Exercising Your Demons

May 1, 2011

Up For The Challenge, PLR '99

Up For The Challenge, PLR '99

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4

I remember when the movie, The Blair Witch Project, first came out and rumors perpetuated that not only was it a true story, but the movie was, in fact, the actual footage found of campers who were oppressed by some demonic force in the woods. My brother saw it and it freaked him out. He drug me to the theater and when it was finished he asked, “So? What do you think?” My response angered him: “I don’t know. It was kind of boring.” “What?!” he exclaimed, “What if that’s real? What would you do if you were in the woods and something like that happened?” My reply only made him more upset: “Dude, if it’s real, they are only demons, I would just pray to Jesus, and that would be the end of it.” God has made it clear in the Bible that Christians have authority over demons. Not by any merit of our own doing, but if we pray in faith in the name of Jesus, then He will be faithful to respond. 

Are demons even real? If you claim to believe in the Bible, then you believe in demons, and you believe that they can possess people. You just can’t get around the fact that demon possession is in the Bible and that Jesus and his followers cast out demons. Much of the Church now days seems to fall into two extremes; the first is that demons are no longer an issue, or that Jesus and his disciples simply misunderstood demonic possession for mental illnesses. If they are no longer an issue; why not? What happened between the time of the Acts of the Apostles and now? Did the Church somewhere along the line exterminate all demons? That is not likely. When Jesus himself was casting out a group of demons, they begged him not to torture them before the appointed time and not to send them into the abyss. Jesus granted their request by sending them into a herd of pigs (Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-17, Luke 8:26-37). They ran the pigs off a cliff into the sea to drown, presumably to be set free to bother some other unlucky humans. While no one on earth knows when “the appointed time” is, it makes sense to assume that this is the same appointed time of the end of the age when Jesus returns to judge all mankind and the fallen angels, i.e. demons. It’s safe to say that this time has not yet come.

Some in the Church claim that all demonic possession was just different types of mental illness that Jesus and his followers misunderstood to be demons, but what does that say about the God you worship? If Jesus is the Son of God, shouldn’t he be a little savvier in determining a diagnosis? The reason why demonic possession and mental illness go hand in hand is that both make the other more likely. Demons can more easily manipulate and corrupt someone who is suffering from a mental illness, and likewise, if someone allows a demon a foothold into their emotions and mental state, the demon will likely cause a mental illness as it gains more power and influence over the individual.

The other extreme is to sensationalize demonic possession. Stories from the Church have given plenty of fodder to Hollywood for decades and they don’t seem to be waning in popularity. America loves a good demon movie, and we even want it to be based on a true story as long as we can leave the theater thinking it will never happen to us. If you aren’t a Christian, chances are you would have no clue if a demon has attached itself to you; at least at first. Rarely does anything happen as dramatically as Hollywood celebrates. Usually it all starts with a deep emotional wound from childhood, or an obsession with some kind of sin like greed or lust, etc. Emotional pain and unrepentant sin is the demons’ foothold. It is how a person responds that determines how much power and influence a demon can have over the individual. Needless to say, the more you give into demonic “thoughts” the more it will control you, but it’s unlikely you’ll gain supernatural powers or have to worry about your family finding you crawling on the ceiling. Giving in to the demon might make you feel powerful and give you sense of superiority over some innocent victim, whether it be a person you abused or just a coworker you screwed over, but more than likely you’ll either end up clinically insane or just extremely selfish, depressed and lonely. Demons don’t want to use you to take over the world, they just want to hurt you because they lost the war when they rebelled against their Creator, and they know hurting you is the only way they can really hurt Him.

Following the example of Jesus and the early disciples, the Church continued to perform exorcisms on anyone who seemed to be demonically possessed and oppressed. Like with everything else concerning the gospel, the Catholic Church created a lot of needless formality and procedure around exorcism, which has led to a lot of misunderstanding and mysticism from those outside the priesthood. Realizing this stigma, protestant churches either gave up the practice altogether, or they changed the name to deliverance and now keep things more simple, but deliverance can still be pretty messy. If you’ve got a bona fide demon in there, it won’t let go too lightly.*  

Whispering Eve, PLR '99

Whispering Eve, PLR '99

The problem, in my opinion, is that churches today seem to either place too much emphasis on deliverance from demons or just ignore the reality of them altogether. I once flirted with attending a church that was deliverance focused, and they spent most of the teaching time on how to rebuke demons, and then most of the service delivering the same people from the same demons week after week. After a couple of weeks there, you would think there was a demon hiding under every rock, and every time something uncomfortable happened it was the devil attacking you! Of course, your problems had little to do with the poor choices you might have made that week, or that we live in a fallen world with a lot of selfish people in it. We are instructed to be aware of the devil’s schemes, but we are told this so that we can avoid continually falling into his traps and snares. Spiritual warfare is an important skill for every Christian to develop, the Apostle Paul says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12), and our most important weapon is prayer. However, too many Christians become dependant on deliverance ministry from others who claim to have the faith and power. They get all “cleaned up” in a hyped up and emotional prayer, and then jump right back into the mud. The Apostle Peter reminds us of the proverb, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud” (2 Peter 2:22).

The focus of every believer needs to be Jesus. He is our Savoir, he is our deliverer, and he is our example of how to live a righteous life. If Christians spent more time trying to live like Christ and developing their characters according to his teaching, there would be less need for deliverance. In speaking of his power over demons, Jesus teaches us, “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first” (Luke 11:24-26). The lesson is that if you get deliverance from demonic oppression, you need to then follow through and fill up the empty space with something new, specifically the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples at the last supper that after he goes, he will send a helper, a Counselor, to teach us how to live righteously and to lead us into obedience to God. We 21st century Christians also have the benefit of the Bible to keep us in check and from being deceived by the very demons we have authority over.  It is this same Holy Spirit that gives the common believer the power through prayer to heal and to cast out demons when s/he prays in the name and authority of Jesus. The natural progression of a believer should be to become more and more like Jesus in character through following his example in the Bible and learning to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. The more a believer becomes like Jesus in character, the more intimidating s/he will be to our common enemy, Satan, and all his followers. Of course the enemy will do whatever it can to keep your faith from growing, but the more righteous choices a believer makes, the less ground any demons will have to stand on. Speaking of their public ministries, John the Baptist proclaimed of Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). In the same way, the more of Jesus we have growing in us, the less likely a demon will be able to manipulate your emotions and thoughts and bring you down from the inside. 

The Outcome, PLR '99

The Outcome, PLR '99

The art of spiritual warfare, including deliverance, should be an active and strong ministry in any church that is gaining ground for the Kingdom of God.  It should be expected that new believers (and even mature believers who are often called to go through deep personal struggles) to have a few demons plaguing them and not wanting to let go, but once the individual believer experiences deliverance and is free from the demonic oppression, s/he should use that freedom to grow stronger in faith and in following Jesus. If church leaders deny or ignore the possibility of demonic oppression, they are ignoring the mandate to be aware of the schemes of the devil and leaving the congregation open to spiritual attack. There are some problems that counseling and Prozac simply can’t handle. Likewise, someone who has gone through experiences that make them susceptible to demonic oppression will also more than likely need some kind of counseling in addition to deliverance, and it is not unusual for the counseling to take some time. In order for all believers to grow strong in faith, we need to have discipleship with someone who is more mature. If believers spent more time in fellowship with the Lord through prayer and worship and Bible study, and in fellowship with each other for support and accountability, the need for deliverance would be few and far between and focused mostly on new believers because there simply will be no place for the demons to take hold of. The Apostle James exhorts, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

Peter L Richardson

*The purpose of this essay is not to discuss what deliverance from demons should look like, but rather to help Christians understand how to prevent the need for personal deliverance in the first place. If you believe that you or someone you know is in need of deliverance, and you are not involved in a church experienced with deliverance ministry, I suggest starting with the book It’s Only a Demon, A Model of Christian Deliverance by David Appleby.


4 Responses to “Exercising Your Demons”

  1. Chester Says:

    I watched the Blair Witch Project, but fell asleep before it ended. As an outdoorsman, I had trouble with the characters in the film when they crossed the same stream twice, without realizing what they were doing. Water flows downhill, and on the eastern seaboard, always flows toward civilization. Since the characters were stupid, they deserved to die, whether at the hand of a demon or by natural stupid starvation.
    I do know there are demons, they are here to try to hurt us, and your first assertion is correct: rebuke them in the name of Jesus and they must go. They don’t like it, but they must obey.
    Good post, Pete.

  2. Steph Says:

    YES! And thank you. Great post Pete! BTW is the title supposed to be exercising or exorcising? Just curious.


  3. peterrock12 Says:

    Thanks guys!

    Steph, I was trying make a pun with “Exercising.” In the negative sense that if you deny or try to explain away the existence of demons without living a godly life, they will get plenty of exercise walking all over you and abusing you. In the positive sense of giving your demons plenty of exercise by keeping them on the run through spiritual warfare and living a godly life. Glad you liked the essay, Steph. You were a major inspiration for me to force myself to take the time write something new! Thanks. It felt good to do it.

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