In some Christian circles today there is a huge emphasis on the demonic realm and “deliverance” ministries.
There are books written, sermons preached, conferences attended and spiritual away weekends devoted to the subject.
TB Joshua was a so-called prophet of God in Nigeria. A large part of his ministry was exorcism. This “man of God” laid his hands on the faithful and rebuked the demons. There was the usual vomiting, crying and falling. He exorcised the demons of alcoholism, depression, poverty, sickness and whatever other bad spirit you may have unknowingly had.
I was in a car accident when I was 10 years old and as a result walk with a bit of a limp. A few years ago a well-meaning Christian asked if he could pray for me. I agreed as prayer is always a good thing. However, in his prayers he attempted to rebuke the Spirit of infirmity in me and demand my healing from God. I stopped him mid-prayer and said thanks but no thanks.
God permitted, according to his good purposes, the accident I was in and I’m sure God would have healed my limp by now if he wanted to. The irony of this brother’s prayer was that he was rebuking an “evil” spirit, but it was something that God permitted in the first place (Romans 8:28). He was calling good, evil.
Another example of this type of thinking is that in many churches there are all night prayer vigils aimed at achieving so-called spiritual “breakthroughs” where believers seek to “breakthrough” Satanic stronghold in their lives.
The list goes on.
Demon behind every bush
The danger of these kinds of deliverance ministries is to be simplistic, hyper-spiritual and treat every problem as demonic.
Rather than the struggling believer undergoing biblical counselling, or fostering repentance, or growing in godliness, or even taking medication; the pastor simply exorcises the appropriate demon or prays for the suitable breakthrough – leaving the unsuspecting believer with the same problem the next day.
Of course, the opposite error of ignoring the spiritual realm is also widespread – but that’s not my concern today. Satan and his demons certainly do exist and they certainly do seek to destroy precious people made in God’s image.
Satan may seek to destroy or harm people through demonic possession; but more often, it’s much subtler.
Ephesian 4:26-27 says something very interesting:
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity/ foothold to the devil.
In other words, by you sinning in anger, speaking harsh word, or acting in cruel ways, you give Satan an opportunity, an influence, or a foothold in your life that he will exploit to cause you and others harm.
World War 2
The Western Allies in World War 2 launched the largest amphibious invasion in history when they assaulted Normandy, on the coast of France, on 6 June 1944.
The Ally invaders were able to establish a beachhead as part of Operation Overlord after a successful “D-Day”, the first day of the invasion. The operation gained a foothold, a beachhead, a base, which the Allies gradually expanded over the coming months, leading to the liberation of Europe from Nazi control.
It started with a beachhead, a foothold, a base.
When we allow unrepentant sin in our lives we give the devil a beachhead, a foothold, a base.
Pornography is a perfect example.
A small, curious glimpse at internet porn intrigues and excites, but it ends up capturing the mind, heart and will – leading to a destructive porn addiction. The same is true for anger, jealousy, bitterness, unforgiveness, drug use and alcoholism – it starts small, but ends big.
Adultery starts with a small thought and a small cup of coffee, but ends big with broken families.
Satan uses our sinful natures against ourselves to tempt, harm and destroy.
You don’t necessarily need to be demon-possessed to please Satan, you simply have to ignore Jesus and the gospel. In other words, you stop repenting and believing.
Christian people can’t be demon-possessed, but they can give Satan an opportunity to wreak havoc in their lives and families.
How do we deal with evil spirits today?
We are not obsessed with Satan and demons because Jesus has triumphed over them by his death and resurrection.
We don’t ignore the reality of the spiritual realm either: there is a powerful, evil being who wants to destroy you and your family.
The best protection is therefore to trust and obey the One that’s even more powerful than Satan, our Lord Jesus Christ. Cf. Ephesians 1:15-23
The proponents and practitioners of deliverance ministries should spend more time pointing people to Jesus and less time trying to be hyper-spiritual and dealing with every challenge as demonic.
The proponents and practitioners of deliverance ministries should realise that living in a fallen world is difficult and, rather than spiritual “breakthroughs”, our thinking and worldviews needs to be transformed by the gospel (Romans 12:1-2). Casting out alleged demons left, right and centre is the easy way out and a dereliction of the pastor’s difficult duty to apply God’s word to believers’ lives.
The proponents and practitioners of deliverance ministries should stop deceiving the people of God under their care and start pointing people to Jesus, while faithfully and patiently teaching the whole counsel of God.
Lord, please deliver us from deliverance ministries.