Christianity 201

April 23, 2016

Why Stop at Just Casting Out Demons?

NIrV: Matthew 8:30 Not very far away, a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

32 Jesus said to them, “Go!” So the demons came out of the men and went into the pigs.


NIrV Matthew 8:43 “What happens when an evil spirit comes out of a person? It goes through dry areas looking for a place to rest. But it doesn’t find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives there, it finds the house empty. The house has been swept clean and put in order. 45 Then the evil spirit goes and takes with it seven other spirits more evil than itself. They go in and live there. That person is worse off than before. That is how it will be with the evil people of today.”

If you can cast them out, why not totally annihilate them? Today we return to the writing of pastor, author and Bible translator Christopher R. Smith at the blog Good Question. Due to changes in his life, he is no longer updating this blog, but the resources remain available, presented in a Q&A format. Click the title below to link to this one directly:

Why didn’t Jesus destroy demons when he cast them out?

Q. In any of the situations where Jesus cast out demons, why didn’t he kill them so they would not enter another person?

Matthew’s gospel relates how, when Jesus was casting out demons in the region of the Gadarenes, they cried out, “Son of God, what do you want with us? Have you come here to punish us before the time for us to be judged?” The encounters between Jesus and demons described in the gospels are typically brief and cryptic, but we can at least tell from this one that God has set a time for demons to be judged and punished. But as these demons knew, that time had not yet come during the ministry of Jesus, and they successfully appealed to be sent into a herd of pigs instead.

destroying demonsThe reasons why Jesus allowed such demons to continue to roam the earth, at least for a while, have to do, I believe, with the need for there to be freedom in order for people to make the choice to love God and others. God could have removed all sources of suffering and discord in the world, but this would have been at the cost of making true freedom impossible and depriving the world of the fruits of freedom, including love, courage, creativity, and so forth.

One of Jesus’ parables shows how God wanted people to respond instead to the fact that demons remained at large even after they had been cast out of their victims.  Jesus said, “What happens when an evil spirit comes out of a person? It goes through dry areas looking for a place to rest. But it doesn’t find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives there, it finds the house empty. The house has been swept clean and put in order. Then the evil spirit goes and takes with it seven other spirits more evil than itself. They go in and live there. That person is worse off than before.”

Jesus actually told this parable about his own generation as a whole, to illustrate how, by rejecting his true message of the kingdom of God, they were leaving themselves open to the influence of false messiahs who would lead them astray into destruction.  (This happened during the two Jewish-Roman wars in the decades that followed.) But for the parable to make this point by application, its story needs to make a valid point of its own, and that is that people who have been freed from a demon are responsible themselves to fill their lives with godly and wholesome influences that will discourage any demons from ever returning.

In other words, while Jesus didn’t destroy the demons he cast out, he brought the truth of the kingdom of God, and ultimately he sent the Holy Spirit, to occupy the place the demons had left so that they would never try to fill it again.  And I think this is how we need to think about all of the evil and destructive influences around us as we live in these “in-between times,” when the kingdom of God has already been inaugurated but not yet completely established.  God has not yet removed all these influences from the earth.  But he has sent other influences that can effectively displace them in our own lives, and increasingly in our world, if we recognize and accept our responsibility to welcome and cultivate these life-giving endowments.

 

October 16, 2015

Can a Christian Be Possessed by a Demon?

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons. You have received free of charge; give free of charge.
-Matthew 10:8 HCSB

14 And He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach, 15 and to have authority to cast out the demons.
-Matthew 3:14-15 NASB

If you’re going to read a blog called Christianity 201, you have to expect there are going to be days when we look at issues! This time we’re paying a return visit to Micael Grenholm at the blog Holy Spirit Activism, who responds to today’s somewhat Pentecostal question as only a “charismactivist” (his word) can. Click the title below to read at source.

Can Christians be possessed by demons?

The Assemblies of God (AoG), the biggest Pentecostal denomination in the US, has famously argued that it is impossible for Christians to be possessed; no one who has received the Holy Spirit, they say, can be overtaken by demonic forces. This differs from the view shared by many neo-Pentecostals, charismatics, Catholics as well as many Pentecostals in the majority world (Asia, Africa and Latin America), who all say that Christians might actually become demonized.

When John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement, was asked if he believed that Christians could have demons, he provokingly replied “Well yeah, I’ve cast them out of pastors!” His wife Carol wrote in her biography about her husband something like: “When we encountered a demon, we simply cast it out – without checking baptismal records. What else could we do? Wait until they become Hindus and then cast them out?”

Now, AoG-folks and like-minded may object that such allegorical evidence does not mean much compared to arguments from Scripture. Which is generally true, although in this particular case the usual claim concerning extra-Biblical supernatural phenomena – it’s a demonic deception! – is quite counterproductive. But the Bible is always important in theological matters, so let’s have a look. 

In AoG’s position paper on the topic, their arguments can be boiled down to two categories: 1) The Bible never specifically says that Christians are or can be possessed, and 2) The Bible does state that God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13) and that “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4), meaning that because of the Holy Spirit’s presence in born-again believers, demonic possession is impossible.

To 1) I would respond that there are examples of faithful believers in God and Jesus who have some pretty serious problems with demons; the woman who had been disabled by a spirit in 18 years was described by Jesus as “a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years”. Being a child of Abraham is not so much about ethnicity, as it is about faith (Gal 3:7). Jesus clearly stated that his closest disciple Peter was briefly overtaken by Satan (Mt 16:23), and even though Judas clearly wasn’t a very good disciple, I think it’s very reasonable to say that he did join Jesus’ team because he actually wanted to follow Jesus radically, since Satan came and possessed him the same day he betrayed his Lord (Lk 22:3-4).

The 2) argument is even weaker: the same reasoning could be applied to sin with quite absurd consequences. God has rescued us from darkness and His Spirit within us is more powerful than the devil – therefore no Christian can sin. Most Christians would agree that it is true that God has rescued us from darkness and that no evil is within the Holy Spirit while it is equally true that we continuously fail to live up to God’s standards and fall in sin.

There is neither sin nor devils in the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit has not 100% control of us yet – that’s why we sin and that’s why some pastors can be demonized. While Christians won’t have the same amount of total possessions as some witch doctors can have – something that the Wimbers observed – we aren’t totally immune to demons unless we make sure that we are constantly sanctified through prayer and fasting.


Go Deeper: Click the title above to see the comments on this one, including a longer one that Micael really liked that offers some historical background.

February 26, 2015

The Judas Effect

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 He [Judas] did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
 (John 12:6)

As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”
 (John 13:27)

Judas is an interesting character, to say the very least. Like the thief on the cross, he is one of a number of exceptions to the rule, and many speculate as to what might have been if his betrayal had worked out like Peter’s denial and he had been restored. One writer suggests:

I do think that Judas was one of the very few in the Bible who did not have a free will, and was destined to betray Jesus actually from before the foundation of the world.

Another writes,

To summarize, be careful where you place Judas. He did the will of the Father and fulfilled the Scriptures. Peter, who we all love, tried to prevent Jesus’ crucifixion and was called “Satan” by our Lord. Peter, who was not mindful of the will of God, was restored. Was it not Jesus who said, “”For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50) Be careful about placing Jesus’s brother, Judas, in Christendom’s “hell.” One day you may have to look up to Judas, instead of looking down on him. Peter denied him three times in one night while Judas declared Jesus innocent in front of the High Priesthood. Judas had a very important job in the Kingdom of God. For three and one half years, as a Priest he inspected the Lamb of God as an unbiased man. He was not “one of them” a Galilean. He was the outsider. He did his job perfectly. If Judas really wanted to mess things up, he could have agreed with the High Priesthood and called Him a “blasphemer” who claimed to be the Son of God when He really wasn’t. But Judas declared the Lamb spotless and unblemished*, the Perfect Passover.

*“I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” (Matthew 27:4a)

Where I wanted us to look today however is when did Judas go bad? The second of our opening verses suggests a particular time when “Satan entered into him.” It’s interesting that there is absolutely no variance on this phrase in any English Bible translations, though the AMP adds, “and took possession.”

The first verse however shows him to be embezzling money from the funds used to support Jesus and The Twelve in their ministry. (We know that many of the contributors and supporters were women, along with men.)

So if we look at a continuum of Jesus ministry, with one end beginning with the calling of the disciples, the scripture reading in the temple, and the turning of water into wine; and the other end consisting of the Passover meal, the arrest and betrayal; we see some rather bad behavior on Judas’ part long before Satan ‘entered’ him. There is evidence of something wrong before we would place an “X” on that continuum to mark what happened in the upper room.

Question: If it was found that the treasurer of your church was helping himself to money from the offerings or church bank account, would you necessarily say that Satan had entered into him?

Judas’ petty thievery is used to show that he was bad from the beginning, and is used to justify the position that he was never fully committed to Christ, but the scripture indicates that something especially significant happened as he exited that Passover meal to carry out his plan.

Again, it’s pointed out that:

[Acts 1] affirms that Judas was one of theirs in number and fellowship with ministration.* In other words, Judas worked cooperatively and in concert with the other disciples. There is no mention of his not being a good and faithful member of the group.

*v. 17 “…he was one of our number and shared in this ministry.”

I John 2:19 paints a broader picture of people who ‘share in the ministry’ but then do not continue in the faith:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

The Reformation Study Bible says of this:

Paul too warns against false teachers who will arise from among the believers (Acts 20:29–31). As in the case of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9–24), visible membership in the church does not guarantee salvation. Inward apathy or hostility to the gospel may be masked by outward conformity. The false teachers revealed their hostility not just by leaving, but by the way they left. Because they went out to oppose the word of the gospel, their departure was as much a renunciation of the church and its message as was Judas’s departure from the Last Supper (John 13:30).

Some say this is also a picture of the Antichrist.

What is the point of studying Judas in such detail and what can we learn? This is just my opinion, but I believe that even though the Biblical picture is of a more dramatic turn taking place during that Last Supper meal, the events in Judas’ life compounded, one on top of the other.

Another commentator puts it this way:

Somewhere in Judas’ life, he took an evil turn that eventually resulted in rejection of Jesus Christ as His Lord and Savior and eventual suicide. One bad attitude toward Jesus led to another, and a pattern of rejection and bitterness must have led to the ultimate rejection of Jesus.

and later writes,

Judas confessed his sin without repentance. There was no radical change in his mind that resulted in a change from spiritual death to spiritual life through faith in Jesus Christ. True repentance would have turned him to Jesus for forgiveness.

Does any of this resonate with you because of a person or situation you know? Let’s end with some encouragement from Galatians 6: 1

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.


I want to acknowledge Michael Card’s book, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, for getting me thinking about this topic.


Go Deeper: Here’s The Message translation of I John 5:16-17 to get you thinking further along this topic. Use online Bible resources to help unpack this passage:

16-17 For instance, if we see a Christian believer sinning (clearly I’m not talking about those who make a practice of sin in a way that is “fatal,” leading to eternal death), we ask for God’s help and he gladly gives it, gives life to the sinner whose sin is not fatal. There is such a thing as a fatal sin, and I’m not urging you to pray about that. Everything we do wrong is sin, but not all sin is fatal.

Go Deeper Still: Some of today’s passages bear on issues dealing with free will and predestination, as well as the eternal security of the believer (perseverance of the saints). The verse in I John often is used to support the semantic idea that such people were “never saved in the first place.”  How do you see that verse fitting in?

 

March 25, 2012

Where Did All The Demons Go?

After some additional discussion both on and off the blog after the post about curses a few weeks ago, here’s a piece from the blog Arminian Today which appeared under the title So Little Said About Demons These Days.

Even a simply survey reading of the Gospels reveals that Jesus Christ interacted with demonic forces during His earthly ministry.

In Matthew 4:23-25 we read that Jesus’ ministry was marked first by His healings which included “those oppressed by demons” (v. 24 ESV).

In Matthew 8:16 we read that Jesus again headed those oppressed by demons and thus His healings demonstrated that He was the Messiah according to Isaiah 53:4 and Matthew 8:17.

In Matthew 8:28-34 we have Jesus’ first encounter with two demon possessed men.  Here Jesus casts out the demons by allowing them to speak that they wish to be cast into a herd of pigs which He allows and the pigs run off a cliff to their deaths.

In Matthew 9:32-34 Jesus heals a demon possessed man who is unable to speak.

In Matthew 10:8 Jesus tells His disciples to cast out demons.

In Matthew 12:22 Jesus heals a demon possessed man who is blind and mute.

The only insight Jesus gives us to demons is found in Matthew 12:43-45 where He speaks about what a demon spirit does when it is cast out of a person.

In Matthew 15:21-28 Jesus heals a Gentile woman’s demon possessed little girl whose mother comes to Jesus and implores Him to come and heal her.  Jesus heals the little girl without being present physically (v. 28).

In Matthew 17:14-21 Jesus heals a demon possessed boy whom the disciples of Jesus could not heal.  Jesus tells His disciples they could not heal the boy because of their lack of faith (v. 20).

This ends the ministry of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew concerning demons but much more could be read from the other three Gospels about our Lord.  Clearly He had a ministry that included dealing with demons and demon possession.

What is amazing is that we don’t see that much on demons these days.  Some have sought answers to this by saying 1) the stories in the Gospels are not true.  2) Demons were in abundance in the life and times of Christ but not so today.  Demons helped God prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah of Israel and thus are not needed today to demonstrate His truth since we have the Bible.  3)  Demons do exist but we just don’t talk about them much because we lack faith to deal with them.

My contention is number 3.

I believe in demons.  I have seen only a few times where I thought I was seeing a demon working in a person.  We have all heard the stories such as The Exorcist where the demon causes the person to talk in a different voice and even in foreign languages.  I too have heard those stories though never witnessed them.  I once sat in on a bizarre episode where a girl we knew was struggling with migraine headaches.  Some guy claimed that the headaches were demonic and that a demon was behind the sickness.  He began to have the girl look into his eyes and he said, “I want to speak to the demon in the name of Jesus.”  Supposedly a few demons spoke but I think the girl was making it up.  She continue to struggle with migraines to this day and that has been nearly 20 years.

You see the dilemma that I face is this: I believe in demons but I have seen some strange teachings on demons.  I worked with a lady who claimed that demons were stealing from her cash register.  She honestly believed that if she came up short on her money at our job then a demon had come in, took the money, and was seeking to bring her down.  I watched once as she sought to cast a demon out of her cash register.

Yet I still believe in demons.  Why?  Because of the Bible.  I see in the Gospels and later in the book of Acts the dealings by both the Lord Jesus and the Apostles with demons.  Some believe that with the death of the last Apostle and the cessation of revelatory spiritual gifts, demonic activity likewise has diminished and today we defeat demons not by signs and wonders and healings but with the power of the gospel.  I believe this is a weak argument based on silence and not Scripture.  It is seeking to a build a case from silence of why we in the modern Church do not see demons like they did in Acts.

I am well aware of the stories from Africa and other nations were demons are being interacted with.  I have talked with missionaries to Africa who say that they have seen demonic activity all across Africa but that the Church is confronting those demons with the power of Christ.  I have spoken with brothers from India who tell of temples of Hinduism that are full of demons.  One Indian brother told me that Westerners often get very sick around those temples even if not a Christian because of the level of demonic activity that goes on the inside of those Hindu temples.  I have had Indian brothers tell me about the power of Jesus healing demon possessed people.

So why the lack of demon possession in the United States and the West?  One African brother told me that he believed that demons not show themselves here in the US because of our trust in materialism.  He told me, “Brother, demons are active in the United States but they need not manifest themselves since you trust in riches.  Demons are behind your materialism and they have you trapped.  Why bother exposing themselves when their job is complete.”  This African brother told me that he has demons speak to him in Africa but never in the United States.  He did tell me that he once encountered a demon at a large mall.  He said that the demon possessed man merely walked over to him and growled like a dog at him.

Perhaps this brother is correct.  We trust in our technology here in the West.  You get sick.  You go to the doctor.  We have little trust in the supernatural or in trying to explain events using demons or the spirit world.  Our trust in modern science is such that we seek to explain everything and everything has an explanation.  Demonic activity is not one that you ever hear about.  I have had only one psychiatrist tell me that she often prays for wisdom to discern the demonic (1 Corinthians 12:10).  She said that it is difficult to discern if a demon is behind a person’s behavior or if the person is truly sick.  Either way, she said, she prays for healing and asks Jesus to intervene for His glory.  Wise woman.

To make matters even more difficult, the Epistles speak little to none of demons.  Paul mentions demons in 1 Corinthians 10:21.  Paul mentions Satan in 2 Corinthians 2:11.  He mentions Satan as the god of this world in 2 Corinthians 4:4.  Paul mentions the false god Belial in 2 Corinthians 6:15.  Paul mentions the deception of Satan in 2 Corinthians 11:14.  Paul mentions spiritual forces of evil in Ephesians 6:12.  Paul speaks of the activity of Satan in 2 Thessalonians 2:9.  He mentions deceitful spirits and teaching of demons in 1 Timothy 4:1.  James mentions demons in James 2:19.  Peter mentions spirits in prison in 1 Peter 3:19.  John mentions spirits in 1 John 4:1-3.  Revelation is full of demons and spirits and creatures such as we see in Revelation 9.

Yet that is pretty much it.  Demons rarely appear outside of the Gospels and Acts.  Paul never tells the churches he writes to cast out demons.  Some say that this would have been a given because of the words of Jesus in Mark 16:17.  I believe this another argument from silence.  Yet the same could be said of healing.  Paul never mentions for the church to be praying for healings to take place to draw people to Christ and apart from 1 Corinthians 12, he never speaks of healings.  James mentions healing in James 5:13-16.  So if we believe that the revelatory gifts such as tongues, interpretation of tongues, healings, and exorcisms were for the Apostles, then that is your argument for the lack of demonic activity in the modern Church and in the Epistles.

Either way, we know this: Jesus is victorious over demons.  His victory is seen in the cross and in His resurrection.  His victory is seen in the transformation of lives through the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:17).  His victory is seen in the defeat of Satan (Hebrews 2:14-15).  This victory is now experienced through the gospel.  Jesus is able to deliver us from sin and it’s power (Romans 6:1-23).  The Spirit of God delivers us completely from darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son (Colossians 1:13-14).  God has triumphed over all demons through the cross (Colossians 2:15).  Victory is ours in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37-39).