Our understanding of the spiritual realm will greatly affect our day-to-day lives. Eph. 6:12 tells us that we are in a spiritual battle. We need a biblical perspective of our relationship to the spiritual realm. The following articles are provided to help you gain understanding. To dig deeper, read The Bondage Breaker by Dr. Neil T. Anderson and Spiritual Warfare by Dr. Timothy Warner.
It’s not that we are focusing on demons as much as we are bringing light to the truth. We believe we are moving the Church toward a more biblical worldview which openly acknowledges and addresses spiritual realities. One of the major problems that has led to the ineffectiveness of the Church today is the adoption of a western worldview which ignores, on a functional level, much of what the Scriptures teach about spiritual realities. Categorizing our problems under the labels “The World,” “The Flesh,” and “The Devil” is a little deceiving because it tends to give the impression that they operate independently from each other. According to Genesis 1-6, if it weren’t for Satan, the world and the flesh wouldn’t be problems for us.
Some believers point to James 1:14 as teaching that all sin is really the result of the flesh. But this interpretation ignores the rest of the Book of James, especially James 3:13-4:10, which clearly implies that all human conflict and worldliness has a demonic dimension (3:15) requiring us to resist the devil as part of the solution (4:7). Paul says our struggle is “not with flesh and blood” but against an organized, evil, spiritual empire that controls the world (see Ephesians 6:12) and which impacts every person born (see Ephesians 2:1-3). Satan is called the god of this world, and all the world is under his evil influence. To be sure, excessive preoccupation with the demonic can be a problem with some groups. The solution is found in living according to a completely biblical worldview with Scripture as our guide.
As we’ve stated over and over, recognizing a spiritual dimension to our problems does not imply a “devil made me do it” theology. Nobody emphasizes personal responsibility for finding freedom more than we do. Every New Testament passage on spiritual struggles emphasizes our personal responsibility to resist and stand firm (Ephesians 6: 10-12; James 4:7;1 Peter 5:8,9). But we must take seriously the spiritual dimension of our struggles if we are to win in the battle against the flesh and the world.
The focus of our ministry is Christ, not the devil. We instruct people not to call up, name or deal directly with the demonic in counseling sessions. We don’t want demons to manifest; we want to manifest the presence of God. Wanting to do all things decently and in order, we teach pastors, missionaries, counselors and laypeople to maintain control and work only with the counselee.
The simple answer to the question as asked is “no.” But the relationship of believers to the demonic is not that simple.
In the original language, “demon possession” is only one word. Some have suggested that it would have been better to have transliterated it as “demonized.” If we did, then a demonized person could be defined as “one who is under the influence of one or more demons.” All the passages where this word is used are in the Gospels. The word never occurs after the Cross. Consequently, we will forever lack theological precision in determining if the word “demonization” can be applied to a New Testament believer. To say the concept couldn’t apply because the word doesn’t occur is, at best, an argument from silence and not a definitive answer.
The answer also hinges on how you define “possessed.” We have a tendency to think that if we possess something, we own it (as in “possession is nine-tenths of the law”). With that understanding of the word, the question becomes “Can a Christian be owned by the evil one?” The answer: Absolutely not! Every Christian has been bought by the blood of the Lamb (1 Peter 1:18,19). We belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, and He will never leave us. Paul writes, “You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:13,14).
Despite what some of our critics charge, I (Neil) have never taught that believers can be “demon possessed.” The first cornerstone of our message is that believers are eternally secure in their identity as children of God. We teach that no believer is in such deep bondage that they cannot exercise their responsibility to “submit therefore to God. Resist the devil” (James 4:7). Our approach is to encourage believers to exercise their authority and responsibility as children of God to repent of sin, win the battle for their minds, present their bodies to God and resist the devil.
Even though Christ has secured our victory over our spiritual enemies (see Colossians 2:15), please don’t conclude that Christians can’t have spiritual problems. Some believers seem to think they are immune to spiritual attack, but the Bible clearly teaches that Satan’s primary attack has always been on God’s people, hoping to thwart God’s plan. The Bible clearly teaches that temptation, accusation and deception are constant possibilities for believers. (The following passages describe the possible impact of evil forces on believers: Genesis 3; 1 Samuel 16:14; 1 Chronicles 21:1; Job; Zechariah 3; Matthew 16:23; Acts 5:3; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 7:5; 2 Corinthians 11:1ff; 12:7; Ephesians 4:27; 6:10ff; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 1 Timothy 1:20; 3:6; 4:1; 5:15; 2 Timothy 2:26; James 3:15; 4:4; 1 Peter 5:7,8; Revelation 2:10; 12:17.)
A true Biblical worldview presents all of creation locked in spiritual conflict that extends from Genesis to Revelation. As believers, we are aligned with God against the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). We have been transferred from the “domain of darkness” to the “kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). In this battle for the heavenly places, the Church is God’s method for extending His kingdom and as such is Satan’s prime target (see Ephesians 1:3,20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12). The entire book of Ephesians teaches that as believers we already have everything we need to experience spiritual resources through faith and obedience in the power of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual defeat is still a real possibility for believers who still live like unbelievers (see Ephesians 4:17-32).
We are clearly told that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Therefore, Paul teaches it is our responsibility to put on the armor of God, to stand firm and to resist the powers of evil (see Ephesians 6:10-18). Peter calls the devil “your adversary” and warns believers of his intention to devour them (see 1 Peter 5:7,8). The word used for “devour” is a strong term that means “to drink down, swallow down, to eat up, or to devour.” (Fritz Rienecker and Cleon Rogers,The Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1976, 1982 edition). For example the Egyptians were “swallowed up” by the Red Sea (see Hebrews 11:29). (See also 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:20). We are told to submit to God and resist the devil and that he will flee from us (see James 4:7). What happens to believers if they don’t obey God’s Word and choose to resist the devil? All these passages imply dire consequences for believers who ignore Satan, pretend he doesn’t exist or fail to stand firm in their faith. If Satan can get you to believe a lie, he can control your life. We have been clearly warned: “The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).
By focusing the discussion of Satan’s influence on believers on the issue of the location of the demons — whether they are internal or external — some have needlessly polarized the Church. Conservative Christians have disagreed for years about what demons can do to believers and whether this control can extend to what we normally think of as internal functions such as thinking, feeling and motor activities. We could quote authors, cite references and debate the passages, but we don’t believe deciding the location is the critical issue. Furthermore, we believe you could use our discipleship-counseling model regardless of your view on the location issue. Let us explain.
First, the issue of internal versus external is hard to apply in the spiritual realm. As believers, is our “skin,” the armor of God repelling demons and their activities? Or is the battle for our minds fought in a spiritual realm where spatial concepts are not the key issues? The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is primarily a “relational issue” and not a “spatial” issue because of the doctrine of the omnipresence of God. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit does not automatically keep sin and evil out of our mortal bodies (study Romans 6-8). The Corinthian believers were warned about receiving other spirits besides the Holy Spirit (see 2 Corinthians 11:3,4) even though Paul calls them temples of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19). As the temple of God was violated in the Old Testament, Paul teaches that sin can reign in the mortal bodies of those who use their bodies as instruments of unrighteousness (see Romans 6:12-16). That is why he urges us to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice (see Romans 12:1) as the necessary prerequisite to the renewing of our minds (see Romans 12:2). The whole question of “internal versus external influence” is difficult because we just don’t know exactly how the material world of the brain, body and nervous system interfaces with the spiritual realm of the mind, flesh and spirit.
Second, virtually all who carefully study this issue agree that believers can be greatly impacted by evil spirits. Authors who advocate an external-influence-only view conclude this: “The Bible itself does not give us a full description of everything demons are capable of. Because of this lack of accurate information, plus the satanic ability to deceive, plus our own shortcomings in the area of discernment, it is likely that certain activities such as vocal chord control or even a demon throwing someone on the ground, may be caused by a demon without requiring internal habitation. (Thomas Ice and Robert Dean, Overrun by Demons,Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House, 1990, pp. 127-128.) What if these authors are correct and all control is external? You could still have a believer rolling on the ground, speaking in demonic voices, in desperate need of help.
We believe the critical issue is how to help this person. To find freedom from the spiritual bondage, however you want to describe it, the believer must assume personal responsibility to believe the truth of his or her identity in Christ, submit to God by repenting of sin, put on the spiritual armor and resist the devil. Regardless of where the demons are located, it is trusting God’s truth and His truth alone that sets people free (see John 8:31,32). We have never cast demons out of anybody as some kind of “outside authority agent,” and we don’t teach others to do it. We simply encourage believers to exercise their responsibility to “submit therefore to God. Resist the devil” (James 4:7) using the kind, compassionate model described by Paul in 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
Through the years, we have had the privilege of helping thousands find their freedom in Christ, freedom from Satan’s lies and freedom from their pasts. Many were in bondage to their past, others had deep sexual problems, eating disorders and other seemingly unmanageable behaviors. Few of these people knew who they were as children of God, and all struggled in their thought lives. I (Neil) have personally counseled hundreds of people who heard voices, and nearly every situation involved a spiritual battle for their minds. You may want to read Released from Bondage. It contains testimonies of Christians who were in bondage and their accounts of how they got out of it. You will read about the strong spiritual component in every single person’s problems. How you choose to label the conflict is almost irrelevant to us. The fact that Christ was their answer and truth set them free is the real issue. And we, the Church, are the only hope these dear people have because the secular world does not believe they could possibly be having demonic problems.
Satan cannot perfectly read your mind, but no single passage in Scripture states this definitively. We infer that Satan cannot read our minds for a number of reasons. First, Satan is a created being, originally a powerful angel (see Ezekiel 28:13,14). Though he aspired to be like God (see Isaiah 14:13,14), he is not God’s equal in any way. Only God has the ability to be everywhere — all present, all-knowing and all-powerful. Therefore, only God has complete and continual knowledge of our minds’ activities (see Psalm 139).
Second, everywhere in the Bible that angels or demons interact with people or God, information must be exchanged through communication. Certainly if Satan could have read Jesus’ mind, he would have altered his doomed strategy in the temptations he devised (see Matthew 4:1-11). Instead, the devil tries different temptations, and each time Jesus resists him verbally, using the sword of the Spirit as we are called to do (see Ephesians 6:17).
Third, in Daniel 2, King Nebuchadnezzar wisely demanded that his Chaldean sorcerers reveal the content of both of his dreams before interpreting them in order to validate the divine origin of the interpretation. The sorcerers were stumped because they knew their normal sources of power and information (demons) could not read the king’s mind. Only God is the true revealer of such mysteries (see Daniel 2:11, 22, 28, 29, 47). Certainly, if Satan had been able to read the king’s mind, he would have been able to keep Daniel from advancing in the king’s service.
What Satan can affect, apparently, is one’s thought processes through the flesh. He is, for instance, indicted for blinding the minds of the unbelieving (see 2 Corinthians 4:3, 4), and he darkens their understanding (see Ephesians 2:1-3 and 4:17-19). He and his demons can communicate false doctrine (see 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Galatians 1:8; 1 Timothy 4:1; 1 John 4:1-3), and his demons can impact the thoughts of believers as well. Satan is credited for prompting Ananias to lie to the Holy Spirit (see Acts 5:1-3), for moving David to consider his own strengths when he numbered the people of Israel (see 1 Chronicles 21:1, 2), for inspiring Peter’s resistance to Christ’s statement about His impending death (see Matthew 16:23), for inspiring worldly wisdom rooted in jealousy and ambition (see James 3:14,15; 4:7), and for leading minds away from devotion to Christ (see 2 Corinthians 11:3). It isn’t hard for Satan to know what you’re thinking when he gives you the thoughts!
Furthermore, Satan and his demons use deception to give the impression they can read minds and know the future through divination and fortune-telling (see Acts 16:16,17). Satan has also had opportunities since the beginning of creation to observe human behavior. As a result, he has a thorough working knowledge of human behavior. He has learned what he must do to derive certain behaviors from the person he attacks. He can also influence events by influencing key leaders. He uses this deception to give the impression he is like God, able to read minds and control the future. But remember that Christ has triumphed over Satan and, in Christ, you have the responsibility to resist him in submission to God. When you do, he will flee (see Colossians 3:15; James 4:7).
To the person who is under severe attack by the devil and who does not understand the character of God, Satan can seem extremely powerful. At times, a person may even be tempted to believe the lie that the devil is God’s equal in power, but nothing could be further from the truth!
Satan is a created being and, like all of God’s creatures, is subject to the final authority of God. Satan is not permitted to do anything unless God first allows him. In Job 1 and 2, God granted permission for the devil to touch Job’s possessions and even his physical body, but refused to allow Satan to kill him. And, shortly before He went to the cross, Jesus warns Peter that “Satan has demanded permission to sift [him] like wheat” (Luke 22:31) and tells Peter that He is praying that his faith will be strong. Clearly, Satan is bound by the authoritative decrees of Almighty God. The devil has to ask God for permission before acting; he does not have equal authority with God.
Neither does Satan have God’s great wisdom. God’s understanding is infinite (see Psalm 147:5) whereas Satan’s is limited. The devil, for instance, obviously did not understand that the death of Christ on the cross would soon be followed by His triumphant resurrection, His ascension to glory and the giving of the Holy Spirit to empower all believers. If he had known all that, he would never had conspired to put Him to death (see 1 Corinthians 2:8)! Furthermore, the Bible teaches that “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight” (Hebrews 4:13, NIV). Only God “knows the secrets of the heart” (Psalm 44:21, NIV), and Satan is unable to perfectly read our minds.
As you begin to better understand who God really is and who you are in Christ, you will see that you have no need to fear Satan’s power. He is a defeated foe, and in Christ you have all the authority you need to discern his schemes and resist him (see Colossians 2:8-15; James 4:7).
This question, in a variety of forms, has perplexed human beings for centuries. Many people have expressed it this way; “If God is so good, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?” or “If God is so powerful, why doesn’t He simply put an end to all the wickedness and pain in the world?” To be sure, our efforts to understand this issue fall short of a complete answer, and to a certain extent it will remain a mystery to us this side of heaven.
We do know, however, that God is the Author of life, not death. He created Lucifer. Lucifer became Satan by his own rebellion (see Isaiah 14; Ezekiel 28). He then instigated the rebellion of one-third of the angels who became demons (see Revelation 12). God created Adam who rebelled by sinning and led a parade of fallen humanity. Sin in the world is the result of God’s creation rebelling against Him. The Lord, however, remains both all powerful and completely good (see Jude 25: Exodus 34:6). Therefore, at any time, He could choose to say, “Enough is enough” and put a stop to all the activities of Satan as well as to all the activities of us sinful people — and one day He will. Until that Second Coming of Christ, however, we face the harsh reality that incredible evil and suffering abound in our world.
Does God see? Does God care? We answer both troubling questions with a resounding, “Yes!” The Lord Jesus, when He walked on the earth, wept at the grave of His dear friend Lazarus (see John 11:35). At another time, “Seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew (:36). These are certainly not the emotions and reactions of a distant or aloof God!
“Why then,” you may ask, “doesn’t this omnipotent God respond with compassion for all who suffer today?” The answer to that question is “He already has!” The Lord Jesus Christ did not choose to remain on His lofty throne in heaven, far above the pain and misery that Satan causes in this world. Instead, He came to earth clothed in human flesh. He took everything Satan could throw at Him and never gave up or gave in. Jesus even died an excruciating death on the cross to pay for our evil, so that one day we will spend eternity in paradise with Him (see Philippians 2:5-11)! Jesus defeated Satan at the cross and sealed his doom forever. Judgment has already been passed on to the devil; one day he will begin to serve his eternal sentence.
“But it seems to be taking so long for Jesus to come back,” you say. Perhaps to us it seems like God is taking His good old time, but God is right on schedule. Listen to the words of the apostle Peter: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise [to come again], as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV).
God is waiting for people like you and me to turn from our sin and put our faith in Christ. It is out of His kindness that He waits to put an end to the devil’s power on earth. For when God puts His foot down and says, “Enough!” to Satan, He will do the same with sinful men and women, and that will be the end of history as we know it. Christ will return, judgment will come, and those who have not believed in Him will be doomed with the devil to the lake of fire (see Revelation 20:10-15).
In the meantime, God has given us the tremendous privilege and responsibility of proclaiming the good news of salvation to the people around us who have yet to respond. We can do a lot to lessen the power of Satan in people’s lives by winning them to Christ and helping them become strong in their identity as a child of God. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to make disciples for Christ as we depend on Him.
So, we can sit around cursing the darkness, or we can light a candle. But rather than spending our time bemoaning the fact that Satan seems to have so much power, let us be about our Father’s business of building His Church. The gates of hell will not prevail against us (see Matthew 16:18)! And someday every tear will be wiped away, and the universe will be eradicated of evil (see Revelation 21:4).