he developed to reach any goals he may have left?

I think the key is in the New Testament’s call for Christians to overcome evil with good (Roman’s 12:21). The same verse warns, “do not be overcome by evil.”

It seems to me this sums up Satan’s strategy for our time. Satan, with the cooperation of our sin natures, is intent on thwarting God’s purposes by overcoming good with evil. He can’t win the war. But he can adopt a “scorched earth” policy and attempt to thwart the good God intends for us by overcoming it with evil.

Writing this book is a real challenge. I’m used to thinking of spiritual warfare in terms of demonic oppression of individuals. And I know that God has given us authority in Christ’s name to expel evil spirits and set individuals free. I’m not used to thinking globally, struggling to see how Satan attempts to overcome good with evil on cosmic, cultural and institutional levels. And I’m not sure how we combat this efforts – except to overcome his evil with good.

Discovering just what this means, and how we are to do it, is the adventure I’m setting out on just now. I don’t know where this study will go. And I don’t even know just how to get there. There are, however, three things I do know.

Satan won’t like being exposed. [So I appreciate your prayers for protection for me and my family.]
I don’t know just where this study will lead. [So I need your prayers for God to provide wisdom.]

I do know that God’s Word is trustworthy, so we can overcome evil with good. [And I need your prayers for God to provide the practical “how” we can war against Satan and thwart his “grand strategy.”

Thanks for reading demon dope.
And thanks for your prayers.

Larry

Shame

March 18, 2014

Linda looked at the picture of the girl in the swim suit with longing, imagining she was as slim and pretty. Linda smiled, picturing the way her friends would look at her. Especially Josh.
“Linda!”
Mom was calling.
“I need you down here.”
Linda got up reluctantly. As she opened her bedroom door Linda caught a glimpse of herself in the hall mirror, and her dream shattered. Suddenly Linda’s face was burning. She wasn’t slim and pretty at all. She was dumpy and ugly. And she was filled with shame.
As a young person were you ever ashamed of some feature of your body? What was it, and how that affect you?
Have you ever done something that you were ashamed of? How did that affect you? How did it affect your relationship with others? With God?

Recognizing Satan’s Lie
Of all the emotions demons use to keep us in bondage, one of the most powerful is shame. While guilt involves awareness that we have violated one of our own or one of God’s moral standards, shame evokes a fear of rejection by others. Linda feels that her looks arouse contempt rather than admiration, and she feels shame. There are other causes of shame. When we violate moral standards we try to hide what we’ve done, not so much from fear of punishment as from a fear of what other people might think of us if they knew. Down deep we wonder how anyone who knew what we’d done could help but reject us.
At this point Satan and his demons take delight in assuring us that what we’ve done is so terrible no one who knew could possibly accept or love us. The message, pounded into our hearts and minds again and again, is that we are too wicked to be loved, too contemptible to be accepted by any decent person. The demons tell us that we have to bury what we’ve done; we have to hide it deep within us and desperately try to ignore it or forget it. The demons know that, buried there, the thing that brings us shame will fester until all our feelings about ourselves are colored by the conviction that we are so unlovable and unacceptable that we dare not reach out for a close, personal relationship with anyone. Anyone who “really knew what we are like” would be as repelled as we are ashamed.

Hear God’s Truth
God knows us completely. He knows our inmost thoughts and feelings. He is fully aware of everything we’ve done or completed doing. The thing(s) in our life that we’re most ashamed of, that we’ve struggled the hardest to suppress, aren’t hidden from him. And yet God loves us. And he tells us that we are worth loving. Christ even died to pay for our sins so that God might have a personal relationship with us. The Gospel reminds us that our worth and value do not depend on what we do or do not do. The Gospel teaches us that despite the worst that we have done God has chosen us to be members of his family, and with that choice has committed himself to us totally. In Christ God has forgiven our sins and our failures. As he announced through the prophet Isaiah, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).

What Satan wants us to suppress, God invites us to bring to him, openly and honestly, that we might be freed of the burden. “If you confess your sins,” Scripture tells us, “he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Experiencing God’s love and forgiveness is the first step in our healing. And as we continue to experience God’s love we begin to lose the fear that others will reject or condemn us. We learn that we can take the risk of sharing our flaws with others, and in the community of faith we begin to realize that we truly are loved and are accepted for ourselves.

Respond to God’s Truth
How hard is it for you to accept the truth that God loves you completely and unconditionally? What makes it most difficult?
How large a role has shame played in your own life? Where are you now on your journey of release from the impact of shame?
Thank God for the forgiveness that cleanses from sin and releases us from the grip of shame.

Affirmation
I am loved
I have been chosen by the Father
I am accepted
I have been cleansed by blood of the Son
I am healed
I have been empowered by the Spirit
Loved,
Accepted
Healed
My guilt and my share are gone,
And I am a new creation in Christ Jesus

Print out this Bible Verse
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: “’While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.’” (Romans 5:8)

The Problem of Evil

February 19, 2014

The Problem of Evil

One attempt to solve the problem of evil in the universe poses the idea while God is Spirit and Good, the material universe is inherently evil. This view, developed in a philosophy called Gnosticism, infected many in the early days of the Christian movement. So when the apostle Paul wrote the book of Colossians, many of his statements directly confront the gnostic heresy.

Paul’s teaching begins with an important assertion.

“For by him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him?” (Col. 1:16).

Background
Colossians is often described as a Christological [Christ focused] epistle. Most commentators also believe that it was written to combat incipient Gnosticism. In later centuries Gnosticism emerged as a fully developed philosophy which featured a well defined view of God and the universe. Paul’s teaching in Colossians seems to directly confront the central beliefs of the Gnostic system.

Gnostics held that God is pure spirit, and that only spirit is good. On the other hand, the material universe is evil. Surely the Good God could not have created the Evil Material Universe. It followed that Christ could not be God come in the flesh, for the flesh is material and thus by definition evil. Either the man Christ Jesus was not God, or the God revealed in Christ was an apparition rather than a true human.

The Apostle Paul confronts these characteristic Gnostic beliefs directly, and in the paragraph in which this verse is embedded Paul presents Jesus as the “image of the invisible God,” a phrase that first century readers understood to assert that Jesus is the visible expression of God and is himself God. Paul goes on to claim that Jesus not only is God expressed in flesh (cf 1:19-22) but that he is also the creator of the visible and invisible universe. The Christian has a dramatically different view of reality from that espoused by the Gnostic.

Observations
“By him were all things created.” In the Gnostic system God, who is pure spirit, could have nothing to do with the material creation. How then was the material universe to be explained? The Gnostic postulated a series of “emanations” [spirit beings] standing between God and the material universe. Those closest to God were the purest, the most “spiritual” and thus the most “good.” But each rank in the series of angels was less spiritual, until finally, in the lowest rank of angels, stood one who was the creator of the evil material universe.
To this view Paul says, No. “By him were all things created.” Jesus Christ, God himself, is the Creator, not some imagined low ranking spirit being. And though he did not, Paul might have quoted Genesis here, and repeated the verdict of the creator who viewed his work and announced it “ good.”

“things in heaven and things on earth.” With this phrase Paul further clarifies the issue. The Gnostic could accept the idea that God created the things in heaven, for in that view heaven is spiritual and therefore good by definition. But no Gnostic could imagine that God created both “things in heaven and things on earth.” Since the material to the Gnostic was intrinsically evil, God could not be the creator of things on earth.

“both visible and invisible” The Gnostic system featured a thoroughgoing dualism. On one side of a chasm stood the invisible; heaven, spirit, and good. On the opposite side stood the visible; earth, flesh, and evil. God stood on the one side only. As the ultimate good and pure spirit, he is by necessity limited to the spirit side of the chasm. But Paul insists that the Gnostic is wrong. God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, is the Creator of all things, and the living bridge between the visible and the invisible.

“whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities” With this phrase Paul shocks his readers. Among the invisible things God created are thrones, powers, rulers and authorities!
On the one hand one might argue that the spirit beings in view here are God’s own angels. But the “powers” vocabulary was used in the first century to identify those spirit beings that the Gospels, and we today, call demons. Is Paul ascribing the creation of the demonic forces ranged against God’s own people to God’s creative act?

“all things were created by him and for him” Again Paul asserts that “all things” were created by Christ. But here he adds they were created “for him.” The creation in all its complexity is not only the work of God, it has been designed to serve his purposes. “By him, and for him” reminds us that all that has been, all that is, and all that will be will ultimately bring glory to God.

The Gnostics developed their system in large part to resolve the problem of evil. Surely a Good God could not be the originator of Evil. Where then did Evil come from? Perhaps even more challenging, How can a good God permit Evil to exist in His universe? The Gnostic answer is a strict dualism. God is Good. But God is pure Spirit. He has nothing to do with the material universe, and it is in this universe that Evil has its home. God did not create it. He does not govern its operations. And he surely did not enter it as a human being.

Paul confronts the Gnostic solution boldly and directly. There is no chasm isolating God from the material universe. God takes responsibility for the creation of all things—even of those spirits who are now evil and are dedicated to thwarting his purposes, spirits who torment the human beings whom he loves. There is a solution to the problem of evil. But that solution is not found in futile attempts to protect God’s reputation by robbing him of credit for Creation.

“For by him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him?” (Col. 1:16)

Find Freedom

February 19, 2014

Recognize Satan’s Lie
Satan is eager to convince us that we are defined by what we do and by how other people view us. He tells us that life will have meaning if we’re attractive, if we make a lot of money, if we excel in sports, if we’re “successful” parents. Others will admire us then, and we’ll be happy and secure. Satan also tells us that we have to hide our flaws, our sins, and our failures. He whispers that if others knew what we’re “really” like they would never accept us. These twin lies push us into a life of pretense. We’re forced to pretend to have it all together, even when we hurt inside. And we’re taught feel unacceptable and unlovable whenever we fall short of what we expect of ourselves. By convincing us that we identity is defined by our actions and how others see us, Satan robs us of one of God’s greatest gifts.

Hear God’s Truth
God does not value us because of what we do, and he does not condemn us
because of our sins and failures. God loves us for ourselves. He loves us because we are important to him as persons. No success can make God love us more. And no failure can make God love us less. When we grasp this truth we’re set free. We no longer have to do things to win the approval of other people. We are free to do whatever we believe will please God, simply because we want to please the one who loves us so completely. We never have to worry about what he thinks about us; we know that we are loved unconditionally. Instead of feeling forced to put up a façade, we can be ourselves with God and, increasingly, with others as well. We don’t have to pretend to be perfect, because we know God is working in our lives to make us more like him.

Respond to God’s Truth
The truth is that our identity is found in our relationship with Jesus.
Understanding that relationship free us from the burden of trying to define ourselves by either our successes or our failures.

Affirmation
Father, I choose to root my identity in my relationship with Jesus,
In Christ, I am your dearly loved child (John 1:11).
In Christ, I am Jesus’ dear friend (John 15:15).
In Christ, I am justified in your sight (Romans 5:1)
In Christ, I have been linked to Jesus by an unbreakable bond (1 Cor. 6:17).
In Christ, I have become a member of his body (1 Cor. 12:27).
In Christ, I have been adopted into your family (Eph.1:5).
In Christ, I have direct access to you through your spirit (Eph. 2:10)
In Christ, I have been redeemed and all my sins have been forgiven (Col. 1:14).
In Christ, I am complete (Col. 2:10).

Copy this Bible Verse
Post it in your home, and memorize it

“You have been given fullness in him, who is the head over every power and authority” (Colossians 2:10).

Demons and Illness

January 4, 2014

Do Demons Cause Sickness Today?

It’s not an easy question to answer. There are many illnesses and physical disabilities which have perfectly normal, organic causes. We’re finding out today than many also have genetic causes. So we can certainly say that not every illness or disability has demonic causes.

Still, as we read the Gospels, we’re struck by the fact that many of those Jesus healed were suffering from demonization. In this post we’ll look at eight occasions Jesus spoke to or with demons, and analyze them to see if we can gain any insight into how demons might attack individuals today.

First, though, let’s state a few assumptions. First, NT descriptions of demonic activity are authentic and accurate. Second, demons are capable of doing today what they did then. And third, demonic character hasn’t changed. Thus we can expect demons to be doing today what they did in NT times.

So, what did demons do in NT times that we can assume they are doing today? One demonic activity seen in the Gospels is, causing illnesses.

Demon-caused physical “illness”
Luke 13 relates the story of a woman who attended a synagogue where Jesus was teaching on a Sabbath. Luke tells us she was “crippled by a spirit for eighteen years.” Jesus called her to him and free her from the oppressing spirit. When challenged for healing on the Sabbath, Jesus confirmed Luke’s diagnosis, saying, “Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

Mark 9 relates the story of a child who was the victim of deafness and subject to seizures. The father attributed this to a demon, a diagnosis which Jesus again confirmed when he commanded the “deaf and unclean spirit” to “come out of him and never enter him again.”

In these two cases and others healing was brought about by driving out the demon. When the demon was gone the victim was set free and healed.

Normal “illness”
While some stories of healings in the NT depict demons as a causative factor, it’s clear that not all sickness should be attributed to demons. The Gospels frequently place Jesus’ healing of the sick and casting out of demons in separate categories, side by side, as in Matthew 4:23-24. At other times healings are described with no mention of demonic involvement, as in Matthew 11:4-6.

Such passages lead us to conclude that while some human illness is caused by or exacerbated by demons, other illness has “normal” rather than supernatural causes.

Treatment
Jesus exercised his authority both by healing “normal” illness and by casting out the demons who were the cause of other illnesses. These miracles were not only signs that authenticated Christ’s commission by the Father, but as in the Matthew 11 passage, the healings were the fulfillment of prophecies marking Jesus as the promised Messiah (cf Isaiah 35:5-7).

Jesus also at one time transmitted the exousia, the power or “right” to heal and cast out demons, to his disciples. It is interesting that while the apostle Paul did not exercise healing authority, as in the case of Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30), and did not seek a “healer” when he himself was ill (2 Corinthians 13), Paul did exorcise demons.

Evidence from the Epistles and from the early church fathers indicate that the Christian community recognized demon possession as a reality, and when identified acted to drive out the demons.

Complications
In his book, Deliverance and Healing, Peter Horrobin relates three types of situations he has dealt with.

> Some people’s chronic or other illness is demonic in origin. Deliverance from the demonic influence results in healing.

> Some people’s chronic or other illness is contributed to by demons. Deliverance is only one aspect of the healing process, while medical and/or psychological treatment is also required.

> Some people’s chronic or other illness has no roots in demonic oppression or possession. Medical and/or psychological treatment is all that’s required.

[It goes without saying that prayer is an important spiritual factor in each of the three situations, but I say it anyway.]

The complications arise in discerning which situation we face in dealing with any specific illness. Is this a “normal” illness? Or is there a demonic element?

The medical profession is increasingly aware of the impact of psychological states on recovery and general health. It is generally recognized that depression or other psychological states can significantly impact the effectiveness of medical treatments. Unfortunately, the idea that there can be a demonic dimension to physical and/or psychological illnesses is foreign to most medical professionals, psychiatrists, and counselors.

It is a truism, but also the truth, that when the demonic is ruled out a priori, medical professionals, psychiatrists, and counselors are most unlikely to identify it. They give no credence to causes which they are not looking for and, worse, which they do not believe can exist.

Tragically, even pastors and Christian counselors seldom consider the possibility of a demonic influence harming those who come to them for help, or who are referred to them by psychiatrists or medical professionals.

Recognizing the demonic
Acknowledging the possibility of demonic influence in human illness raises an obvious question. How do we recognize demonic causation or influence in a person suffering from an illness?

The book I referred to earlier, Horrobin’s Healing Through Deliverance, is his first volume on the subject and provides a biblical and theological framework in which to address the question. His second volume focuses on the practice of healing through deliverance, and documents a number of his experiences confronting demons.

While Horrobin’s basic answer to the question of how one recognized the presence of the demonic in a person who is sick is “spiritual discernment,” there seem to be a number of steps a person counseling with a sick or ill person should take.

It certainly is correct to say that spiritual discernment is a must in dealing in this area. And that is the providence of God the Spirit, who provides the spiritual gifts individuals and the church needs. At the same time, it’s important that we understand clues which the spiritually sensitive person will recognize as indicative of possible demonic involvement.

More about that next post.

Introduction to Spiritual Warfare

December 9, 2013

Introduction to Spiritual Warfare

Background
When God fashioned the Earth as a home for the human beings he was about to create, he was already at war with a host of spirit beings [elohim, sometimes translated “gods” but essentially meaning “supernatural” or “spirit” beings].

He created these spirit beings as angels, and for an unknown expanse of time they served him loyally. Then one of the most powerful of them, known as Light-bearer, rebelled, to become the being we know as Satan. He was joined in his rebellion by a great number of the elohim, who we know today as demons or evil spirits. The rebellion resulted in a war between God and Satan, between angels [the loyal spirit beings] and demons [the rebels].

It’s important to understand that both angels and demons are individuals, with a self-determination much like that enjoyed by humans. The one difference seems to be that the rebellion fixed the nature of each spirit being. Angels, although demonstrating freedom in how they act on the Creator’s behalf, remain totally loyal to him. Demons, although demonstrating freedom in how they choose to act against the Creator, remain his fanatic enemies and bend every effort to thwart his will.

In this struggle the Creator is Sovereign. No being is able to resist his power. But God’s sovereignty is not expressed as control of the activities of each spirit being. Neither angels nor demons are puppets, acting out roles assigned by a deity who figuratively pulls each being’s strings. God simply does not micromanage the activity of individual spirit beings. The good and evil elohim display significant freedom to choose. On the one hand, the angels have choice in how they carry out their assignments and, on the other hand, the demons can choose how they will go about trying to thwart God’s purposes. Why God permitted his creatures to have this freedom is not explained in Scripture.

We don’t know how long the struggle between angels and demons raged before God acted to refurbish a devastated earth and create human beings. [For a view on Genesis 1 as the “refurbishing” of a ruined planet Earth see Earthbound, the first of my Invisible War novels, or God at War, by Gregory A. Boyd.] What we do know is that the creation of human beings in God’s image and likeness was a significant development in the war, a bold stroke by God aimed at the ultimate defeat of Satan. We also see in Genesis 1 a clear definition of what is at stake in the conflict.

The issue defined
In the Genesis 1 description of the seven days, God stands on the side of order, regularity, consistency, life, and beauty. God’’s statement after each day, that what he has done is “good,” helps to define the nature of the good as well as provide insight into God’ character. Conversely, Satan’s opposition provides a definition of “evil” as chaotic, death dealing, and repulsive. The commitment of Satan and his demons to the chaotic, to death and ugliness, provides all the insight we need into the character of this being we call the devil.

The contrast is stark and clear. God, the good, is ranged against Satan, the evil. In this war there is no way for a person to remain neutral.

Human beings
God’s creation of Adam and Eve in his own image and likeness, and his commission of them to care for the Earth, is clear evidence that humans were to be enlisted on God’s side in the cosmic struggle between good and evil. But Satan, acting through the serpent of Genesis 3, led Adam to declare his independence of the Creator. Strikingly, unlike fallen angels, Adam’s choice of independence did not permanently fix Adam’s nature. True, the divine image was warped and twisted and humankind’s emotions and will were bent toward sin. But human beings remain redeemable, with the potential to respond to God’s invitation to trust him and thus recommit to him and his cause.

At this point the war became both more complicated and more focused. Along with the myriad of spirit beings exercising their freedom of choice in actions that supported the Creator’s purposes, and the myriad of spirit beings exercising their freedom of choice to oppose God’s purposes, there are now a myriad of humans who also exercise freedom of choice. Those humans who respond in faith to the Creator’s promise are called to engage in the war on the Creator’s side. Those who fail to respond in faith to the Creator’s self-revelation, are enrolled among Satan’s forces, their choices wittingly or unwittingly promoting evil’s agenda.

What had been an invisible war between angels and demons has spilled over into the physical universe, and every human being is dramatically affected by the war being waged in a realm which is hidden to us. What is happening in the spiritual dimensions of the universe has a powerful impact on our lives here and now.

With the creation of human beings the focus of the struggle between God and Satan, good and evil, shifted from the cosmic arena to plant Earth. It is here, on the surface of this tiny planet, that the struggle between good and evil is focused. It is here that the war will be won by the Creator, although many battles along the way may appear to be lost.

Strangely, very few believers realize that they are participants in a war between good and evil, and even fewer have any concept of what their role as spiritual warriors might possibly be.

Strategic War goals
In this war, Satan is at a distinct disadvantage. Although Satan dreamed of unseating the Creator and taking control of the universe, God, the only uncreated being, remains omnipotent. He simply cannot be unseated, for he is all powerful. In this situation Satan is reduced to attempting to thwart the Creator’s purposes, and to doing as much harm to those who are on the Creator’s side as possible. Even so, Satan is a significant force in the universe and capable for doing much evil.

Underlying Satan’s activities is a strategic choice. Unable to win Satan has adopted a “scorched earth” policy. He is intent on replacing order and consistency with chaos wherever possible. He is intent on replacing life with death, and beauty with the repulsive. In moral terms, Satan is committed to overcome good with evil, in the process imposing as much pain and suffering on humans as possible.

In contrast, God is committed to order, to life, to beauty, to overcoming evil with good, and to filling his universe with love, joy and praise.

It is essential that we understand the strategic goals of each side if we are to understand spiritual warfare, and take our place as spiritual warriors in God’s army.

Tactics in the War

The tactic of Cosmic Evil. The Bible hints at warfare on the cosmic level in passages such as Daniel 10. Daniel relates the story of an angel who was sent to answer his prayer. The angel’s arrival had been delayed for 21 days because he was blocked by a more powerful spirit being designated “the Prince of Persia.” The passage reminds us that good and evil angels struggle all around us, some seeking to aid us and some intent on thwarting their efforts.

This passage has also been understood to suggest that on both sides, spirit beings have been assigned to shape the history of nations and peoples. When we look at the millions maimed and tortured and killed through policies adopted by such states as Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, and other states today, it is hard to imagine that such evils could be perpetrated apart from demonic urging. Most in deliverance ministries believe that such beings are also assigned to smaller territories and influence what happens in them.

Spiritual warfare response. Christians may be limited to meeting together for prayer to oppose territorial cosmic powers. At the same time the concept of opposing cosmic evil may give support to theorists who argue that at times nations simply must fight just wars in opposition to evils.

The tactic of Institutionalized Evil. Jesus once explained the motives of the thief who enters a sheepfold (John 10). His goal, Christ said, is “to steal, kill and destroy.” Those who work in deliverance ministry (rightly) view this verse as a reference to Satan and his intentions. Yet most deliverance ministers relate this verse primarily to demonic attacks on individuals.

However, it is the testimony of Scripture that “the whole world lies in the wicked one,” and the Bible casts Satan as the ruler of this world. We must see demons as active in the institutions of society, warping them to suit Satan’s purposes. Wherever greed, prejudice, or injustice are institutionalized we see Satan’s efforts to create social chaos, to brutalize, to generate hatred and to cause suffering.

Spiritual warfare response. Evangelicals have not been noted for social justice activism. This means that we have left it to others to define what constitutes institutionalized injustice. It also means that we have not been outspoken advocates for the oppressed. Even more seriously, in leaving these issues to more liberal Christians and to non-Christians we have also left the supposed solutions up to those without an understanding of biblical principles. Too often well-meant “solutions,” rather than empowering those in need of help, have robbed them of hope and self-respect, created dependency, and made the oppressed pawns of power-brokers who crave their votes.

Wilberforce’s 50-year commitment to ending the slave trade in Great Britain can serve as a model for the Christian spiritual warrior called to battle institutionalized evil. Wilberforce, moved by the love of Christ, maintained his unpopular stand and became the conscience of a nation.

We need Christians who recognize the forces of chaos at work through social institutions and who sense God’s call to stand against these works of the devil. This is a legitimate arena of spiritual warfare, to be engaged in with prayer and a Spirit-led activism.

The Tactic of Imbedded Evil. Evil is imbedded in what Scripture calls “the world.” By this Scripture refers to the beliefs, values, and perspectives that shape human cultures and are inculcated in individuals. 1 John graphically portrays imbedded evil as beliefs and values which both reflect and appeal to “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does” (2:16). A culture casts its web everywhere, and its evil is often invisible except in the pure light of Scripture. Yet evil is reflected in attitudes toward sex prevalent in movies and uncritically accepted by the young, in a pattern of cheating in schools, colleges, and business. It is reflected in our society’s insistence on a “tolerance” that denies the validity of making moral distinctions and that vilifies those who take a stand for truth and righteousness.

Imbedded evil is seen in the pattern of insider trading that marks much of our financial system; a pattern that was recently exposed in testimony at the trial of Raj Rajaratnam of the Galleon Hedge Fund.

Spiritual warfare response. Every Christian needs to examine his or her life in the light of Scripture. We need to repent of ungodly beliefs and practices and commit to a life that reflects Jesus’ character. Parents need to instruct their children in, and to model, what is good. We all need to be willing to take a stand for truth and righteousness. Some of us may be led into occupations that directly confront evil, such as law enforcement or the military.
We all need to remember the admonition to overcome evil with good.

The Tactic of Gratuitous Evil. While Satan and his demons seek to steal, kill and destroy human lives on cosmic and institutional levels and by imbedding evil within human cultures, they also engage in gratuitous evil by oppressing individuals. I call demonic attacks on individuals “gratuitous” simply because no grand strategic goal is in view. Demons simply do evil to human beings because they are evil and because they delight in evil.

We see just how evil demons are in the gospels’ portraits of those who suffer demonic oppression. We see gratuitous evil in the chronic pain of the woman bent double for some eighteen years; we see the heartache of a parent who’s child convulses and seems intent on throwing himself into flames. These images point to the wickedness of those spirit beings who are intent on tormenting humans. While at times demonic oppression of individuals may have a strategic aspect, to limit a person’s ability to play a role assigned by God, in many if not most cases demonic attacks against individuals are truly gratuitous.

The New Testament epistles depict continuing danger from principalities and powers, rulers and thrones–each a title given by first century men and women to evil spirits. It’s no wonder that in Ephesians Paul describes armor provided by God, with which believers can protect themselves from the attacks of “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenlies.”

Spiritual warfare response. As a people of God we need to realize that many of the troubles believers experience have a demonic origin. Demons have gained a secret foothold in many lives. We need to teach about the nature of the invisible war going on all around us. We need to instruct believers in the Armor God has provided to protect us from the gratuitous attacks of demons. We need to empower believers who have the authority, in the name of Jesus, to confront and expel demons.

This aspect of spiritual warfare . . . a sort of “hand to hand combat” with evil spirits who oppress brothers and sisters in Christ as well as non-Christians . . . is the aspect of spiritual warfare most discussed by deliverance ministers. Tragically, this aspect of spiritual warfare, as the other aspects, is something of which most Christians are ignorant, providing Satan with all the openings he needs to establish a foothold in many lives.

In summary
An invisible war is going on all around us. It is a war between God and Satan, good and evil, angels and demons. Satan’s activity is revealed wherever chaos, evil, pain and suffering predominate.

The demonic powers conduct their warfare in cosmic, institutional, cultural and individual theaters. In each theater God’s angels oppose them. And, at least in the institutional, societal and individual theaters, Christians are called to engage in spiritual warfare and to overcome evil with good. In this warfare we have the resources of prayer, commitment to the good, and the name of Jesus, which is above every name that is named.

We do not know why God permitted evil to enter his universe. We do know why the Lord provided angels, demons, and humans with the freedom that permits them to do evil. What we do know is that we are to confront and fight against evil in all its forms, for we Christians are called to be warriors on God’s side, and that we are to rely on spiritual rather than carnal weapons.

We also know that in the end God will triumph. The struggle between good and evil will not be settled on the basis of power. If power had been the issue, God would have ended the war ages ago, for there is no power in the universe that can compete with the power of the Creator. No, the war was won on Calvary, where love exposed the emptiness of hate, and true goodness provided the background against which the horror of evil is even more starkly revealed.

When all the evil that man and demon can perform has been done, and the character of evil has been fully demonstrated, God will act decisively. He will put an end to evil and punish evil doers. Until then Christ’s presence will comfort the victims who suffer “collateral damage” in this terrible war. In that dayGod will “wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things” will have passed away. (Rev.21:5).

Until then we are to “put on the full armor of God,” take our stand, and overcome evil with good.

Satan’s Playground

November 4, 2013

How bleak life would be without emotions. No joy, wonder, excitement, or even sadness and grief. The capacity to feel is one of those special gifts God provided when he created us in his image.
That, of course, is the very reason why Satan is focused on turning our emotional capacity against our Maker. Satan cannot create, but he can corrupt. And he corrupts the gift of emotions in at least three distinct ways.
• Satan deceives us into imagining that our emotions are so powerful that they must control our choices.
• Satan deceives us into believing that our emotions are so shameful that they must be repressed..
• Satan deceives us into assuming that our emotions must be expressed if we’re to be “honest” with others.
Let’s look at each of these three lies of Satan. And then let’s ask the question, how much of our trouble with emotions is demonic?

Emotions are so powerful
Esther feels anxious whenever she leaves the house. Sometimes the anxiety flares up into full-fledged panic attacks. She constantly worries about what other people think of her, and will change outfits a dozen times before a social engagement, finding some tiny flaw in first this outfit and then that. When friends or family try to encourage her, she tells them they just don’t understand how she feels. She doesn’t want to be the way she is. She doesn’t enjoy anxiety, or those times when her heart beats so fast she’s afraid it will burst. But Esther knows she just can’t help it. She can’t control her emotions, as much as she’d love to. Her emotions control her.
James has a similar problem, but with temper. Ever since he was a kid he’s had a temper. If someone cuts him off on the highway, he just seems to go berserk. Once he even jumped out of his car, grabbed a tire iron from the trunk, and beat dents in an offender’s fender. What bothers James now that he’s married is that his wife keeps doing little things that made him mad. So far all he’s done is to yell at her, but several times he’s almost hit her. He can see that she’s becoming afraid of him. And he’s afraid of himself. “I’m just an angry person,” he told her after the latest incident. “I really love you, but I just can’t help myself.”
This idea that our emotions control us and we can’t help ourselves is one of Satan’s lies. God created us in his image, with a mind and a will as well as with emotions. For Esther and James. mind, will, and emotions are out of balance. This is especially true since Esther and James are both Christians. Scripture says to Esther, “God is not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7). And speaks directly to to James problem, saying “In your anger do not sin: (Eph.4:26). Our emotions are real enough. But our emotions are not to control us.
No reasonable person can challenge the power of emotions, or doubt the grip that they may gain on an individual’s life. But to believe that we must behave as our emotions dictate is to believe a lie, and to find ourselves in bondage. When the Bible says it is “for freedom that Christ has set us free,” one of those freedoms is freedom from the dictates of emotion that we might joyfully choose to live our lives in submission to Christ, not to our feelings.

Emotions are so shameful
Some of our emotions should cause us shame. And it’s hard to know what to do with them.
Dan has buried anger at his father for ignoring him when he was a child. And his father did ignore him. Dan’s dad was an alcoholic, Dan’s resentment is constructed on innumerable broken promises and disappointments. As an adult Dan has come to understand that his father, now a Christian and active AA member, couldn’t help himself in those days. But Dan often thinks, ‘Why couldn’t he have changed earlier?” Dan even finds himself resenting God for saving his father too late. Too late to avoid the hurts he experienced as a little boy. But Dan is a Christian. He believes that the resentment he feels toward his dad and the anger that wells up now and then against God are wrong. So he stuffs them down every time, denying their existence and yet filled with shame.
It’s a lot like the way James feels when someone talks about anger. He’d be mortified if his pastor had any idea of the way he treats his wife. Or of that desire to let it out and simply hit her. That’s something he won’t ever let himself think about. And something he certainly won’t admit to anyone else.
King David must have felt like this after his affair with Bathsheba and the success of his plot to see her husband Uriah killed in battle. David shares those feelings in Psalm 32.
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your had was heavy upon me;
My strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Psalm 32:3
Repressing our emotions never brings freedom, but keeps us in bondage. We have to bring even the most shameful things out into the open and deal with them.

Emotions must be expressed
Carol has no problem with repressed emotions. She simply blurts out everything she thinks and feels. After all, we are supposed to be honest with people. And Carol is brutally honest.

Like the time the pastor’s wife wore that dress to Carol’s daughter’s wedding. It was cut soooo low. Well, it wouldn’t have been too low for Carol to wear, but she wasn’t a pastor’s wife. Pastor’s wives are supposed to set an example for the young people. Carol couldn’t wait to tell her how shocked and disappointed she was that a pastor’s wife would show up in something like that.
James has been thinking about something he heard a counselor say on TV about our emotions. Something that made sense. The way to get rid of a negative emotion is to express it. Like, if you’re angry, don’t try to stay calm. Just yell. It would be wrong to hit someone, of course. But by yelling, the counselor said, you “discharge” your anger. Then you’re over it, and no one will get hurt.
The trouble for both Carol and James is that Scripture calls on Christians to “speak the truth in love,” and to “be kind and compassionate to one another.” We are to express “only what is helpful for building others up” (Eph. 4:29,32). The fact is that Carol’s “honesty” comes close to malice, and James angry shouts are hardly designed to build up those at whom he yells.

Truth vs Lie
The tragic fact is that too many Christians buy Satan’s lies about their emotions, and too few understand the truth expressed in God’s promise of transformation through trust in Christ. Just read a passage like Ephesians 4:17-32 or Colossians 3:1-17 and you have a clear picture of the emotional life that God intends to provide for his own. That life is not the life that Esther, James, Dan or Carol are experiencing.

There are many offers of help around these days. Psychiatrists offer pills to help us control anxiety and avoid panic attacks. Courts decree anger management courses for those with tempers. Counselors promise to help us get to the roots of our problems, and hold out the prospect of change through understanding. Others promise change through behavior modification; still others suggest yoga and contemplation.
Let’s be honest and admit that pills, counseling, behavior modification, and even anger management can help a person deal with his or her emotions. But these techniques can’t resolve the problems.
Most in helping professions tend to deal with people piecemeal. Psychiatrists today rely on a medical model and treat emotional problems with medicine. Counselors see emotional disturbances as psychological an offer therapy. Too often pastors see them simply as spiritual problems. In fact each of these areas is intimately linked with the others, so that emotional problems spill over into and have an impact on our health and our spiritual lives. Similarly our health has an impact on our emotions and spiritual life. And the spiritual has a powerful impact on our health and our emotions.
It would be foolish for a person like Esther or Dan not to seek help from a counselor. Finding the roots of anxiety or anger, which frequently lie in childhood experiences, can make a contribution to healing. But while understanding helps, healing is something much more, and different in character. Healing is essentially spiritual, and only God can truly heal the wounded heart.

Wounded by lies
Satan’s strategy is to note our reaction to emotional trauma, and then to craft the lie that will keep us in emotional bondage. For some, it’s the lie we are the helpless victims of our emotions and have no choice but to live as our emotions dictate. Esther has believed this lie. She feels helpless, and whenever her heart begins to beat faster or beads of sweat break out on her forehead she surrenders to her fears.

For some the lie is that our emotions are so shameful that we dare share them with no one. Such emotions are suppressed, forced deep down lest they reveal something about us that will make us unacceptable to others.
For some, emotions are confused with reality. What we feel is assumed to be true. Contempt for what others say or do spills over into condemning words or withering looks, and we self-righteously assume the mantle of judges of our fellow humans. “Well, that’s how i feel about it” is offer as justification for the most harmful words.
Satan loves these lies. And demons actively resist attempts to help anyone who has believed them learn and live by the truth. And what is the truth?
• Our feelings our real, but we are free to act despite and even against them. As we make godly choices our emotions will change.
• Our feelings may be shameful, but God loves, forgives, and accepts us anyway. Our acceptance by God and by others does not require repressing shameful feelings.
• Our feelings are real, but are not to be equated with truth. Nor do they justify treating others with contempt instead of respect.
The road to healing
Healing the emotions calls for a very special ministry, in which we identify the sources of emotional problems, invite God to share those terrifying moments with us and affirm his love and presence. Healing calls for forgiving those who have hurt us, forgiving God for permitting our pain, confessing the sin involved in our reactions to those experiences, accepting God’s forgiveness, and forgiving ourselves.

Often this process calls for the help and guidance of a deliverance minister. For those with serious emotional scars and severe emotional problems it is almost certain that demons will have attached themselves, and will battle against anyone in search of healing. This is why emotional healing [deep healing, prayer healing, whatever it is called] will often involve encountering demons and casting them out.
But even without deliverance ministry there is a place where we can begin. That place is acknowledging our emotions and expressing them honestly to the Lord. Esther can and should tell God all about her fears. Dan can and should bring his anger to the Lord. God’s love is unconditional. He knows our deepest secrets and loves us anyway. Whatever our situation, however deep is our distress, God has an answer. David puts it this way in Psalm 142
I cry aloud unto the Lord,
I lift up my voice to Lord for mercy.
I pour out my complaint before him;
Before him I tell all my trouble.
When my spirit grows faint within me
It is you who know my way.

God does know.
He understands.
And he can, and will, free us from bondage to our emotions.

Spiritual Forces of Evil

October 15, 2013

In the book of Ephesians the Apostle Paul makes a familiar, yet striking statement. Arguing that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world,” Paul adds “and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (6:12). This statement reflects truths that were well understood by the people of the first century, but are less understood today.
For instance, the “power” words in the sentence – rulers, authorities, powers – are references to supernatural beings that we today would call demons or evil spirits. And the reference to “heavenly realms” locates them in what we might call the “spirit world,” that spiritual universe which overlaps our material universe and is the realm of God, angels . . . and fallen angels. These last, Satan and all who followed him in his great rebellion against the Creator, are depicted here as “spiritual forces of evil.”
The spiritual forces imagery doesn’t present the malignant powers as an army [eg., as military forces]. Rather these powers are the beings that from their home in the spirit realm actively work to energize evil in our world. And in us.

The concept of evil
In the Old Testament words for evil are constructed on the root ra’, and have a dual focus. The verb means to be evil, or to be bad, to act wickedly, or to do harm. The masculine noun simply means “evil.” But the feminine noun indicates evil in the sense of misery, distress, or disaster. That is, on the one hand “to do evil” is to violate God’s intentions for humankind. On the other hand, “evil” denotes the experience of pain and misery, of tragedy and distress, that result from evil acts. As far as Scripture is concerned evil is like a coin, with heads on one side and tails on the other. One cannot do or be evil (heads) without at the same time experiencing the consequence of distress and troubles. The “spiritual forces of evil” depicted in Ephesians actively encourage humans to do evil, knowing full well that misery will result, not only for the victims of evil doing but also for the perpetrators.
The New Testament assumes the view of the Old Testament, but further explores two aspects of evil. Kakos and its derivatives depict a damaged humanity. Yearning to do good, humans find themselves falling short of what they should, and even want, to do (Romans 7). Here much of the harm we do to others and ourselves is viewed as rooted in a terrible flaw in human nature itself, one that Scripture traces back to the Fall described in Genesis and the grip on our lives of a sin nature that has us constantly falling short of what God intends us to be.
But there is another word group that depicts evil as active, rooted in a corrupted human heart. This aspect of evil, expressed in the Greek word poneros, moves us to rebel against God and act maliciously toward our fellows. Poneros is used when describing Satan as the Evil One (1 John 5:19), and is much stronger than kakos. It is variously translated as evil, wicked, and wickedness. Jesus pinpointed the central issue with poneros when he taught, “out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matt. 15:19).

The role of evil spirits
The role of evil spirits is to actively exploit the flaw in our nature represented by kakos, and to energize our innate affinity with poneros. As Paul writes in Romans 7:19,t even he, as a believer, having set his heart on doing good, finds that “what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil (kakos) that I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”
We are used to thinking of the role of evil spirits in terms of demonization, the invasion of an individual’s person and the exercise of a pernicious influence from within. This is certainly one aspect of how evil spirits attack God’s people. We see this clearly in Jesus’ confrontations with demons as reported in the Gospels. Again and again we read that Jesus “cast out” evil spirits from those who were crippled in some sense by the presence of demons. While most of the stories in the Gospels link demonization with physical disabilities, such as crippling back pain, paralysis, etc., evil spirits can have a far more wide ranging impact on a person’s life. [See the next post, Symptoms of Demonization, excerpted from my newest book, Spiritual Warfare Jesus’ Way, to be published next year by Chosen Books.]
It’s clear from Scripture that our response to demonization is to do what Jesus did . . . to cast out the evil spirit. But I’ve suggested in this post that evil spirits, demons, actively work to energize evil from their place in the “heavenly realms.” And to meet this challenge something other than exorcism is required.
Just one illustration. Have you noticed that Satan has arranged our culture so that we are entertained by evil.
What I mean is that most dramas we see on TV or at the movies depict evil rather than good. Take “Law and Order, Special Victims Unit” as an example. Each one hour show is based on a sexually oriented crime. The development of the plot in any one hour episode focuses on the graphic depiction of actions that we all recognize as evil. Yet these stories of evil fascinate us, and draw us into the program. Oh yes, episodes usually conclude with a perpetrator who is caught and punished. But this hardly justifies the horror of what we’re invited to witness, or the pain and suffering inflicted on the victims of the crime. Yet we continue to watch, and in the process we are desensitized to the evil itself as well as the pain that results.
I believe that here, and in many other common experiences, we see the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms corrupting our culture, and surreptitiously corrupting our deepest selves as well. And the threat posed by these “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” cannot be met by casting out the demons. The threat posed by Satan’s “forces of evil,” (and yes, the word here is poneros, depicting the spirits’ active, malignant intent), is a very different but a very real threat.
How do we set ourselves to struggle against these spiritual forces of evil. That’s something we’ll explore in upcoming posts.

Symptoms of Demonization

October 15, 2013

“Is it demons?”
That’s a question I hear often. How can I tell whether that temptation I struggle to overcome is energized by demons? How can I tell if a chronic illness doctors just can’t seem to help is caused by demons? How can I tell if my adolescent, whose whole character seems to have changed and has even threatened to kill us, is demonized? How can I tell if the voice I seem to hear speaking inside me is the Holy Spirit, or one of Satan’s evil spirits?
Certainly the Gospels witness to the fact that one symptom of possible demonization is persistent illness or disability. A prime example of this kind of demonic activity is in a woman described in Luke 13, who was “bent over and could not straighten up at all.” The text explicitly states that she “had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years” (13:11) until Jesus set her free.
There is, however, one story in the Gospels which provides much insight into symptoms of demonization. The story is told by Matthew, Mark, and, in the following passage, by Luke.

When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been drive by the demon into solitary places. (Luke 8:27-29).

In a parallel account in Matthew, where two men are mentioned, the text tells us that the demoniacs “were so violent than no one could pass that way” (8:28).
Mark adds two important details. Mark tells us that “night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones” (5:5). And Mark notes that when Jesus got out of the boat, “a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him” (5:2), and even more graphically states that “when he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him” (5:6).

Luke sums up the result of Jesus’ casting out the many demons that infested this demonized man. When the people of the neighborhood came out to see what had happened, “they found the man from, whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind” (9:35). In the Gospel reports of this man’s experience, we see a wide range of symptoms that may possibly point to demonization. These symptoms fall into different categories.

Social symptoms of demonization. Luke tells us that the demoniac was “from the town.” Social relations in the first century were extremely important. A person’s identity was rooted in how his community perceived him, and that community was vitally important to him. Yet this man left his family and his community to live “in the tombs.” In first century Judaism anyone who touched a dead body or even a tomb became ritually unclean, and was isolated from the community until he had undergone cleansing. It’s clear that the demoniac was isolating himself from other people. It’s also clear from the effort to bind him with chains that the community had not given up on him. They were struggling to draw him back into normality.
One of the most important symptoms of possible demonization today is a person’s intentional efforts to isolate himself from his family and friends. He or she may stop seeing friends, may spend less and less time with loved ones, more and more time alone. Efforts to reach out and draw him or her back into closer relationship will tend to be rejected. It’s significant that in recent mass murders that the killer is typically described as a “loner.”

Interpersonal symptoms of demonization. Matthew describes the man as “so violent that not one could pass that way” (8:28). The demoniac was actively aggressive, hostile and violent. It was dangerous for anyone to even come near him, for he was bent on attacking anyone in his vicinity.
Most of those who come to me with concerns about loved ones are most upset about change they see from a once loving and responsive individual, into one who is increasingly bitter and hostile. Typically the attacks described are verbal; bitter, hateful words are spoken, that gradually give way to threats. But hostility can quickly morph into violence. One of my best friends, who has dealt often with the demonized, says that he has never dealt with an physically abusive spouse where demonization was not involved.
Combined with a drift toward isolation, increasingly hostile behavior, laden with threats of violence, is one of the clearest symptoms of possible demonization. Such threats must definitely be taken seriously.

Moral symptoms of demonization. The description in Luke tells us that this demonized man “for a long time” had “not worn clothes or lived in a house” (8:27). In first century Judaism the moral code emphasized modesty. One of the great scandals of the time was that foreign gladiators, imported for games held by the Romans, thought nothing of walking through the streets of Jerusalem wearing nothing but a hat! The depiction of this man as without clothing is especially significant for that culture. It suggests an individual who has abandoned moral restraints and has adopted what is essentially a non-moral, if not immoral, attitude.
By abandoning moral restraints I am not thinking primarily of sexual sin, although this may be involved. Morality at heart involves respecting other persons, and valuing them enough to consider their wellbeing. When an individual loses concern for others, that person has abandoned morality and the moral code. The choice of the demoniac to go naked is extremely significant given the values of his community. As is any action by a person today that shows he or she no longer takes the feelings and values of others into consideration.

Mental symptoms of demonization. Luke commented that after Jesus expelled the demons, the demoniac was “sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind” (8:35). This is doubly significant. He was now dressed, morally reoriented to his community. And he was “in his right mind.” Under the influence of the demons the man had been “out of his mind.”
The word translated “right mind” here is a compound constructed on the root, phroneo. The underlying idea expressed is that of thinking or judging clearly and correctly. A demonized person’s thought processes may be distorted, and his capacity to evaluate events and situations, or even his own plans, may be corrupted. So another symptom of possible demonization may be that a person says and thinks things which seem “crazy” – distorted and foundationless.

Physical symptoms of demonization. Most accounts of evil spirits in the Gospels feature some physical symptom of the demon’s presence. An illness or serious physical disability is caused by a demon or demons. When Jesus casts out the demons, the individual is freed from the physical disability as well.
In the case of the demoniac, the physical symptom was an amazing burst of strength, which enabled the demonized man to break chains used to bind him. While demons are likely involved in cases of persistent chronic illnesses that do not respond to medical treatment, we should not expect physical symptoms to be the primary marker of demonic oppression. Nor should we expect every physical problem to disappear when a demon is exorcised.

Psychological symptoms of demonization. Mark provides a detail not found in the other Gospels. He tells us “night and day among the tombs and in the hills he [the demoniac] would cry out and cut himself with stones” (5:5). While much contemporary research explores the roots of self-mutilation (cutting) by young women, the act itself seems to be an expression of self-loathing, and evidence of overwhelming anxiety or despair. Whatever their roots in an individual’s experience, shame and guilt would appear to be present, often resulting in self-hatred as well as a deep sense of personal inadequacy.
While demons do not cause such psychological symptoms, demons do enhance and exaggerate emotions that are already present, stripping away any sense of self-worth and value.

Spiritual symptoms of demonization. Writers on deliverance often stress a demonized person’s antagonism to the things of God, such as Scripture, Christian music, church, etc. But Mark’s account raises questions. Mark tells us that the man with the evil spirit “came from the tombs to meet” Jesus (5:2). Later Mark adds that “when he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God” (5:6,7). The man ran to Jesus. But the evil spirits in him were terrified of Jesus and of his command to “come out” (5:8).
Two things are significant. First, the demons did not totally control the man they victimized, or he would hardly have run to, rather than from, Jesus. While the demons were repelled by Christ, the man experienced an attraction to Jesus at the same time.
Spiritual ambivalence is often present when a believer is demonized. The Christian wants to pray, but evil thoughts intrude. He goes to church, but can’t stay awake during the sermon. He tries to read the Bible, but can’t seem to grasp the meaning of the words. This pattern of ambivalence toward spiritual things seems far more characteristic of demonization than constant, open hostility.

As we look through these symptoms that point to possible demonization, it should be clear that each symptom can have causes other than evil spirits. It doesn’t require demons to make a person hostile or violent. Physical disabilities can have totally natural causes, with no demonic involvement at all. Many have abandoned moral restraints on their own initiative, without the urging of evil spirits. We can even experience ambiguity in our relationship with the Lord, as anyone who has quickly turned the dial to a different station when running across a radio preacher should recognize.
Even though the presence of the symptoms described here do not provide definitive proof of demonization, it’s important to understand and watch for them. It is particularly important to consider the possibility of demonization when several of these symptoms show up together.

“Is it demons?”
That’s a question I hear often. How can I tell whether that temptation I struggle to overcome is energized by demons? How can I tell if a chronic illness doctors just can’t seem to help is caused by demons? How can I tell if my adolescent, whose whole character seems to have changed and has even threatened to kill us, is demonized? How can I tell if the voice I seem to hear speaking inside me is the Holy Spirit, or one of Satan’s evil spirits?
Certainly the Gospels witness to the fact that one symptom of possible demonization is persistent illness or disability. A prime example of this kind of demonic activity is in a woman described in Luke 13, who was “bent over and could not straighten up at all.” The text explicitly states that she “had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years” (13:11) until Jesus set her free.
There is, however, one story in the Gospels which provides much insight into symptoms of demonization. The story is told by Matthew, Mark, and, in the following passage, by Luke.

When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been drive by the demon into solitary places. (Luke 8:27-29).

In a parallel account in Matthew, where two men are mentioned, the text tells us that the demoniacs “were so violent than no one could pass that way” (8:28).
Mark adds two important details. Mark tells us that “night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones” (5:5). And Mark notes that when Jesus got out of the boat, “a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him” (5:2), and even more graphically states that “when he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him” (5:6).

Luke sums up the result of Jesus’ casting out the many demons that infested this demonized man. When the people of the neighborhood came out to see what had happened, “they found the man from, whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind” (9:35). In the Gospel reports of this man’s experience, we see a wide range of symptoms that may possibly point to demonization. These symptoms fall into different categories.

Social symptoms of demonization. Luke tells us that the demoniac was “from the town.” Social relations in the first century were extremely important. A person’s identity was rooted in how his community perceived him, and that community was vitally important to him. Yet this man left his family and his community to live “in the tombs.” In first century Judaism anyone who touched a dead body or even a tomb became ritually unclean, and was isolated from the community until he had undergone cleansing. It’s clear that the demoniac was isolating himself from other people. It’s also clear from the effort to bind him with chains that the community had not given up on him. They were struggling to draw him back into normality.
One of the most important symptoms of possible demonization today is a person’s intentional efforts to isolate himself from his family and friends. He or she may stop seeing friends, may spend less and less time with loved ones, more and more time alone. Efforts to reach out and draw him or her back into closer relationship will tend to be rejected. It’s significant that in recent mass murders that the killer is typically described as a “loner.”

Interpersonal symptoms of demonization. Matthew describes the man as “so violent that not one could pass that way” (8:28). The demoniac was actively aggressive, hostile and violent. It was dangerous for anyone to even come near him, for he was bent on attacking anyone in his vicinity.
Most of those who come to me with concerns about loved ones are most upset about change they see from a once loving and responsive individual, into one who is increasingly bitter and hostile. Typically the attacks described are verbal; bitter, hateful words are spoken, that gradually give way to threats. But hostility can quickly morph into violence. One of my best friends, who has dealt often with the demonized, says that he has never dealt with an physically abusive spouse where demonization was not involved.
Combined with a drift toward isolation, increasingly hostile behavior, laden with threats of violence, is one of the clearest symptoms of possible demonization. Such threats must definitely be taken seriously.

Moral symptoms of demonization. The description in Luke tells us that this demonized man “for a long time” had “not worn clothes or lived in a house” (8:27). In first century Judaism the moral code emphasized modesty. One of the great scandals of the time was that foreign gladiators, imported for games held by the Romans, thought nothing of walking through the streets of Jerusalem wearing nothing but a hat! The depiction of this man as without clothing is especially significant for that culture. It suggests an individual who has abandoned moral restraints and has adopted what is essentially a non-moral, if not immoral, attitude.
By abandoning moral restraints I am not thinking primarily of sexual sin, although this may be involved. Morality at heart involves respecting other persons, and valuing them enough to consider their wellbeing. When an individual loses concern for others, that person has abandoned morality and the moral code. The choice of the demoniac to go naked is extremely significant given the values of his community. As is any action by a person today that shows he or she no longer takes the feelings and values of others into consideration.

Mental symptoms of demonization. Luke commented that after Jesus expelled the demons, the demoniac was “sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind” (8:35). This is doubly significant. He was now dressed, morally reoriented to his community. And he was “in his right mind.” Under the influence of the demons the man had been “out of his mind.”
The word translated “right mind” here is a compound constructed on the root, phroneo. The underlying idea expressed is that of thinking or judging clearly and correctly. A demonized person’s thought processes may be distorted, and his capacity to evaluate events and situations, or even his own plans, may be corrupted. So another symptom of possible demonization may be that a person says and thinks things which seem “crazy” – distorted and foundationless.

Physical symptoms of demonization. Most accounts of evil spirits in the Gospels feature some physical symptom of the demon’s presence. An illness or serious physical disability is caused by a demon or demons. When Jesus casts out the demons, the individual is freed from the physical disability as well.
In the case of the demoniac, the physical symptom was an amazing burst of strength, which enabled the demonized man to break chains used to bind him. While demons are likely involved in cases of persistent chronic illnesses that do not respond to medical treatment, we should not expect physical symptoms to be the primary marker of demonic oppression. Nor should we expect every physical problem to disappear when a demon is exorcised.

Psychological symptoms of demonization. Mark provides a detail not found in the other Gospels. He tells us “night and day among the tombs and in the hills he [the demoniac] would cry out and cut himself with stones” (5:5). While much contemporary research explores the roots of self-mutilation (cutting) by young women, the act itself seems to be an expression of self-loathing, and evidence of overwhelming anxiety or despair. Whatever their roots in an individual’s experience, shame and guilt would appear to be present, often resulting in self-hatred as well as a deep sense of personal inadequacy.
While demons do not cause such psychological symptoms, demons do enhance and exaggerate emotions that are already present, stripping away any sense of self-worth and value.

Spiritual symptoms of demonization. Writers on deliverance often stress a demonized person’s antagonism to the things of God, such as Scripture, Christian music, church, etc. But Mark’s account raises questions. Mark tells us that the man with the evil spirit “came from the tombs to meet” Jesus (5:2). Later Mark adds that “when he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God” (5:6,7). The man ran to Jesus. But the evil spirits in him were terrified of Jesus and of his command to “come out” (5:8).
Two things are significant. First, the demons did not totally control the man they victimized, or he would hardly have run to, rather than from, Jesus. While the demons were repelled by Christ, the man experienced an attraction to Jesus at the same time.
Spiritual ambivalence is often present when a believer is demonized. The Christian wants to pray, but evil thoughts intrude. He goes to church, but can’t stay awake during the sermon. He tries to read the Bible, but can’t seem to grasp the meaning of the words. This pattern of ambivalence toward spiritual things seems far more characteristic of demonization than constant, open hostility.

As we look through these symptoms that point to possible demonization, it should be clear that each symptom can have causes other than evil spirits. It doesn’t require demons to make a person hostile or violent. Physical disabilities can have totally natural causes, with no demonic involvement at all. Many have abandoned moral restraints on their own initiative, without the urging of evil spirits. We can even experience ambiguity in our relationship with the Lord, as anyone who has quickly turned the dial to a different station when running across a radio preacher should recognize.
Even though the presence of the symptoms described here do not provide definitive proof of demonization, it’s important to understand and watch for them. It is particularly important to consider the possibility of demonization when several of these symptoms show up together.