On the one hand, there a Christian sub-culture obsessed with demon possession and “deliverance” ministries. According to this worldview, there are generational demons, poverty demons, sickness demons and even demons that make one infertile.
The key to a powerful Christian ministry is to identify the particular demon involved and cast it out in Jesus’ name. T.B. Joshua is perhaps the most infamous adherent to this model of ministry.
On the other hand, there is a Christian sub-culture that dismisses the supernatural and the spirit-world.
According to this worldview, there is a rational, cause-and-effect, scientific explanation for everything that happens. Demon-possession was simply the uniformed explanation for illnesses in Bible times that were not understood. We know better now.
C.S. Lewis, a great Christian thinker and writer of the 20th Century, wrote:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. The devils themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist (who dismisses the notion of the devil) or magician (who dabbles with the devils) with the same delight.
Acts 16:16-34 has the account of the Apostle Paul and Silas’ confrontation with a demon-possessed slave girl in the European city of Philippi. In v16 they are going to a “place of prayer” where Jewish people would meet for prayer, meaning that there was probably no synagogue in the city. They were confronted by a young slave who could tell the future because she “had a spirit of divination” (v16). Literally she had a “python spirit”.
“Python” is a reference to the snake of classical Greek mythology who guarded temple of the god Apollo. Apollo was thought to be embodied in the snake and to inspire his female devotees with insights into the future.
Yet Paul, cut through the fashionable language of the day and knew that the girl was possessed by a demon or evil spirit. Of course, if we believe in a supernatural, unseen God it makes logical sense to also believe in the supernatural, unseen world. Paul commanded the demon to leave by the authority of Jesus and the demon left. We note a couple of interesting things:
The demon knew Paul and Jesus
The slave girl followed Paul and Silas and cried out,
“These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” (v17)
The girl, who was obviously caught up in a human-trafficking ring, had never seen them before, but demon knew exactly who they were. That is, the demons had an excellent theology, but a good theology never saved anyone.
A person may know exactly who Jesus is, why Jesus died, acknowledge the resurrection and agree that the gospel is the only way of salvation. However, that person would still be lost and separated from God Almighty because the demon knew those things too.
The question is: have you entrusted your life to Jesus? Are you following him as Lord and Saviour? Have you put your faith in him to save you? Have you cried out: Lord, have mercy on me a sinner? The demon did none of those things.
The slave girl could tell the future
Apparently the slave-girl’s fortune-telling was very successful and her owners made lots of money.
By implication, it seems that demons have some insight into events that have not happened yet. Her owners no doubt thought Apollo or a friendly spirit gave the girl info, but in reality it was a demon, a fallen angel, a messenger of Satan.
And so too today, one might go to the Sangoma to consult he ancestors, but in reality you are consulting demons. One might go to a medium or spiritualist to speak to your dead uncle, but in reality you will be consulting a demon. (The Bible tells us that God has set a chasm between the living and the dead that no-one can cross.)
There are only two supernatural powers in the universe: God and Satan. If you’re not dealing with God, you’re dabbling with the devil.
Christians are told not to consult mediums or sorcerers or the dead, precisely because we are in danger of consulting demons.
God has given all we need for life and godliness in the Bible, therefore it’s unnecessary to consult with mediums, sorcerers or the dead. Paul could command the demon to leave because Jesus conquered sin, death and Satan by his death and resurrection.
Nowhere are Christians encouraged to cast out demons
In the New Testament, Christians are told to resist the devil, not fall into temptation, not give the devil a foothold by unrepentant anger, and to pray. That is, Christians are told to trust God and live godly lives, and God will deal with the demons. We are not to engage the demonic world.
Jesus will engage with the demonic world on our behalf.
Just because Jesus and the apostles did something, does not mean we should.
Shockingly, the Bible says that we are all – without Christ – like that slave girl. We are in bondage to sin, death and Satan.
The Bible says that Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they can’t see the beauty, majesty and glory of Jesus.
Each person needs to be freed from Satan’s grip. The only power in the entire universe that can do that is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
You might think that without Christ you can be free, but you would be like a goldfish in a small goldfish bowl thinking it’s free. You are not free; you are in bondage; and you don’t know it.
The solution is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved and freed (Acts 16:31).
Addition/ clarification: Jesus has conquered Satan and the demonic world by his death and resurrection. When a demonically oppressed person comes to Christ they must and will be freed from demonic possession. Jesus does not just save our “souls”, he saves our whole being. When a demon-possessed person is converted the Holy Spirit comes upon that person and necessarily drives out any other spirits. Thus in dealing with demonically possessed/ oppressed people, we must be praying for their conversion and sharing the gospel with them.