Spectrum of Influence

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Ephesians 6:10-12

Scripture is clear that we are attacked by the enemy in various ways and at various levels. But not all demonic activity is the same. What I’ve noticed over the years is that there is a spectrum of demonic activity and influence in a people’s lives. Scripture speaks to this as well. Moving from light to heavy influence, there is the spectrum:

Temptation: this is when we are invited to believe a lie or to do something we know is wrong. The demonic spirit is outside of you whispering invitations and lies to your thoughts and emotions. If we were to use a preposition (which is difficult because we’re talking about things in the spirit realm) it would be “around.” The demonic spirit is circling around you. The image here is flies that are buzzing around your head that you have to swat away. Scripture says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it“(1 Corinthians 10:12-14).

Harassment: this when the enemy seems to target one area of our life and launch continual temptations or attacks on that one area. The feeling is that we’re being hounded by temptation. If we were to use a preposition it would be “upon.” The enemy’s attacks are “landing” as it were. The image here is gnats that swarm around your face and get into your eyes. Harassment happens because we have started to believe the lies and may have given in some to the temptation. Scripture says, “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15).

Attachment: this is when we have given in to temptation and harassment and certain demonic spirits have found a foothold in our life. The feeling is that the demonic spirit is always there cranking what should be a level 3 temptation up to a level 8. If we were to use a preposition it would be “on” or “onto.” The demonic spirit is holding onto you and not letting go. The image here is a vulture who has landed on your back and has its talons dug in.

This is usually the point at which deliverance ministry starts to become necessary. At this point we often need the help of others to get free because we’ve given the enemy access to our life. Scripture says, “do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27), and for good reason. When a demonic spirit gets attached, it starts to wreak havoc in a person’s life. When demons that have been attached leave a person, they often just lift off of them. There usually aren’t a lot of fireworks. The person is usually just left feeling a sense of peace and rest.

Oppression/Stronghold: this is when we have consistently given the enemy access to our life through chronic sin or chronic affirmation of lies, and so the demonic spirits move in. Jesus describes our life like a house (Matthew 12:44). Oppression is when a demonic spirit (or spirits) enter our house and set up camp in at least one room of the house. They don’t own the house, but they occupy one room, one part of our life. If we were to use a preposition it would be “in” or “into.” The spirit is inside, trespassing on a Temple of the Holy Spirit, and needs to be kicked out in Jesus’s name.

At this point we often see demons who have been given so much territory and authority in a person’s life that they are able to take over a person’s body, facial expressions, eyes, and voice when they feel threatened. Demons will stay hidden as long as possible (that is their best defense) until they are confronted with the delegated authority of Jesus and the power of the Spirit operating through a person. When they realize they are threatened and exposed, they will sometimes try to puff up and take control of the person they occupy. Deliverance ministry is essential for this. Deliverance ministers function as police officers kicking out the trespasser and revoking its right to be there, all in the name of the King. We see Jesus cast out a number of demonic spirits that fit this category.

In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

“Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

Luke 4:33-35

When demons who have entered a person get kicked out, they often try to create a scene (as we see in Luke 4:35). They can sometimes leave violently as they fight to stay in the person. This can look like dry heaving, vomiting, coughing, shaking, flailing, screeching, or yelling. Their goal in leaving this way to create fear and embarrassment in the person, so we try to limit this reaction as much as possible in Jesus’s name. Interestingly, if the person is on antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication, we have seen them leave with a yawn (instead of a violent cough or dry heaving).

Heavily Oppressed: this is the same as being oppressed but, in this case, multiple demonic spirits have taken over multiple rooms in a person’s life. If they are a believer in Jesus, we called this heavy oppression. If they do not have the Holy Spirit in them, this would be “possession.” Jesus warned about this possibility in Matthew 12.

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. 

Matthew 12:43-45

And we see the reality of this condition with the Gerasene man who was heavily demonized. He “lived in the tombs” and, “Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones“(Mark 5:3-5). He told Jesus, “My name is Legion,…for we are many” (Mark 5:9).

I have seen this reality firsthand. But in our culture, people who are heavily demonized look normal. They don’t live in caves with chains. They simply need the power of the Holy Spirit and the delegated authority of the name of Jesus to help set them free. They need someone willing to fight for them and love them enough to go to battle against the tormentors in their life. They are beloved children of God who just want to be free.

At the lighter end of this spectrum, mostly what we need to be free is an encounter with truth. But as the influence of the enemy increases in a person’s life, we not only need a truth encounter but a power encounter. Conduits of the power and authority of Jesus must come and kick out the trespassers. Both kinds of encounter (truth and power) are necessary for us to experience freedom. And most of all, we need love. We need to know that no matter how far the enemy has dug into our life, we are still loved and cherished by our Heavenly Father. And our Father wants us to be set free even more than we do!

Mary Magdalene

Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out… 

Luke 8:1-2

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

Matthew 9:32-34

When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.  Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured.

Luke 8:35-36

Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

Acts 16:16-18

In the last four years the Lord has given me the opportunity to be involved in deliverance ministry. I did not seek this out. God placed me in situation after situation where the person in front of me was being oppressed by demonic spirits, and I was faced with the choice to either walk away, leaving the person in their tormented state, or to do something about it. I would pray for people and watch as they contorted, screamed, dry-heaved, shook or coughed violently. I would command the demon to leave in Jesus’s name and it would. The person would walk away more free than they’ve ever felt before.

Over time, I began to learn the nuances of deliverance ministry–how demons get in people, how they fight to stay there, and the inner healing needed in most deliverance situations. What started as a clumsy trust in the power of the name of Jesus has been refined by the Holy Spirit into a regular part of my pastoral ministry. Before the coronavirus and the social distancing orders, I was praying for one to two people a week. In most of these cases, multiple demons would lift off of people during our prayer sessions. Most times they leave quietly and without fanfare, and other times they leave in a way that is more dramatic and violent.

When I describe all of this, people either look at me in disbelief or are often curious why I would want to do this. But this is like asking a nurse why they would want to clean up a bedpan. The point of all of this is not really about the demons. It’s about seeing God’s children set free. It’s about seeing the oppressed have their chains drop off of them for the first time in decades all because of the powerful name of Jesus. It’s about being a conduit of the love of the Father as people experience in tangible form how much God loves them.

One of the best depictions of this reality can be seen in the first episode of the show The Chosen. The first episode is free and you can watch it here. In episode 1, we watch a beautiful retelling of the stories of the people who would have known Jesus best. And while we get to know Peter, Andrew, Matthew and Nicodemus, the emphasis of episode 1 is around the life of Mary Magdalene. If you want to know why I am so passionate about deliverance ministry, watch this episode all the way to the end.

Swept Clean or Free?

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

Matthew 12:43-45

Sometimes I find myself in conversations about ministering to those who are demonized. When I talk about the fact that I’ve cast demons out of a bunch of people, the initial reaction is usually disbelief. After they realize that I am serious and that I have story after story that I can share with them about this reality, disbelief changes to curiosity. While casting out demons fits with everything we see in the Gospels, the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament, it can be difficult for our minds to comprehend because of western rationalism and materialism.

Occasionally, the question is asked, “Have you ever cast a demon out of a believer? Someone who is a follower of Jesus?” My answer is always, “I’ve only cast demons out of believers. I would be hesitant to cast a demon out of someone who isn’t a follower of Jesus unless they become one soon afterward.” This is usually fairly shocking to the person who asked the question.

In most people’s mind, the image they have of a demonized person is of someone like the Gerasene demoniac who was fully possessed, chained hand and foot, and living in caves. Or the image they have is like something they’ve seen in a horror movie. But what they don’t understand is that there is a continuum of demonization that moves from simple attachment, to internal occupation, to stronghold, to oppression. And if they don’t have the Holy Spirit, it can become possession.

The danger of casting demons out of a person without the Holy Spirit is what we learn from Jesus in the Matthew 12 passage above. When talking about the demonic, Jesus compares our life to a house. One might be able to cast the demon out of one of the rooms of that person’s house, but if Someone stronger doesn’t move into that room, the demon will just come back with his friends. The condition of the person will be worse than before. Just putting the house in order and sweeping it clean (what we see many people do in counseling) isn’t enough. Our lives will simply become a more orderly place for more demons to occupy and oppress.

One time a pagan woman came to Jesus to ask Him to cast a demon out of her daughter. Initially, Jesus denies her request because she is a Gentile. Jesus goes on to describe the ministry of deliverance–casting out demons–as “the children’s bread“(Matthew 15:26; Mark 7:27). In other words, the ministry of casting out demons was always meant as a gift for the people of God.

Casting out demons is a cleansing tool meant to be used mostly in the discipleship process of becoming more like Jesus in holiness and purity. Occasionally, it can also be used in evangelism when combined with the message of salvation. But deliverance ministry was always meant to be for the people of God.

Christians should feel no more ashamed of needing deliverance than a sick person should feel ashamed of going to the doctor. In the earliest traditions of the Church, in the first few hundred years, a person received deliverance prayer immediately after they were baptized. The normal process was: 1) surrender one’s life to Jesus, 2) get baptized in water, 3) invite the Holy Spirit to baptize and fill the new believer, and 4)cast out any demons that are there. Most of the church has lost these last two steps. Based on the ineffectiveness and brokenness of the Church today, I believe we need to recapture #3 and #4 as a normal process for the new believer.

Is there an area of your life you struggle to gain victory? A chronic sin? An addiction or compulsion? Self destructive thoughts or behaviors? A temptation that feels impossible to resist? If so, there’s a good change you need deliverance ministry. God’s gift to His people is deliverance ministry. Never be ashamed to take Jesus up on His offer of true freedom!