By Nelson Vhukani
FOCUS Regional director [Midlands region]
Questions of demons have been raised in Christian circles particularly in African Christians, some of which are difficult to answer. Such questions are raised because there are different views regarding demons existence and their activities and most importantly because there are many Christians who are afraid of them yet they should not. The key questions are; who are demons? Do these demons exist? If they exist, what power do they have? Can a Christian be demon possessed? In answering these questions the essay seeks to provide a biblical and theological response thereby establishing whether or not Christians have any reason to fear them. The essay begins by looking at the origins of demons, their influence to the world and then how Christians should deal with demonic powers.
- Background-origins of demons
- Who are these demons?
Grudem defines demons as “evil angels who sinned against God and who now continually work evil in the world. Like angels they are also created, spiritual beings with moral judgement and high intelligence but without physical bodies” (2011:412). From this we can see that demons are rogue created beings and so are not eternal as God is. Since they are spiritual beings we cannot usually see them or be aware of their presence. Also, the fact that they are created beings reveals that they are not the spirits of people who died, like what other circles of African Tradition Religion believe (Salala 1998:133). Rather, there are “evil angels who were once like good angels” (Grudem 2011:412) who were cast out of heaven for their sin against God (Revelation 12:7-8). The bible clearly states Satan as the chief father of these demons, as the controller of spiritual forces of wickedness and as the “the god of this age” (2 Cor 4:4).
- Do demon exist?
In 2 Peter 2:4, demons were removed from the presence of God and their activity are now restricted but this does not imply either that their influence has been removed from the world or they still exist and at work (Grudem 2011:413). More so, the bible constantly reminds us to be aware of their activities and giving us warnings about them (1 Peter 5:8). This suggests that demons are still in existence even today. Moreau commends that Satan sometimes mislead Christians into thinking that he does not exist, and this will lead them not to get ready to engage him when he chooses to attack since he is always looking for people to dupe (1990:91). This is true because for one to prepare and stand against the enemy you need to accept his existence first and recognise him as the source of attack. Therefore, modern Christians, especially western Christians should be aware and know that demons are real and they are working against the church (believers) awaiting their final judgement.
- The influence of demons in the world
- What are their powers?
In some ways demons have powers. In the bible, Satan and his demons are presented as very powerful angelic beings and like human beings they are possessed of intelligence, will and emotions but they are far more superior to man (Salala 1998:141). In 2 Corinthians 4:4, we see Satan referred to as “the god of this world” and his claim of possessing the world is also affirmed by Christ himself when he says “the ruler of this world…” (John 12:31) (Salala, 1998:144). Satan is also referred to as the roaring lion (1 Peter 5). So, from scriptures the world is somehow ruled by evil powers that is Satan and his evil spirits. The fact that Satan and his demons are very stronger and more intelligent than any man imply that they can cause affliction in the lives of Christians such as diseases and mental illness. The table below helps to elaborate how the bible presents the demon’s power against people;
||In perverting the revealed truth
||In Sickness and mental illness
||As a source of temptation
||In persecuting the Church
||In encouraging Christians to sin or to have doubt
||In pursuing False religions
||1 Timothy 4:1-2
||Luke 13:10; 6:17:19, Acts 5:16; 10:38
||Matthew 4:1-11; 1 Thess 3:5
||1 Peter 5:8-9; 2 Tim 4:17;
The table shows us that demons have some powers and that’s why some Christians fear them. This also shows that Satan and his spirits are behind many human sufferings and the destruction of Church but there is hope that all evil powers would be decisively crushed (Matthew 16:18). However it is not always true that all evil and sin is by demonic powers since there are certain NT passages like Ephesians 2:3 and Romans 5:12 that show some cases in which evil is from man’s actions rather than from demonic forces (Grudem, 1994:420-421). This means that we should not always attribute evil to demons.
Above all it is important to stress that where demons are active they only operate under God’s sovereignty (Arnold, 1992:93). Salala echoes this when he states that “angels-this includes demons-as creatures are limited in power. This means that their power is subject to the authority of God.
One of the key areas that cause fear among Christians is demonization. Demonization means to be possessed or to be under the influence of demons (dictionary). This means that demons have possession function. But an important question worthy asking is whether or not Christians can be demon possessed. Noll notes that Evangelicals often deny that Christians can be demon possessed while pentecostals and charismatics claim that both Christians and non-Christians may be demonized and so require exorcism (1998:149-150). Dickason as quoted by Noll concludes that the bible neither affirms nor denies the possibility of demonized Christians (1998:150).
According to Arnold, the letters written to the churches particularly by Paul, never talked about a Christian being demon possessed except to the church in Ephesus where the language of demonization is implied (Eph 4:27). Though, Paul did not say Christian can be demon possessed he did say demons can find a way into believers life (1992:184). Demons can find a way by manipulating the physical side of humans, by presenting provocative images that stimulate their victims to emotions of lust and anger (Kelly, 2006:301). Basing on apostle John’s words, it is reasonable to say demons cannot possesses true Christians since they are already indwelled by the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:4). Convincingly, Kelly concludes that demons can use tempting techniques that includes unbelievers to seduce Christians from their faith (2006:147). From this assertion one may conclude that Christians cannot be demon possessed although they can be tempted and be vulnerable to the powers of demons (Gehman, 1999:170).
- Christians’ response to demons
- African response
Christians in Africa should be aware that consulting the dead is one of the weapons demons can use to attack our faith. They manipulate this and take control by deception. “The living-dead the so called ancestral spirits” (Gehman, 1999:185), cannot be said to affect Christians because they have no room in the Christian faith. For they represent the evil schemes and desires of Satan to oppose God. For this reason African Christians must oppose them by every means possible. Knowing that Christ is sufficient to be our mediator and He is the only way to the father. The dead must not be accommodated by the Christian church today no matter you are in Africa or not. African Christians should not fear to approach God because He made himself known and came to dwell among us through Christ and the Holy spirit.
- Can Christians lose their salvation?
From the preceding discussion, we see that demons are evil and they are on their mission to oppose God’s work of building His kingdom and so Christians will be their targets since they are partaking in this work (Ephesians 6:10-12). However, Christians should not be afraid of demons. The following are the reasons:
Firstly, Christians have assurance of God’s protection from demons through the Holy Spirit. The bible gives Christians assurance that “greater is who in you than who is already in the world” (1 John 4:4). This means that Christians have powers against demons because of the Holy Spirit who dwells in them. Satan is made powerless by Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection (1 John 3:8) (Salala, 1998:144). Paul says “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them triumph over them by the cross” (Col 2:15). Given this, there is no reason for Christians to fear demons.
Secondly, demons cannot kill the souls of believers. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus says “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Demons can therefore cause harm and trouble to Christians but they (Christians) cannot cause them to lose their salvation. Paul confirms this in Romans 8:38-39 when he says “for I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons….nor any powers,…nor anything else in creation will able to separate us from the love God..” These two passages suggest that though demons might have some sort of powers in our lives they are awaiting final judgement when Christ returns (Arnold 1992:164-165). Ferdinando puts it in this way “Satan and the powers are defeated yet remain active while they await final judgement (Rev. 20:7-10).” (1999:367-368).
Thirdly, for Christians death has a theological meaning that is different from how the unbelievers view it. If we are in Christ, it doesn’t mean that we won’t die or face evil attacks but death and these attacks have now different meaning for Christians. That’s why Paul says “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). So, for Christians death is not the real problem they have to fear or worry about as their enemy but faithlessness or unbelief, thus death loses its significance in the life of Christians instead it becomes a way for victory (Ferdinando, 1999:370). Also, Christians should be aware that fear of death is one of the schemes or tactics demons can use to attack their faith (2 Cor. 2 :11) and so Christians need to stay alert as the bible constantly reminds them (1 Peter 5:8).
Fourthly, Christians have the armour of God to fight against demons and any powers of the devil. In Ephesians 6:10-19, Paul mentions the weapons that are given to Christians in their battle against demons. One of the weapon is the the sword of the Spirit – the Bible (v17). Therefore Christians must not fear evils attacks but engage in this battle with confidence because the victory is assured in Christ. Jesus tells his disciples not to fear (Luke 12:7) this also applies to Christians for “the Lord did not give us the spirit of fear but of power” (2 Timothy 1:7).
- How should Christians deal with demonic powers?
Throughout our discussion, it has become apparent that Christians should not fear Satan and demons. But Christians are not only protected from the attacks of demons, they are also empowered to fight against these powers. The bible mentions tools and practical ways that Christians can use in this battle.
Firstly, is by knowing their identity in Christ. Christians have been saved from darkness to light and have become children of God in Christ. This means that those who trust in him are special and secure in his hands. With this, it is possible to resist Satan and he will flee from them (Jm 4:7). If we know our true identity in Christ we can therefore agree with Paul when he says “we are more than conquerors” (Romans 28:8).
Also, Christians have been given powers to cast out demons. During His ministry, Jesus cast out many demons or evil spirits from those who were afflicted or possessed. He lends this power to his disciples (Luke 9:1), which is also given to Christians when they genuinely put their trust and faith in him (John 14:12-14). In the book of Acts there is a case in which the sons of Sceva had tried to cast out a very powerful spirit without believing in or knowing Jesus, but they failed with disastrous consequences (Acts 19:13-16). This means that when try to exercise Jesus’ given authority without Christ, Christians are doomed to fail.
Besides, Christians must need to be strong in the Lord and take on the full armour of God. (Ephesians 6:10-17). Christians can resist these powers and they don’t need to fear these powers. Rather, they should pray and proclaim the gospel. They must also be rooted in the teaching of the scriptures by reading the bible. To be strong in the lord, having knowledge of his truth, faith and prayer are all very important tools in the battle against demons (Boyd 1997:281). That’s why Christians are sometimes portrayed as soldiers of Christ (2 Tim 2:3-4).
Furthermore, Christians should always be holy. They should live lives that show and testify that they are saved by Christ to be God’s own people and they must be holy just as God who called them is holy (1 Pet 1:15). Christians should not give Satan “the ground of sin” knowing that every time they sin, they are giving Satan a foothold to attack them (Moreau, 1990:91).
Throughout our discussion, effort has been made to emphasize that even though demons are powerful than man, they have no role in the plan of our salvation, and therefore we must not fear them and that, in Christ, we have authority to defeat them. The demons cannot be said to affect Christians “because Christ has disarmed the authority of the evil, Satan and demons have no power over our souls. For this reason those who follow Christ have no need to fear evil attack, and those who find themselves bound by Satan may have absolute assurance of God’s will and power to deliver them” (Noll, 1998:151). Christians should not fear death because the one who holds the power of death has been made powerless (Hebrews 2:14). In Christ, therefore, Christians should not fear demons.
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FERDINANDO, K. 1999. The triumph of Christ in African perspective: a study of demonology and redemption in the African context. Carsile, UK: Paternoster.
GEHMAN, R. J. 1999. Who are the living-dead? A theology of death, life after death and the living dead. Nairobi: Evangelical Press House.
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MOREAU, S. A. 1990. The world of the spirits: a biblical context in the African context. Nairobi: evangelical publishing house.
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NOLL, F. S. 1998. Angels of light, powers of darkness. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Christians are people who has received Jesus as their saviour from sin, turns from sin to God in repentance by faith to forgive them through supernatural power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:2).
 My italics for emphasis