In my Christian life over the past 49 years, at least three times I’ve watched a wave of “deliverance ministry” sweep through a segment of the church. The first time was when I was just a relatively new Christian, in the late 1970s. A man named Don Basham, who was part of a group of five popular teachers based in Ft. Lauderdale who jointly published a magazine called “New Wine,” wrote a book titled Deliver Us from Evil. It became quite popular within the growing “Charismatic Renewal” that was sweeping through the denominational world.
I read that book and learned that I could actually cast demons out of myself. As an adolescent male, I also realized from reading that book that I had a demon of lust. So, I followed its instructions for self-deliverance.
The book explained that, as any demons came out of me, I might choke, gag or even vomit. Sure enough, when I commanded the demon of lust to come out of me, I gagged. Wow! I felt it! It was the real thing! I was delivered from the demon of lust!
But there was just one small problem. It wasn’t very long before I realized the demon wasn’t gone. I found myself still struggling with immodest women. Had the demon returned? How did it gain entrance back into me so quickly? Should I do another self-deliverance?
Eventually, I grew a little, spiritually, and I noticed that, although Jesus and the apostles cast out demons, there is no mention anywhere in the New Testament of a spirit, or demon, of lust. Then I noticed that Jesus said:
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell (Matt. 5:28-29, emphasis added).
Jesus didn’t tell His male followers who were lusting after women to seek deliverance from a demon of lust, but rather told them to tear out their right eye. I couldn’t find any example of anyone literally doing that in the book of Acts, or any similar instructions in the epistles, but I did discover that Paul wrote, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). Putting Jesus and Paul’s words together, it seemed like God was expecting me to do something about my problem with lust, and that I shouldn’t be blaming it on a demon.
The more I read the New Testament epistles, the more these things were confirmed. I read James’ letter, in which he wrote, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust” (James 1:14, emphasis added). I read John’s first letter, in which he wrote about “the lust of the flesh” and “the lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16). I have since discovered that John was not talking only about sexual lust, but any wrong desire, which certainly includes wrong sexual desires. I also read where Paul listed “immorality, impurity, [and] sensuality” as “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19).
I am certainly not the only Christian who has had a “demon” cast out of him who eventually learned that he couldn’t blame all his bad behavior on indwelling demons. Some of us have learned that by experience; some have learned it from God’s Word; and some of us have learned it from both. I’m sorry Bob, but you can’t cast out your sex drive. There is no “demon of testosterone.”
This is not to say that I haven’t wondered about more perverse sexual sins being connected to demons. Just yesterday I was conversing with an 85-year-old Anabaptist man who served in prison ministry for 40 years. He told me a story about a woman who came to him seeking salvation. Unbeknownst to him, she had been living in a sexual relationship for some time with a female partner. As he led her in the “sinner’s prayer,” when he asked her to repeat, “I turn everything in my life over to the Lord Jesus,” she choked on the words “Lord Jesus” and struggled to say them. He repeated it several times, and she unsuccessfully tried several times to repeat it, but then she shook and choked and finally said “Lord Jesus,” at which time a look of complete freedom and joy came over her face. She was gloriously born again. He didn’t even know at the time of her previous perverse sexual lifestyle.
He told me that he couldn’t help but wonder if a demon had just left her. Trust me, he was not a guy who was regularly casting out demons! In fact, he never attempted to cast out any demons. He just led that woman in a salvation prayer, and he witnessed something that surprised him.
Of course, we don’t know for sure if a demon actually did come out of her, and if it did, we don’t know if it was connected to her homosexuality. We should be careful making any assumptions about those kinds of experiences. God’s Word, not our experiences, should be our guide. There are no homosexual spirits mentioned in the Bible. On the other hand, the devil and evil spirits are all about temptation and sin, so if a demon gets into someone, why would we think that it might not work towards making that person sexually perverse, just as much as he might work towards making that person sinful in any other way?
But back to the first wave of “deliverance ministry” that I lived through in the late 1970s. There is more to tell. I once visited a church that was so much into “deliverance ministry” that they passed out brown paper bags to everyone who entered their sanctuary so they’d have something in which to vomit, in order to save the church carpeting. That church lasted about a year.
I heard sermons on how stuffed toy frogs open the door to demons in your house. Your child’s Kermit the Frog is a demon portal. I heard a woman testify that, when she and her husband tried to burn their child’s Kermit to purge their home, it didn’t want to ignite, and it emitted a very strange odor! (They apparently didn’t know that all flame-resistant materials from which stuffed animals are made have that propensity.)
I heard another woman testify that she knew she needed a deliverance minister to come to her house to expel the demons, because sometimes she would open the refrigerator door, and items in the fridge would mysteriously just fall out! Plus, sometimes when she was taking a shower, the water would suddenly grow cold temporarily! (Which could be a demon I suppose, but in most houses in the 70s, that happened any time someone flushed a toilet.)
I think I’ve seen it all when it comes to “deliverance ministry.” Perhaps, however, I have not. I do know that there is a new wave of “deliverance ministry” that is currently sweeping through parts of the church. I think I can predict what will happen because I’ve seen it all before. I also know that most folks who are caught up in it will eventually, like me, see things a little differently than they do right now. Perhaps I can help a few readers avoid the inevitable.
And can a Christian have a demon? That is a hotly-debated topic in many Christian circles. The answer is actually yes and no. At the end of this teaching, I’ll share a first-hand story you will never forget about a Christian minister who had a demon attach itself to his body and who became deathly ill. But first, let’s lay a biblical foundation.
Something to Build On
For “deliverance ministry” to be biblical, it ought to be based on the Bible. (Can I get an “Amen” on that?) So, let’s look at some relevant biblical basics about God, the devil and demons, and lay a theological foundation for any and all “spiritual warfare.”
If you are a Bible-believer, you have to believe that demons exist. Jesus cast out demons (Luke 11:2). So did the apostles (Matt. 10:8). Jesus once said that all believers would cast out demons (Mark 16:17).
Demons are spiritual beings that are evil in nature and that seek to do evil. They are members of an army of evil spiritual beings that Paul lists by four rankings in Ephesians 6:12:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the  rulers, against the  powers, against the  world forces of this darkness, against the  spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
It seems reasonable to assume that Paul listed them from lowest to highest rank. It also seems reasonable to think that Satan, whom Paul associates with these ranks in the preceding verse, leads them all. Earlier in Ephesians, Paul referred to Satan as “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). Jesus once said that Satan has a “kingdom” (Luke 11:18), so it stands to reason that he is the “king” of his kingdom. So, Satan’s minions are organized like an army, with him at the top, heading the “domain of darkness” (Col. 1:13).
Nobody knows how many evil spirits exist in each rank, but there is no reason not to think that, together, they might consist of millions, tens of millions, or hundreds of millions of evil spiritual beings. Maybe even billions. Who knows? But no matter how many there might be, those in Christ have nothing to fear, as I will soon prove.
Related to this, when Satan “showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time,” (Luke 4:5) offering Him all of them during His temptation, Satan likely was not showing Jesus human-governed, geo-political kingdoms, but rather, all the demonic sub-kingdoms in the “kingdom of darkness.” We know from a few passages in Daniel that the kingdom of darkness has some correspondence to earthly geo-political kingdoms (see Dan. 10:13, 20), although there is certainly some mystery to all of it.
We also read four times in Daniel—in regard to the exaltation and humiliation of King Nebuchadnezzar—that “God is the ruler over the realm of mankind, and He bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Dan. 4:17, 25, 32; 5:21). The point was that God gave Nebuchadnezzar his position and authority, and God took it away. Similarly, Romans 13:1-7 affirms God’s sovereignty over human-governed kingdoms.
All of this is to say, the rulership over human-governed kingdoms is not Satan’s to give. Obviously, however, as head of all the ranks of evil spirits in the kingdom of darkness, it would stand to reason that Satan could promote or demote any of them. And he could also legitimately offer Jesus the #2 position in his dark kingdom. Aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t take the devil up on his offer?
Where Did Evil Spirits Come From?
The origin of evil spirits is not known for certain. Some think they are former angels that rebelled with Satan. Others think they are the disembodied spirits of a pre-Adamic race. But it doesn’t really matter. Whatever their origin, they, like all things, were created by and through Jesus. Paul wrote:
For by Him [Jesus] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities [again, four ranks]—all things have been created through Him and for Him (Col. 1:16, emphasis added).
If Jesus created those four rankings of evil spirits for Himself, did He create them evil? If He did, that would make Him evil. So, we can safely assume that He created them with free moral agency that they used to rebel against Him, just like Satan did.
There is no biblical indication that God has offered any evil spirits an opportunity to repent and be forgiven. They all apparently know that a day is coming when they will be justly punished (see Matt. 8:29). We are told in Revelation that there will be a time when Satan will know that “he has only a short time” (Rev. 12:12). Ultimately, he will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10).
God Is Far Above and Far More Powerful
The New Testament teaches that God has seated Jesus “at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion [once again, four ranks] and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” and has “put all things in subjection under His feet” (Eph. 3:20-22, emphasis added). Jesus is “the head over all rule and authority” (Col. 2:10).
If God the Father put the ranks of evil spirits under Jesus’ feet, then God the Father must have already been over all of them Himself. It is quite safe to assume that He has never been below them.
God, being the Creator of all things, possesses more power than any and all beings He has created and empowered. God is omnipotent, meaning “all-powerful,” whereas all created beings have limited power. So, Satan and his hoards are somewhat akin to dogs on leashes. They can only do what God permits, and God only permits, of course, what is in accord with His divine plans and in harmony with His character. These most basic biblical facts are so important to grasp for a correct understanding of “spiritual warfare” and “deliverance ministry.”
If we want an illustration of God’s power compared to Satan’s power, we only need to recall Jesus’ words to seventy of His commissioned disciples when they joyously informed him, “Even the demons are subject to us in Your name” (Luke 10:17). Jesus told them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning” (Luke 10:18). In other words, “I’m glad you are starting to realize that demons are no match for Me! Even their highest leader is no match for Me!”
When God declared His initial judgment upon Satan, there was no struggle to expel him from heaven. Satan could offer no resistance. His power compared to God’s power is of no comparison. The devil’s expulsion occurred like lightning. One second, he was in heaven, and then, “Boom!” The next second he was splitting the sky.
Additionally, God’s restraining power over Satan is illustrated (1) in the biblical story of Job, whose affliction by Satan was incrementally limited by God (Job 1:6 – 2:7), (2) by the apostle John’s insight into the future 1,000-year incarceration of Satan by just one angel (Rev. 20:2), and (3) by Jesus granting permission for as many as six-thousand demons to enter into a herd of pigs after those demons entreated His permission (Mark 5:12-13). Scripture also informs us that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to resist (1 Cor. 10:13), which further reveals God’s restraint of Satan and His hoards, as the devil is certainly associated with temptation in the Bible (see, for example, Mark 1:13; 1 Cor. 7:5; 1 Thes. 3:5).
We are Far Above Them and Have More Power in Us
The way some Christians talk, it almost seems that they have more faith in the devil than they do in God! They are always talking about what the devil is doing, and they seem to be able to list scores of ways that we can “open the door to demonic activity” in our lives and homes. As I mentioned in the Introduction, your child’s stuffed Kermit the Frog can allegedly be a demon portal.
The New Testament tells us, however, that God has “raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6, emphasis added). That means that we, too, are “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph. 1:21). I once heard an elderly pastor say, “If you ever talk to the devil, make sure you are looking down, and make sure you talk loud enough for him to hear you, because he’s far below you!” I like that. (Although no need to make a doctrine out of it!)
Not only that, but as those who are indwelled by God the Holy Spirit, we have within us infinitely more power than the devil. God “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Eph. 3:20). Wow! That’s power! And John tells us that we have “overcome” every evil spirit “because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:3-4). We should not be afraid of the devil or demons. That would be like an elephant being afraid of a mouse.
We often hear Ephesians 6:12 quoted by itself—lifted from its context—in order to support the idea of engagement in many forms of “spiritual warfare,” some of which are patently unbiblical. Let’s first read Ephesians 6:12 isolated from its context:
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Yikes! Sounds like we’re in for quite a fight! We’re outnumbered and overpowered by a huge demonic army that we can’t even see!
But now read Ephesians 6:12 within its context and see how your perspective changes:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:10-17).
It is not a battle of weak and tiny us versus a huge, powerful army of evil spirits. It is a battle in which we use God’s strength and might while wearing God’s armor—by which we can resist, can stand firm, and can extinguish every flaming arrow. We actually have an infinitely-better tactical advantage over the devil and evil spirits.
The Basics of Standing Our Ground
Did you notice that, in the Ephesians 6 passage about putting on God’s armor, the majority of the armor is defensive? Paul first said that we should put on the full armor so that we will “be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” and “resist in the evil day.” The primary purpose of the armor is to stand firm and resist. In fact, Paul uses the phrase “stand firm” three times in the passage. He also mentions “resisting” and “extinguishing all the flaming arrows of the evil one” by using the “shield of faith.” All of that describes defensive rather than offensive actions.
Of course, we do go on the offensive in spiritual battle when we share the gospel and the “word of God,” the latter of which Paul symbolizes as “the sword of the Spirit.” Remember, however, that Jesus resisted the devil during His temptation by thrice quoting the Word of God (see Matt. 4:1-8). So, He used both “the sword of the Spirit” as well as “the shield of faith” defensively to “extinguish the fiery darts of the devil,” which consisted of Satan’s lies and temptations.
We should follow Jesus’ good example in spiritual warfare. When the devil attacks us via lies and temptations, we have everything we need to overcome him. If we summarize all the symbolism conveyed by the various pieces of God’s armor, we learn that we can overcome Satan by (1) believing the gospel and God’s Word, and (2) by living righteously. Satan doesn’t stand a chance in overcoming Christians who do those things.
Christians who don’t do those things, however, give the devil an opportunity to gain a foothold or knock them off their feet. Paul wrote to the Ephesians in an earlier chapter, “Do not give the devil an opportunity” (Eph. 4:27). If we don’t resist the devil by faith and obedience, we give him an opportunity.
Peter similarly wrote about the need for believers to resist the devil:
Be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world (1 Pet. 5:8-9).
Peter’s contemporary readers were enduring persecution for their faith, so you can be sure that Satan was tempting them to abandon their faith, something about which Jesus warned (see Matt. 13:21). If they did abandon their faith, Satan could “devour them like a roaring lion.” The way to resist him was by “standing firm in their faith.”
James’ contemporary readers were also suffering persecution. To them, James wrote:
Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:7-8).
James emphasized resisting the devil through submission to God and drawing near to Him. If you want to maintain victory over Satan, now you know how.
Putting It All Together
If we take all of these concepts and put them together, some vital truths regarding spiritual warfare come to light.
First, think for a moment about Satan’s world-wide “kingdom of darkness.” Under him is an army of perhaps millions of evil spirits who are organized into four ranks.
The fact that they are organized into ranks indicates they have a purpose and goal. And we know their goal is to oppose and work against God (although they are limited by Him, like dogs on leashes). One way they work against Him, as revealed by various Old and New Testament passages, is by tempting people and lying to them. Recall that, in Eden, Satan lied to Eve and tempted her. Recall that Satan did the same to Jesus during His time in the wilderness. Recall that when Satan will be released in the future after a 1,000-year incarceration, we are told in Revelation 20:8 that he will “come out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth.” Lying and tempting are Satan’s most common activities against humans, which is why the way to resist him is to believe the truth and obey God.
Satan and his evil spirits tempt and lie to believers in hopes of causing them to sin, doubt, or even join their rebellion. And they do the same to unbelievers. The only difference is that unbelievers are rebels just like them, so the goal of the evil spirits is to keep them that way. They are, as Paul wrote, “held captive by [the devil] to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:26). Whether they realize it or not, he is their ruler and god. Satan is referred to in the New Testament both as “ruler of the world” and “god of this world” (John 12:31; 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4). Scripture even tells us that unbelievers are Satan’s spiritual children (see John 8:44; 1 John 3:10).
Of course, because God is infinitely more powerful than Satan and his entire evil army, He could destroy or banish all of them in a second. In fact, Scripture tells us that one day, He will:
Then comes the end, when He [Jesus] hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power (1 Cor. 15:24, emphasis added).
If Jesus will abolish all ranks of evil spirits one day, He could just as easily do it today. So why doesn’t He? The only possible reason is that Satan and his evil minions currently serve some divine purpose—for which they will not be needed in the future.
And what might that divine purpose be? One purpose that can be supported by Scripture is that God uses Satan and his minions as agents of His discipline and wrath against human rebels. Let’s explore that idea.
God’s Wrath Via Demonic Agency
Paul wrote that “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). Note that Paul didn’t say that God’s wrath will one day be revealed (although it will, of course), but that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven. God is revealing His anger right now in some way against those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” (That would be everyone who is not submitted to Him.)
There are various ways that God reveals His righteous wrath against those who suppress the truth. One way is by allowing human rebels to be enslaved in the kingdom of darkness, ruled by Satan.
The good news is, if “those who are held captive by Satan to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:26) repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, God “rescues [them] from the domain of darkness” and “transfers [them] to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). Deliverance from Satan’s dark domain is part of the salvation package.
This fact is affirmed by Jesus’ commission of the apostle Paul when He told him, “For this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness…. to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God” (Acts 26:16, 18). When we repent and believe in the Lord Jesus, we are transferred into a different kingdom ruled by a different King.
Keeping all this in mind, let us return to considering how God uses Satan and his minions as agents of His discipline and wrath against human rebels. One of the clearest examples in Scripture of this concept is found in the story of Israelite king Saul who, because of his disobedience, found himself suffering the torments of something Scripture refers to as an “evil spirit from God” (1 Sam. 16:15, 23; 18:10). Most Christian readers are troubled by that phrase, as we don’t think God has any evil spirits. So, we hope that what is actually meant is that God allowed one of the devil’s evil spirits to periodically torment Saul. But we can’t escape what Scripture says, and we must at least acknowledge that God’s active discipline had something to do with Saul being periodically tormented by an evil spirit regardless of whether that spirit was “from God” or “permitted by God.” (I should also mention that we can learn something about God’s grace in that same story as well, in that we are told Saul would find relief from the evil spirit when David played his harp.)
That story illustrates, not only God’s sovereignty over evil spirits, but His use of an evil spirit as a means of divine discipline. Although there is lots of mystery to all of this, the biblical facts are what they are. And there are other scriptural examples that illustrate God’s use of Satan as a means of His wrath. Revelation 12:12 comes to mind: “Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you [having been cast out of heaven], having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.” So do Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 5:5; “I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (emphasis added).
More could be said, but I only want you to understand something that many are missing: Our former enslavement to Satan was judicial. That is, it was a form of God’s righteous judgment against us. It was part of our rightful punishment as rebels against the Creator. We were all, to a degree, like king Saul. Jesus’ sacrificial death, however, freed us because, once we were forgiven, Satan no longer had a judicial right to enslave and oppress us. See if you can see that truth in Colossians 2:13-15:
When you were dead in your transgressions …He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.
Did you notice Paul first wrote about how our sins were forgiven by virtue of Jesus taking them upon Himself on the cross, and then Paul immediately mentions that Jesus’ “disarmed the rulers and authorities”? The two are related. Jesus’ death for our sins on the cross freed us from our demonic captors who were armed against us. They no longer have the right to hold us captive because our “certificate of debt” has been cancelled! That freedom becomes effectual the moment we repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Way to Remain Free
There is a larger lesson for us in all this. Of course, as we’ve already seen from numerous scriptures, Satan and his hoards are still permitted by God, within limits, to tempt and lie to Christians. Our responsibility is to stand fast, resist him by faith, and obey God. If we don’t, we can give the devil an opportunity to gain a foothold. Remember, our pre-salvation enslavement to Satan was righteously permitted by God because of our rebellion, a rebellion manifested by our unbelief and sin. That gives us insight into why God might allow a degree of post-salvation oppression by Satan. You may recall that the Israelites were released from the bondage of their Egyptian enemies, a picture of our salvation in Christ, but there were many instances in their latter history when they rebelled, and God gave them over to other enemy oppressors.
The good news is that, just as God delivered the Israelites from their God-permitted oppressors whenever they repented and turned back to Him, God will do the same for any of His disobedient children whom He has permitted to be oppressed if they will similarly repent. Such repentance involves a renewed resistance against Satan, and a return to believing and obeying God.
Such repentance is exactly what many of James’ contemporary readers needed to do. James told them how they could put the devil on the run:
Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you (Jas. 4:7-10).
All of this is to say, if I was feeling oppressed by the devil, I would not go looking through my child’s toy box for Kermit the Frog. Rather, I would look in the mirror. That is, I would examine my own life and heart and ask God to show me if there is anything I’ve been doing that has given the devil an opportunity to oppress me. And if I found something, I would confess it, repent, and receive forgiveness. And that would close the door to Satan’s oppression, previously permitted because of my Father’s loving discipline.
John wrote: “We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him” (1 John 5:18). Contextually, we know it is safe to say that John did not mean that born again people are not capable of sin or never sin. No one can deny, however, that John at least meant that truly born-again people have a strong aversion to sin and they are sincerely striving to obey God by the power of the indwelling Spirit. And neither can anyone deny that John implies that there is a connection between holiness and being protected by Jesus from the devil.
Obviously, all of this has many ramifications regarding what is often referred to as “spiritual warfare.” All that I’ve been sharing is about biblical spiritual warfare, which often stands in contrast to what is sometimes passed off as “spiritual warfare” in some Christian circles. Hopefully you are getting some understanding, for example, of why there are no examples in the book of Acts of demons being cast out of Christians, and why there are no instructions in any of the New Testament letters for casting demons out of Christians. In light of all the truth we’ve just considered in Scripture, it is obvious why no true Christians need a demon cast out of them. (This is not to say, as we have also clearly seen, that Christians never need to resist Satan by faith in God and obedience to His commandments.)
When we first repent and believe in the Lord Jesus, we are cleansed entirely and delivered from Satan’s kingdom and domain. From then on, the goal is to “sin no more” (John 8:11) and be blameless before God. If the gospel you’ve heard, however, could be summarized, “Good news! You don’t have to obey God to go to heaven because Jesus died for all your sins,” and that is the “gospel” you have believed, you are still in the kingdom of darkness. If Jesus is not your King, you are not a citizen of His kingdom. You are still enslaved in Satan’s kingdom, and you have embraced one of his most effective lies. Again, if Jesus is not your Lord, Satan is. There are only two kingdoms. Every human being is a member of one or the other.
If Jesus is not your Lord and you are demonically tormented, oppressed, or even possessed, you can be helped by any Christian who knows that he/she has the authority to cast out demons. (All do, but not all know it.) If God graciously does deliver you, it is of utmost importance that you soon be born again by repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The reason is because Jesus warned:
Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, “I will return to my house from which I came;” and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first (Matt. 12:43-45).
Anyone who casts out demons from unbelievers and does not immediately try to lead them in repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus is doing the delivered person a dangerous disservice. The good news is that, most unsaved people who are delivered from an evil spirit or evil spirits generally want to start serving the One who delivered them! Recall the Gadarene demoniac (see Mark 5:18-20).
Here is some other good news: Any sane non-born-again person can receive deliverance directly from God without any human agency. If they will repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, God will forgive them, cause them to be born again, deliver them from the domain of darkness, deposit His Holy Spirit in them, and give them the opportunity to prove their faith by their ongoing obedience as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a wonderful offer!
Sometimes when God-called evangelists preach the gospel, demons come out of listeners who believe the gospel right during the preaching, as they are born again and delivered. (Note: That never occurs when the “false-grace gospel” is preached.) That may well be what Luke described as occurring under Philip’s preaching in Samaria:
Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing. For in the case of many who had unclean spirits, they were coming out of them shouting with a loud voice; and many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. So there was much rejoicing in that city (Acts 8:5-8).
If you read closely, there is nothing in that text that says that Philip cast out any demons. This is not to say, of course, that Philip didn’t actively cast out some demons, or that there is no place for casting out demons. However, just ask some God-called evangelists who preach the true gospel, particularly in nations where all the demon-possessed people aren’t locked away in institutions, if they have ever experienced people in their audience crying out during their preaching as demons come out of them when they believe the gospel. You may be surprised what they tell you. (If they preach the false-grace gospel, there is no reason to ask them.)
Again, there is certainly a place for individual Christian believers to cast out demons. Just last month I reported, while visiting Nepal, about a female church-planting missionary who is supported by Heaven’s Family’s National Missionary Ministry. I wrote about how the Lord used her in an amazing deliverance that resulted in other people being delivered, and most importantly, resulted in the spread of the gospel and the advancement of Jesus’ kingdom:
I listened with rapt attention to one amazing story she told us of a violent, demon-tormented Muslim woman whose family had taken her to Imams and witch doctors to no avail. Her family members had reached the place of deciding the only solution was to inject her with some poison to take her life, but her husband heard that Fatima [the missionary] had successfully cast out demons, and he persuaded his very-reluctant family members to bring his wife to her. Fatima said that in just a few minutes, the woman was completely delivered and crying in her arms with tears of thankfulness. Fatima then led her to the Lord Jesus Christ. The next day that delivered woman returned with other demon-oppressed women, and all were set free. All of them, as well as many of their family members, became believers, and they are now making disciples who are making disciples.
There is more than could be said about deliverance from demons. I really don’t want to address all the unscriptural practices I have witnessed, or the beliefs about deliverance that exist among those who elevate experience above God’s Word. I would never base my theology on what demons have allegedly said through the mouths of people whom they either actually or allegedly possess, as they are liars by nature. Nor would I follow teachers who elevate their experiences above God’s Word or who blatantly contradict what Scripture clearly reveals. I have done my best to lay a biblical foundation, as that is my responsibility. Thankfully, I am not responsible for what others do or believe as long as I have done my best to teach what Scripture teaches.
If you have been helped in some way at some time in the past by “deliverance ministry,” either as a non-Christian or a Christian, then I praise God with you. I’m glad you were helped.
I am very skeptical, however, of “deliverance ministers” who put on public shows and psychologically manipulate gullible people. I could easily duplicate those shows if I didn’t have a conscience. Both they and those who have played along with their foolish and deceptive games will eventually regret it.
I am equally skeptical of “deliverance ministers” who have no interest in thoroughly following up on people who have supposedly been delivered in order to investigate if their situations have actually improved. Over the years, I have often witnessed so-called ministers publicly pray for sick people, or cast demons out of them, and then ask the sufferers if they feel better. And it is quite obvious that those sufferers are not any better, yet they say they are, because they feel pressured to say so in front of others, or they are trying to be polite and not make the “minister” feel bad for his public failure. Please note: your Bible warns that all liars will have their place in the lake that burns with fire (see Rev. 21:8). That ought to concern deceptive deliverance ministers and those who play along with them.
If you are teaching that most Christians have demons that need to be cast out, you are greatly mistaken. The irony about your teaching is that you are deceived by demons.
Now, allow me to tell you a story of my own that confirms so much of the biblical foundation I’ve shared above. It involves an incident that occurred in 1979 when I was attending a Bible School in Oklahoma, founded by a Pentecostal minister named Kenneth E. Hagin. Many Christians around the world have heard of the late Kenneth E. Hagin, and they believe different things about him, good and bad. As someone who sat under his ministry and teaching for two solid years in Bible School, I feel like I have some basis to make an educated appraisal, unlike some folks who have “heard things.”
Hagin was born prematurely in 1917, weighing less than two pounds, and was pronounced dead by the attending doctor, who instructed Hagin’s grandmother to bury his body in the backyard garden. When she almost did, she noticed a spark of life and brought him back to the house where the doctor was still trying to assist his ailing mother. She nursed the baby using an eye-dropper, which often caused him to choke and turn blue. Hagin did survive, but suffered some debilitating medical conditions, such as a deformed heart and eventually an incurable blood disease, which made his childhood challenging, and he eventually found himself bedfast as a teenager, partially paralyzed, drifting in and out of consciousness. Doctors told him that he would soon be dead.
During that time, Hagin experienced a dramatic conversion during a near-death experience. Although he was born again, he remained ill and bedfast. However, after reading Mark 11:23-24 and wrestling with believing Jesus’ words there, he eventually believed and was completely healed. He lived to be 86.
After his healing, Hagin immediately started serving the Lord as a “Baptist boy preacher,” and as you might suspect, he had a burden to help physically ill people receive healing by faith, just as he had. He never lost that burden, and he eventually gravitated to Pentecostal churches because of their belief in divine healing. During the early years of his ministry, he pastored five different Assembly of God churches in Texas, and then was called of God to an itinerant teaching ministry. Over the ensuing years of his ministry, Hagin saw thousands of people dramatically healed, either through their faith or through “gifts of healings,” one of the nine gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10.
Even when he was serving as a pastor, Hagin found that God used him in some of the gifts of the Spirit mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12. Later in his ministry, he was called and gifted to serve in the office of a New Testament prophet (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11), and he was frequently used by the Lord in the three revelation gifts of the Spirit (word of knowledge, word of wisdom and discerning of spirits) as well as the vocal gifts (prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues). Hagin always believed and taught that the gifts of the Spirit operated only as the Spirit wills (1 Cor. 12:11; Heb. 2:4). He was not able to manifest them at will.
I am aware that many Christians don’t believe that the spiritual gifts are for today, but I’m not one of them, because I have seen them in operation. I also find no evidence in the Bible that the gifts or any of the ministries of the Spirit would cease after the death of the original eleven apostles.
I should also say that, once you’ve seen the real gifts in operation and observe an actual New Testament prophet’s ministry, you realize that the majority of what is promoted in many Christian circles as “the manifestation of spiritual gifts” is not the real thing. The large majority of self-proclaimed “prophets” that exist today are no more prophets than I am an astronaut.
In any case, Kenneth E. Hagin is certainly the most interesting minister that I have encountered in my lifetime, and his ministry was definitely out-of-the-ordinary. I often recommend a compilation of his sermon excerpts titled, “My Life and Ministry” that is available from Rhema.org in a packet of CDs. It contains the most fascinating modern spiritual accounts I have ever heard after 50 years of being a Christian. I also recommend Hagin’s book, I Believe in Visions, in which he details certain visions he had in which Jesus appeared to him and taught him. What makes some of them so interesting is that, at times, Hagin told Jesus that he would not believe what Jesus was teaching him unless He would prove it from the Bible, at which time Jesus would smile and start showing him the scriptures that confirmed what He was conveying to Hagin in the vision. (Remember, there are accounts of Jesus appearing to people in the book of Acts, and Jesus is still very much alive.)
You can believe that these things actually happened or not. Having closely watched Kenneth E. Hagin for decades, I was convinced that he was a sincere, dedicated, honest, humble man of God. His life was all about ministry. His influence was extraordinary and continues to this day around the world. He was the most Spirit-anointed minister I have ever observed. Not that he didn’t have flaws, or that I agree with every point of his teaching. He was human, as we all are.
Hagin was and is often criticized, as he is recognized as the “father” of the “Word of Faith” movement which has, unfortunately, fallen into its share of unbalance and error. During Hagin’s latter years, he made an attempt to correct some of the grossest error surrounding “prosperity doctrine,” but he was ignored, and even rejected, by many of his own disciples. He taught that biblical prosperity was “having sufficient supply to accomplish the will of God.” Again, Hagin was all about ministry and fulfilling the will of God on the earth.
Although Hagin taught holiness, that part of his message was often ignored. It seems his disciples gave most of their attention to his teaching on faith, healing, and the gifts of the Spirit, and he was certainly the best I’ve ever heard on those three subjects. I would recommend anyone who is interested in those topics to investigate Hagin’s teaching on them.
Interestingly, in one of the visions of Jesus that Hagin claimed to have, the primary thing that Jesus taught him revolved around the operation of evil spirits and how to minister to the oppressed. You can read his account of that vision in his book, I Believe in Visions. During the almost seven decades of his ministry, Hagin was used by God to deliver many people from demonic oppression, including seven people who were institutionalized and completely insane.
As the “Word of Faith” movement, which thousands of ministers eventually identified with, focused more and more on “new revelations” and drifted further and further from a biblical foundation, I distanced myself from it. Kenneth Hagin pretty much stayed on track, but it is my opinion that he did not “finish his course” (2 Tim. 4:7) because he fell prey to something he often warned his students about, and that is trying to manufacture “through the flesh” what only the Spirit can produce. But that is just my opinion, and for the sake of brevity, I don’t want to discuss that further.
With that brief background about the life and ministry of Kenneth E. Hagin, now allow me to tell you the story I promised to share.
Three Feet from an Evil Spirit
On the first day of my second year at Kenneth Hagin’s Bible School, I was sitting with hundreds of other students in the school’s main auditorium to attend Hagin’s class. After just a few minutes of teaching, he stuttered a few times and then stopped speaking. He looked back towards me and pointed, and said, “You…stand up!” I fearfully stood up, wondering what was about to happen to me. But Hagin, still pointing, then said, “No, not you. Right behind you.” So I sat back down with a sigh of relief, and in the row right behind me, a man in his 50s stood up. Hagin said to him, “I just saw in the spirit realm when I looked back at you, and I saw an evil spirit attach itself to your body. Come down to the front so I can pray for you.” So the man walked out of his row and down to the front, and he stood before Hagin.
I should interject that, if I witnessed any of 90% of all other Pentecostal/charismatic ministers tell someone in his audience that he saw an evil spirit attach itself to their body, I would probably roll my eyeballs and inwardly groan. There is so much fakery among Pentecostal and charismatic leaders that I would not believe them if they made such a claim. But when Hagin said it, I believed him. I had been listening to his teaching and stories several times a week during the previous year at Bible School. I had read most of his books and listened to many of his recorded sermons. I had seen him, at times, be used in miraculous gifts of the Spirit.
Hagin believed and taught that the gift of discerning of spirits was a supernatural gift to either see, or hear, or even smell into the spiritual realm. If one was given that gift, one might see Jesus, angels, or demons, all of which are spiritual beings. One might hear God’s voice audibly. Hagin had shared with his students many amazing examples of times when that gift was manifested in his life and ministry over the years. (By the way, there is no such thing as “the gift of discernment” found in Paul’s lists.)
So, in this case, as the Spirit willed (not Hagin), he was given the temporary ability to see an evil spirit, and he saw that spirit, he said, attach itself to the body of a man who was sitting directly behind me. As far as I know, no one else near that man or in the auditorium had any sense that an evil spirit was present. I certainly didn’t, but that evil spirit was just a few feet from me. I’m telling you that so you realize that that evil spirit didn’t harm me or anyone else. But for some reason, it had a right to attach itself to the man behind me. If you’ve been paying attention to everything I’ve been saying in this teaching, I suspect the wheels are turning in your head.
When that man was standing before Kenneth Hagin in the front of the auditorium, Hagin prayed for him. I can’t remember his exact prayer, but I think he also spoke to the evil spirit, saying something like, “We command you to leave this man’s body in Jesus’ name.” Then Hagin told the man, “The Lord showed me something that I need to tell you, so come up after class to see me so I can tell you.” And with that, the man returned to his seat behind me, and Hagin resumed teaching his class.
Several days later, it was announced to the student body that the man whom Hagin had prayed for was unconscious and in an intensive care unit in a local hospital. If they turned off the machines that were keeping him alive, he would die.
Kenneth Hagin himself announced that there would be a special prayer meeting in the auditorium that evening for anyone who could join him in praying for the man on life support. I was there that evening with 150 other students, and we prayed in typical Pentecostal fashion, with everyone praying at the same time, out loud. Hagin was on the platform, praying on his knees for about an hour with the rest of us, crying out to God in both English and other tongues, and asking for God to have mercy on the man and spare his life.
Near the end of that prayer meeting, one of the students prophesied that God had heard our prayers and that the man would live and not die. I watched Hagin’s reaction to that prophecy, and I could tell that he didn’t think it was really from the Holy Spirit.
Over the next couple of days, the man on life support showed no signs of improvement. Hagin announced another special evening prayer meeting for anyone who could attend. I was there again with at least 150 other students, and like the previous prayer meeting, we prayed for an hour in Pentecostal style. There was another similar prophecy at the end, but I could again tell that Hagin did not think it was the Holy Spirit who was speaking.
It was not long after that we learned that the man’s wife, also a student at Hagin’s Bible School, accepted the fact that there was no chance of her husband’s recovery, and she allowed his doctors to remove him from life support. He soon passed.
Naturally, all of this was confusing to the student body, and particularly because everyone at Hagin’s Bible School, and certainly Kenneth Hagin himself, so strongly advocated for faith and healing. It was even more confusing when we learned that the man who died had been a pastor for several decades, and that he had taken a year off from ministry to attend Bible School. Why had an evil spirit attached itself to his body right during one of Hagin’s classes? Why had God allowed Hagin to see it happen through the spiritual gift of discerning of spirits? Why wasn’t Hagin’s initial prayer for deliverance effective? Why hadn’t God answered the sincere prayers of hundreds of students?
Realizing our confusion, Hagin told us that he would spend a few of his next classes at the school explaining as best he could. The first thing we learned is that the pastor who was now dead had never done what Hagin told him to do. That is, he never came up to him after class the day Hagin prayed for him to learn what the Lord wanted Hagin to share with him. Hagin said he himself had just forgotten about it with all his busyness, and several students told him that they had even asked the now-deceased pastor if he was going to talk to Hagin as he had been told, but that pastor flatly said, “no.” Out of respect for the deceased pastor and his widow, Hagin never told us what it was that the Lord wanted him to tell that pastor after class, but it was obvious that it was something that the pastor needed to change in his life soon, and if he didn’t, he would die.
Hagin took us to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:30-31:
For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.
There is no escaping the fact that Paul wrote that believers who don’t “judge themselves” risk being judged, or disciplined, by God. And that judgment may be manifested in weakness, sickness, and even premature death. Paul indicated that such manifestations of God’s discipline are actually indications of His mercy that prevent us from being “condemned along with the world,” an obvious reference to hell. The implication is that, if God didn’t judge some disobedient Christians via premature death, His only alternative would be to cast them into hell. These things are rarely taught in most churches, but they should be. In any case, Paul unmistakably wrote that God may discipline disobedient Christians through weakness, sickness or premature death.
Hagin then went on to tell us story after story of God-called and anointed ministers whom he knew or knew about who died prematurely because of God’s discipline. A few of them were particularly riveting, because in several cases, the Lord had shown him beforehand that certain ministers were going to die if they didn’t make changes, and in one case in the 1950s, the Lord had told him to warn one of the most popular evangelists in the country, who died soon after.
Hagin also told us how he himself had almost lost his own life because of disobedience, but was spared because of a last-minute repentance. Several months after he had left his last pastorate to launch into an itinerant teaching ministry (at God’s very clear direction), he decided it was too difficult being away from his wife and children for weeks on end. So he canceled all his future scheduled meetings and let his denomination know that he was looking for a pastorate. While he was visiting a Sunday school class at his home church listening to a lesson about the disobedience of Moses at the waters of Meribah, his heart stopped beating and he fell to the floor. He knew he just had a short time to live, and the Holy Spirit made it clear to him (in some way, I forget exactly how) that if he didn’t repent of his disobedience, this was the end. He repented, and so did his wife, who had been complaining to the Lord about her husband’s being gone in field ministry.
Hagin also told us about one of the most spectacular visions of his life, what he called an “open vision,” when his eyes were wide open and Jesus appeared to him and talked to him for an hour and a half about his ministry. You can read some of the details of that vision in his book, I Believe in Visions. Hagin was in trouble again, and suffering, because of disobedience. One of the things Jesus told him then was that many ministers live and die and never get into the first phase of the ministry God has called them to, and He explained that that is why many ministers die in middle age. Jesus told him that, when he had left his last pastorate, that is when he had entered into the first phase of the ministry to which God had called him, and that his twelve years of pastoring had only been a preparation for his first phase.
There is so much more that I could tell you, but I only want you to understand that the student body of Hagin’s Bible School came to understand what we had all just witnessed. A God-called pastor had just lost his life due to some disobedience (which we never knew specifically what it was), and his death was a direct result of an evil spirit, permitted by God, to attack his body. In His great mercy, God tried to warn him even while He disciplined him, in hopes of effecting a repentance, but to no avail.
Do you understand why Hagin’s prayer for that pastor’s deliverance was unsuccessful, and why the sincere prayers of hundreds of others for his healing was unsuccessful? Do you think that any “deliverance minister” would have been able to successfully deliver that pastor from the evil spirit that attached itself to his body? The answers to all those questions are obvious.
Rest assured that pastor didn’t go to hell, but to heaven. He lost out on many potential fruitful years of ministry and the heavenly reward that would have accompanied that ministry. Also rest assured that, unless you are called to vocational ministry, God will not deal with you quite as strictly as He would if you were called to vocational ministry. To whom much is given, much is required. James warned that teachers will incur a stricter judgment (Jas. 3:1).
On the other hand, the Bible teaches that God disciplines all of His children (Heb. 12:5). And it warns, “But if you are without discipline…then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:7). Now that is a scary thought.
Finally, I’m always open to readers’ feedback, but I’m not trying to win theological arguments. I’m trying to help people be blessed, be a blessing, and be prepared to stand before Jesus. I do have someone who screens out feedback that is not gracious! (So people who send me theological hate mail are wasting their time.) And if I have helped you, I’d love to hear from you, as that would be an encouragement to me! — David
 Another reason, supported by Scripture, but that is less germane to this discussion, is that God permits Satan and his minions to tempt and spread lies because that is how God tests human free moral agents. Satan serves a divine purpose as humanity’s alternate lord and god. If there was no alternative to the Lord Jesus, how could it be determined if people want to serve Him or not?
We see a microcosm of this concept of God using Satan to test free moral agents in the Garden of Eden. If God didn’t want Adam and Eve to sin (which He did not), why did He put a tree in the Garden that would be forbidden? Had he not placed a forbidden tree there, Adam and Eve would have never sinned. Or better said, they could have never sinned.
Similarly, why did God allow Satan access to the Garden if He didn’t want Adam and Eve to sin? The only possible reason is that, as free moral agents, Adam and Eve had to be tested, which required an environment where sin was possible. (For a more thorough look at the concept of God testing free moral agents, see my book, God’s Tests.)
Another microcosm of this concept is found in Revelation, when we are told of a 1,000-year future period when Satan will be incarcerated and unable to deceive people of the earth while Jesus rules and reigns. But at the end of that millennium, Satan will be released for a short time, and he will go right to work doing what he has always done—deceiving the nations. He will deceive them into thinking that they can overthrow Jesus, who will have been ruling the world from Jerusalem for a thousand years. Prior to being deceived by Satan, no one would have entertained the foolish idea that they could overthrow Jesus. But once they believe Satan’s lie, they will foolishly attack Jerusalem (see Rev. 20:1-3; 7-9).
Why will God, who easily incarcerated Satan for 1,000 years, release him for a short time? God’s purpose is obvious. He will use Satan to facilitate a final test of earth’s inhabitants. Satan will not be able to deceive everyone into thinking they can overthrow Jesus. He will only be able to deceive those whose hearts are inclined to be deceived. That is, they will want to believe Satan’s lie, because in their hearts, they hate Jesus and want to rebel against His rule. They have been obeying Him until then, however, only because He will have been “ruling with a rod of iron” (Rev. 2:7; 12:5; 19:15). But once they are deceived by Satan and surround Jerusalem to attack, their hearts will be manifest. And fire will fall from heaven and consume them (Rev. 20:9).
After that, and only after that, Satan will be cast into the lake of fire, where he will be tormented forever (Rev. 20:10). God’s divine purpose for permitting Satan to operate will be finished.
Just as we see God’s divine purposes served by allowing Satan to operate in Eden and at the close of the Millennium, His same divine purposes are being served between both of those events, including right now.
 Hopefully you also understand why it is silly to think that we can “do spiritual warfare” and “pull down strongholds” of evil spirits over cities. God has left them there for a reason.