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!

The War

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him

Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

Revelation 12:7-9, 17

Satan was cast out of heaven. But where did he go? He now creates havoc on the earth. That is why he is called the “prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). And with him came 1/3 of the angels (according to Revelation 12:4) who now operate under Satan’s command and control structure–not unlike the mafia. Paul calls the different levels of demonic entities “the rulers… the authorities… the powers of this dark world and… the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms“(Ephesians 6:12).

Just as the different angels had different roles and different levels of power and strength in heaven, when they were cast down to the earth, they retained a measure of that same hierarchy. Only now, out of fear, they answer to Satan–the former archangel.

So there are principalities of darkness that operate over entire geographical regions (see Daniel 10:13). These beings have retained more of their angelic presence and can deceptively appear as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). They also don’t seem to need to dwell inside people. They seem to have retained more of their spiritual bodies after their fall from heaven. People with spiritual discernment can even feel the shift when you drive through different regions of our own country. Different principalities operate in different regions and over different cities.

There are powers that operate under these principalities who are strong but are clearly evil. These powers retain more of an identity as their names are personal names. They often retain the name of a pagan god or an evil character from the Bible. I’ve personally cast out ones named Jezebel, Baal, Thor, Hades, Hermes, etc.

While they have some power and can be harder to cast out than lower level demons, they don’t have any authority (see Matthew 28:18). So they are constantly trying to usurp and steal a person’s own authority. The main way these powers try to get into someone’s life is through chronic sin (including unforgiveness), trauma, and using deception. They try to get the person to agree to the lies they are whispering in their ear. Once the person agrees with the lies, the door is opened.

Finally, there are demons in operation under the powers. Demons are weaker and need a “host” to cling to (Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:24). They don’t have much power or much of an identity. Their name tends to be what sin they try to tempt their host to do. So they tend to be named spirit of anger, spirit of hate, spirit of lust, spirit of death, spirit of suicide, spirit of despair, spirit of perversion, spirit of pride, spirit of doubt, spirit of unbelief, spirit of addiction, etc.

Like a gang or the mafia, the lower level spiritual forces of evil answer to higher level ones. And like a gang or the mafia they only work together for selfish reasons. They actually hate each other and are in constant competition with each other. Submission to the demonic entity above them doesn’t happen out of honor or love but out of the fear of pain and punishment.

While spiritual forces of evil hate each other, they hate humanity even more because we are created in the image of God. We remind them of all that they lost in their fall from heaven. They especially hate Christians because of the Spirit dwelling in us and our position as sons and daughters in the Kingdom of God. We are the royal heirs of the Kingdom they lost. Because of this, the kingdom of darkness wages war against all followers of Jesus everywhere around the globe.

If you are a Christian, you are in a war. It’s raging all around you. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. Pick up your weapons and your armor and fight (Ephesians 6:10-20), or you will be just another casualty of war!

Demonic Faith

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

James 2:19

In a polytheistic culture, there were some who thought it was enough to be monotheistic. They believed in the one true God, but they weren’t expressing that belief through obedient surrender to Jesus and faithful action. James was challenging their self-congratulatory complacency.

Demons believe in God. They know He exists. They believe in Jesus in the sense that they acknowledge His existence and are terrified of Him. They shudder at His name and squirm under His authority. They don’t like to be around God’s Presence or anyone who carries God’s Presence through the Holy Spirit. The fire of the Lord burns them and the Light of Christ blinds them. While they are completely comfortable around nominal Christians and at home in religious settings void of the Spirit, they despise Christians filled with the Spirit and on fire for the Lord.

I’ve heard a number of people say, “I believe in God; I just don’t like organized religion.” By this they usually mean they have a generic belief in God that doesn’t require anything from them and doesn’t impact the way they live life. Their “faith” without action is dead (James 2:26). This kind of faith is no occasion for self-congratulations or pride. This faith just barely reaches the level of demonic faith. This person has about as much confidence and trust in God as the demons. Not exactly something to be excited about.

James reminds us that just as our spirit expresses itself through our body, our faith expresses itself through action. To take active risks and live in obedient trust is the life of faith. To call oneself a competitive athlete and yet never do any physical activity doesn’t line up. Likewise, to call oneself a follower of Jesus and yet never express our faith through action doesn’t line up. At the very least we should challenge ourselves to have faith that surpasses that of the demons.

Not Against Flesh and Blood

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 6:12

When we fight this spiritual battle, we fight as the Israelites did to take possession of the Promised Land. We are given new life in Jesus and there are some parts of this new life that we must fight for in order to possess. The land of this new life in Christ is already ours, but we must kick out the inhabitants of darkness that previously occupied our life.

This passage in Ephesians 6 indicates that the kingdom of darkness has a hierarchical command and control structure. Demons seem to be the lowest level spirit of darkness. Then there are powers (authorities) and principalities (rulers) that seem to be higher level beings of darkness that retained more of their power when they fell from heaven with Satan. We might call these powers and principalities “fallen angels” who are able to retain some of their former glory–though it is fading.

Satan is a counterfeiter. He is constantly trying to imitate in his kingdom of darkness the things of the Kingdom of Light. I believe this hierarchical command and control structure is an attempt by Satan to imitate and counterfeit the omnipresence of God the Father. Since Satan can’t be everywhere at once like God, he sends his minions everywhere.

I believe the principalities of darkness that are over a geographic regions are trying to imitate and counterfeit the fact that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. And I believe demons, with their constant need to be embodied in something physical, are attempting to imitate and counterfeit the Holy Spirit who dwells inside the body of believers, His Temple.

The reason I believe Paul needed to remind the Ephesians that our battle is not with people (flesh and blood) but with the kingdom of darkness is because we can so easily miss our target if we make people our enemy. We are like the Israelites, taking ground for the Kingdom of God, but different from the Israelites we are not fighting people. We are not even fighting ourselves. We are fighting the darkness that invades and persuades people. So our weapons are different. Our most powerful weapons in a battle like this are love and forgiveness.

And we don’t fight in order to attain the victory. Jesus won the victory for us on the cross and in His resurrection. We don’t fight for victory but from victory. We fight the battles knowing that the war has been won by Jesus alone! Here is how Paul writes it to the Colossian Christians:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Colossians 2:13-15