Here’s where it gets a little freaky. But stick with me.
I once asked a pastor for his thoughts on how demons operate. His response was interesting: “I don’t think it’s worth my time to think about demons. They’re not important. I don’t think it’s healthy for Christians to be obsessed with demons. They should just keep their focus on Christ.”
Some of that was probably sincere, and even correct. I agree that “obsessing over demons” isn’t healthy, and if you’re giving them more thought than you’re giving Christ, you’re missing the whole point of the faith.
But wanting to understand the workings of the spirit realm doesn’t make you obsessed with demons or anything else. It’s something the Bible addresses many times. In fact, the Bible pointedly tells us that we battle “not against flesh and blood, but against the but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) Paul is warning us not to mistake each other for real enemies, when in fact the forces allied against us are those we can’t even see.
In 2003, my then-pastor (the late, wonderful Dick Robinson) asked me to teach a class on spiritual warfare. It really wasn’t a subject I knew a lot about, but he felt that if he equipped me with the right material, I could grasp the subject matter and teach it effectively. My weekly preparations for this class gave rise to a very strong interest in the workings of the spirit realm, and I’ve continued to pursue a deeper understanding of it in the 15 years since.
Everyone I’ve connected with has contributed something to my understanding, although I don’t think any of them had it entirely right (and I probably don’t either, since I’m always learning more about it).
But are some of the basics that I’ve come to believe, based both on Scripture and on my witnessing of how it plays out in real people’s lives:
There is no real distinction between demonic spirits and sin. (James 1) All sin is prompted by demonic forces, and all sin gives demonic forces a hold in your life. Becoming free of it, once it’s established, is impossible except by the authority of Jesus Christ.
2) There are different kinds of spirits. There are spirits of fear, rebellion, heaviness, infirmity, self-doubt, petulance, unworthiness, anger, envy and many others. When you struggle with an issue like these in your life, there is actually a spirit – a willful spiritual creature – actively working to sow destruction in your life. You can take authority over that spirit if you yourself become subject to the authority of Jesus Christ, which then allows you to operate in that same authority.
3) Simply giving a demon a command “in Jesus’s name” does not necessarily do anything, because the demon knows whether you yourself are in submission to that same authority. If you’re not, while the demon may shudder at the hearing of the name Jesus, he knows you’re not invoking it with any authority whatsoever (Acts 19:15).
4. There is a demonic hierarchy, with ranks both in the spirit realm and in the natural realm. There are demons with charge over cities, and nations, and cultural segments.
5. Demons are only able to operate through people to the extent people welcome the sinful impulses they satisfy. If you feel you have a right to be angry at your brother, you’ve giving a spirit of anger a legal right to engage with you. It will. If don’t want to respect your parents, and find the idea of rebellion appealing, a spirit of rebellion now has an invitation. It will accept. But once they’re in, it takes the power of Jesus Christ to root them out.
6. Once you’ve unwittingly given a demon the legal right to engage with you, most of the work it does will be in your subconscious. The demon doesn’t shout in your ear, “Cheat on your wife!” The demon sows notions in your subconscious that you act on without even realizing you’re doing it, often building on long-past, distant events to establish templates for your thinking. You operate in alignment with these templates without really being aware of it.
7. Mental illness is a real thing, but it almost always has a demonic foundation. Health professionals can “treat” it, but only the authority of Christ is powerful enough to end it.
There’s a lot more to be said about this subject, but the long and short of it is this: The spirit realm overlays the natural realm. Spiritual beings operate in our world, but given the nature of our world, they need to operate through natural creatures to accomplish goals here. They are able to speak to us only because we are willing to listen, and they are able to agitate people into doing their work because they’re very skilled at convincing people their agenda is actually ours.
They don’t speak into your ear. They speak into your spirit, because that’s the part of you that’s willing and able to receive their message and act in accordance with it.
So you think I’m obsessed, do you?
Think what you want. The entire story of mankind is the story of redemption from sin. I like to understand the problem as well as the solution. The solution is easy. It’s Jesus Christ. The problem is more complicated because it’s man’s desire for sin and his welcoming of the spiritual force that brings that sin to life. I want to know as much as I can about what – and who – we’re struggling against.
I am frankly disappointed in many of the pastors I’ve known because, while they are often solid preachers and knowledgeable about many subjects, most do not have much interest in preaching on this subject. I’m not sure if it’s because they think people will freak out (“my pews will be empty if I tell people they have demons in them”), or if it’s because they’re not really that confident they understand the subject or would know how to preach it effectively.
But I get exasperated when I hear pastors say things like, “All I know about demons is that I don’t want anything to do with them.”
Really? That’s all you know? That’s as seriously as you take biblical scholarship in your life? I don’t want anything to do with them either, but they want a lot to do with me, and if I’m going to thwart them, I’d better know as much as I can about their nature, and about their behavior, and about their objectives.
Which, by the way, are nothing more than to separate you from God and see your soul destroyed. Why? Because it would grieve God, whom they hate.
That you should have no trouble relating to, since doing obnoxious things just to upset people you don’t like is pretty mainstream behavior in today’s culture. Maybe we’d be better off if we cared to understand how it really got that way.