Rev. Kortering is a Protestant Reformed minister-on-loan to Singapore.

We should consider in a little more detail how we know if a person is actually demon possessed? This is necessary to consider in connection with the method of deliverance.

There are so many far-out and wild-eyed books about demon possession and deliverance that I can understand why a Reformed man would simply throw up his hands and deny its existence. That is an easy way out of the mess. The Charismatic and Pentecostal movement has not helped in this regard either. We all know how they go about seeing demons in every disease and attributing character faults to demon possession. I personally have had to minister to a man who had been worked-over for five days as attempts were made to deliver him from the demon of self-seeking. The poor fellow was a physical and mental wreck. Interestingly, all during those five days his would-be healers never once opened their Bibles to read what God has to say. For that matter, neither has the Roman Catholic glamorization of exorcism helped one bit. Abuse spreads even further. I suppose you have read of the episode in California where a Korean woman was killed by her own husband in the process of exorcism. He was joined by a Presbyterian deacon in their local church who also participated in her death. In their exorcism ceremony they literally stomped the woman to death in an attempt to force out the demon. This went on for some five hours. One is inclined to use such incidences to declare belief in the presence of demon possession to be illegitimate and wrong.

Yet, we cannot do this. A far more sober approach is suggested to us in the book by Merrill Unger entitled, Demons in the World Today. If you are interested in this subject, you do well to read it. His description of demon possession is as follows:

Demon possession is a condition in which one or more evil spirits or demons inhabit the body of a human being and can take complete control of their victim at will. By temporarily blotting out his consciousness, they can speak and act through him as their complete slave and tool. The inhabiting demon or demons comes and goes much like the proprietor of a house who may or may not be “at home”. When the demon is “at home”, he may precipitate an attack. In these attacks the victim passes from his normal state, in which he acts like other people, to the abnormal state of possession.

When this takes place, Unger suggests, we can look for definite distinguishing marks. These are collated from the scriptural accounts of demon possession, and they are in turn confirmed by reports of many missionaries and others who have had to deal with this. He suggests that the chief characteristic is the automatic projection of a new personality in the victim. During the attack, the victim’s personality is completely obliterated, and the inhabiting demon’s personality takes over completely — so completely that the demon refers to the “possessed” in the third person, an element which Unger observes to be entirely lacking in cases of insanity. Such persons imagine themselves to be Jesus Christ or other characters.

In various degrees, three more things take place. First, the demon possessed has supernatural knowledge and intellectual power. Unger gives examples from both the Bible and mission history. Second, supernatural physical strength is evident in the possessed. Third, there are evidences of moral depravity. The demon causes the possessed to speak in a vile manner or even to delight in violence or in sexual excesses. From a different point of view, they frequently rave at any spiritual activity such as Bible reading and prayer. This was evident when the demons expressed their rage against the presence of the Lord Jesus.

Because Jesus Christ defeated the devil and all his hosts through His death and resurrection, He is also the One who is able to defeat him in the arena of battle. This is important for us to remember. No human being can deliver another human being from the throes of the devil. This is the work of our Sovereign Lord alone.

We must also remember that Satan never is allowed to take possession of the Christian. He is able to influence and tempt the Christian, but not take possession as we described it above. This observation is deduced from the teaching of Scripture which speaks of the work of salvation in the child of God. II Corinthians 5:17 calls one who is saved a “new creation.” In Ephesians 1:13 we read that we are “saved with the Holy Spirit of promise.” The words of Colossians 1:12,13 form such a promise: “Giving thanks unto the Father which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” Because of this change, our response to Christ is not fear, but the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba Father (Rom. 8:15).

From a little different point of view, we look at Matthew 12:24-32, where Jesus was accused of casting out demons by Beelzebub, a demon. Jesus calls this “blasphemy,” for that constitutes a divided house. How much more that would be true if Jesus would allow a demon to be enthroned in the heart of one of His dear children where He reigns. It is impossible to conceive of this. This must in no way detract from the clear teaching of the Bible that we Christians “wrestle against demons” (Eph. 6:12). Satan goes about as a “roaring lion” whose attack is focused upon Christians (I Pet. 5:8). He even buffets us through our “thorns in the flesh” (II Cor. 12:7-10).

Since non-Christians are the ones who are possessed, it fits the purpose of God to deliver such from demon possession for the sake of the gospel. Such deliverance is the prelude to salvation. This was evident in the biblical accounts and also witnessed by many missionaries bringing the gospel to the lost. Such deliverance is not only for the sake of the individual (which in itself must be unfathomable relief), but even more so is for the furtherance of the gospel. Such a display of power has a moving effect upon those who receive Christian missionaries into their midst. The same is true in a culture such as America, where there is a transition from secularism and scientism to spiritism and mysticism.

How must such casting out of demons be done?

The first thing we ought to emphasize is that the concept and practice of exorcism is fraught with dangers. Even the heathen go through magic rites to cast out evil spirits. Most of the time this is accompanied with inflicting pain on the possessed. We must have none of the chanting and magical blood which marks the abuse of this activity by many Charismatics. As in most of their “worship,” they grieve the Holy Spirit. It is better that we not use the term exorcism, because of the abuse that is associated with that practice.

The place of casting out demons in the New Testament, as recorded in the New Testament itself, must caution us so as not to elevate it to some place of distinction and power. It can be demonstrated that the casting out of demons was almost completely limited to Jesus and His disciples (see Luke 10:19, 20). Also, we must observe that in the great commission as expounded both in Acts and in the epistles of Paul, Peter, and John, there is no explicit instruction to cast out demons, nor is there mention of such activity in the early church. From this point of view, the casting out of demons was part of the special phenomenon such as miracles, speaking in tongues, etc. which were done away with when the Holy Spirit gave the church the completed revelation of God in written form, the Bible. What does this tell us? It seems to me we learn this, that there was no special “gift” given to some person to cast out demons. Rather, the deliverance from demon possession is connected with the preaching of the gospel. The word of the gospel and the power of prayer is that which God uses to deliver from demons. The ministry of the Word is that which delivers one from demons (Col. 1:13). The power of the Word preached is that of continual prayer, even as Jesus told His disciples that certain demons can be cast out only with much prayer and fasting (Matt. 17:21). The prayerful preaching of the Word of God is the vehicle for the deliverance from demon possession.

This is important for mission work. The preaching of the gospel includes the authority of Christ to cast out demons in the name of the living Lord. That preaching is the word of the exalted One, who has defeated Satan, who also, in the bringing of the gospel to the heathen, demonstrates His great power over all evil forces by delivering captives of Satan through the word and prayer of the missionaries. When missionaries stand in the presence of one who is possessed, they must bring the good news of the gospel to him or her, declaring that in Christ there is deliverance. They must call such a one to repentance of sin and to fall before the cross of Jesus in whom alone is life everlasting. Such a one must be called to embrace Christ and forsake all evil. He must turn to God in humble confession of sin and seek deliverance.

This brings up yet another interesting side question. In bringing the gospel to such a possessed person and in praying for him/her, should the demon(s) be personally addressed? Should the missionary or pastor speak directly to the demon and command him to come out in the name and authority of Jesus Christ? In my search for an answer to this question, I find that Christians have divided views. In Singapore there has been quite a controversy in local churches over this issue. The point at issue is this, is it giving too much credibility to the demon and too much power to the pastor if he sets forth such a direct confrontation? It is argued that Jesus had the authority to do this, and He knew His own intention, so that when Jesus made such a command it was effectual and always delivered the possessed from the demon. It seems that the disciples had this power as well, as they reported to Jesus upon their return (Luke 10:17). Morrison, in his book The Serpent and the Cross, suggests that even Jesus did not just command them to “come out,” but ordered them into the abyss, making an exception at the time when the demons begged to enter pigs instead. Over against this point of view, there are many instances cited in mission accounts where demons left the possessed just because they were commanded to do so in the name of the Lord Jesus.

I frankly have to admit that I haven’t come to a conclusion on this issue. It seems to me the issue is this: May the missionary/pastor say, as part of the gospel message to the demon possessed, “In the name of Jesus, come out!” He does have the authority to speak in the name of Jesus. That is what makes the preaching of the gospel distinctive. It is also true that he has the authority to command men everywhere to repent and believe, that is, to issue the command to more people than it may please Jesus to save. Would that also be true if the missionary/pastor addresses a command to a demon to come out as part of the gospel to the demon possessed? There is a difference, obviously. If it does not please Christ to use it for deliverance, the effect is the same as all gospel preaching, a double effect. At least we can do more reflecting upon this issue.

Finally, we must remind ourselves that, even though Christians cannot be “possessed” by demons, the spiritual warfare is sharp and decisive. How can we best equip ourselves in this spiritual battle?

We don’t have to go around marking off territory and people with holy water, claiming that they are thereby protected by the blood of Jesus. Such foolishness smacks of the darkness of heathendom, caught in the web of superstition.

The best safeguard against the wiles of the devil is to stop playing with him. Years ago, when I was a student at Calvin, I made a chapel speech entitled, “The devil on the leash.” The point of that speech was that, though we never want to give complete control to Satan because we know his wiles, we do like to have him for our “pet,” like a dog on a leash. We imagine that he is then under our control. We allow him just so much influence in our lives as we please. We do this when we mess around in his territory. Today’s movies that deal with the extra-sensory and extra-terrestrial just play into the devil’s hands. Anything that has to do with fortune telling, the occult, and games which involve using the power of the mind to do wonders (and there are so many of these that entertain today) put the devil on the leash. We Christians must know that the horror of Satan’s deception, as seen in those “possessed,” must teach us that we are to be in dead earnest when we deal with him.

More positively, and it is good to leave on a positive note, the best guard against any temptation and allure of the devil is to walk close to God. Holiness is exemplified by wearing the protective armor (Eph. 6), and using the offensive weapon of the Word of God to speak to ourselves and to others as to how we are to live in this world to the glory of God.

“Be ye holy, for I am holy” (I Pet. 2:16 and Lev. 11:44). There is no more effective safeguard against the wiles of the devil.

Thanks be to God for such deliverance and salvation in our Lord Jesus.