In part 1 of this article we saw that the Bible suggests, strongly at times, that ministry to people afflicted by demons is something that should be ongoing today.
In this second part I will move on to consider some other relevant aspects of this topic. Although the Bible will not be as directly in focus as it was in part 1, it will still feature prominently in the following discussion.
MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFLICTED BY DEMONS TODAY
The first important point to make is that there are many people today who have demonic problems.
Of course, some who claim to be Christians deny the existence of Satan and evil spirits. In this article, however, I don’t intend to argue that these creatures exist. I am writing for those who already accept that they do.
More importantly for the purposes of this article, there are some Christians who claim that today people only very rarely suffer from demonic afflictions. These Christians rightly agree that Satan and evil spirits exist. And they rightly agree too that in the first century many people had demonic problems. But they say that today things are different.
Those who take this view are completely mistaken, for the following reasons:
The amount of demonic affliction in the first century
To begin with, in the light of the amount of demonic affliction that there clearly was in the first century, it would be very surprising if demons didn’t afflict people frequently today. Why would we expect things to be any different now? After all, Satan is still the god of this age in which we live (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Of course, in the last 2000 years the good news of the Christian message has spread to more and more people. But this has hardly meant that the evil in our world has reduced in any real way. We just need to read the news to hear of all sorts of terrible evils that go on everywhere. The idea that the world is gradually becoming a morally better place is just a myth. And we would therefore not expect demonic activity to be any less now than it was in the first century.
We should also listen carefully to Christians who claim to have experience of freeing people from demons. They can often be heard saying that many of those who are diagnosed with psychological illnesses are in fact suffering from demonic problems. And they say that physical ailments also often have a demonic root.
Nothing about these claims looks implausible. Just because non-Christians diagnose an illness in a certain way doesn’t mean that they have to be right. We must remember that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; ). So if people’s starting point is wrong, it is likely that they will often reach wrong conclusions about things too.
Modern Western intellectuals, including those in the medical profession, are typically non-Christians who don’t believe in the existence of demons. It should therefore be easy for us to understand how doctors could misdiagnose demonic affliction as something else.
Demons speaking through people
In the Gospels and Acts we find examples of evil spirits speaking audibly through people. See, e.g., Mark 1:24; 5:7-12; Acts ; . I think one reason why some Christians doubt that demonic afflictions are common today is because they don’t hear of examples of this happening.
Again, we should listen to those who claim to have experience of freeing people from demons:
(1) They say that evil spirits do at times speak through people today.
Sadly, ministry to people afflicted by evil spirits is so lacking in so much of the church today that many Christians never hear anything about it. It is a fact, however, that there are reports of demons speaking through people in our day.
(2) Those who claim experience in this area also tell us that when a demon is expelled from a person, this is often the only time that it ever speaks through the person hosting it.
(3) They tell us too that often a demon never speaks through the person it is inhabiting, even at the time it is expelled.
(4) They also tell us that in a majority of demonic afflictions, it is inappropriate to think of the demon as living inside the person in question. Usually demonic afflictions are less serious than that, more of a demonic grip on a person than a living inside. And in such cases, it makes sense to think that the demon would never speak through the person affected.
It is worth noting too that at times Scripture itself quite strongly implies that a demonised person never had a demon speak through them.
For example, in Matthew 9:32-33 we are told:
‘32 As they were going out, a mute, demonised man was brought to [Jesus]. 33 And when the demon had been expelled, the mute man spoke . . .’
Note here that the man’s problem was specifically inability to speak. It therefore seems very unlikely that the demon spoke through this man before Jesus met him.
Note too how the text says that the man spoke when the demon had been expelled. This also suggests that the demon never spoke through him.
Given this passage (and others), and given the claims of Christians who say they have experience in this ministry, then, it seems entirely plausible that many people today could have demonic afflictions without a demon ever speaking through them. And, as I have noted, there are reports of demons speaking through people anyway.
There seems to be no good reason, therefore, for thinking that people today only rarely suffer from demonic afflictions. And in the absence of such a reason, it makes sense to think that today things are much the same as they were in the first century. Today, as then, many people are afflicted by demons.
THINK THAT PR AYER ALONE USUA LLY FREES PEOPLE FROM DEMONS
There are some Christians who agree that many people today have demonic problems, but who claim that the way to set people free is simply to pray for them. They say that no special ministry of expelling demons or such like is needed.
I do think it is true that sometimes prayer alone frees people from evil spirits. Nevertheless, there are a couple of points to make here:
First century ministry typically involved more than just prayer
To begin with, the Bible makes it clear that in the first century people were typically freed from evil spirits through actual ministry to them. This ministry often involved prayer but it was rarely, if ever, confined to prayer.
We know that when Jesus was on earth, He and His followers performed this kind of ministry. See, e.g., Matthew 8:16; 10:1, 8; Mark 1:23-27; 6:7, 13; Luke 9:1, 6; .
And we know too that when the early church ministered to people with demonic problems, they did more than just pray. See Acts 5:12-16; 8:6-7; -12, and the verse we know as Mark 16:17.
So why would we expect things to be any different today? There seems to be no good reason.
The Bible suggests ministry today
Second, I refer the reader to part 1 of this article, where I discuss several biblical passages which suggest that ministry to people with demons should be ongoing today.
The idea, then, that the way to free people from demons today is just to pray for them fits very poorly with Scripture.
THINK THAT DEMONS LEAVE NEW CONV ERTS
There are some Christians who agree that many people today suffer from demonic problems, but who argue in this way:
To get free of a demonic problem in our day, all someone needs to do is become a Christian. Demons will leave automatically when a person is saved. And there is therefore no need for ministry to people afflicted by them.
This is a very weak argument, for several reasons:
Biblical teaching and examples
To begin with, the points I made above are also relevant here:
(1) We know that in the first century Jesus and Christians ministered to people with demons. And there is no good reason for thinking that things should be any different today.
(2) The Bible suggests, strongly at times, that ministry to people afflicted by demons should be ongoing today.
Both these points count strongly against the idea that no ministry to people with demons is needed today.
The Bible’s silence on demons leaving at conversion
Next, there is no suggestion anywhere in the Bible that demons leave people at the moment they become Christians.
I do admit that I have heard reports of this happening. However, even if it is true that this does sometimes happen, it is still the case that the Bible never refers to it. So we would hardly expect this to be a common thing.
Christians with demonic problems
Finally, those who claim to have experience of freeing people from demons widely agree that Christians can have demonic problems.
There are some who rule out the idea that a Christian could have a problem of this sort. They point out that the Holy Spirit lives inside Christians. And they argue that the Spirit couldn’t and wouldn’t share His residence with a demon.
This argument, however, is too simplistic, for two reasons:
(1) We need to take account of the metaphorical language here.
When we talk about the Spirit living in a Christian, we need to understand that this is a metaphor as far as the human soul is concerned. Our souls are not spatial entities, i.e., they don’t literally occupy a space with physical dimensions. So it is not as if the Spirit literally lives inside and fills them. Instead, the idea is that the Spirit enlivens our souls in an important way and acts in very close relationship to them.
Similarly, talk of demons living inside people is also metaphorical as far as the human soul is concerned. And, as I have already noted, in a majority of demonic afflictions it is inappropriate to refer to demons living inside people anyway. Usually demonic problems are less serious than that.
When we recognise that neither the Spirit nor demons literally live inside people, it becomes much easier to understand how a Christian could have a demonic problem.
(2) We must bear in mind that the Spirit (metaphorically) lives inside us despite the fact that we are not yet free of sin. Although all true Christians are justified and upright in God’s sight, we remain sinners. So the Spirit lives in sinners. And sin, of course, is an extremely bad and serious thing.
But if the Spirit can live in sinners, it is not all that surprising if He could live in people with demonic problems too. It is true that the Spirit and demons are totally incompatible. Yet the Spirit and sin are also totally incompatible. So if the Spirit can live in a sinner, as we know He can, it doesn’t seem implausible that He could live in someone with a demonic problem.
For two reasons, then, the idea that the Spirit couldn’t live in someone with a demonic affliction is too simplistic.
Something that causes misunderstanding here is Bible translation of the Greek verb daimonizomai, found 14 times in the New Testament (e.g., in Matthew ; ; Mark ; ; Luke ). In English versions the passive participle of this verb is usually translated ‘demon-possessed’.
This is actually a very poor translation. Importantly, there is no part of the word daimonizomai that signifies possession.
Daimonizomai is related to two nouns, daimon and daimonion, both of which are used in the New Testament to mean ‘demon’. Daimonizomai certainly implies some sort of harmful action by a demon. But there is nothing in the word itself which tells us exactly what this action is. By itself daimonizomai doesn’t imply that the action involves actual possession by a demon.
Those who translate the passive participle of daimonizomai as ‘demon-possessed’ think that when this word is used in the New Testament of a person affected by a demon, the action involves possession.
However, the New Testament never teaches that anyone who is troubled by a demon is possessed by that demon. And I believe that daimonizomai should be interpreted accordingly. I would hold that all actions by demons on people in the New Testament always fall short of actual possession, even when a demon speaks through a person at the time it is expelled.
When translating daimonizomai into English, I prefer to use the simple term ‘demonise’ (‘demonize’ in American English). And I translate the passive participle as ‘demonised’. This avoids saying what kind of action the demon performs, just as daimonizomai itself avoids doing this.
The reason this is important is that if a Christian thinks that having a demonic problem involves actually being possessed by a demon, they will say that it is impossible for a Christian to have such a problem. And it is surely correct that no Christian could be possessed by a demon.
However, if we say that a Christian can be demonised in a way that is far less serious than being possessed, it is much easier to understand how a Christian could have a demonic problem.
All things considered, then, there seems to be no convincing reason for thinking that Christians cannot have demonic problems. So when those who claim to have experience in this area say that Christians can suffer from demonic afflictions, we should pay attention to what they say.
If Christians can have demonic problems, as I am sure they can, this counts as evidence that demons don’t disappear automatically when people are converted.
In the light of the above points, we should have no hesitation in rejecting the idea that there is no need for ministry to demonised people because demons will always leave automatically when people become Christians. There is a need for this ministry, and demons, at least usually, don’t automatically disappear when people are saved.
That concludes our discussion of this topic, and we have found the following:
(1) The Bible suggests, strongly at times, that ministry to people afflicted by demons is something that should be ongoing today.
(2) It makes perfect sense to think that many people today have demonic problems.
(3) We shouldn’t expect demons to disappear simply by praying for people.
(4) The idea that we should expect demons to automatically leave people when they become Christians is a mistake.
When all these points are taken into account, we should have no hesitation in saying that there is very much a place for ministry to people afflicted by demons today.
It is not my intention here to say exactly how Christians should get into this ministry, especially as I have little experience of it myself. My goal has simply been to try to show that this is something that many Christians should be involved in at the present time. Ideally, it should be a ministry that is performed by every local church.
My understanding of God, however, is that if Christians are closed to Him doing things through them, He usually holds back from working in those ways even if He would like to. I would therefore encourage believers to be open to God working through them in this ministry and to seek His leading.