Rev. Kortering is a Protestant Reformed minister-on-loan to Singapore.
Subsequent to writing our first article on this subject, I read an interesting reference to demon possession in the book, Practical Theology and the Ministry of the Church, published in 1990 and edited by Harvie Corm. Dr. Roger Greenway has a chapter entitled, “Evangelism.” In preparation for writing this chapter he sent questions to twenty-five leaders in evangelism within the Reformed and Presbyterian community. One of the questions was, How would you compare your thinking today about evangelism with your thinking on the subject thirty or so years ago? From his summary of these answers I quote one paragraph, entitled “The Missionary Spirit and Demonic Oppression.”
Related to this, there is surfacing a clearer recognition of the de manic in the lives of individuals and of society. The biblical teaching about Satan and demons is receiving fresh attention. Satan is seen to be very real. He is no longer regarded as belonging largely to some far-off orbit, but his presence and influence are recognized in the world’s affairs and in opposition to divine truth and righteousness. In short, there is a fresh emphasis on the immediacy of God and the Holy Spirit and of Satan and his cohorts. The one brings comfort and strength to God’s servants, and the other is the archenemy of evangelism.
No longer is this subject of concern only in relation to heathen cultures. The infiltration of the New Age Movement forces Westerners to come to terms with their own understanding of demons. This movement has its roots in pagan religions and with it all the trappings of demons and spirits. All of us do well to have a clear biblical perspective in order that we can properly warn our covenant youth against any experimentation. We do not play with demons.
The second point we want to make in connection with our subject of demon possession is that Christ has completely stripped Satan of any control or authority over the people of God and His church. In Jesus Christ there is deliverance from the fear of evil spirits and even the horror of demon possession because Jesus is Lord.
The thrill of the Christian gospel is exactly this message.
I wish I could convey to you something of, the horror, the fear, and superstition that is associated with heathendom and their being under the control of the devil. Why do eastern religions emphasize so much meditation, clearing of the mind, chanting mantras, focusing on karma, and such like? It is because this is their answer to the dread which surrounds the people. The influence: of Taoistic Animism (the presence. of the spirits of the dead) and evil spirits keeps the people in the grip of fear. They I are afraid of the spirits of the dead reporting to the god of hell that they are- not living properly, and of such a god taking vengeance on them. How ,will he do this? By sending evil spirits into their lives and haunting them, threatening them, even destroying them.
It seems the more “civilized” the heathen becomes, the more he tries to deny such influence and put it behind him. Fact is that his past haunts him no matter how modernized he may become. He will continue to think in terms of appeasing the gods and the spirits. For this reason you see modern women with attaché cases in hand stopping off at the Chinese temple on the way to work. Among the most educated, the Necromancer does a booming business to soothe the superstition of his clients. The more blatant expressions of fear in connection with evil spirits are in the back hills of the undeveloped world. It is their mind-set, for they see evil spirits taking control of much of their life, and they deal with the mediums to try to discover how to gain their favor or appease their wrath. Van Rheenen, in his book, Communicating Christ in an Animistic Culture, quotes James Frazer in this manner:
They dog his footsteps, dazzle his senses, enter into him, harass and deceive and torment him in a thousand freakish and mischievous ways. The mishaps that befall him, the losses he sustains, the pains he has to endure he commonly sets down, if not to the magic of his enemies to the spite or anger or caprice of the spirits. Their constant presence wearies him, their sleepless malignity exasperates him; he longs with an unspeakable longing to be rid of them altogether, and from time to time, driven to bay, his patience utterly exhausted, he turns fiercely on his persecutors and makes a desperate effort to chase the whole pack of them from the land, to clear the air of their swarming multitudes, that he may breathe more freely and go on his way unmolested at least for a time.
How shallow, how horribly man-centered are the attempts of eastern religion to deliver such people from their fears. It is into this setting that God in His wisdom brings the gospel. The Bible speaks to this kind of fear. There is story after story and message after message that tell us that God has given to us His Son who has conquered Satan and all his hosts. The gospel narratives of Jesus’ casting out evil spirits speak directly to them. Yes, they are around us all the time. Yes, there are people possessed of devils. Jesus did not destroy the devil and put away all his spirits, but, thanks be to God, there is deliverance and victory over them.
Jesus assured His disciples that such would be the case. We see this in Luke 10:18, “I saw Satan as lightning-fall from heaven.” This was Jesus’ response to the seventy disciples who returned to Him to report on their ministry. They had said to Jesus, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.” Jesus’ answer to them was to point them .to Satan’s defeat portrayed as lightning falling from heaven. This is subsequently described for us in Revelation 12:9, “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”
The place from which he was cast is heaven. During the Old Testament times Satan had access to heaven, as we learn from the book of Job. Being cast to the earth symbolizes his ultimate defeat. This is learned from the chorus which the angels sang upon this occasion (w. 10-12). The theme was that salvation is come to heaven, for the accuser of the brethren is cast down, The inhabitants in heaven are exhorted to rejoice, and the inhabitants of the earth are warned.
Even though the -battle is not finished, Satan is defeated. Proof of this can be seen in the reason for the victory of the saints over Satan. It is through the “blood of the Lamb,” the “word of their testimony,” and their “love for Him, even unto death.” Victory over Satan is in the wonderful work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through His blood of atonement, the devil is silenced. He can no more accuse the brethren.
There is a legal and judicial basis for our being received by God, namely, the blood of Jesus on the cross as the payment for sin. For this reason He has power to overcome the devil. This Jesus demonstrated while He was on earth. He personally resisted the, temptations of the devil and exercised power to cast out demons. Now in His exaltation, Jesus has given to us the testimony of His Word, the Holy Bible. Through the wonderful work of the graces of the Holy Spirit we are caused to see that God is no more angry with us, for we are reconciled to Him by the death of His own Son. Now are we the sons of God, we are His family. There is a beautiful bond of friendship between God and us.
The main point is this, the fear of evil spirits is taken away because God is for us. The beautiful doctrine of the covenant is such good news to fearful, superstitious pagans. The angels sang of this on the occasion of the ascension of Christ into heaven. We do well to declare it to the nations.
We must emphasize now, in the third place, that it follows from this that Christ Himself is LORD over Satan and his evil spirits. This may sound a bit repetitious, but the point that we want to make here is this. Jesus defeated the devil and is more powerful than he is, that is true. But we must add to this, that even the devils and spirits are now subject to Jesus Christ. The real burden of heathendom and its superstition is this: who is in control of the spirits? Are they roaming about on their own? Do they strike at will without any reason? The heathen do not have the answer for this.
Most heathen cultures have some fables and myths about how the gods came into being and how a certain hierarchy exists among them. This includes their dealing with anger and avenging themselves on people who do not do as they say. These gods have their evil spirits roaming the world to execute their demands. One thing becomes very apparent, these poor people do not know why or how these spirits may come. Whenever something goes wrong in their life, they take to guessing what they have done wrong to bring such hardship and difficulty. For this reason they are so vulnerable to the temple mediums. The mediums can do or say almost anything and some of these people will listen and blindly follow them. One such medium instructed a woman, who came to him out of concern for her unfaithful husband, that she had to have sexual intercourse with him if she would appease the evil spirit in her husband. She consented to this, only to learn later that his only interest was his own lust. In the extreme, it even involves the killing of children to appease the spirits.
What a gospel it is to tell such people that there are not two forces in this world which are fighting to gain control. It is not the force of good versus evil. It is not some gods fighting to gain control over spirits. The gospel is not simply to say that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are stronger than evil spirits. No, there is only One who is in control, and that is the great Creator God. He is even in control of evil spirits because of the work which Jesus Christ His Son did while He was on earth.
This is demonstrated to us in the Bible as well. In the Old Testament we are reminded that Satan could not even touch Job with any form of trial without first obtaining the consent of God. We can turn to Mark 5 and read of the account of Jesus as He cast the demons out of him who was named Legion. Jesus had complete control over those demons, to the point that He could either cast them into the deep (out of the country, v. 10), or, as He did, into the swine. Repeatedly (see the parallel account of this event in Matthew 81, when Jesus came face to face with such demons, they feared Him greatly and taunted, “What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?” Even the “thorn in the flesh” of Paul was a “messenger of Satan to buffet him” (see II Cor. 12:7). That thorn was ultimately from God, for when Paul sought Him to take it away from him, God’s answer was, “My grace is sufficient.” That thorn from God was used by Satan as a means to tempt Paul, but in that he failed, for God is Lord over Satan.
This has tremendous implications for the gospel as it is brought to those who are gripped in the fear of demons. As they tremble in the-presence of demonic power, which is real, they see it about them and have experienced dreadful consequences, the good news of the gospel to them is, fear not! There is a way for deliverance. There is not only a God who is more powerful than demons, but there is a God who even controls the actions of demons and turns them all for good. God’s way of deliverance is to enable us to “resist the devil and he will flee from thee, draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to thee” (James 4:7, 8).
The gospel presents demons as very real and powerful, but there is victory over them. The victory comes in the way of putting on the Christian armor mentioned in Ephesians 6, which enables us to prevail in our spiritual warfare. He continues to send his fiery darts, but we are protected and are able to drive him away from us through the use of the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
In this manner we can exalt the great doxology of the inspired Paul when he brought the powerful eighth chapter of Romans to a close, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors. “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, not things to come . . . shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ram. .8:35-39). Angels are set against demons as contrasting forces in our ‘lives. Not even demons can separate us from the God we love in Jesus Christ.
This brings us to the fourth point of consideration. I can only introduce it in this article and we will have to go into it a bit more in our concluding article. This has to do’ with demon possession and how one is delivered from it.
We want to say a few things about two aspects of this subject. We should say a few things about the character of demon possession, that is, what marks a person who is possessed and how do we know he is possessed? The second is, what must we as Christians or as a Christian church do if it pleases God to use us to deliver such a one from possession?
Books have been written on these questions, but we should at least address them briefly in our next article so that we can also exult in the Name of our Lord Jesus, who not only delivered people from demons in His day, but continues to do so in our day.
Then we have to say a few words about, the, remaining two propositions, that is, that the Christian can never; become demon possessed, and that the best way to become secure against the wiles of Satan’s assaults is to live a holy life with God.