Tag Archives: deliverance

Isn’t the Idea of Demon Possession Outdated?

Demon possession isn’t just a relic of more primitive times. It still exists today.

People unfamiliar with the Scriptures often have the misconception that the New Testament considers all physical and mental illness to be caused by demon possession. Actually, the Gospels distinguish between demon possession and ordinary physical and mental illness ( Matthew 4:24 ; Mark 6:13; 7:32; 16:17-18 ).1

The Bible says that spirit beings exist with powers in many ways superior to humans. Some of these beings—the angels—are servants of God (Daniel 7:10 ; Matthew 26:53 ; Luke 2:13 ). Others are angels who rebelled against their Maker. These are the fallen angels or demons ( 2 Peter 2:4 ; Jude 1:6 ). Scripture indicates that fallen angels are capable—under certain conditions—of controlling the mind and behavior of individual people ( Mark 5:7; 9:25 ; Luke 4:41 ; Revelation 16:13-14 ).

The Bible also teaches that there is a fine line separating the evil for which humans alone are responsible, and the strictly demonic evil that results from an external spiritual force taking control of a human will and mind. A striking example of the human tendency toward evil is the apostle Paul’s description of his own struggle in Romans 7:15-24. He wrote:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. . . . When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?2

As the apostle Paul described it, our own sinful nature seems to be independent of our will—to have a “mind of its own.” It is no exaggeration to speak of such a powerful inclination toward evil as “demonic” in a sense. After all, the impulse behind our inner inclination to do evil is connected in Scripture with Satan and the satanic ( John 8:44 ; Ephesians 2:2 ; 1 John 3:10 ).

While all of us harbor this inner inclination toward evil, occasionally a person transcends this and enters into true demonic possession. In such cases these individuals come under the control of an external demonic power—an alien spiritual being. Probably the most dramatic account of demonic possession in Scripture is in the Gospel of Mark:

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet Him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No-one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. 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? Swear to God that You won’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man,you evil spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area (Mark 5:1-10).

In this case, Jesus commanded the demons to enter a large herd of swine, which stampeded down a steep slope into the sea and drowned.

Most accounts of demonic possession in the New Testament occur prior to the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ ( Matthew 8:16,28; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22 ; Mark 5:15 ; Luke 4:33; 8:27 ).3 Interestingly, the Epistles make no mention of demon possession and give no instructions for exorcism.

Although it doesn’t seem to be as common today, we are convinced that demonic possession still occurs. There are many credible missionary accounts of confrontations with demon possession in pagan cultures. These involve such manifestations as unnatural strength and knowledge of foreign languages not known by the possessed, along with other preternatural knowledge. With the rise of Paganism and occult idolatry in our culture, demon possession is likely to become more common.

The ways that evil manifests itself have always been mysterious. In his book, I Have Lived In The Monster (St. Martin’s Press), expert FBI crime profiler Robert K. Ressler makes this striking observation about the demonic:

Supernatural causes, people felt in the era before Freud, were the only logical explanations for excessively savage murders,blood-draining, and other such monstrous acts. People felt there were demonic elements to such acts — and I cannot say that they were entirely wrong, because even today, when we try to explain to ourselves the acts of a Jeffrey Dahmer, those acts seem satanic, at least in part, because they are in large measure beyond rational understanding. We can attribute them to human behavior, pushed to extremes, but even saying this,and demonstrating how such behaviors can be traced back to childhood and genetic stresses does not completely suffice as explanation. After all, in the Dahmer family, Jeffrey had a younger half-brother who grew up in the same household but did not commit heinous acts.

M. Scott Peck is an example of a person with a thoroughly skeptical, secular outlook who became a believer in demonic possession:

As a hardheaded scientist—which I assume myself to be—I can explain 95 percent of what went on in these cases by traditional psychiatric dynamics . . . . But I am left with a critical 5 percent that I cannot explain in such ways. I am left with the supernatural . . . . (People Of The Lie, pp.195-196).

These observers intimate what most of us sense: Although a scientific understanding of human motivation and genetic predisposition provides a degree of insight into human destructiveness, human evil has aspects that are (and probably always will be) as paradoxical and impenetrable to human logic as are other essential elements of human experience — such as the relationship between free will and environmental/genetic predetermination.4

  1. We should not equate mental illness with demon possession, as some did in the past and still do today. Malachi Martin warns:

    Many people suffering from illnesses and diseases well known to us today such as paranoia, Huntington’s chorea, dyslexia,Parkinson’s disease, or even mere skin diseases (psoriasis and herpes I, for instance) were treated as people “possessed” or at least as “touched” by the devil (Hostage To The Devil, p.11). Back To Article

  2. A sampling of other passages that refer to the natural, inborn propensity of mankind to sin are Genesis 8:21 , Job 14:4 , Psalm 51:5 , Isaiah 64:6 , Mark 7:21-23 , Ephesians 2:1. Back To Article
  3. The large number of miracles during Christ’s ministry was a special “sign” of His divine authority. It may be that Christ’s authority over evil was expressed through a greater amount of demonic activity and more overt confrontations with demonic power. In the book of Acts,there are only a few accounts of possession, and they generally take place in the early stages of Christian penetration into pagan areas. Peter cast out demons while in Jerusalem ( Acts 5:16 ). Philip did so in Samaria ( Acts 8:7 ). Paul delivered a young woman from a fortunetelling demon at Philippi ( Acts 16:16-18 ) and cast out indwelling demons at Ephesus ( Acts 19:11-12 ). None of these cases involved a demon-possessed believer. Back To Article
  4. “When speaking of emotional conflicts one is attempting to designate certain processes of an ill-defined nature which operate deep within the uncharted recesses of the subconscious mind, and which are thus not readily amenable to detailed clinical delineation. It is known, however, that the vital forces of the human personality function within this area of the mind, and that there is always a significant emotional or psychic element in most diseases, and not least in idiopathic mental afflictions. If such states are to be seen in terms of the evil, destructive powers found in the subconscious mind gaining the ascendancy over the positive forces for good in the human personality, it is possible to think of all mental disorders as being to some limited extent at least the result of temporary possession of the human mind by demonic influences, a situation which could conceivably become permanent. Because modern psychosomatic medical research has shown that attestable clinical disease can result from such metaphysical entities as suggestion, emotional conflicts, fear, and the like, it is no longer possible to dismiss as implausible the noxious effects which the various forms of evil, working through the personality of fallen man, can have upon individual and mental well-being” (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia Of The Bible). Back To Article
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Isn’t a Lack of Deliverance from Sickness or Harm a Sign of Deficient Faith?

It would be a serious mistake to imply that deficient faith accounts for all instances in which a person does not receive healing or deliverance.

It’s true that Scripture tells of people who were healed or delivered from danger because of their faith. Some examples are Gideon ( Judges 7:15-23 ); Naaman the Syrian ( 2 Kings 5:14-15 ); Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego ( Daniel 3:19-29 ); the centurion’s servant ( Matthew 8:13 ); the woman with an issue of blood ( Matthew 9:20-22 ); the man with a withered hand ( Matthew 12:9-13 ); and Peter’s deliverance from prison ( Acts 12:5-12 ). Even this partial list is impressive.

Clearly, faith in God may result in healing and deliverance. However, the Scriptures also show us just as clearly that there are times when a believer’s suffering or sickness has nothing to do with a lack of faith.

When Job lost his family, wealth, and physical health, his friends “comforted” him with the message that his loss and suffering were due to his own moral failure (his lack of faith). But Job was confident in his integrity before God. God Himself had declared him perfect and upright ( Job 1:8 ). Later, God Himself denied the explanation that Job’s “counselors” gave for his suffering ( Job 13:1-15 ). Even more importantly, God Himself denounced their words ( Job 42:7-8 ).

Job’s faith wasn’t the problem. In fact, Job’s faith in God was so strong that he, without cursing or disrespect, defended his integrity to God and questioned Him about the injustice of his suffering. Yet, in the midst of his agony, he continued to trust:

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him. He also shall be my salvation, for a hypocrite could not come before Him (Job 13:15-16).

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27).

Job’s faith was eventually rewarded and vindicated. But he wasn’t spared the terrible suffering that allowed his faith to be tested and proven.

Even at a time when miracles often occurred, God allowed Stephen to be stoned ( Acts 7:59-60 ) and James to be beheaded. Although Acts 12 tells of Peter’s supernatural deliverance from captivity in prison, Jesus had already prophesied that he would eventually die a martyr’s death ( John 21:17-19 ), as (according to tradition) did all of the other disciples except John.

In 2 Corinthians 11:23-30 Paul eloquently described the suffering and trials from which he hadn’t been delivered. He also suffered from a particular “thorn in the flesh” ( 2 Corinthians 12:7, 10 ) for which God had not provided a remedy. When Timothy suffered from a stomach ailment, Paul didn’t exhort him to have greater faith. Instead he told him to take some wine as medicine ( 1 Timothy 5:23 ). There isn’t the slightest hint in these passages that Paul’s trials and Timothy’s sickness were the product of unconfessed sin or deficient faith. In fact, rather than proclaiming that our faith in Christ should deliver us from the suffering and trials of this world, Paul extols the spiritual benefits of suffering.

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance [produces] character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us (Romans 5:3-5).

James also made it clear that strong faith is no insurance against suffering:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).

On the basis of Scripture, we can say that faith is always relevant to suffering. Our reaction to suffering — whether in faith or in despair — determines whether it will produce spiritual growth or despair. But because spiritual healing is more important to us than our physical circumstances, faith is not a barrier against suffering.

Whenever we are inclined to presume that the illness or suffering of another person is the result of that person’s sin, we should recall the foolishness of Job’s “counselors” in attempting to explain the mystery of God’s will. Although faith won’t always deliver us from tribulation, it will keep us conscious of God’s promises and of the assurance that He will work everything out to good of His children ( Romans 8:28 ).

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