FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE CHURCH: THE ALREADY – NOT YET FACTOR

In this section we look at what the Bible says about Satan and demons and their relationship to Christians. What do Christians need to know and to cope with between their conversion and either their physical death or the return of Christ at the end of the age?

Matt 6:13 

 

‘And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’

 

There is debate about whether this should read ‘from evil’ or ‘from the evil one’. Irrespective, this prayer alerts us to the ever present threat of temptation, from which we need to pray to be delivered. The concept of temptation/testing [same word] is referred to about 70 times in the scripture; in only 3 or 4 of these is it clearly in respect to moral sin. The key idea is that of someone being put under intense pressure with the purpose of making him/her give up or give in. When Satan tempts us he is pressing us to give up on God and our faith.

 

Matt 7:22 

 

‘… did we not … in your name drive out demons …?’

 

Jesus states that the activity of driving out demons in his name does not validate a person. In fact, Jesus says that to many who make this claim, he will say ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil-doers!’

Matt 10:24-25

 

‘… If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household?’

Jesus’ followers can expect to be accused of being Satan, using Satan’s power or serving Satan. 

Matt 16:13-23

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Get behind me Satan!’        

Peter has just made his insightful confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus has affirmed that this insight came from his Father. But when Jesus spoke of his death Peter tried to turn him away from it. Jesus recognized Peter’s words as being generated by Satan, and expressing the human rather than the divine perspective.

This incident reveals that a person of genuine faith can inadvertently be used as a tool by Satan, when he/she thinks from a man-centred rather than a God-centred perspective. Man-centred values are on Satan’s agenda, not God’s. God’s agenda is always God-centred.

This is not at all a case of demon possession.

Matt 28:18-20

Mark 16:15-18

Luke 24:45-49

John 20:21-23

Acts 1:7-8

 

[Each of these record Jesus final instructions to his disciples.]

 

Only Mark’s record contains reference to driving out demons, and this is in the 16:9-20 which is not found in the earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses. [Mark also refers to picking up snakes and drinking poison in the middle of his list of what disciples will do, but we don’t expect today’s Christians to do these things!]

 

Luke 22:31

 

‘Satan has desired to have you to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’’

 

Simon Peter, the believer, is the target of Satan’s attack. Jesus however looks beyond the attack and anticipated failure to the role Peter will have in the church.

This temporary giving in to Satan on the part of a person of genuine faith was neither final nor fatal. Nor did it provoke or initiate demon possession.

 

John 17:15

 

‘My prayer is that you will protect them from the evil one.’

 

Identifying those who believe in him as ‘not of this world’ although still living in the world, Jesus asks the Father to protect us from Satan.

Acts 19:17-20

 

‘… Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. …’

Converted sorcerers, in awe of the greater power of Jesus, burned the tools of trade by which they had sourced the power of the spirits.

 

Acts 

5:16:

             

 

8:7

 

 

 

16:16-18

 

 

 

19:11-12

 

 

19:19ff

 

Acts’ records that:

The apostles generally healed the sick and demon possessed while in Jerusalem ,

 

 

Philip healed people of evil spirits in a Samaritan city.

 

 

 

 

In Philippi Paul commanded a spirit of divination to leave a fortune teller

 

 

In Ephesus , evil spirits left people when their clothing or handkerchiefs touched  Paul

 

 

 

 

 Some Jews tried to cast out demons but it didn’t work.

Only in these four towns is there any report of the apostles casting out demons during their post-Pentecost ministry.

 

 

 

 Along with healings, Luke calls these ‘miraculous signs’, which resulted in people paying close attention to Philip’s message.

 

 

 It seems that Paul healed this girl rather reluctantly; she had been following them and shouting out the identity of their God for ‘many days’ till he could stand it no longer and dealt with the demon.

  

Luke comments that this was ‘extraordinary’ or ‘special’ – it was not the norm.

 

1 Cor 2:12 

 

‘We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God that we may understand what God has freely given us’

 

This states a clear contrast between the Holy Spirit who now indwells the believer and the ‘spirit of the world’ which previously held us in ignorance of God.

 

1 Cor 7:5

 

‘… so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control’

 

Note that the primary source of weakness is not Satan but personal lack of self-control; Satan’s temptation takes advantage of an already existing weakness.

 

2 Cor 2:5-11

 

[See note on 1 Cor 5:5 in B.2 above]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘… in order that Satan might not outwit us’

Paul instructed the church in Corinth to ‘hand over to Satan’ a man unrepentantly living in a grossly immoral relationship [1 Cor 5:5]. The church is now instructed to restore the man to fellowship, and to forgive him so that Satan might not outwit us. The purpose for the disciplinary action was to avoid giving Satan a chance to gloat, so the discipline must not be extended so long that the man goes into hopeless despair. It must be just long enough to drive him to repentance and forgiveness.

2 Cor 11:3

 

‘I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

 

Possibility of being deceived and led astray from pure commitment to Christ. [Context: being deceived by false teaching.]

 

2 Cor 11:13-15

 

‘For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. …’

 

Satan goes around making out that he is good.

So do false teachers.

This ought not surprise us.

 

2 Cor 12:7

 

‘there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me’

 

Paul sees his particular physical affliction as ‘a messenger of Satan’. From Satan’s perspective this was sent to torment him. From God’s perspective, this was ‘given’ to prevent him from becoming conceited because of great revelations he had been given.

Note that he prayed for the affliction to be taken away, but God told him ‘my grace is sufficient …’.

This indicates that Satan does have power to inflict physical suffering. At the same time, it is God who is in control, either allowing or removing the affliction. On the other hand, Paul mentions the physical illness of others without any inference that they are from Satan. There is no automatic connection.

 

Eph 1:19ff

 

‘his incomparably great power for us who believe ‘

 

The same power of God that raised Christ from death and far above all other powers is active for the good of the believer. This fact renders it almost inconceivable that Satan and demons can afflict believers in the way that some people believe they can. Paul says that by this power we too have been raised to sit with Christ in the heavenly realms with Christ at the right hand of God.

 

Eph 4:27

 

‘and do not give the devil a foothold’

Greek: = ‘neither give a place to the devil’, [The word is simply the word for ‘place’ .]

 

This is in a lengthy passage in which Paul encourages us to live worthy of our calling [4:1], to not have the useless mindset of pagans [4:17-19], to put on the new self created to be like God [4:24], to speak in such a way that we build people up and don’t grieve the Holy Spirit [5:25-31], to imitate our heavenly Father [4:32-5:2], and to live as children of light [5:3-14]. In the midst of all of this he tells us not to give the devil any place in our lives and in our choices.  There is nothing in this context to indicate that ‘giving the devil a foothold’ means giving grounds for evil spirits to come in and take possession of us.  Obviously the devil wants a place in our lives – he wants us to sin, to say hurtful words, to get angry and hurt people, to steal, to harbour and express impure thoughts, to express his nature not that of our Father, to make choices that reflect his darkness, not God’s light, etc etc etc. But we are commanded here not to give him any place.

 

Eph 6:11-13, 16

 

‘so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, 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. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. …. Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one …’

 

The devil has ‘schemes’ – wiles, cunning devices, crafty methods.

The Christian’s enemies are Satan and his demons,  here called ‘the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world’ and ‘the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’

To stand against these the Christian needs to put on the ‘whole armour of God’. The word translated ‘stand your ground’ in the middle of verse 13 is the same word translated ‘resist’ in James 4:7. It means literally ‘stand against’. The concept of standing against presupposes an external enemy, not an internal one.

The various items of the armour supplied by God are

  • God’s truth, by which we know both God and our salvation, and so protected against the devil’s deceptions and lies

     

  • The righteousness of Christ by which we are justified (declared ‘not guilty’) and so protected against the devil’s accusations

     

  • The gospel of peace, by which we are assured that we are reconciled with God, and so protected against Satan’s efforts to sever our relationship with God

     

  • The shield of faith, by which we trust not in ourselves but in Christ alone, and so are protected against the devil’s suggested doubts and fears

     

  • The helmet of salvation, by which we are guaranteed our place in God’s family and already possess in Christ all the spiritual blessings that heaven has to offer us, and so are protected against and claim that the devil might try to exercise against us

     

  • The sword of the Spirit which is the word of God, which instructs us in God’s priorities and God’s principles, and by which we can counter and deflect any of Satan’s temptations and pressures to sin and disobedience.

     

1 Thess 2:18

 

‘For we wanted to come to you – certainly I, Paul, did, again and again – but Satan stopped us.’

 

Paul knows that Satan has the ability to interfere in human plans. It’s not a big deal, just a fact of life. It certainly does not indicate any fault in either the believer or the believer’s ministry plans.

 

1 Thess 3:5

 

‘I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless’

 

This indicates that believers are the objects of Satan’s temptations.

Note that Satan is called ‘the tempter’.

 

2Thess 2:9

 

 

 

                   

 

 

‘The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing.’

 

Satan has the ability to work miracles, signs, wonders, and every sort evil. The result of this is the deception of the unsaved.

Note: just because a miracle happens does not mean that God did it.

 

2 Thess 3:3

 

‘the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.’

 

Note God’s faithfulness as the basis of Paul’s confidence that the Lord protects against Satan.

Greek: ‘strengthen’ [sterizo = establish, make fast, make steadfast.] ‘protect’ [phulasso = guard, keep, preserve, save, keep watch, have in custody, defend, keep safe].

 

1 Tim 3:7

 

‘He must have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap’

This is an instruction regarding overseers, given to prevent the appointment of people to leadership who would end up trapped by the devil in difficult, destructive and embarrassing public censure.

1 Tim 4:1 

 

‘in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons’

 

False teaching is the fabrication of demons/deceiving spirits. Not surprising seeing they are doing the bidding of the father of lies. Note that what Paul is warning against is not demon possession but being deceived by demons into believing false doctrines.

1 Tim 5:14

 

‘and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander’

 

Christians are counselled to so live that Satan [the adversary] has no opportunity to slander [insult, rail against] Christ and his church.

1 Tim 5:15

 

‘Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan’

 

To embrace the kind of lifestyle Paul has described in verses 11-13 is to turn away from God and follow Satan.

2 Tim 2:25-26

 

‘Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.’

Some people within the church are trapped by the devil and so captive to him that they do his will. What will release them from this bondage is ‘knowledge of the truth’. [Compare John 8:32-47]. They are not demon-possessed; they don’t need deliverance. What is needed is instruction in the truth and repentance.

James 4:7

 

‘Submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.’

 

Both the ‘submit’ and the ‘resist’ are in the Aorist tense, indicating decisive, clear cut actions. There’s to be no discussion, no debate, no humming and hahing. We cannot negotiate with God and we must not negotiate with the devil. There is to be no attempt to rationalize or minimize sin. Satan will run away from this decisive submission to God and the accompanying decisive resistance to Satan’s suggestions to sin. Note that the one implies the other: to submit to God is to resist Satan, to stand opposed to his temptations.

 

1 Peter 5:8,9

 

‘Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

Satan [the adversary/enemy] is constantly on the look out for people to ‘devour’ [= swallow up, drink down]. The context here in Peter is not that of sin that Satan pressures us to commit, as in James, but that of suffering by which he pressures us to give up. Again we are told to ‘resist him’, and we do this by standing firm in the faith, and knowing that Satan is exerting the same pressure of suffering on Christians right round the world.

1 Jn 2:13,14

 

 

‘you have overcome the evil one’

Describing Christians

1 John 3:12

 

Do not be like Cain who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother

Those who belong to Satan hate those who belong to Jesus.

 

1 John 4:1-6

 

‘do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world … Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

You dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in they world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.’

 

This passage is sometimes used to authenticate the practice of ‘testing’ the spirits supposedly indwelling believers. Such a use of the passage is highly irregular for several reasons, completely failing to take notice of the context:

[1] No other part of John’s writings contains any reference to demon possession.

[2] In Matthew, Mark, Luke and Acts, evil spirits dwelling in people actually recognized and spontaneously and verbally acknowledged that the human Jesus was the Holy One of God; while John here states that the ‘spirits’ to which he is referring here do not do that. No where did Jesus or the apostles challenge indwelling spirits to acknowledge the name of Jesus; on the contrary, Jesus and Paul told them to shut up about it. This modern method of ‘testing spirits’ has no precedent in the Scripture; we should not import it into this passage.

[3] In the Greek text, the pronouns [‘them’ and ‘they’] used in verses 4 and 5 are masculine, while ‘spirit’ is neuter and grammatically demands a neuter pronoun. Why then are the masculine pronouns used? Because it is not indwelling spirits that John is talking about, when he says ‘you have overcome them’ and ‘they are from the world’, but the false prophets/false messages [verse1] that reflect and express the spirit of the antichrist [v3], the viewpoint of the world [v5], and the spirit of falsehood [v6].  What John wants his readers to test is the ‘spirits’ behind the messages they hear, because the spirit of the antichrist is already doing his deceptive and Christ-denying work in the messages of the false prophets, of whom there are many.

[4] John says ‘you have overcome them’. The Greek is in the perfect tense – referring to a completed action in the past with presently effective impact. The word means ‘conquer, vanquish, subdue, come off superior’. John affirms that the believers have already overcome this spirit of falsehood because God, who is in them, is greater. This is no case of demon possession in which the believer is at the mercy of a demon. Rather John speaks with great confidence that it is God who is in them. The opposing spirit that has to be discerned and tested is not in them, but ‘in the world’ [v4].

[5] John’s concluding statement makes it clear what he is concerned about, and what he wants us to discern and distinguish between when we ‘test’ the spirits: that we recognise the difference between ‘the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood’ [v6].

[6] The way to know the difference is clear: ‘whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood’. In other words, it is the same criteria that Jesus applied to the Jews [John 8:19,42-47; 10:3-4, 16, 27]. Those who hear/acknowledge the true Gospel of Jesus Christ are from God; those who do not are not from God. That is the test. And it is as simple as that. If a preacher or teacher does not hold to the pure gospel then he has embraced the spirit of the antichrist and of error.

[It is interesting to note that people who base their understanding on experience generally will not listen to those who base their understanding on the written Word.]

 

Rev 2:10

 

‘I tell you the devil will put some of you into prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution …’

 

Further evidence of the devil’s pressuring Christians through persecution. Not the purpose: ‘to test you’ – to put your faith under pressure to see if you’ll give up.

 

Rev 2:12,13

 

‘I know where you live – where Satan has his throne … Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city – where Satan lives.’

 

Pergamum was the site of the first temple built for emperor worship; it was also a centre for the worship of a range of pagan gods, including a snake god. Whether ‘Satan’ in these verses is actually referring to Satan himself, or is used as a symbol for Rome and the Roman emperor is debatable. If it is meant to refer to Satan himself, then it indicates that the whole city was generally given over to him.

 

Rev 2:24

 

‘who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets …’

 

A Gnostic sect - the Ophites [Greek] or Naasenes [Hebrew], - were serpent worshippers. In this form of Gnosticism the serpent became the good God and the God who created was seen as evil. A complete reversal of values was promoted. This is possibly what is being referred to in the message to Thyatira. These ‘deep secrets’ originated in Satan, and had enticed and deceived some from the church.

 

Rev 12:12

 

‘woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short’

 

Again, when we understand this to happen depends on our eschatological viewpoint. What happens is that Satan, hurled down from heaven, now terrorizes the earth. However, his time to do this is short.

 

Rev 20:2,3,7,8

 

‘he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that time, he must be set free for a short time. … When the thousand years are over Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth … to gather them for battle’

 

Satan is identified with the serpent.

Satan deceives the nations.

Satan’s activities are under the ultimate control of God.

[From an Amillennial perspective this binding of Satan is current in the church age, having commenced with the cross, and evident as the proclamation of the gospel liberates people from Satan’s bondage.

From a Premillennial perspective, this thousand year binding of Satan commences in the future at the first of two projected future comings of Christ.]

The reality of the interim period between one’s conversion and the end of the age:

What Satan and demons can do to Christians:

  • Tempt [put pressure on Christians to either sin or give up their faith]
  • Impact Christians to speak or act contrary to our faith in Christ
  • Try to outwit Christians
  • Try to deceive Christians with false doctrines
  • Inflict physical ailments
  • Interfere in the plans and ministry of Christians
  • There is no biblical evidence that demons can ‘possess’ or indwell Christians

What Christians are to do in response to or to be protected from Satan’s attack:

  • Pray to our Father in heaven

  • Be aware of/alert to the deceptiveness of Satan 

  • Remember God’s incredibly great power active for us 

  • Refuse to give any place to the devil

  • Stand firm against [resist] the devil

  • Put on the armour God supplies [be protected by and confident in/of our salvation]

  • Use the Word of God to combat the devil’s deceptive suggestions and temptations

  • Trust the Lord’s faithfulness – that he will protect us from the evil one

  • Be obedient to God and God’s word when the devil tempts us

  • Be self-controlled, and alert to the devil’s tricks and deception

  • Be discerning as to the source/nature of the teaching we hear 

There are no biblical instructions about how to avoid or deal with demon possession in relation to Christians. It simply is not an issue addressed in instructions to believers.

When instructions are given in relation to sin in believers there is no indication that this sin is caused by indwelling spirits of specific sins. On the contrary, sin is attributed to the lusts of one’s own heart. The remedy is repentance and a deliberate putting off the sinful behaviour and a deliberate submitting to God and replacing of the sin with the appropriate godly behaviour.