Thursday, December 31, 2009

Casting out Demons

Demon possession sounds like something out of a horror movie. Yet casting out demons was practiced by our Lord and His disciples. Today, some claim it is the key to spiritual freedom. Others claim it no longer applies or cannot apply to Christians. What does the Scripture say? We must start with a question of translation. A more strict translation of "demon possession" is "have a demon" or "demonization". The question is, what are the symptoms of this condition, and do they amount to "demon possession"? They include physical ailments (Matthew 9:32, 33; 12:22; Luke 13:16), seizures (Luke 9:38-42), supernatural abilities (Acts 16:16-21), and exceptional strength (Mark 5:3, 4; Acts 19:16). Note that not all illness is caused by demons, as shown by "demonization" being listed as one of the afflictions Jesus healed (Matthew 4:24; Luke 7:21; 9:1). There were also two men dwelling naked among tombs, cutting themselves and reacting violently toward anyone nearby (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39). One of these is said have had a legion of demons, showing them to be an extreme case. There are cases where Satan fills people's hearts to sin, but it is not clear if this the same sort of thing (John 13:27; Acts 5:3).

Also, when a demon is confronted, the demon will sometimes speak (Mark 1:21-28; Luke 8:26-32; Mark 1:34) and, in one case, also act (Acts 19:13-16) through the demonized person. But this seems to be a temporary thing that happens at the point of confrontation. If a demon can have continuous control of the actions of its host, the only example I can find is the demoniacs among the tombs mentioned above. I would therefore conclude that "having a demon" does not necessarily involve possession. Scripture is not clear on whether a Christian can have a demon, but much depends on what this means. If it means possession, I would say probably not. But since having a demon seems to mean being in some way afflicted by a demon, I see no basis for believing a Christian cannot have a demon.

What place, then, does casting out demons have for us today? It is frequently mentioned in the New Testament, nor is there a basis for saying it is no longer valid. However, when we go to the epistles, where the Christian life is systematically dealt with, it is not mentioned. (Though these do give generalized principles for dealing with Satanic influence; see Ephesians 6:10-20; James 4:6-10; 1 Peter 5:6-10.) What I am forced to conclude is that, while it is an appropriate procedure, it is not the standard way to deal with every situation nor the key to Christian spirituality. (Many of our spiritual problems come from our own sinful nature; see James 1:14-16; 1 John 1:8-10.) Nor is it necessarily more effective than prayer, as prayer was recommended when it failed (Mark 9:29). Nonetheless, there may be situations where it is the appropriate approach. But it is not a panacea for all a Christian's spiritual problems.

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