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should be careful not to dismiss the concept of spiritual warfare altogether, or to conclude that talk about spirits is outdated and not relevant to our daily lives anymore.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.

Advertisements

True Freedom

Paul asked the Romans in the sixth chapter of his letter to them: “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?”

Many in today’s world would not agree with Paul. They would definitely agree that those who submit themselves to God’s will are pitiful slaves who miss out on all the fun, but they would not agree that those who choose not to submit to God are also slaves, and in a much worse sense.

Most in today’s world believe that there is true freedom in following our own hearts and being our own people at all costs. That, as David Bentley Hart puts it, “freedom – conceived as the perfect, unconstrained spontaneity of individual will – is its own justification, its own highest standard, its own unquestionable truth.”

In other words, to be truly free is to have no one tell me what I can or cannot do with my money, my body, or my life, and this is the goal of all of life.

Maybe Khalil Gibran was commenting on this mindset when the speaker in his book, The Prophet, declared, “I have seen you prostrate yourself and worship your own freedom, even as slaves humble themselves before a tyrant and praise him though he slays them… I have seen the freest among you wear their freedom as a yoke and a handcuff.”

The Biblical truth that Paul is suggesting and that these writers are echoing is that the truest freedom we can ever have is found not in doing what we want regardless of what God or anyone else thinks, but in becoming what we are meant to become by submitting to the nature of reality. It means that when God and I disagree on what I should or should not do, God wins and I submit.

“There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” (Luke 9:24)

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6:38)

“God’s Rules Take Away My Freedom”

Barbed Wire Prison

One portrayal of devout Christianity popular today is an image of grumpy, controlling individuals who want to impose their opinions on everyone else. To make matters worse, their opinions are no fun, and require us to give up all kinds of personal freedoms such as drinking, partying, swearing, or unhindered sexual expression, among other things.

Yes, there are many things that God commands us to abstain from doing. And yes, in many cases Christians believe that the wellbeing of their fellow countrymen will be benefited by the incorporation of God’s will into their laws. They may vote or even campaign to that end.

But we should remember that the message of Christianity is not one of compulsion. God makes His will clear to us, but then He leaves us to make our own decisions. His appeal to us is an appeal of a loving Father who wants to give us the things that we most desperately need, while freeing us from the petty and unhelpful passions that are ours in our ignorance.

The heart of the issue is a consideration of what it means to be free. We hate rules because they take away our freedoms. But what if the greatest freedom is only achieved when one honors one’s own true nature and the nature of the Creator?

Jesus did not come to take away our fun. On the contrary, He came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). He came so that we could be born again (John 3), and walk in newness of life (Romans 6). He came that we might be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). He came to gather us under His wings as a protector (Matthew 23:37). He came to free us from our slavery (Romans 6). He came that we could be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Christianity is not ultimately about giving up the things that we desperately wish we could have, it is about finding things even better that are ours for the taking.