Spiritual Warfare for Christian Disciples

In recent years the increased awareness of satanic activities has sparked a renewed interest on the issue of demonic beings and their power. There is no doubt that the Bible affirms the reality of demonic beings. In fact, passages are found in Mark 5 that amply demonstrate that demons are capable of taking complete control over the will of an individual. – But does the Bible teach that Christians are vulnerable to demonic possession?

Scripture tells us that every born again believer is engaged in spiritual warfare. Though all demonic spirit beings have already been defeated by Christ’s death and resurrection, satan and his minions do continue to wage war against the saints. (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 Pet. 5:8-9).

Much like prayer, spiritual warfare is of great practical importance to essential Christian growth. It is however, critical that we accurately understand and apply what the Bible has to say about overcoming temptation and withstanding the wiles of the devil. If the evil one could convince a large enough percentage of Christians to substitute a superstitious approach to doing battle with him in place of the biblical model that has already been laid out, that is to say the battle plan provided for us by God he would largely neutralize the witness of the church itself meaning the body of believers. This scenario may sound absurd, but there is good reason to believe it has been and is already well underway.

There seems to be no end to the subjective, sensational, and superstitious media available on spiritual warfare that dominates the Christian book market today just look on Amazon. Chances are you will find 10 to 20 books and other media on spiritual warfare themes. There appears to be two radically different approaches being represented. The vast majority of the books will advocate the comparatively new deliverance model for spiritual warfare. This model affirms the capacity of evil spirits to possess or “demonize” unbelievers and believers alike. It assumes the existence of, and need to identify, individual spirits associated with various and specific sins (e.g., the “spirit of lust”, etc.), spirits attached to specific physical locations (e.g., “territorial spirits”) or objects, and spirits of various sins passed down through human blood lines (i.e., “generational spirits”). In all of these cases, the emphasis would be that God has given Christians authority to confront these individual demons directly through verbally rebuking them, verbally “binding” them, and verbally commanding them to leave “casting them out” whatever person or place one believes they inhabit.

Such “binding” is often based on scriptures that were never intended to be applied as a formula of verbal rebuke or any type of exorcism. While Jesus did say the strong man must be bound in Matthew 12:29, this happens by the arrival of God’s more powerful kingdom. This metaphor in no way instructs believers to go about casting out demons and changing the world through verbal rebuke.

In Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 Jesus speaks of believers having authority to bind which affects both heaven and earth. In 18:19 church discipline (dealing with professing Christians) is the subject of binding and loosing, not spiritual warfare (dealing with the demonic realm). In verse 20 this is done by agreeing in prayer to God, not talking to satan.

Going beyond the idea that specific demons are given responsibility in the oppression of individuals, the doctrine of “territorial spirits” maintains that demons are also over geographical areas, as well as national, ethnic or tribal, religious, and even generational groups. According to this view it is necessary for Christians to identify these spirits and expel them.

Is there really a demon of homosexuality over San Francisco and similar cities? Does a demon regulate the teaching of Islam? Does a spirit of sexual abuse victimize succes­sive generations of a family line? Is there a specific demon of adultery in womanizers or a spirit of alcohol in alcoholics?

The Bible calls drunkenness and sexual immorality “works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-22 it reads “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice…”. Colossians 3:1-10 instructs us to “lay aside” such deeds as part of the corrupt “old self” that was crucified with Christ. We are never told to deal with such behaviors by exorcising the “spirit of lust” or the “spirit of alcohol.”

Now, Jesus did attribute the homicidal motive of His opponents to their association with their “father, the devil” (John 8:44, NIV). John also said that “Cain belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother” (1 John 3:12, NIV). Paul wrote Timothy that those who oppose the Lord’s servant are in “the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:26, NIV). Certainly, then, demonic influence is involved in the choice to sin, and if a person repeatedly chooses sin he or she becomes a slave of the devil. But this is not the same as saying that certain behaviors are the works of certain spirits, or that those behaviors are eliminated by rebuking such spirits.

We become slaves of sin by choosing sin, and we only become free of sin when — by God’s grace — we choose obedience to God.

1 Corinthians 6 declares that the body of the Christian is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, John 14 makes it clear that believers are indwelt by God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. To conclude, therefore, that Christians can be demonized is to admit that demons can inhabit the very temple of God Almighty. Well they may be able to bug you, and harass you, but they cannot possess you.

Yes, we must realize that our warfare is not against flesh and blood but, rather, against principalities and powers of darkness (Eph 6:12). That is precisely why we are told to put on the full armor of God. (Eph 6:11; Jas. 4:7). However, we can say with confidence that victory has already been won and no Christian can be “demon-possessed.” As God’s Word triumphantly proclaims, “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Much of the confusion that exists over spiritual warfare arises from taking Bible passages that have a limited application and treating them as if they have no limits. The Bible does say that Christ has unlimited authority over demons, and He gave His disciples the specific authority to cast demons out of possessed individuals and to overcome any other manifestations of the Evil One they might encounter in the work of preaching the Gospel (Matt. 10:1; Mark 3:13–15; Luke 10:17–20; cf. Acts 13:7b–12). In that context, we do find believers in the Gospels and the book of Acts directly addressing demons, rebuking them (not satan himself; cf. Jude 8–10), and casting them out of people. Jesus never even hinted, however, that this authority carried over into our personal battles with sin and satan. It appears that the purpose of Jesus’ disciples performing exorcisms was to show Christ’s dominion over the demons (Luke 10:17) and to verify that the disciples were acting in His name and by His authority.

In the latter portion of the New Testament we find an interesting shift regarding our role in demonic warfare. The teaching portions of the New Testament (Romans through Jude) refer to demonic activity, yet do not discuss the actions of casting them out, nor are believers exhorted to do so. We are instructed to put on the armor to stand against them (Ephesians 6:10-18). We are instructed to resist the devil (James 4:7), be careful of him (1 Peter 5:8), and not give him room in our lives (Ephesians 4:27). However, we are not told how to cast him or his demons out of others, or that we should even consider doing so.

Moreover we are promised victory over the devil in James 4:7: if we resist him, he will flee from us; but we are never told that we resist him by commanding him to leave us alone. In the larger context of James 4, it is clear that this resistance involves submitting to God, drawing near to Him, becoming serious about repentance, and humbling ourselves in the presence of the Lord (James 4:7-10). The same applies to all other Bible passages that speak of resisting satan (e.g., Eph. 6:13-18; 1 Pet. 5:5-10). Spiritual warfare does not consist in addressing the devil but rather in addressing God in prayer; it is not a matter of asserting one’s own authority to use Christ’s name over the devil but rather of standing firm and unmovable in one’s faith in, and obedience to, God. satan will be “bound” and cast out of our presence at the Second Coming (Rev. 20:1-3), but in the meantime he serves a purpose in God’s development of our character, and it is only our steadfast resistance of evil that makes him flee — not the mere utterance of words or the assertion of our authority in Christ.

Our one offensive weapon that plays a critical role in spiritual warfare; is the “sword of the Spirit,” (Eph. 6:17), and satan must yield to its authority. This happens naturally, however, as we stand in faith upon the Word during times of temptation and trial and use it properly when communicating with both the lost and the saved.

There is neither need nor biblical basis for quoting Scripture to the devil. When one says we should look for Scriptures that apply to our situation, this would be biblically sound advice. When we are told or it is suggested we find Scriptures that will back up our authority, this line of thinking has no biblical basis.

It is the authority of God’s Word and Christ on which we stand and that authority alone is more than sufficient.

God’s Peace!

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