Some time ago, The Economist featured a story indicating an upsurge in cases of exorcisms in France and some other neighboring nations.1 It reported about an exorcist who earned up to about $182 per hour for his services and another who made a living entirely from this business of exorcism. Apparently, demonic and spiritualistic activities in diverse forms, from witchcraft to the occult and psychic phenomena, are on the increase across the world.2
This growing culture of the occult, dubbed occulture, is embraced by statespersons and celebrities. The occulture menu includes beliefs from Wicca to New Age, witchcraft, and paganism.3 The New York Post reported that in the United States alone, the number of persons who self-identify as Wiccan has doubled within the last decade.4 As many have observed, part of the reason for this explosive spiritualistic growth is attributed to the popularity of various television shows and movies that glorify witchcraft, magic, vampires, and the occult.
Curiously, some even in theological circles are uneasy about attributing any mental or physical condition to demonic influences. Persons may be found at both ends of the spectrum, some believing that every disease condition has demonic origins and others holding that all illnesses have a physical cause and natural explanation. What position should the Christian take?
Because the symptoms of mental illness and demonization are seen to be similar and the lines are often blurred, it is important that the true nature of a patient’s condition be discerned before an effective therapy is administered, leading to healing.5 In general, healing is effectual when the exact cause of the ailment is known, whether physical, spiritual, or psychological; often, it is, in reality, a combination of two or more of these causes.6
It could be direct demon possession, where Satan takes over someone’s life, body, and mind, or Satan could be attacking from outside by trying in different ways to influence a person’s behavior, health, and life and control them through different means, such as discouragement, doubt, illness, and tragedy (Eph. 6:12). Then there are some people who have chemical imbalances and medical hallucinations that would need professional medical care.
One of the clearest demonstrations of the power of the devil to cause physical and physiological devastation is seen in the experience of Job (Job 1:13–2:10). The connection between demons and illnesses is also seen in the New Testament, when Jesus casts out evil spirits from the lives of Satan’s victims, leading to their healing (Matt. 9:32, 33; 12:22, 23; 17:14–18). Besides physical conditions, such as epilepsy and hearing and speech impairments, demon possession can induce psychological effects, leading to suicidal behavior and depressive, manic, and homicidal conditions (1 Sam. 18:10, 11; Mark 5:1–5; 9:14–22).
Ellen G. White comments forcefully, “The fact that men have been possessed with demons, is clearly stated in the New Testament. The persons thus afflicted were not merely suffering with disease from natural causes. Christ had perfect understanding of that with which He was dealing, and He recognized the direct presence and agency of evil spirits.”7 She adds, “None are in greater danger from the influence of evil spirits than those who, notwithstanding the direct and ample testimony of the Scriptures, deny the existence and agency of the devil and his angels. So long as we are ignorant of their wiles, they have almost inconceivable advantage; many give heed to their suggestions while they suppose themselves to be following the dictates of their own wisdom. This is why, as we approach the close of time, when Satan is to work with greatest power to deceive and destroy, he spreads everywhere the belief that he does not exist. It is his policy to conceal himself and his manner of working.”8
The question is, how do humans become domiciles for demons? It needs to be understood that this is a process that occurs ever so subtly and progressively. Satan seeks to gain access, control, and ultimate domination of the will and abilities of humans. In order to do this, he begins by seeking entry, a foothold in the lives of his victims. This usually begins when emotions or passions are not brought under the control of God’s Spirit and subjected to His will. So opens the access portal, the point of entry for the devil.
Paul comments insightfully on this modus operandi of the devil: “And ‘don’t sin by letting anger control you.’ Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Eph. 4:26, 27, NLT). Regarding how Satan gained total control of Judas, Ellen White observes: “Evil desires, covetousness, revengeful passions, dark and sullen thoughts, were cherished until Satan gained full control of him.”9
Because the symptoms of mental illness and demonization are seen to be similar and the lines are often blurred, it is important that the true nature of a patient’s condition be discerned before an effective therapy is administered, leading to healing.
Other habits that provide the devil access to human wills and minds include the use of drugs, alcohol, and illicit sexual practices. Avenues through which demons invade people’s lives include alliances with the occult by possessing charms, tokens, talismans, and amulets or by engaging in occult practices, using Ouija boards, tarot cards, and horoscopes or by participating in séances and even the rock music culture.10
The devil employs another strategy leading to the establishment of strongholds in the minds of his victims. Paul states, “For the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4, 5, NET). Such strongholds may take the form of “ideas, opinions, . . . even policies”11 in opposition to the counsels of God. They may also include worldly ideologies or philosophies that seek to replace the sovereignty of God in the human heart, whether they be atheistic, paganistic, or secularistic.
But note: while the devil’s strategy is to establish strongholds or fortresses in human hearts, God’s strategy is to demolish these spiritual strongholds and subordinate them to the divine will. The assurance given to the believer is that the Christian’s weapons of warfare are powerful enough to destroy every satanic stronghold.
Demonic control over human lives can be understood as a continuum. At one end of the scale, demons are found active in the lives of all humans—harassing, influencing, tempting; seeking to gain access and control over their victims. At the other end is a state where the victims’ faculties and abilities are largely under demonic control; this is possession.
The New Testament reveals several degrees of influence by demons in people’s lives, ranging from temptation and influence to oppression, obsession, and finally, possession.12 When one yields to the temptations of demons, the demons can have varying degrees of control over that person. In order to avoid being subject to such control of demons, Christians must be ever watchful, heeding the counsel of Scripture: “Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it are the sources of life” (Prov. 4:23, NET).
When Christ commissioned and sent out His disciples early in His ministry, He gave them authority over demons and the power to heal all manner of illnesses (Luke 9:1–6, 10; Matt. 10:1–15). And the risen Jesus again promised power and authority over demonic agencies and the power to heal (Mark 16:17, 18; Matt. 28:18). Writing to the church at Colossae, Paul demonstrated the superiority and excellency of Christ over every principality and power (Col. 2:15). Christ’s victory is our victory, so long as we are in a covenant relationship with Him and living in harmony with His Word. As a result, in His name, power, and authority demons can be put to flight, expelled and displaced by the Holy Spirit via the Christian who appropriates Christ’s victorious power and perfect sacrifice on the cross.
Inasmuch as any Christian believer could in the name and power of Jesus set at liberty those oppressed by demons and bring healing/deliverance to those possessed, it needs to be clearly understood that engaging with the demonic is by no means a trivial matter. A few practical counsels are in order:13
- Pray intensely, with full heart-searching spiritual preparations before engaging in any deliverance ministry.
- Carefully and prayerfully choose the time and the place where the deliverance ministry will take place.
- Pray intensely and invite the Holy Spirit to take absolute control of the arena.
- Never work alone; work in a team.
- Be alert. Some even recommended praying with eyes open, just to be aware of any possible disruption. The devil likes nothing more than disrupting your prayer session. Or at least have one team member watch over the prayer group, lest something unusual occurs.
- Apply a combination of the three encounters in Christian witnessing:14
- Power encounter—Rebuke the evil spirits and exercise authority over them in the name of Jesus.
- Truth encounter—Apply the Word of God to show God’s power and love to the victims and help them understand their identity in Christ.
- Allegiance encounter—Discover whether there are existing or previous allegiances or connections with the occult, and pray for deliverance from such allegiance. Lead the person in prayer to declare a new allegiance to Christ and a cessation of any connection with the past life.
Preparation for the encounter includes living a life under the control of the Holy Spirit and in harmony with the Word of God. Help may be sought at any time, and the minister needs to be ready to assist. Knowledge and an appreciation of power in the Word of God are central to success in these endeavors. Also significant is the power of hymns that saturate the environment with the divine presence. It is also helpful to trace the origin or what the connection may be between the individual and the demonic. Where there is garbage, you can expect to find rodents.15
It must be understood that each encounter is unique to the context, circumstance, and person involved. Some deliverance sessions may take a shorter time, while others may take longer.
Among the things not to be done is to engage in conversation with the demons. While the laying on of hands to heal the sick is a common practice, it is not encouraged to lay hands on the victims of demonization until they are delivered.
Scripture admonishes us to do the work not of exorcism but of evangelism (2 Tim. 4:5). Our calling is not to pursue demons; it is to resist them (James 4:7). The prophet declares, “ ‘Can spoils be taken from a warrior, or captives be rescued from a conqueror? Indeed,’ says the LORD, ‘captives will be taken from a warrior; spoils will be rescued from a conqueror. I will oppose your adversary and I will rescue your children’ ” (Isa. 49:24, 25, NET). Wherever demons are encountered in the course of one’s ministry, Christ has empowered us to dispense with them and set the captives free.
- A. R., “Why Exorcisms Are on the Rise in France,” The Economist, July 31, 2017.
- For a fuller, more comprehensive study on this subject see, Kelvin Onongha and Bruce Bauer, eds., Dealing With the Demonic in the African Context (Berrien Springs, MI: Theological Seminary, Adventist University of Africa, 2019); and Bruce Bauer, ed., Finding Freedom in Jesus: A Deliverance Ministry Manual (Berrien Springs, MI: Department of World Mission, Theological Seminary, Andrews University, 2018). For additional support, contact Adventist Frontier Ministry or visit setfreeinchrist.org.
- Melanie Phillips, The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle Over God, Truth, and Power (New York: Encounter Books, 2010), 3.
- Melissa Malamut, “Witch Population Doubles as Millennials Cast Off Christianity,” New York Post, November 20, 2018, nypost.com/2018/11/20/witch-population-doubles-as-millennials-cast-off-christianity.
- For a detailed study on this subject, see Rodger K. Bufford, Counseling and the Demonic (Dallas, TX: Word Book Publishers, 1988), 104–107.
- Bufford, Counseling and the Demonic, 117.
- Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2005), 514.
- White, Great Controversy, 516.
- Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2005), 558.
- Bufford, Counseling and the Demonic, 108.
- Ernest Best, Second Corinthians, Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1987), 93.
- Ralph Wilson, “Demonization and Deliverance in Jesus’ Ministry,” Joyful Heart Ministries, Feb. 19, 2000, joyfulheart.com/scholar/demon.htm.
- For a more comprehensive work, see Michée Badé, “A Field Manual for Dealing With the Demonized,” in Onongha and Bauer, Dealing With the Demonic in the African Context, 87–106.
- See Charles H. Kraft, “Three Encounters in Christian Witness,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 4th ed., eds. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2009), 445–450.
- Charles H. Kraft, The Evangelical’s Guide to Spiritual Warfare: Scriptural Insights and Practical Instruction on Facing the Enemy (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2015), 39, 40.