Evil Spirits

These days, people are skeptical of talk about demon possessions and evil spirits, and perhaps rightly so. From a scientific perspective, we can now identify many genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors that can lead to the ailments that were once attributed to evil spirits. We know more about viruses and harmful bacteria, for instance, than those who lived in medieval times.

It may also be, as some have suggested, that the high rate of possessions and ailments caused by unclean spirits in Jesus’ time was a special allowance by God while Jesus walked the earth in order that He might demonstrate His power.

But we should be careful not to dismiss the concept of spiritual warfare altogether, or to conclude that talk about spirits is outdated and not relevant to our daily lives anymore. Consider this passage which speak of the reality of the spiritual forces that are at work to harm us:

(Ephesians 6:12-13) “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.”

So how are we to understand the identity and role of those “world forces of this darkness” and “spiritual forces of wickedness” that would harm us? I do not have all of the answers, but we can start by considering some of the references to harmful spirits in the New Testament.

  • (Romans 8:15) “For you have not received a spiritof slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’”
  • (Ephesians 2:1-2) “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”
  • (1 Timothy 4:1) “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”
  • (1 Timothy 5:21) “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of Hischosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality.”
  • (2 Timothy 1:7) “For God has not given us a spiritof timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”
  • (1 John 4:6) “We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”

These are some of the spirits that we must avoid: a spirit of slavery, a spirit of disobedience, a spirit of deceit and false doctrine, a spirit of partiality, a spirit of timidity, and a spirit of error.

Perhaps you can think of other spirits that are also a real danger to you personally. It may be a spirit of jealousy or of anger, of apathy, or arrogance, selfishness, or lust.

Something to notice about these wicked spirits is that they do not simply live in any one person. Rather, they live and breathe in our society and our world at large. It may be that a particular person introduces you to a spirit of error, or tempts you to fall back into a spirit of slavery, but the spirit itself is bigger than any one person.   Much like “school spirit” or “team spirit” or “a patriotic spirit,” so too these damaging spirits can take on a life of their own when they spread throughout a growing group of people who adopt them and are shaped by them.

The books of 2 Peter and Jude both warn strongly against those who revile angelic forces without really knowing who or what they are dealing with. The Biblical message is not that we cast spells and practice mystical rituals in order to protect ourselves from evil. But what we must do is be on the alert for those harmful spirits in our world that could lead us astray, and pray to God for help in the fight.

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Show Love, Gentleness, and Respect to THOSE People?

The Ephesians were warned not to be “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming (4:14).”

Notice that the danger described here is not one of people who are dedicated to following God, but have accidentally missed something. It is a description of people who are intentionally using trickery and manipulation to turn people away from God’s will. Is there anything more angering or frustrating than knowing that there are people out there who are “scheming” about how to lead Christians astray?

What is an appropriate response in a situation like that? The answer is given in the next verse “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

This passage that we so often quote in reference to “speaking the truth in love” is indeed situated in a context of remaining firm despite “cunning,” “crafty,” and “deceitful” cultural or religious movements.

Consider another passage.

In 1st Peter 3:15, we read, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

We tend to imagine this passage playing out in a very non-confrontational way, perhaps when an acquaintance asks us out of nowhere why we believe in Jesus and then waits patiently for our response. But once again, this is not what the context primarily indicates.

The entire chapter of 1st Peter 3 is about suffering at the hands of our fellow humans simply because we choose to do right. Our verse about “giving a reason for the hope that is within us, yet with gentleness and respect” is sandwiched between verse 14 which speaks of suffering for what is right, and verse 16, which speaks of our being slandered maliciously because of our good behavior.

Speak the truth in love when a brother makes an honest mistake, and speak the truth with just as much love when its enemies work tirelessly to tear it down.

Be ready to give and answer with gentleness and respect when an honest seeker asks you an honest question, and be ready to give a gentles answer also when you are ridiculed or persecuted for your faith.

Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” (1 Peter 2:21-23)