Demons and Spiritual Warfare: 5 Cautions
This article may not be for you. We often look at the “two ditches” of error when interpreting scripture. In a previous article, Erik Reed shared how we must recognize the reality of demons and spiritual warfare in today’s world – the first “ditch” of error on the topic. If you find yourself doubting their existence, I suggest reading that article and reviewing those scriptures that share glimpses of the reality of spiritual warfare.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV)
If you’re continuing to read, I can only assume you believe in the existence of demons and spiritual warfare at work in the world today. It is healthy for Christians to believe in what scripture instructs on these things. Yet, we must also look to scripture in seeing them correctly. The second “ditch” of error we must avoid is attributing to demons and spiritual warfare things we don’t find in God’s Word.
For a culture that is so quick to deny the spiritual and supernatural, many today are drawn to the idea of demons and spiritual warfare. Here are several cautions to consider.
1. Evil Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Demonic Oppression: Searching scripture for the word “evil” reveals where God places emphasis on the word. Certainly “evil spirits” are referenced, but it is the heart of man that we see most often mentioned. Solely attributing our sin to outside influences is an attempt to deflect from our true depravity. We don’t like to admit our own fallenness, and “the devil / demon made me do it” is too easy of an excuse for us to make.
“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-23 ESV)
2. Avoid the Extrabiblical: Perusing YouTube or Christian bookstores, you’ll find sources that offer symptoms of and solutions to demonic influence. A well-known ministry recently published a “Deliverance Handbook” listing physical manifestations of demonic influence, including:
- Skin Irritation
- Stomach Cramps
- Chest Tightness
Taking these sources at face value, you might find yourself looking for the demonic much as you might symptoms on WebMD (“Honey, the computer says I either have COVID…or a demon”). While physical symptoms aren’t out of the question in cases of demonic influence, it is dangerous to make blanket assumptions of a cause / effect relationship. First seek medical attention as may be warranted and ask the leadership of your church for prayer.
“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:14 ESV)
All sources on spiritual warfare must be examined relative to the Bible. What we choose to read or watch on this topic should only go as far as what God’s Word says, and no further.
3. Cultural Portrayals of Demons Often Don’t Align with Scripture: One need look no further than a list of the most successful horror films to see how the idea of spiritual warfare is big business in Hollywood. From The Exorcist to The Nun, the film industry has learned that the demonic is a box office draw.
It’s not just the film industry, as the recent performance by Sam Smith at the Grammy’s showed us. Yet, this focus on Satan and the demonic in the recording industry is not new. The 1980s saw a flood of demonic imagery in its “hair metal” phase. Artists have long known that incorporating the demonic draws attention. Medieval and Renaissance iconography often includes salacious images of spiritual warfare. Hundreds of years before hair metal, Hieronymus Bosch and Dante were painting and describing images of demons and Hell that remain frightening to this day.
Yet, many of these portrayals of Satan and his demons are based more on imagination than scripture. Looking at just some of the examples of demonic oppression in the Bible we see a variety of manifestations, including muteness (Matthew 9:32), blindness (Matthew 12:22), and madness / violence (Mark 5:1-20). Scripture even notes in the latter passage demons recognizing Christ as the Son of God and attempting to negotiate with Him.
Scripture shows Satan and his demons to be far more subtle than the red-horned creatures we see portrayed on the screen.
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
4. Seek Out Counsel from Church Leadership: True demonic oppression is serious and should be discussed with church leadership. Good counsel will help to discern the spiritual from what may be solely mental, emotional, or physical. As seen in one account in scripture, it’s very possible to overestimate one’s ability to deal with demonic oppression.
“Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.’ Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?’ And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” (Acts 19: 13-16 ESV)
5. Check Your Own Heart: Do you find yourself drawn to studying Satan and demons? Check your heart to make sure you haven’t developed an unhealthy fascination with the darkness. As with any area of sin, you may find that your imagination begins to work or that your pulse races when reading about demons and spiritual warfare. If that is the case, it may be best to postpone further study in this area, pray for discernment, and to talk about it with other believers.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV)
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8 ESV)
Christ defeated Satan and His demons at the cross, but they remain dangerous adversaries. We must avoid both ditches when it comes to spiritual warfare – neither denying its existence nor making assumptions
about it where the Bible is silent.
John is the CEO of Knowing Jesus Ministries, a non-profit organization which exists to proclaim timeless truth for everyday life. He is married to Kati and has three children: Ashley, Jack, and Tyler.
- Learning: Moving From The Shallow End To The Deep Waters Of Theology