How demons operate and how to resist them

Book 9 - Introduction

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I briefly introduced the subject of the Devil and demons within Book Seven in this series entitled “The world, the flesh and the Devil”. Now, in this ninth book, I want to expand substantially on what they do and why, and also on exposing what their tactics are. It is vital that we have a clear grasp of their methods or we will not even be able to recognise what they are doing, let alone resist them. I will then go on to provide some practical advice on how to resist demons, so as to avoid being undermined and defeated by them.

Most writers and preachers avoid this subject entirely. They may address dozens of themes, but demons won’t be one of them. That may be because they don’t understand demons or don’t even believe in them. Or, perhaps, it is because they fear being criticised for being ‘simplistic’ or ‘old-fashioned’ if they take demons seriously and accept literally what the Bible says about them. On the other hand, some people become obsessed with demons and over-emphasise them, over-state the extent of their power and say inaccurate things about how to resist them. They also put forward wild ideas and theories about ‘spiritual warfare’ which don’t come from the Bible but from their own experiences, or what they have heard other men say or just from their own imaginations.

Both groups are probably unconsciously compensating for the silence/neglect or the errors/excesses of the other camp. I hope to make neither of these mistakes. Instead, my aim is to approach this study of demons in a calm, balanced, orderly and biblical way, without either exaggeration or complacency and without under-stating, over-stating or mis-stating anything. That is a tall order and you must be the judge of whether it has been achieved.

In particular, I intend to take seriously and literally everything that the Bible says about the nature, objectives and activities of demons. I shall not rely on my own experiences and opinions or on those of any other men. Nevertheless, I will refer to some of my own experiences, and those of people I know, but only to illustrate or explain what the Bible teaches, not in order to prove any point. It is very important that we never present such experiences or opinions as a basis for any doctrine or belief. When it comes to doctrine, whether concerning demons or any other issue, we must rely solely on what the Bible says and on nothing else.

The Bible has a fair amount to say about demons, including what they do and why and also how they go about it. That said, it possibly has even more to say about the problems caused by our own flesh nature, which draws us to sin and also the influence of the world system, which seeks to squeeze us into its mould and to get us to conform to its standards. See Book Seven in this series where those two other crucial problems of the flesh and the world are discussed.

Although I will admit that demons possibly cause us fewer problems than we cause for ourselves through our own flesh, the fact remains that the Devil and his demons are a major menace and are widely under-estimated. They deceive, distract, demoralize, divide, discourage, intimidate and obstruct us in far more ways than most of us realise. Even those of us who are willing to accept that demons are active in our lives are usually unaware of how significant and extensive their influence really is.

More importantly, whether you believe that their influence is small or large, the operative point is that we are commanded to resist them. The Bible says so and there is no getting away from that. As with any other command, it creates a clear duty, which we have to obey. But we can’t obey it by merely ignoring demons. Ignoring is not the same as resisting. We are obligated to do all we can to learn how to resist demons. To do that we need to study what the Bible says about them. Any failure to carry out such a study is a major omission on our part, for which we will pay a high price in terms of yet more victories for the demons and defeats for ourselves.

However, instead of facing this issue squarely, the majority of Western Christians think, say and do little or nothing about demons. Many even go so far as to say explicitly that they don’t believe that demons exist at all. Others would not go that far but, for all practical purposes, they may as well not believe in demons, because ignoring them produces the same end result. That is, if all we do is to ignore the demons, we give them uncontested access to our lives and let them do their wicked work, unrecognized and unresisted.

Many Christians who come from a Reformed, Protestant background have been taught that the Devil and the demons are currently ‘chained’, as described in Revelation chapter 20. They make that error because they see the Bible as a generally allegorical book, at least when it comes to anything prophetic. Therefore they interpret Revelation 20, and indeed, all the other events described in that book, as having already taken place in the first century AD, rather than being future events.

If they were right, then it would follow that the Devil and the demons are currently in prison and quite unable to affect or influence us. But it is plainly wrong, firstly because the whole allegorical approach is misconceived. However, it would also be absurd for the Bible to tell us to resist the Devil and the demons if they are all presently in a prison, unable to go anywhere or do anything to us. It would be like the police warning the public to be on their guard against criminals who are in prison rather than the ones who are at large, on the streets.

That mistaken belief about the demons being chained up explains why such Christians can see no place for the Devil or demons in their day to day lives. To them, anything the demons have ever done is firmly in the past, and they have no relevance to the present. That would be nice if it was true, but it isn’t. So, those who think that the demons are currently chained up in prison are misunderstanding what the Bible is saying here because their allegorical approach to interpreting Scripture is mistaken.

It leads to a wrong understanding, not only of eschatology, the study of things to come, but also of demonology, the study of demons. Please refer to Book Three in this series for a full discussion of the errors of the allegorical approach and of why the Bible should generally be interpreted literally, unless the context clearly indicates that we should do otherwise, for example where a figure of speech is used.

Some Christians may say that they believe that demons exist, and even that they are still at large, but if you probe more deeply, you often find that they assume that demons are not active now, or where they live and are not playing any part in their lives. In practice, it is assumed that demons only affect other people, who lived long ago, or who live far away. They might not go so far as to say any of that in express words but, deep down, it is what many people actually think. At any rate, it is how many of us actually operate.

Some might ask why God allows the demons to be at large and to cause all this trouble and be such a continual hindrance to us. Why doesn’t He just send them to the Lake of Fire now, or even chain them up, as He will do in the future, during the Millennium? (That, by the way, is what Revelation 20 is actually talking about, not the present day.) The Bible doesn’t give us a full answer to that question. But, what we can say is that God does intentionally allow them to be active, just as He allowed Satan to cause havoc in the life of Job. He was an exceptionally righteous man, with whom God was pleased. Yet, God still gave Satan express permission to attack Job, albeit that He laid down some strict boundaries which Satan was not allowed to cross or exceed.

I would put it to you that at least one of God’s purposes in giving the demons such ongoing freedom, while they wait be sent to the Lake of Fire, is that He actually wants them to oppose us, (though not to defeat us.) But, we might ask, why would God want that? Why would He tell us to resist them and, at the same time, allow them to attack us? The answer has to do with the wider purposes that God has for our time on this Earth as disciples. He wants to use it to enable us to grow in character and, in particular, to learn how to be what the Bible calls ‘overcomers’. That is someone who ‘overcomes’.

This is a major theme in the Scriptures. For example, you will note that in Jesus’ seven letters to the churches in the book of Revelation, overcoming is very important to Him. It plays a major part in determining the rewards and crowns etc that Christians will receive at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Please refer to Book Four for a full discussion of this. The point is, however, that we cannot be overcomers unless there is something for us to overcome. So, that is where the demons come in.

Evidently, God does not consider the ordinary difficulties of this life, by themselves, to be an adequate testing ground for us. Therefore, at least one reason why He permits the demons to oppose us, in addition to all our normal problems, is to provide us with some heavy-duty opposition. They create opportunities for us to learn through the struggles we face. Those battles also show God what we are made of. The demons’ ongoing attacks and schemes create a lifelong series of tests of our character, in particular of our courage, faithfulness, effort, endurance, perseverance and determination.

It may assist to think of it in terms of this analogy. Consider a boys’ school football team. My son played in a number of them when he was younger. I fully supported his team, and him in particular, and I always wanted him to do well and to win. However, my support for him did not prevent me from allowing the other team to go on to the pitch to oppose him and his team. They would tackle my son, take the ball from him, mount attacks of their own and even score goals against his team. Sometimes he might even be fouled. But I did nothing to stop it and never intervened.

One could then equally ask me the same question that we have asked of God. That is why did I allow that opposing team to get anywhere near my son and his team? Why did I not repeatedly run onto the pitch myself to stop those other players from tackling my son? Why not bar them entry to the school altogether? Indeed, why were they ever invited to play in the first place?

The answer, of course, is that if I had not allowed those players from the other school to go on to the pitch and oppose my boy, he would never have developed the skills of a footballer. So, in opposing my son, they were actually helping him, in the long term, though neither he nor they would have seen it that way. More to the point, they were also serving my purposes and plans for my son’s life.

If they had not been there, it would have been like it used to be at home, in the evenings, when my son and I would play football on our own, just the two of us. I would usually be in goal and he would run around tackling imaginary players and then take shots at me. Sometimes he would get past four or five of these non-existent players before shooting. But it wasn’t the same as when there were real opponents, in a genuine contest.

But you might say that where that analogy falls down is that football is just a game, whereas the demons can cause us real harm, because they fire live ammunition and are not merely playing. That is true. In His wisdom, God has allowed us to be exposed to more than just a game. It is a real war in which people get hurt. Nevertheless, the purpose is the same. It develops our characters and turns us into overcomers, provided we actually engage in the war as combatants, rather than stay out of it or sleep through it.

My argument, in conclusion, is that we all need to take demons seriously and resist them, as we are commanded to do. They really do exist and, as we have just seen, they even have a useful purpose from God’s perspective. They are also real persons, with at least as much intelligence as we have. They continually whisper lies into our minds, intending us to think that they are our own thoughts and they generally try to undermine us every day. If we don’t take them seriously we have no chance of resisting them. But, at the same time, we must always remember to avoid the errors of fearing them, which we never need to do, and/or of becoming obsessed with them.

What we need, as always, is balance. We must be concerned but not afraid, confident but not complacent and vigilant but not obsessed. Plus we must believe everything that the Bible says, but not necessarily what people say. Finally, we must give this subject of demons the same weight and emphasis that the Bible gives it - no more and no less. That is easy enough to say, but not so easy to do. Nevertheless, it needs to be our aim.

Sean Kehoe
8 May 2014

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