I had been asked to preach at a church in a slum area on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, where my wife and I had taken a group of college students to serve missionaries there for several weeks. Early in my time of preaching, I noticed a commotion in the middle of the congregation. There were people gathered around a woman on the floor. I assumed she had fallen ill. She laid there for a few minutes and then people helped her to her feet and led her out of the church. After the conclusion of the service, I asked the pastor if the woman was okay. He responded without hesitation that she had manifested a demonic presence and members responded with action to eliminate the spiritual threat. They had prayed over her and demanded in the name of Jesus that the demonic spirit leave the woman. And it did.
To Africans and many in other non-western cultures, the spiritual realm exists without question and Christians in these cultures are well aware of demonic activity. I recall an old friend who served in Kenya as a missionary for many years tell the story of a demon-possessed man whom he witnessed on the ground and then, suddenly, leapt high into a tree. It was an impossible feat for a human, but the missionary realized immediately the power behind the man’s ability to do such a thing.
In the West, many struggle to comprehend the existence and activity of demonic spirits, or often even that of the Holy Spirit. Our culture is grounded in logic and science. The way we view and process reality is through these two lenses. It is also the way most western Christians interpret the Bible. With the exception of Pentecostals and Charismatics, most believers either ignore the Scriptures’ teaching on Satan and spiritual warfare, or only focus on the extremes in which some churches and individuals engage when they believe in such things. The result is, sadly, that few churches teach on these matters as real and present in our age.
I view it as a quite clever strategy developed by Satan. In many cultures, such as on the African continent, people readily acknowledge their existence, but are preoccupied with and fearful of them. In the West, however, his strategy is different. Since we are more inclined toward logic and science, he seeks to encourage our doubts about the existence of such beings. As C.S. Lewis wrote in his classic book, The Screwtape Letters,
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
When the Bible speaks so often about Satan, demons, and spiritual warfare, should it not get our attention and gain traction in how we view and live life? Or have we fallen for the lie that, even if they were true back in the 1stCentury, that we have outgrown such teachings; that these were meant for the more simple-minded people of that time?
Take a look around and ask yourself, why are people growing more and more anxious; why are depression and suicide increasing at such alarming rates; why are so many young people suddenly questioning their own biological gender; why is there such havoc in our own nation and around the world through wars, terrorism, hate, and corruption; why, with so many churches in our country, is there so little transformation in people’s lives or in our culture?
Could it be that we find ourselves as believers defenseless on the spiritual battlefield without armor and without weapons? While we may think we are merely going to school or work, we are traversing a militarized zone. When we are living daily life, we may not realize there is a battle going on for the choices we make. When we raise our kids, we may be totally unaware that Satan is on the lookout for conscripts for his own army to battle against Kingdom forces. And as news of violence, oppression, and suffering appear on our televisions or devices, we may overlook the role the devil plays in creating chaos and fear.
If we are unaware of the spiritual realities of this world, then we place ourselves and others in our charge in great danger of Satanic influence and deprive ourselves of resources the Lord makes available to us to overcome the principalities and powers arrayed against us. Corrie Ten Boom, a Nazi concentration camp survivor, tells the story in her book, Tramp for the Lord, of a speaking engagement she had in Poland not too long after the end of World War II. She was frustrated by the lack of response from her audiences. She said they seemed to hear her but were unable to respond. She went to the Lord in prayer and he revealed there was demonic oppression in Poland and that she would need to call out the demons in the name of Jesus and demand they leave the church in which she was speaking.
She was fearful because the Communist government expressly forbid speaking of such things. However, as she was sharing her story, again the church was filled with expressionless faces. In desperation, she cried out to God, proclaiming in the mighty name of Jesus that the evil presence leave the premises. Immediately she sensed something very different, as if the audience had awakened from a long sleep. They came alive, began to praise God, and many came to know Jesus. But immediately afterward, pastors and theologians in attendance began debating about what she had done. Even in light of what happened, some questioned the existence of such evil spirits.
This story encapsulates the battle we face. There is much evidence of demonic influence, but we are often slow to realize its presence. When it does become clear to us, we are fearful and reluctant to act. And when we do act and witness a decisive victory, many will still pooh-pooh its very existence and attempt to disparage our beliefs.
Satan is described as one who seeks to “kill, steal, and destroy” (John 10:10), and as one who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (I Peter 5:8) His intent is to destroy us. The Lord, however, because of his great love wants to protect us. He has given us both the defensive and offensive weapons to do so, but first we need to do two things: We need to acknowledge our need for them, and we have to pick them up and make use of them. Doing so will change everything.
© Jim Musser 2018