Spiritual Warfare & Deliverance
This article (far from exhaustive) takes a look at what Scripture says about Spiritual Warfare and seeks to address some of the popular teachings that are being taught on the topic these days.
Let me start by saying that what we believe regarding this (and every other) topic, must come naturally and easily (not forced) from Scripture. We cannot base our beliefs, and therefore what we practise, on experience. Any spiritual experience can be misinterpreted. For example, Paul, in describing his being transported into the third heaven, did not know if it was actual or a vision.
We are involved in a spiritual war (whether we want to be or not)
C.S. Lewis said Satan has two ploys: one is to convince us he does not exist (he is just a little red cartoon figure with horns), and the other is to persuade us to give him too much attention.
Let’s tackle the first:
Satan is real, active and is our avowed enemy.
Peter warns us, “Your enemy the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5 vs 8). Jesus tells us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10 vs 10). He has no other motivation!
Paul talks of Satan having schemes to outwit us (2 Cor 2 vs 11) and again tells us to take a “stand against the devil’s schemes”, for he says “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6 vs 10-13).
John tells us “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5 vs 19).
However we are assured of victory over the devil
Jesus has defeated him. Paul gives us a picture of a triumphant King leading his army home, returning victorious from battle, being cheered by spectators along the road. He says “But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ” (2 Cor 2 vs 14). He tells the Colossians: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross”. (The enemy, now chained and captured, follows the procession).
Jesus announces, while Satan intends to steal, kill and destroy, He (Jesus) has come to give life and give it to the full (John 10 vs 10).
The writer to the Hebrews says “He (Jesus) shared in (our) humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (Heb 2 vs 14).
The Apostle John gives us great confidence as he tell us we have overcome those in the world “because the One who is in you, is greater than the one who is in the world”
(1 John 4 vs 4), and again he announces “The reason the Son of God appeared, was to destroy the devil’s work”. (1 John 3 vs 8).
I think this is an accurate picture of the work we are involved in. As we counsel people, Jesus is destroying the devil’s work.
So why are we still affected?
As Christians we have been delivered from the power of Satan, but not (as yet) from his presence. John tells us, “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin, the one who was born of God (Jesus) keeps him safe and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one”. (1 John 5 vs 18, 19).
Scripture makes it clear that God through Jesus has given us the power over Satan, but he still fights. James and Peter tell us to ‘resist him’ by standing firm in our faith, and James gives us the promise “he (Satan) will flee from you” (James 4 vs 7 and 1 Peter 5 vs 8, 9).
And Paul tells us to “stand against the devil’s schemes”. So he says, “Put on the full armour of God so that when (not if) the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground”. (Eph 6 vs 11, 13).
The armour includes:
The Belt of Truth: being true, sincere, having truth in the inward being (Ps 51 vs 6).
The Breastplate of Righteousness: uprightness of character, to live right
(cf Eph 5 vs 9). (It’s interesting that James, when telling us to ‘resist the devil’, also tells us to ‘wash our hands’ (clear conscience) and ‘purify our hearts’ (be true or pure, not double-minded).
The Shoes of the Gospel of Peace: you are ready for battle when wearing the shoes of the gospel of peace, which gives you a firm footing so you can stand unmoved.
The Shield of Faith: the faith that protects from the accusation, the lies, the temptations that the devil throws at us like flaming arrows.
The Helmet of Salvation: the knowledge of God’s salvation from the penalty and power of sin, and the hope of final salvation (cf 1 Thess. 5 vs 8).
The Sword of the Spirit: the Word of God can be used to defeat Satan as Jesus did when tempted.
And Pray in the Spirit on all occasions – a life of prayer.
It is important to notice Paul is talking here of a lifestyle, a way of life, not an exercise that we engage in now and again. We are not to only sometimes wear the Belt of Truth! We resist and stand against Satan when he seeks to devour, kill, steal and destroy. Praise God, He has given us the power and means by which we can do this successfully. Please note the victory we have in Christ does not mean we can be passive. We must actively resist and stand against Satan’s schemes. We resist the devil by standing firm in our faith, says Peter. (1 Peter 5 vs 8). I would suggest (and personally often do this), that faith is exercised in prayer. So I, in the name and authority of Jesus my Lord, tell Satan to get lost when he presents me with a lie, or tempts me, or an event happens that I suspect he is behind. However, I do think it’s important that we focus on God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus, rather than Satan. The writer to the Hebrews says ‘fix your thoughts on Jesus’ and again “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus” (Heb 3 vs 1 and 12 vs 2). So having ‘resisted’, I turn my attention to Jesus and thank Him for all He has done, and is doing in that situation.
Be careful not to fall into the other ploy the devil uses (as C.S. Lewis says) and that is to give Satan too much credit, too much attention.
It’s interesting to note both James and Peter use the Old Testament scripture “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” as the introduction to saying we should resist the devil – both also say we should submit to God, or as Peter puts it, “humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand” (James 4 vs7 and 1 Peter 5 v s8,9). In doing so, we are saying ‘Your will be done Lord, Your Kingdom come in my life’ and of course, turning away from and resisting Satan’s will and purposes in our lives.
Can a Christian be demon possessed?
Here the problem lies in how we have translated NT Greek into English. The word “possession” – means to possess or own. However, we know we are bought by Christ (‘you were bought at a price’ – 1 Cor 6 vs 20) and therefore He owns us, we belong to Jesus.
In his book ‘ Spiritual Warfare’ Tim Warner says
“The use of the word “possession” to translate the expressions used in the Greek New Testament to indicate the relationship between demons and people is unfortunate, if not unwarranted. We obtained our English word “demon” by transliterating the Greek word daimon. We should have done the same with the Greek word daimonizomai – a verb form of the same Greek root. It would then come into English as “demonise” and we could then speak of the degree to which a person could be demonised rather than being limited to the either-or options imposed by the possessed – not possessed view.”
So the answer to ‘Can a Christian be possessed?’ is ‘no’ if it means ‘being owned, taken over by Satan’. But that is not to say that a Christian cannot be influenced by Satan. All the New Testament warnings concerning demonic activity are addressed to believers!
We have tended to think of an “all or nothing” situation. However, it seems it would be far better to think of it as a continuum. If we drew a line that represented the degree of influence that Satan has – with the influence Satan had on Jesus (Jesus was tempted by Satan) on the extreme left, to the extreme right where Satan has full control of a person.
So when it comes to Christians, evil spirits are spirits of influence only.
This is not true for unbelievers. Paul writes, “The God of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers,” (2 Cor 4 vs 4) so they are spiritually dead and follow “the ways of the world and (of) the ruler of the Kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. ” (Eph 2 vs 2)
It seems even in non-believers, Satan has degrees of influence or control. Some have given themselves over to him completely and it may then be accurate to say they are demon possessed.
When non-believers are confronted with the gospel of Jesus, they are faced with the decision of who they submit to, who they follow. The eyes of their hearts would need to be opened by God who ‘made His light shine in our hearts’ (2 Cor 4 vs 6). When they ‘repent and believe the good news’ (Mark 1 vs 16), Jesus becomes their King and they receive the Holy Spirit. However, the Kingdom of God is like yeast in bread and His Kingdom (control) would grow and spread through various areas of the person’s life. Sometimes, especially if that person has been involved in occultish practices, the person may need prayer to break the hold Satan still has on that person. However, I would not go on a ‘spot the demon’ campaign!
It seems to me that in Scripture demons manifested (showed) themselves when confronted with the presence and power of Jesus (or His Spirit in the disciples) As individuals seek to make Him Lord, (submit themselves / humble themselves under God’s mighty hand), these ‘areas’ where Satan still has control, will become obvious and then prayer, to break any bondage or hold Satan may have, would be appropriate and good.
It’s interesting to note when Paul was in Ephesus, God was doing ‘extraordinary miracles through Paul’, all were ‘seized’ with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honour. Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practised sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly (Acts 19 vs 11, 17 – 19). Burning their scrolls were acts of repentance. You cannot argue effectively from silence, but in this instance there is no mention that they had to line up for deliverance (although see Acts 19 vs 12).
Back to our own situation as believers. We can be influenced and we can, through sin, give ground to Satan.
Paul says to the Ephesians they should not let the sun go down on their anger and “do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4 vs 27). The Greek word here for ‘foothold’ is ‘topos’ from which we get topography. So it is giving Satan space or place or room to act in our lives. It’s not difficult to see this in people’s lives – if a person simmers in anger and does not deal with an issue, it can become bitterness and result in hurtful and sinful communication and behaviour that results in alienation. Satan is given opportunity to do his destructive destroying, stealing, killing work.
Please note this is ground that has been given to Satan. He has no opportunity or ground if it is not given to him. Also, the answer here is to repent and give that ground back to the control and influence of our Lord.
Clinton Arnold in his book ‘The Power of Darkness’ says
“It is likely that any sinful activity that the believer does not deal with by the power of the Spirit can be exploited by the devil and turned into a means of control over a believer’s life. Therefore, Christians need to resist. For Paul there is no middle ground. There is no nominal Christianity. Believers either resist the influence of the evil one who works through the flesh and the world, or they relinquish control of their lives to the power of darkness. Giving in to those temptations does not just confirm the weakness of the flesh, it opens up the lives of believers to the control of the devil and his powers. We need to recognise the supernatural nature of temptation and be prepared to face it.”
James implies this when after telling us to resist the devil, he says “wash your hands you sinners and purify your hearts you double minded’” (James 4 vs 7).
So the issue is one of repentance and submission to the kingship of Jesus.
Paul, when writing to the Corinthians, says we fight with weapons which have divine power and with which we can demolish strongholds (2 Cor 10 vs 3 – 6).
What is a stronghold? Verse 5 gives us the answer. He says we “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God”.
‘Arguments’ are reasons and efforts to persuade us against the truth of God and ‘pretensions’ are lies and false portrayals that are aimed to deceive.
Ed Silvoso’s definition is
“A Mindset (beliefs) impregnated with hopelessness that causes me to accept as unchangeable, something we know is contrary to the will of God’.
Joyce Meyer says simply
“A stronghold is an area in which we are held in bondage (in prison) due to a certain way of thinking”.
How do we demolish strongholds? We “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10 vs 5).
Jesus said of Satan: He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he speaks lies, he speaks his native language for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8 vs 44). He is called ‘the accuser of our brothers’ (Rev 12 vs 10). It is believing those lies that keeps us imprisoned.
Ed Silvoso tells a story of an American general who in the Second World War was captured by the Japanese and imprisoned in Mongolia. In prison he was cut off from all outside news. So when the war was won by the Western allies, he had no idea. His captors kept the news from him and he remained submitted to them. However, when he finally learned the truth, (Germany and Japan had been defeated), he walked up to his prison guards and said, “Release me. I am no longer obliged to stay here.” (In fact they could have swopped places). The guards had no legal right to hold him, but kept him in the dark as to the truth. Knowing the truth set him free, and so it is with us.
Jesus said,“You will know the truth and the truth will set you free”. (Matt 8vs 32)
We do this work in our counselling. We aim to identify the lies that a person has believed, lies that have kept them prisoner. Once they replace these lies with truth, they will be free. As Paul says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12 vs 2)
Again this is an ongoing process. It’s a process of revelation, an increasing knowledge of the truth. Sometimes we need the Holy Spirit to give a person the “power… to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” (Eph 3 vs 18)
It must be remembered that in His ministry Jesus confronted the kingdom of darkness as He proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God.
(Matt 4 vs 23, Mark1 vs 15, Luke9 vs 1,2 Luke10 vs 9,17)
It seems that those that had demons cast out of them were not believers (they may well have been about to become believers). Jesus was establishing His Kingdom.
It is also significant that the NT letters (written to Christians) do not include anything about deliverance. They do however address the issue of sanctification.
So as we present the gospel and someone believes, deliverance may be necessary – especially where the person has given place and control to the devil through some occultish practice.
That person must renounce that practice and be willing to repent and believe in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit. Otherwise we are simply sweeping the house clean only for the demon to return with seven others (Matt 12 vs 43-45).
I have not seen in Scripture (please correct me if I’m wrong) anywhere where a person is delivered from a demon of lust or greed or homosexuality or any sin. These are sins that need to be repented from. They may well flow out of strongholds in the person’s life which need to be demolished. And strongholds are demolished, as we’ve seen, by “bringing every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor 10 v s5)
The fight against sin is the process of sanctification. Again it is grasping the truth.
The truth is that ‘we died to sin’ and we were ‘baptised into the death of Christ’. (Romans 6 vs 1 – 3). Paul tells us (vs 4) “We were therefore buried (past tense) with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead … we too may live a new life”. Paul is saying know the truth about your salvation: You died with Jesus, and your sin along with you, so he says ‘count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God’ (vs11).
Sanctification is the process of grasping the truth about a particular sin and also knowing, experiencing the resurrection power of God in that particular area.
Generational sins or iniquities
It is very commonly believed that we suffer from curses that are handed down from generation to generation. These are often called ‘iniquities’ from which we need to be delivered. The implication is there is a demonic spirit and/or bondage handed down from generation to generation. The Scriptures used to justify this practice include the following:
Exodus 20 vs 5, Exodus 34 vs 7, Leviticus 26 vs 39, 40, Numbers 14 vs 18, Deut 5 vs 9. Please read them.
Exodus 20 vs 5, 6 says “You shall not bow down to them (idols) or worship them: for I, the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
The other Scriptures given are similar.
Firstly please note that what is handed down is punishment from God. Satan is not the one doing this. Secondly, it is important to understand these Scriptures in the context of the Old Covenant. The Covenant that God made with His people Israel was simply this:
“I will be your God, you will be my people. If you obey me I will bless you, it you do not obey me, you will be cursed.”
See Deut 28 and 29, particularly Deut 28 vs 1 – 6, 15 – 19 and Deut 29 vs 1, 9 – 13 and vs 19 – 21).
We know Israel again and again disobeyed. The prophets came and warned Israel of the consequences of their disobedience.
However, eventually God made a New Covenant (See Jeremiah 31 vs 31 – 34 and Ezekiel 36 vs 25 – 28).
We now live in this New Covenant, a covenant of grace – where Jesus became the curse for us and removed the penalty of sin. He has forgiven our sin and reconciled us to Himself. He has rescued us from the dominion (rule or control)of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves (Col 1 vs 13) Jesus has established His kingdom in us
However we do still suffer the consequences of our sin and the sin of others.
So, if I grow up in a dysfunctional home with an alcoholic father, I will be affected by that. My father’s sins will affect me. We are aware of the various effects on children of a dysfunctional home. My thinking will be affected, my behaviour (strategies) will have developed as a result of the background in which I grew up. All of these I will need to deal with as I grow in the Lord. That’s our role as Counsellors, to come alongside and give tools with which such a person can change and become whole.
Of course Satan is involved. And of course we need to be praying, resisting Satan and his influence. And when a person gets stuck, prayer to break any hold Satan may have is good and appropriate. But please do not suggest to someone you are counselling they have a generational spirit from which they need to be delivered!
This again is a popular notion these days. The biblical justification is found in 1 Cor 6 vs 16, 17 “Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute, is one with her in body”. This Scripture refers to Gen 2 vs 24 (“the two will become one flesh”). We know when we join sexually with another we become ‘one flesh’ with them. This is a biblical principle which God intended to be a part of marriage. Once a couple are united in marriage, they become ‘one flesh’ with the union of their bodies. There is a joining that takes place when a couple have sex, a joining that is meant to happen within marriage (Gen2 vs 24). So says Paul, if you join yourself to a prostitute, you ‘sin against your own body’ (1 Cor 6 vs 18).
While this ‘joining’ does of course take place – we become ‘one flesh’ – it is rather a mysterious phenomenon. Some have filled in the gaps and made it a demonic thing which needs deliverance.
While, as I’ve already said, sin does give ground to the devil, the Scripture does not say or imply this ‘one flesh’ joining is a demonic thing that needs deliverance. Nowhere in Scripture (that I can find) is there any account of deliverance in this context.
When the woman caught in the act of adultery was thrown in front of Jesus, He said to her ‘Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more’. What was required was repentance (‘sin no more’) and forgiveness (‘neither do I condemn you’). Surely, if she needed deliverance from ‘soul ties’, Jesus would have ‘cast out’ or ‘broken’ whatever bondage existed? Again the tenor of Scripture is that sin gives space to the devil to do his destroying work. But we take that opportunity away from him when we resist him, repent of the sin and trust God to rule in us in that area.
If we are deep into sin, Satan may have more influence than we can deal with on our own, and we may need counsel and prayer to help us break free from Satan’s hold on us. We would still need to repent and believe – die with Jesus and be raised with Him also, put off.. put on…etc. This is the process of sanctification that Paul deals with in most of his letters. Standing with someone in prayer as they resist Satan is of course very helpful.
I have had it mentioned that for example there may be ‘soul ties’ between an adult child and his parents, and he cannot leave (in order to cleave). Again this is a matter of obedience not deliverance.
There may be dependency issues. We know about emotional dependencies – where one becomes ‘addicted’ to another. This requires the radical amputation – obedience to break the relationship and then working through what emotional and spiritual needs might have been met in the other person, transferring our dependency to God.