The Modus Operandi of Demons

Written by Prof Johan Malan.

Christians are called upon to fight the good fight of faith by resisting the devil’s deception, temptations, accusations, and attacks. We should use all the spiritual weapons at our disposal – especially faith in the crucified and risen Christ, prayer, and the sword of the Spirit (1 John 5:4-5; Rev. 12:11; Jas. 5:16; Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12). Sadly, many believers disregard these methods of spiritual self-defence, and resort to unbiblical forms of deliverance like, among others, exorcism. They argue that compulsive bad habits in a Christian’s life are caused by demons, and that these habits can only be eliminated by the binding or casting out of the demons that are allegedly at the root of sinful behaviour.

Scriptural evidence, however, is completely against the idea of a Christian having a demon inside of him. It borders on blasphemy to state that a Christian who is born of the Spirit, one in whom Christ has come to dwell, can at the same time have an indwelling demon. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36; NIV). Only unsaved people can become demon-possessed. Christians can certainly be deceived by demons, particularly if they are ignorant of certain biblical truths, but they cannot be possessed by demons.

Demons are often wrongly equated with sin, even to the extent of calling them by the names of certain sins. Even when Scripture refers to a “lying spirit” (cf. 2 Chron. 18:22) it is telling us the nature of that spirit and not its name. All demons are lying spirits because they proceed from Satan who is the father of lies (John 8:44). There is no biblical evidence of the existence of demons of lying, demons of seduction, demons of greed, demons of lust, or demons of anything else that would indicate that they are the embodiment of specific sins.

Satan and his demons are operating in the extrasensory, spiritual realm from where they unleash vile thoughts and evil suggestions like fiery darts upon their victims (Eph. 6:16). These thoughts or influences enter the person on the level of his subconscious mind without revealing their origin and then suddenly occur to him as his own thoughts. If they are accepted and heeded the victim has been successfully deceived to believe spiritual lies, or tempted to commit moral sins.

For this important reason, every thought that occurs to a believer should be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4). If the thought does not comply with Scriptural principles it should be resisted and rejected. This is the way in which ideas, which all emerge from a specific spiritual realm, should be tested (1 John 4:1). Thoughts which come from God through His Word and the working of the Holy Spirit will give you enlightened eyes of the mind and lead you on ways of righteousness. But thoughts which come from the devil will darken your mind, induce you to reject Christ and His gospel, and instil evil passions in you.

Paul says that the minds of unsaved people are completely darkened by Satan: “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Cor. 4:3-4). Satan is the ruler of darkness (Eph. 6:12), and he prefers to act in spiritual darkness where people have very little or no discernment between truth and error. With the access which he and his demons have to people’s minds he strives to keep them in the dark concerning the truth of the gospel. He prevents them from seeing the light.

In a very clever way he also tries to darken the minds of believers who are already saved and are walking in the light. The moment they start believing some of the deceptive teachings of Satan, spiritual clouding gradually sets in. Paul warned an entire congregation against this very real danger: “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the Serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).

The fiery darts of Satan have access to the mind of a believer, and therefore also to his “heart” where he contemplates different thoughts, forms convictions, and takes decisions on how to express himself. Decisions which emerge from Satan’s sinful suggestions obviously give rise to sinful acts. Peter said: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” (Acts 5:3). Satan influenced him to lie, but that was not a demon which entered him. If that were the case, Peter would have cast the demon out. Satan merely capitalised on Ananias’ desire for personal gain by filling his heart with the idea to lie to the Holy Spirit, to which he readily agreed. The words which Ananias spoke were his own inventions stemming from the flames of covetousness which Satan had fanned in his heart.

Even though demons cannot possess Christians they are nevertheless very real and are actively engaged in attacking us. Reg Bendixen (The Christian and the Demon World, 1974) says:

“Of course, we do not for a moment suggest that demons are not real, or that they do not attack Christians. But we must understand very clearly that the effectiveness of their assault against us lies solely in their ability to deceive us. This assault is both general and specific. Each time we read a newspaper or magazine, watch a film or listen to the radio, we are receiving a blast from the Satanic master-mind. Ephesians 2:2 gives a graphic descrip­tion of this, speaking of the fashion of this world which is to follow the ‘prince of the power of the air’, or atmosphere, as the original Greek implies. The very atmosphere we move in is charged with the evil presence of Satan, and we would have to separate ourselves right out of the world to escape his influence. For example, there is at the moment an all-pervading trend towards immorality and permissiveness which urges us to believe that only old fashioned, eccentric people abide by a strict moral code, and this is pounding all of us all the time. Then there is the individual attack, when a demon, like a sniper in wartime, zeroes in on a particular target with the express purpose of deceiving or harassing him. A demon is able to control or manipulate the behaviour of an individual believer in the degree to which he can deceive him. By deception, demons can manipulate our reactions and behaviour patterns. For instance, if the devil can convince us that we are not washed in the blood of Jesus, we will be overcome by guilt feelings and react accordingly. We will become depressed and discour­aged, and our relationship with Jesus will be clouded. Satan dwells in the realm of lies and deceptions, and when we believe his deceptions, he can to that extent control our behaviour. ... Scripture clearly indicates that all the problems of a believer lie only in the area of his darkness, his ignorance and his unbelief; in the area in which he has not recognized the truth of the work of Christ in him.”

Paul refers to the key role of false teachers who are used by deceiving spirits to spread lies and destroy people’s faith: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:1-2). In his comment on this scripture, Duane Litfin says the following in The Bible Knowledge Commentary (1983:739; edited by John Walvoord & Roy Zuck):

“As the repository and guardian of the truth, the church must be aware of the strategies of the truth’s enemies. It is crucial then for the church to understand what God has revealed about these enemies. ... According to this teaching the situation will degenerate as Christ’s return approaches. In latter times, which Paul viewed as still future though casting their shadow already, some people will abandon the faith (cf. 1 Tim. 1:19) to follow after the false teaching of deceiving spirits and demons. Spiritual error is seldom due to innocent mistakes. It is more often due to the conscious strategies of God’s spiritual enemies (cf. Eph. 6:12). The teachings of demons are false doctrines taught by errorists whose views are instigated by demons. But God’s spiritual enemies do not directly confront their victims with error. Instead they work through hypocritical liars. This is Satan’s standard operating procedure (cf. 2 Cor. 11:13-15). He selects likely representatives and renders their consciences beyond feeling (cf. Eph. 4:19), seared as with a hot iron. In this condition they are ready to do Satan’s bidding.”

Deliverance and victory

The Bible is full of rich counsel to the believer for the overcoming of sin, temptations and deception. If these guidelines are followed sin will not be committed, and consequently demons will not have their way with us:

Crucify the flesh: The old, sinful nature of believers needs to be put off and crucified if we wish to fully put on the new man in Christ (Eph. 4:22-24; Luke 9:23; Gal. 6:14). A full surrender of this nature is also referred to as “sanctification” and that is the only sure way to refrain from sinning: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality. ... For God did not call us to uncleanness but to holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 4:3, 7-8). The “old man” or “the flesh” is prone to evil thoughts and deeds, and therefore a natural ally of the devil. If the flesh is not crucified it will oppose the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer (Gal. 5:17), thus rendering him spiritually powerless, unfruitful in the service of the Lord, and unable to prevail against sinful lusts. The key to a righteous and victorious walk with God is not the casting out of demons but the mortifying of the carnal nature with its lusts.

Be filled with the Spirit: The opposite to a life under the influence and domination of the flesh is a life which is filled by the Holy Spirit: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18; NIV). The filling of the Holy Spirit is the second aspect of sanctification – the first being the crucifying of the flesh. This command was given to Christians who already had received the Holy Spirit since they were regenerated by Him, but they were not yet filled with the Spirit. We all need to search ourselves, wait on the Lord, and trust Him to be endued with power from on high (Luke. 24:49; Acts 1:8).

Walk in the Spirit: Our daily life needs to be conducted under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If we do that we will never falter: “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). To be able to do this we should follow closely in the steps of the Lord Jesus: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). Every decision that we take should first be considered and prayed over to ensure that it conforms to biblical precepts.

Test the spirits: Every idea or teaching which presents itself to us should first be tested for its authenticity. Every true statement is supported by the Spirit of truth, while every deceptive idea is driven by the spirit of error which emanates from Satan. Since we only know in part (1 Cor. 13:12) we should be very cautious not to accept anything that deviates from God’s Word even in the slightest degree. There is often a very fine line between truth and error. The more ignorant we are of biblical truths, the more easily we can be deceived. We should not naively believe every teaching, “but test the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). All views and statements made by people should first be tested by carefully comparing them with scriptural truths, and also by reading scriptures in their full context. False prophets often quote Scripture but interpret it out of context to suit their deceptive teachings.

Resist evil: All evil thoughts and practices should be resisted without compromising with them in any way whatsoever: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph. 5:11). Anything that is associated with the kingdom of Satan should be sternly rejected since evil works are the fruit of a life which is heading for perdition: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). There should be no complicity with the works of darkness, neither any justification, but rather condemnation.

Watch and pray: It is a well established fact that the devil and his evil spirits are engaged in a full-scale war against the saints. While we are still in our weak humanly bodies we are constantly exposed to the possibility of temptation and seduction through our senses. The Lord Jesus said to His disciples: “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). We should pray to be delivered from the evil one (Matt. 6:13), while resisting him in faith: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7; cf. 1 Pet. 5:8-9).

Abide in Christ: We have a definite command to abide in Christ, which very clearly implies the possibility that believers may fail to do so because of the poor commitment due to an uncrucified flesh, or as a result of being deceived by Satan. Christ said: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. ... If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:4, 6). Some of the deceived, carnal believers completely “depart from the faith” when they are exposed to heretical teachings (1 Tim. 4:1). Paul says that such believers may completely apostatise and, “concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck” (1 Tim. 1:19). The Hebrew believers who did not abide in Christ ended up having evil and unbelieving hearts: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end” (Heb. 3:12-14). Those who fail to hold fast to their testimony of salvation, do not abide in Christ and may end up as deluded unbelievers.

Walk in the light: There should be no doubtful, shameful and secret thoughts or activities which we harbour in our lives as that would be a sure way of backsliding: “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7). Committed and persevering believers constantly live under the atonement and immediately repent if they falter. John says: “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1-2).

Put on the full armour of God: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:10; NIV). The spiritual weapons of the Bible are associated with the victory which is promised to us in Christ, a strong faith in Him, the power of prayer, and an unshakable trust in the promises in His Word. If we excel in this war and are not driven back by the enemy we will be among the overcomers who will reign with Christ: “Hold fast what you have till I come. And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations” (Rev. 2:25-26).

Fully trust in the grace of Christ: Paul says, “Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:11-14). Conformity to the death of Jesus Christ opens the way to conformity with His victorious resurrection life. In Christ Jesus we are no longer under the law (or power) of sin which takes people captive in Satan’s kingdom of darkness – neither are we under the Old Testament law which only brings knowledge of sin but cannot save us from sin. We are called upon to live under the liberating power of Christ’s grace (1 Pet. 1:13-16; Tit. 2:11-14).

In the near future there will be a big confrontation on earth between the soon to be revealed false christ of Satan’s kingdom, and the coming true Christ of God’s kingdom. The present spiritual war between these two kingdoms will then have dramatic physical manifestations, and lead to the condemnation and destruction of millions of Satan’s deluded followers. The lake of fire is awaiting them, “for the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).