Freedom For All

After this, 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; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

Luke 8:1-3

During Jesus’s ministry, the twelve disciples traveled with Him wherever He went. Jesus not only preached to the crowds and healed their sick, but He also had ongoing discipleship conversations with those closest to Him.

Notice the women that were also with Him. The list of women given in this passage either experienced deliverance (being set free from demons) or physical healing (being set free from diseases). Their response to being set free–either from demons or diseases–was to follow Jesus wherever He went, listen to the same teaching The Twelve were getting, and support Jesus and The Twelve out of their own resources. The combination of 1) being set free and 2) ongoing, discipleship community led to radical life transformation.

This is one of the reasons why I believe deliverance happens best in a pastoral context. While people have certainly experienced deliverance from those who specialize in this kind of ministry and in conference settings, I believe the most fruit comes from when people are set free from demons in an ongoing, pastoral, discipleship context.

Mary Magdalene is a great example of this. She was set free from seven demons by Jesus and then followed Him for the next few years. In fact, Jesus so treasured Mary Magdalene that she was the first disciple to bear witness to His resurrection.

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 

Mark 16:9

To date, I’ve been in structured, scheduled prayer sessions with over 35 people where deliverance (casting out demons) was part of the session. I’ve been in a handful of other scenarios that were not structured or scheduled but where deliverance happened. In a few of these situations, the person was heavily oppressed to point where someone from the outside might be able to tell something was wrong. In most cases, however, these sessions were with Christians who no one would suspect are demonized. Here are the reasons I believe deliverance is best done in an ongoing, pastoral, discipleship context:

  1. Deliverance often happens in layers. Trying to cast out all the demons in one session is often too much of a shock to the system. Doing one or two layers at a time ends up being more productive and more lasting in the long run.
  2. Demonic oppression often creates bad habits in a person’s life. Thought patterns and behavior patterns need to be changed after a person gets free from the actual demons. It’s one thing to get free; it’s another thing to stay free. This takes discipleship, accountability, and loving community. Without this, the likelihood of “reoccupation” increases.
  3. Teaching about demonization and deliverance is often a necessary part of deliverance ministry. People must discover not only the demons that are oppressing them but also how they got there. If the open door in their life is not closed, demons will just find a way in again. So, basic instructions about how all of this works is necessary. Most people don’t grow up in churches that teach about this stuff. This kind of teaching happens best in an ongoing, pastoral setting.
  4. Follow up appointments for deliverance not only address the next layer of demonization, but they also empower the person coming for prayer. The person begins to see that they have authority in Christ, and they can cast many demons out of themselves if they know what to do and what to look for. This is a discipleship process that decreases dependency on the “deliverance minister” and increases the confidence and authority in which the person seeking prayer operates.
  5. The power of the testimony of someone who has experienced deliverance is amplified when it is given within their own church community. When people in that church community can see firsthand the “before and after” effect of deliverance, more people begin to take advantage of the freedom offered to us in Christ through deliverance ministry.
  6. Deliverance ministry was meant for the health and protection of the Body of Christ, just as our immune system was meant for health and protection of our physical bodies. When talking to a pagan Gentile woman, Jesus called deliverance ministry “the children’s bread” (Mark 7:26-27). In other words, getting free from demons is something that was always meant to strengthen believers and bring greater health to the Body of Christ, the children of God (Romans 8:14). It was always meant to be done in a church context where there is ongoing pastoral care and discipleship.

If all of this is true, then all pastors everywhere need to be trained in deliverance ministry. This wasn’t meant to be relegated to deliverance specialists or apostolic leaders who speak at conferences. Every church was meant to be equipped to see their members set free from demons.

Imagine how healthy and free the Church would be if there were as many deliverance ministries as there were children’s ministries or women’s ministries. The result would be that the Holy Spirit would fill and transform so many believers that churches would never be the same. There would be widespread revival sweeping through the Church! Come, Lord Jesus!

Psychics, Mediums & Spiritists

Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in his own town of Ramah. Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land.

The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all Israel and set up camp at Gilboa. When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.”

1 Samuel 27:3-4

King Saul had been living in rebellion from the Lord for some time. He had been chasing David all over his kingdom trying to put him to death. Then the Philistines amassed their army against Israel and Saul was terrified. We often make really bad decisions when those decisions are rooted in fear.

Saul thought he could use the Lord like a slot machine or a Magic 8 ball. He inquired of the Lord as to what to do. Saul wanted to hear from the Lord on his terms. He hadn’t been interested in hearing the truth from the Lord in years, but he wants God to suddenly start speaking to him again now that he’s in a crisis. How many of us do this same thing?

God refuses to be a puppet for King Saul. God is quiet. The normal ways of hearing from the Lord go silent. Saul doesn’t get a word from a prophet. “Urim” was a reference to one way that the priests inquired of the Lord. And Saul doesn’t get a personal dream from the Lord. These were the standard ways that the Lord would speak to His people–through prophet, priest and king.

In desperation Saul does the unthinkable. Years ago, in obedience to the Law of God, Saul had expelled mediums and spiritists from Israel. Yet, because of his fear and because of his life of rebellion, Saul now seeks out a medium–someone who would consult the dead for him.

God was very clear about his prohibitions on mediums, spiritists, fortune-tellers, and other forms of occult practices.

“Do not practice divination or seek omens.”
“Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 19:26, 31

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God.

The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so. The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

Deuteronomy 18:9-16

The Lord was clear. What God really wanted to do was to speak to each member of Israel directly. But they were terrified by His Presence, so as a people they asked NOT to hear the voice of the Lord. Still wanting to speak to His people, God honored their request and spoke to them instead through a prophet. But they were absolutely forbidden to engage in the occult practices of the surrounding nations. If they did, they would “be defiled by them.”

This prohibition still stands for us in the new covenant.

God is able to speak to each individual personally through the Holy Spirit–something God always wanted with His people. He also still speaks through people gifted with prophetic gifts. Likewise, God continues to reject all forms of the occult and witchcraft. Divination, sorcery, mediums, spiritists, witchcraft, fortune-tellers, psychics and the like are all avenues to the demonic. Any visit to these practitioners or any experimentation with ouija boards, tarot cards, crystals and the like is an invitation for demons to set up camp in your life. I’ve seen this firsthand.

That Sunday the Presence of the Lord was strong in our worship service. When I concluded my sermon by praying over the congregation, a girl in the room started to shake. The shaking continued through the final worship song, and she knew she needed to get some help. This girl knew something was happening that was beyond her control. She approached me and one of my prayer team members for prayer.

We escorted her back to the prayer room and began to pray. She admitted that she thought she knew the problem. She confessed to dabbling in a certain kind of tarot card reading. She would get fearful about the future and wanted to know how things were going to turn out (sounds a lot like Saul). The more she engaged in these cards, the more something was taking over control of her body. She confessed that she would also engage in automatic writing. This is when she would hold a pen in her hand and invite spirits to take control of her hand and write a message to her. What started by her invitation soon became an oppression she couldn’t resist.

After she shared these things, I knew she had engaged in divination and was likely heavily demonized. As we prayed against a spirit of divination, she violently convulsed, dry-heaving and coughing until this spirit left. When it left she knew. She felt the peace of the Lord come over her. In subsequent weeks, we would pray for this girl multiple times casting multiple demons out of her. Engagement with the occult is a fast-track to demonic oppression.

Some people visit psychics, palm readers, mediums, spiritists, and tarot card readers just for fun. They think it’s a game, like something you’d find at the county fair. Others are afraid of the future and believe this is the best way to alleviate their fears. Some play with crystals, tarot cards, and ouija boards at home thinking these things are harmless. That couldn’t be further from the truth. These practices are all manifestations of witchcraft. They are all forms of the kingdom of darkness trying to imitate the Kingdom of God. They are all demonic avenues into the spirit realm trying to imitate the real thing, which is prophecy and prophetic gifting (1 Corinthians 12:10; 14:1-4).

If you are a follower of Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures. So even if you don’t have prophetic gifts or know anyone who does, you have the ability to hear from the Lord. Maybe no one taught you how to listen and hear from the Lord, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t speaking. He wants to speak to you personally, through His word and through prayer. Engaging in the occult in order to hear from God or hear about your future is like going to a drug dealer in the city to learn about the side effects of prescription drugs. You’ll end up damaged and demonized by the process. Go to the Holy Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15-17) and the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13) if you need to hear from God. He wants to speak to you.

If you have engaged in these occult practices and now want no part of them, here is a prayer you can pray:

In the name of Jesus, I renounce any involvement in (name the occult or the cultic practice).
I renounce (list the practices you participated in). 

I ask you God to forgive me for my ignorance. I didn’t know how dangerous these things were. Forgive me for trusting in these things rather than in You alone. Forgive me for what amounts to worshipping false gods. I declare that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Him. Jesus is Lord of all, I will worship God and Him alone. 

I sever all contact I’ve ever had with the occult or with all false religion, and I commit myself to get rid of all objects associated with the occult or false religion. Now I cancel every assignment of darkness and remove every right of the demonic to afflict me because of my sin and my involvement in those occult practices. I break the power of their words over me. I break the victim spirit off of me. I rebuke the fear I have lived under. I cancel my bond to fear. I reject and renounce any unholy prediction made about my life or the life of my loved ones. 

In the name of Jesus, I break every curse against me that came from my involvement in these occult practices. In the name of Jesus, I break every curse against my loved ones that came from my involvement in these occult practices. I take every word captive that has been spoken over me, my loved ones, and that I spoke over myself. I break the power of those curses from hell. I cancel every assignment of darkness and I cast them to the ground. I call blessing to fall on me in their place. I take back every curse I have spoken against another. I cast those words down to the ground. I return a blessing on those with whom I have cursed. Jesus took my cursing so I can live in blessing. 

In the name of Jesus, I command any demonic spirit that has tried to access my life through the occult to leave me right now. In the name of Jesus, I command any demonic spirit that has tried to torment the life of my loved ones through these occult practices to stop right now. In the name of Jesus, I command any afflicting spirit to get out of my body and cause no more damage. In the name of Jesus, I command any tormenting spirit to get out of my mind, my will and my emotions. You are trespassing on the Temple of the Holy Spirit and I command you to leave now in Jesus’s name!

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).