Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at email@example.com.
Our small group is reading through the New Testament together. I never realized how much of the Gospels were devoted to the subject of demons. I got to thinking that we hardly ever hear any sermons in church on demons. Yet, the New Testament writers warned us about them again and again and again and how dangerous they are,
Why don’t pastors and churches preach and teach more on demons?
Let me be frank and share with you just a few reasons why most churches, teachers and preachers seldom, if ever, deal with the issue of the reality and work of demonic spirits today.
1. Satan has hidden himself well (2 Corinthians 11:14).
2. Many are ignorant (unaware) of what Satan’s schemes and tactics look like (2 Corinthians 2:11).
3. Many are afraid of what the people might think (John 12:42-43).
4. They are spiritual children and thus ill-equipped for spiritual battle. Overcoming the Devil is a “must-learn” skill in the process of spiritual growth (1 John 2:12-14).
5. Most fail to recognize the John 10:10 Enemy.
7. They are careless (2 Corinthians 11:2).
8. They are trapped in perpetual sin (Ephesians 4:27).
10. They do not believe that demons exist or that they were a first century problem and not an issue for today (1 Peter 5:8).
I pastored a small, rural church during my college years. Richard, one of the fine Christian men in our church, suffered a massive heart attack and was in a coma. On the following Thursday, Julie and I went to the hospital to encourage his wife, Jane. Because it was lunchtime, we offered to sit with her husband while she took a break.
Richard was unconscious and unable to communicate, so Julie and I chatted together and then decided to pray for him. About five minutes into our prayer, Richard uttered strangely, “Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh.”
Startled, I looked at Julie; she looked at me. We both knew 1 John 4:2-3:
“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, …”
“Roger” Julie whispered, “Did he say, ‘Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh’?”
“I think so!”
“Do you think he has a demonic spirit of antichrist?”
“I don’t know.”
Just that morning in my “Life and Teachings of Christ” class, the professor taught about Jesus’ encounter with the Gadarene demoniac. I looked at Julie and said, “Dr. Flanders said that whenever Jesus confronted a demon, He first found out the demon’s name. If this is a demon, let’s pray for it to reveal its name.” We had no idea what we were doing! We held hands, bowed our heads, touched his shoulders, and prayed, “If this is a demonic spirit, we demand in the name of Jesus Christ, by the blood of Jesus Christ, that you reveal your name!”
Our comatose friend moved his lips to pronounce the words, “My name is Clarissus.”
“Clarissus?!?” We knew that his name was Richard! Julie started to cry; I froze in shock. She took a deep breath and asked, “What do we do now?”
“I don’t know! The dismissal bell rang before Dr. Flanders finished the lecture. All I know is that Jesus cast that demon out into some pigs! Should we pray for the demon to come out?”
We resumed positions and prayed . . . nothing happened. After a while, his wife returned.
“Well, how’d it go?” she asked.
I looked at Julie; she looked at me. “Fine,” I lied.
Julie and I were in the parking lot when Jane ran out of the hospital lobby, yelling, “What happened in there? What happened in there?”
I looked at Julie; she looked at me. “Um . . . nothing . . . we just prayed for Richard.”
“Well,” she said, “he has this big smile on his face. Something happened in there!”
About ten o’clock that night, Richard regained consciousness, opened his eyes and said to Jane, “I had the strangest dream. I was climbing up the steps to Heaven, and when I got to the gate, Peter said, ‘You can’t come in now.’ So, I climbed back down the steps. I guess this means that God has some special things left for me to do.”
Ten minutes later, Richard had another massive coronary. I buried him three days later. Questions spun widely around in my mind as we laid him to rest. The answers that I wanted were buried with him.
Battles with Satan and his forces are seldom overt. Most Christians will never have an encounter like the one we had with Clarissus. Most spiritual battles are internal struggles that are won through consistent discipleship and by utilizing the biblical tools God has placed at our disposal.
Some spiritual children say, “I want to be a spiritual father/mother, but I don’t believe in that spiritual warfare kind of stuff.” They do not understand. Defeating the Evil One in spiritual hand-to hand combat is part of the process. We can’t go on to maturity without success in this area.
Spiritual young men and women understand the strategies and tactics of spiritual warfare. They know how to beat Satan at his own game.
Spiritual children on the other hand are often duped into thinking that either the world of demonic spiritual forces doesn’t exist or that they have so little interaction with our lives that they can be summarily dismissed.
Subtle attacks often go undiagnosed and unrecognized for years. I have seen people rarely consider that their depression, despair, envy, anger, bitterness, jealousy, lust, deceit or pride may have a spiritual warfare component. It is sad to watch pastors struggle with their churches, or with their families, or in their personal lives, and never consider that Satan is out to kill, steal and destroy the abundant living that God has in store for every Christian (John 10:10).
The Bible constantly warns Christians to beware of Satanic attack and harm: John 17:15; Acts 13:10; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12; (1 Peter 5:8); 1 Timothy 3:7 and 4:1; and 2 Timothy 3:13).
Satan’s tools include lying (John 8:32, 44), anger (Ephesians 4:26-27), an unforgiving spirit (2 Corinthians 2:10-11), sin (Ephesians 2:1-2 and 1 John 3:8-10), accusations and insinuations (Revelation 12:10), temptation (1 Corinthians 7:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:5); contact with the occult (Deuteronomy 18:10-13), drug and alcohol abuse (Galatians 5:20) and blinding the eyes of unbelievers so that they struggle to understand and receive the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Neil Anderson of Freedom in Christ Ministries has written numerous books on how to recognize Satan’s attacks and neutralize them. I’ve copied below one small section of his analysis of the personality and individuality of demonic spirits:
“Luke 11:24-26 gives us a helpful view into the personality and individuality of evil spirits:
- Demons can exist outside or inside humans
- Demons are able to travel
- They are able to communicate
- Each one has a separate identity
- They are able to remember and make plans
- They are able to evaluate and make decisions
- They combine forces
- They vary in degrees of wickedness
But, we need not fear Satan and his demons as long as we cling to God’s truth. As we walk in the light we need not fear the darkness.”
Remember, “Greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world.”
Deception is one of Satan’s most insidious tools. In the contest between God and Satan over Job’s loyalties, poor Job never figured out that he was just a pawn in a spiritual battle. He never dreamed that all of his troubles were instigated and carried out by Satan and not by God. He was totally deceived (Job 1-2).
Satan said to God: “Job only serves you because you have done so much for him. Lower the hedge you have put around him and let me have at him, and he will curse your name.”
Then, in Job 1:12, “The LORD said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.’” Satan proceeded to take away Job’s children, his servants, livestock and all of his possessions.
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised" (Job 1:20-21). There is a sense in which God allowed Job’s sufferings, but Satan did the real dirty work while staying hidden in the shadows. Job never recognized the satanic side of the attack.
Another bet ensued in Job 2:4-10 Job made a great declaration of faith during this second battle; nevertheless, he remained still deceived when it was over:
Satan approached God and said: “A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face. The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life." So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!" (Note that his wife acted as Satan’s personal messenger.). He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"
The truth is that Satan was the author and instigator of the trouble--not God. Job was deceived. He never figured out Satan’s part in the attacks.
The book of Job has an unsatisfying conclusion. While he learned some neat truths about God’s omnipresence, Job was left dealing with a God he could hardly understand and a Satan he never discovered even existed.
Paul, on the other hand, was not deceived about his thorn in the flesh. He knew clearly that it was a “messenger from Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
Satan’s traps are everywhere. Paul noted in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 how easily Christians fall into them:
But 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. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
If Adam and Eve were deceived while they were still sinless, what makes us think we won’t be!
Many doors lead into the occult world. In fact, in Deuteronomy 18:10-12, God lays out His glossary of the occult:
Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD...”
Here is a list of some of the open doors into the occult world that I’ve seen Christians enter with sorrowful results:
- Inviting spirits to come into their minds (spirit guides)
- Attending spiritualist meetings
- Perpetual sin (Ephesians. 4:27: “Do not give the devil a foothold.”)
- Drugs and Alcohol (consuming to the point of losing rational control of the mind)
- Transference (Ceremonial passing of spirits from one generation to another)
- Dabbling in the Occult (Séances, Ouija boards)
- Believing Satanic lies (Revelation 12: Satan is the accuser of the brethren)
- Sexual abuse or unusual and/or debilitating trauma
James 4:7 gives a simple formula for success. “Submit … to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."
Every area of our lives not in submission to the Holy Spirit is open to attack by a demonic spirit. Therefore, we are wise to submit every area of our lives to God.
In my healing model, “submitting” to God involves three things: (1) confessing that the area is out of control and needs help; (2) consciously yielding the area to God; and (3) considering myself dead, according to Romans 6, to the sin in that area.
If these three activities provide freedom, then I thank God that the problem was only a sin of the flesh. However, if the struggle persists, I consider that I may be experiencing a spiritual attack. The second half of James 4:7 then comes into play.
"Resisting the devil" deals with the spiritual forces attacking my life. Michael said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 9). We are not defenseless; we have all the authority and power of Christ to resist Satan’s onslaughts. Finding freedom in a spiritual battle involves five things:
(1) Declaring that I have forsaken and confessed my sin to God so the forces of evil no longer have a foothold;
(2) Renouncing the attacking forces (“In the name of Jesus Christ, depart and leave me alone. I rebuke you and your attacks against me. I want nothing to do with you.”);
(3) Asking for the filling of the Holy Spirit;
(4) Imploring the Holy Spirit to build a hedge of protection around me from future attacks (If God can build a hedge around Job (Job 1:10), then He can build one around me. Also, I often ask Him not to lower my hedge like he lowered Job’s. I figure it cannot hurt to ask!).
(5) Putting on the spiritual armor described in Ephesians 6:10-18: the belt of truth; the breastplate of righteousness; the shoes of the gospel of peace; the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
(6) Understanding that spiritual warfare and/or demonic problems are always prayer projects. Prayer provides prior protection. Prayer provides offensive weapons to neutralize attacking spiritual forces. Prayer provides healing balm for recovery from inflicted spiritual wounds.
Once upon a time, our counseling pastor and I conducted a denominational conference on spiritual warfare for thirty-five pastors. As the morning progressed, the looks of disbelief and hostility increased. During the lunch break two Hispanic pastors who had driven up from Mexico approached us quietly: "Don’t let these pastors get to you. We know what you are talking about. In fact, we wondered how long it would take you Anglos to wake up to what we’ve been handling in Mexico for generations."
Spiritual warfare must be in balance. A church that is unable or unwilling to help people in these areas is as out of balance as the church that overemphasizes them to distraction..
One day, a man from the utility company finished his work at our home and said, "You're Roger Barrier, aren't you? I listen to your radio program every day. My wife and I are both Christians. She's having some problems; in fact, there are times when I wonder what's going on inside of her. Do you believe in demons?"
"Yes," I replied. "Why don't we sit down in the kitchen and talk?"
"Several months ago,” he began, “we went to a spiritualist church where we were encouraged to pray to receive spirit guides to help direct our lives. I didn't pray for any; but my wife did. She hasn't been the same since. Sometimes, it's as if there’s a different person inside. Her voice changes; her face contorts; she has an aversion to the things of God. Our marriage is falling apart. She won't go back to our Christian church. It all came to a head last night! While we were arguing, she walked into the hallway, turned slowly, and said with a sneer, 'Don't you know who we are?' Her voice rose to a scream as she repeated, 'Don't you know who we are? Don't you know who we are?'”
He was shaking now. “I think,” he said, “she is demon possessed like they talk about in the Bible. Can you help us?”
“Yes. I can.”
Karen, my answer was rather long but I hope that it has been helpful.
Why don’t you take a moment and savor the truth of Romans 16:20: “The God of Peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.