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be careful not to dismiss the concept of spiritual warfare altogether, or to conclude that talk about spirits is outdated and not relevant to our daily lives anymore.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