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!

Body-Soul-Spirit Connection

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

Throughout the Gospels, when we see the English translation “demon-possessed,” it is the Greek word “daimonizomai.” More property translated, it would be “demonized.” Unfortunately, horror movies and media have given the American culture a certain mental picture of someone who is “demon-possessed.” Most people think of the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-17; Luke 8:26-37) in chains looking more animal than human. Or they think of some person levitating off of a bed with their head spinning as they puke everywhere.

This is not a biblical way to understanding the affect of a demon on a person or in a person. Instead of translating it “demon-possessed,” which gives the impression that the demon is in complete control over the whole person, we should be translating it closer to the Greek text with the word “demonized.”

Properly understood, the word “demonized” speaks to a spectrum of influence that demons can have on a person’s life. A person can be demonized and only be affected in one or two areas of their life. It could show up in a chronic sin, an addiction, or a particular relational our interpersonal dysfunction (like the inability to control one’s anger, or eating, or the inability to show grace, etc).

Demonization starts with what we might call “attachment.” Picture a vulture clinging onto the outside of a person with their tallons. If it continues it can move inside and establish a “stronghold.” This would be an area of a person’s thinking and/or feeling that is fortified with lies, allowing the demon to remain. If we picture a person as a house (Matthew 12:25-29, 43-45), this would be a demon taking up residence in one or two rooms.

If this continues, demonic influence can spread to other parts of a person’s life and become “oppression.” Oppression is where many demons have access and influence over many, if not most, areas of a person’s life. If the person does not have the Holy Spirit in them because they are not followers of Jesus, then oppression quickly becomes possession.

If the Holy Spirit is there, it cannot be possession because the person belongs to the Lord. But severe oppression can occur even in Christians. Jesus owns the deed to the house but the rooms are full of demons. The Holy Spirit has not been given full access, through surrender, to all the rooms of the house.

So, demonization can describe a whole spectrum of demonic influence and control over a person’s life. This man who was mute in Matthew 9 was physically impacted by the demonic entities in his life. Some physical ailments have physical causes, but some have spiritual causes. In western culture, many people have a real struggle attributing spiritual causes to physical ailments. In this case, a mute spirit was causing this man’s inability to speak.

Had the issue been a physical problem–maybe a misfiring between the speech center of the brain and the muscles in the mouth, tongue and vocal cords–then Jesus would have performed a healing. We see Jesus heal people all the time. When it is a physical cause to a physical problem, healing prayer is what we see from Jesus. But that’s not what happens here.

Instead, in response to a physical problem–the inability to speak–Jesus casts out a demon. Not only is this concept difficult for people who have been steeped in rationalism (like most western Christians) but also for people who have been steeped in religiosity (like the Pharisees and many Christians today).

The Pharisees attributed Jesus’s ability to heal the man by driving out a demon to Jesus Himself being demonic. We see this same argument from cessationists in the Church today. They attribute many signs, wonders and miracles that come from the Holy Spirit to Satan trying to deceive the Church. It’s really unfortunate that they think the enemy is more powerful than the Holy Spirit when it comes to the miraculous.

I personally have seen a number of physical ailments healed by casting out spirits of affliction. One of the assignments of certain demons is not just to attack people’s mind, will, and emotions but also to attack the physical body. Not all physical ailments are demonic, but some are. It takes wisdom, and sometimes the gift of discerning the spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10), to know the difference. There is a greater overlap between our body, soul, and spirit than most people in western culture are willing to admit.

Next time you need physical healing, ask the Lord if the physical ailment has a spiritual cause. If it is a spirit of affliction attacking that part of your body, command it to leave in Jesus’ name! If while commanding it to leave, you notice the pain increase or move to a different part of your body, you can be sure you are dealing with a demonic spirit. Keep chasing it out of your body with commands until it leaves in Jesus’ name!

Freedom

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

Notice that we were set free by Christ, we were saved and redeemed, for the purpose of walking in freedom. But also noticed that just because Christ has set us free, it doesn’t mean we automatically walk in freedom. There are things we can walk into that trap and enslave us even in our Christian life.

One thing that keeps us from walking out the freedom that was purchased for us on the cross is what Paul calls, “trying to be justified by the law”(Galatians 5:4). When we try to employ religious practices to earn our righteousness from God, whether they are practices from Judaism, Christianity or false religions, Paul says we, “have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4).

Paul mentions another thing that can keep us from walking in the freedom offered to us by Christ. He writes, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love”(Galatians 5:13). Like ditches on both sides of the road, we should be careful not to fall into religious performance, a version of Pharisaical legalism, nor sinful indulgence, a version of licentiousness and antinomianism. Both are forms of enslavement.

These mindsets and behaviors give away our freedom. They open the door for demoni spirits to enter our lives, set up strongholds, and torment us.

But can Christians have demons?

First, we have to get rid of the idea that being demonized means being “possessed” like the man who lived in the tombs of the Gerasenes from Mark 5:1-20. The word “possession” is not even in the New Testament. The Greek word for when a person is influenced, occupied or tormented by a demon, properly translated, is demonized. And it is clear that demonization happens on a spectrum of severity from harassment to attachment to strongholds to oppression and possession. Demons gain varying levels of influence in various parts of a person’s life.

Christians cannot be possessed because they have been bought at a price and are now owned by Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:20). But they can demonized! They can be heavily oppressed by the demonic. They can have various levels of demonic strongholds and attachments in their life. It is said, “A demon can’t have a Christian but a Christian can have many demons.” I know this because I have firsthand experience casting demons out of many Christians.

In fact, the ministry of deliverance (casting out demons) is specifically for those who have the Holy Spirit which can “re-occupy” the part of them that was once occupied by a demon. Jesus himself warned that the Spirit is needed to fill “the house” or the condition of the person will be worse when that demon who was cast out comes back with friends:

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

The freedom that was purchased for us on the cross must be walked out; it must be lived. Just as the Hebrew people had to do more than sacrifice an unblemished lamb on that first Passover night but had to apply the blood to their doorpost, we must apply the blood of Jesus to our lives (Exodus 12:7, 13). We can’t earn our freedom. Jesus won our freedom for us. But we must obediently walk in the freedom that He’s given us so that we don’t fall into the enemy’s snares, traps and enslavements. Paul says it this way, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).