Living in Africa, you hear all sorts of strange things about demons and demonic possession and spiritual warfare. Everybody has some experience to talk about.
I suppose that’s not just Africa, either.
It wasn’t too long ago now that books like Bondage Breaker were best sellers in the United States. There was a whole lot of talk about demons and the way they not only attack unbelievers but war on believers as well.
It can all be a little confusing.
How are we supposed to think about spiritual warfare?
Before we dive too deep, I think it is important we go back to the basics and look at several fundamental biblical principles for understanding spiritual warfare.
So far, we have seen:
First, the Bible is our final authority.
And second, God is in complete control.
A third vital principle for us to understand is that humans are fully responsible.
This is an important biblical theme for us to get straight because we as human beings are always looking for opportunities to shift the blame for our wrong choices to someone else.
If there is one thing we are good at, it’s blame shifting.
Which means, if we are confronted with our sin, we will blame circumstances, we will blame God, we will blame other people, and if we can, we will even blame demons for what we did.
And there are even counselors and churches who have whole ministries based on this, where they are constantly searching for the demon behind every problem, the idea being that if you struggle with a pattern of lust or anger or pretty much anything else, the reason might be that you are being possessed or at least strongly influenced by a certain demon.
And as you can imagine this way of thinking has implications.
For example you might have a believer, who struggles with a particular sin for a long time, maybe he struggles with the sin of fear and this fear has dominated him for a long time, and there are Christians, where if this believer confessed this sin, they might think the reason he has had such significant struggles with this particular sin is because there is a certain demon behind it, in other words, the reason he has this problem is not so much his fault as it is the demons, which is why those leaders might think the solution is not the put off and put on that we read about in Ephesians but instead an exorcism of some sort in which they try to compel a spirit named fear to identify himself and come out through the authority of Jesus’ name.
Now while that sounds somewhat strange, at least to me, that particular approach to the Christian life is not all that unique; there are many who seem to think that one of the primary reasons believers have the problems they have is because of demons.
And to a certain extent you can understand that, because sometimes our struggles with sin are so intense, and we want to change so much, and we can’t figure out why it’s not happening more quickly that it feels to us there must be demons or something like that at work BUT the question which we have to ask however is if that is actually the way the Bible speaks.
Because remember the Bible is our final authority.
And so we have to ask if when we find people making sinful choices in the Bible, the Bible ever speaks as if the people making those sinful choices weren’t actually responsible for their decisions?
In other words, does the Bible ever say to someone who is struggling with a particular sin that the reason he is struggling with that sin is because he is being demonized and the answer is for that demon to be cast out?
And the answer to that question is a big fat no, and I can prove that to you in several different ways.
One way to prove that is to look at different situations in the Bible where the devil or demons are said to be involved with someone doing something sinful and see if the Bible then says that fact means the person who sinned was not responsible for his choices.
I mean, there are a whole lot of times in the Bible where people sin and the devil and demons aren’t even mentioned, so we won’t even talk about those; but what about the times where they are?
Let’s begin with Cain.
You know the man who murdered his brother?
In 1 John 3:12, the Bible tells us that we should not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. The evil one is Satan.
Cain, John says, was of Satan.
Now does that fact mean that he wasn’t responsible for his sin?
God didn’t think so because in Genesis 4:10, He comes to Cain and asks, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground and now you are cursed from the ground.”
Judas is another example.
When both Luke and John talk about Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, the describe it in terms of Satan filling Judas. Listen to Luke 22:3, “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve…” Or take John 13:27, where we read that “after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into Judas and Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’”
Now, those are some pretty clear passages in regards to Satan’s influence over Judas’ actions and yet, when later in the New Testament, it talks about what Judas did, do they talk about poor Judas who had no role in the matter?
No, the opposite.
In fact Luke himself speaks of Judas in Acts 1:18 like this. “(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness…)” The key idea there being his wickedness, obviously the pronoun his means that Judas was held responsible by God for his sinful decisions.
Another place we could look is to the story of Ananias and Sapphira, the two people who sold their field, gave some money to the church, but lied about exactly how much. When Peter speaks to them in Acts 5:3, he recognizes Satan’s influence when he asks, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds for yourself.” But look, here’s the deal, because even though Satan obviously did have an influence in Ananias’ life, God still held Ananias responsible, which we know for one thing because Peter says later “Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart. You have not lied to men but to God.” And also we know that God held Ananias responsible because Ananias died.
Still another would be the false teachers Paul speaks about in 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
In verse 26, Paul says that these false teachers need to escape from the snare of the devil, because they have been captured by him to do his will.
That is strong language and we have to ask if the fact that they have been captured by him to do his will mean they are not responsible for what they are doing?
Well, if you look at what Paul says in the verse before the answer seems to definitely be no because he says in verse 25 that Timothy is to correct these men with gentleness, so that perhaps God may grant them what?
Repentance, which is something you do when you recognize your responsibility for your own sin and you make a conscious and deliberate decision to turn from it.
Pretty much wherever we look, we find the writers of Scripture recognizing that Satan tempts and that Satan has an influence in the lives of individuals, but you know, we never find them excusing people’s sins as a result, and what’s more we don’t find them looking to the casting out of particular demons as the solution to the moral problems that people are having.
Instead, when the Bible does identify the cause of our sinful choices, we find the writers of Scripture laying the blame squarely and fully at the feet of our own sinful desires.
They don’t blame demons, but they do blame us and there are many passages which illustrate that but perhaps none illustrates that more clearly than James 1:13ff.
James is dealing with this whole problem of why people fall into sin.
He’s looking at this issue, why someone gives into temptation and he’s explaining what is at the root of that and he begins by saying that we can’t blame God.
“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”
You can see how the person James speaks about takes this blame game to a whole other level where he doesn’t blame the devil or demons, but instead he goes directly to God.
God’s it is your fault I did what I did.
And James says absolutely no one should ever say that.
Because first off what we know to be true about the character of God.
He hates evil and he doesn’t tempt people to do evil.
But if we can’t blame God, then who can we blame?
“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
Each person, that means everyone, is tempted, when he is lured and enticed by who?
That is what is so crazy.
We are stuck in a trap and we are trying to figure out who set it and we are actually the ones who set the trap for ourselves.
James says it we are tempted by our own evil desires and that it is those same evil desires which when conceived give birth to sin.
And that means if you have a pattern in your life of giving into sinful fear or into sinful lust or into sinful anger, while those patterns can seem so strong and so difficult to overcome that you want to blame someone else and while the Bible doesn’t deny the fact that the devil and demons may be involved in tempting you or trying to entice you to do evil, God simply won’t allow you to blame your sinful decisions on them.
You are responsible for your sin.
And I think it is very important that you know that, this is not just random theological information, it is important because when are wrong about the source of a problem, you are going to be wrong about the solution to the problem.
If someone comes to you when you are struggling with sin and says that the reason you are struggling with that sin is because you need the demon of lust or anger or fear cast out, you know that solution isn’t God’s solution because when you look to the Bible, it never ever speaks like that.
Humans are fully responsible.
And failing to understand that is going to have serious consequences.
You can imagine, as I was reading one author suggesting, “a certain woman, for example, who is judged to be demon possessed” when her problems are actually the result of her own sinful behavior, if they think the problem is demon possession,then all of the sudden things are going to get deeply complicated.
Here she is struggling with what is sin but she meets these men who speak with this great intensity and certainty and they are telling her that she is possessed by an evil spirit.
Then they attempt to cast out of her demons that aren’t even there.
Now what is going to be the result of that?
Not only is all that yelling and binding going to be a waste of time, it’s going to lead to hopelessness and despair when it doesn’t work the way she wants, and what’s more, it is going to shift the focus away from the responsibility of this woman for her own sinful behavior.
She will begin viewing herself as a helpless victim rather than as a guilty sinner and this will result in her being confirmed in her sinful life patterns when the attempted casting out of demons fails, and with the people who are trying to help her, they will start getting frustrated as well, when all their praying and efforts don’t seem to be doing what they are hoping they will do.
This is why when we are confronted with sinful behavior, our first response should attribute it to sinful desires, and not demons.