I’m up this week. And it’s Luke 4. Demon possession. That’ll be straightforward then!
Going over some old notes I came across something I’d written a few years back. I quite like it. As usual with my notes, there are no references or indications of the sources that I found helpful. There’s nothing innovative in any of my ministry and so the odds are that I culled it from somewhere else, chewed it up, digested it and then spat it out in its current form.
Anyway, here you go. My 2005 thoughts on demon possession.
It used to be the case that claims of demonic activity would be ridiculed. But perhaps because of interest in the occult or the popularity of eastern religions over the last 20 years, our culture is expressing a new openness to the existence of a spiritual realm. The Bible knows no such reluctance. It speaks openly of the activities of Satan and his agents, the demons, that carry out his will. Satan is a created supernatural being who, though wicked, nevertheless remains under the control of God. God has permitted him to exist as our spiritual enemy. He seeks our destruction in hell and the tactics he employs haven’t changed in years. They haven’t had to. They’ve been so successful. His evil intent is to keep us from discovering the truth about Jesus Christ and the salvation he offers.
1. Demon possession was commonplace
Though it’s unlikely to be the case for us, Jesus’ exposure to demonic spirits was commonplace. In Luke’s gospel alone there are 23 references to demons. It’s understandable that the arrival of God’s Son into the world to release people from the captivity to Satan would provoke an outpouring of demonic activity. Satan throws the kitchen sink at Jesus to derail his redemptive mission. And therefore I take it that’s why we shouldn’t expect to see this sort of thing as frequently today. Jesus has accomplished his mission and Satan’s days are numbered. Though missionaries in parts of the world with animistic religious systems encounter this sort of thing far more regularly, my own view is that Satan serves his purposes quite well in the western world by suppressing our awareness of the spiritual realm. In many respects it might be counter-productive for him to reveal his existence in a culture, which has dismissed everything but the material world.
2. Demon possession is different to temptation
Satan’s activity focuses on our mind, through the power of suggestion. He is not the only force that seeks to influence our decisions. The prevailing social attitudes or peer pressure affects us. In addition, our own sinful inclinations also tempt us to pursue courses of action that conflict with God’s will. But through psycho-spiritual contact Satan can also introduce suggestions to the mind. However, none of this implies control. We’re not compelled to obey these suggestions. But when we do, we allow Satan’s will to find expression in this world. This sounds shocking. But I think we accept this to be the case. For example, when a notorious criminal is brought to justice they are held to account and sentenced to imprisonment. We believe them to be responsible for their actions and demand that they answer for what they’ve done. It’s not good enough to attribute their activity to whatever influence they were under. And yet, at the same time, we’ll say that they were obviously evil. We believe them to be under the influence of something wicked. We seem happy to hold influence and responsibility together.
3. Demon possession implies oppressive control
The phrase ‘possession’ implies that satanic influence has gone a stage further than temptation. It implies that a separate self-conscious entity of a spiritual kind, called a demon, has come to reside in a human in order to compete for control of the mind. Sometimes people will say ‘I can’t get my Mother out of my head’. It’s like that but worse! This invasion has become so oppressive that it produces mental disturbance in the victim. It’s not the same as mental illness. Not many forms of mental illness are due to satanic influence. But demonic possession inevitably results in mental illness.
When Jesus rescued people from demon possession he demonstrated that he could liberate those most seriously oppressed. Exorcising demons was an extreme example that convinces us that not even satanic influence can thwart God’s plans to take his people to his Kingdom.
Few of us are likely ever to suffer possession and therefore need exorcism. Let me be clear, no Christian can be demon possessed. God’s Spirit would not allow it. However, all of us suffer under God’s condemnation because we’ve given in to temptation and we need to be liberated from that. Jesus demonstrated that he is the one who can do it.