Spiritual warfare is a reality of the Christian life (2Cor.10:3-4). But some who engage the enemy have gone to extremes, focusing on the enemy rather than the Ally. Is spiritual warfare that focuses on demons biblical?
For years, many involved with charismatic spirituality and deliverance ministries have asserted that Christians can be inhabited by demons. But more recently, this belief has spilled over into non-charismatic circles, despite the lack of biblical evidence. Christians are encouraged to exercise the same authority as Jesus over the demonic realm by rebuking and binding demons, many of which are associated with specific vices such as smoking, pornography, overeating, alcoholism, and drug abuse to name a few.
The result of this teaching is an unhealthy and unscriptural fixation with the demonic rather than on Christ. Also, the ascribing of vises to demonic influences virtually absolves a person from personal responsibility for their behavior, and promotes a victim mentality.
Charismatic theology adheres to a demonology that places Satan in a position almost equal with God, and who is in a constant struggle with God for dominion over the world and lives of humans. Satan is the head of all evil forces, especially demons, which affect all aspects of human life. These messengers of Satan, which are to be found everywhere, are responsible for all illness, immorality, misfortunes, and anything else that is detrimental to human happiness.
This theology seems to assume that God intended humanity to be free from suffering, and, in many cases, the everyday struggle with one’s own sin nature is confused with demonic activity. Therefore any intrusion of pain and suffering into one’s life must be the result of being blindsided by the devil and his minions. Misfortune in your life means you are being robbed of the God given right to happiness by evil forces. This dualistic view of life makes it possible for all vises and misfortunes to be accounted for by demonic activity from which one can be delivered.
A Theology of Fear
Radical charismatic demonology thrives on and is perpetuated by fear. The constant threat posed by the forces of darkness provides the primary reason why one must belong to a Charismatic church. Only here will a person receive the spiritual power to combat the minions of Satan. The only cure offered for this demonic domination is the power derived from the Holy Spirit and invoking the name of Jesus. Thus, without the devil and the fear engendered by him, Jesus and His church would be irrelevant, making the efficacy of God dependent upon Satan. This is indeed an affront to God’s sovereignty, omnipotence, and self-sufficiency.
There is no doubt that the Bible links all sin to some degree of demonic influence (1 Jn 3:8-12; 5:19; Eph 2:2; Jn 14:30), but not all sin is directly caused by Satan. Demonic activity may be a factor in almost all sin, especially that which opposes the work of God in the world, but the emphasis of the New Testament is on overcoming the influence of indwelling sin (Rm 12:2; Gal 5:16-17; Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:5-17;), not the influence of demons.
Can a Christian be Demon Possessed?
Those involved in deliverance ministries list several reasons why a Christian may be subject to demonic possession: unconfessed sin, persistent rebellion, involvement in false teaching, child abuse, a dysfunctional home life, ancestral involvement in the occult, sexual sins, or demonic transference through sexual relations. Especially susceptible are those who deny that Christians can be demon possessed, because we are under the “deception” that we are immune. And the list could be enlarged.
In fact, the list is so comprehensive, one wonders if any Christian is exempt. Not one, however, of the above reasons can be deduced from Scripture. There is simply no Scriptural evidence of Jesus ever casting a demon out of a believer. All of Jesus’ exorcisms were performed on unbelievers, so it is indeed curious that most modern deliverance ministries, which claim to model themselves after Jesus’ ministry, focus on freeing Christians, and yet give so little attention to demon possessed unbelievers.
The Christian wages war on three fronts; the world, the flesh, and the devil. As such, it is essential to know the enemy and to distinguish between demonic possession and demonic influence. The Bible is clear that only unbelievers are subject to demon possession, while both believers and unbelievers may be demonically influenced.
The biblical concept of possession is clearly an indwelling in which the personality and body is actually demonically controlled (Mt 8:28-31;12:22; Mk 9:17-18; Acts 16:16-18). Influence, however, refers to attacks from without through pressure, intimidation, and temptation, and may be substantial. This explains the believers need to “put on the full armor of God” (Eph 6:10-17), to resist the devil (Jm 4:7), and to not give the devil any opportunity (Eph 4:27).
The very nature of salvation precludes any possibility of a demon inhabiting a true Christian. The Christian has been sovereignly regenerated, sealed, indwelt, and filled by the Holy Spirit, placed “in Christ” (Rm 6:1-7), never to lose their salvation. It is impossible for a demon to inhabit the same body in which the Holy Spirit dwells. To contend otherwise is a direct affront to the sovereignty of God in salvation and over the forces of darkness.
Biblical Spiritual Warfare
Due to the faulty demonology of charismatic theology, many Christians today are dominated by concerns about the devil and his minions, and stunted in their sanctification, rather than living fruitful, victorious lives focused on Christ. God has delivered every Christian from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col 1:13). Jesus has vanquished all evil cosmic powers, they derive their very existence from Him, and do not act independently of Him (Col 2:10, 15). From the highest to the lowest, all are subject to Him (Col 1:16). The Devil is God’s devil.
The believer, however, is not to be ignorant of the Devil’s schemes (2 Cor 2:11; Eph 6:11). Our enemy always tempts by means of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life (Gen 3:6; Mt 4:1-11; 1 Jn 2:16). His main tactic is still “has God really said…?” (Gn 3:1), and is the tactic still used by his servants who masquerade as servants of righteousness. Demonic influence may take many forms, but all temptation falls into of one of these three categories.
The Christian faces a formidable foe who strives to nullify any future effectiveness he/she may have for God’s kingdom. To prevent becoming a casualty in the spiritual battle, and to be useful and victorious in this life, the Christian must arm himself with the panoply of prayer (Eph 6:10-20), faith (1 Jn 5:4), and the Word of God (Mt 4:4, 7, 10), combined with an understanding of the enemies tactics (2 Cor 2:11), all the while realizing that our ultimate victory is found in Christ.