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. . . there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, saying, “What do we have to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who you are-the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out him,” Mark 1:23-25.
While in Cape Town, South Africa recently I was preaching at an evangelistic tent meeting in the poor community called Capricorn, near Fish Hoek. I had been told that demonic possession was a real problem in the area. African Traditional Religions (ATR’S) are animistic. That is, those embracing ATR’s believe God is so far beyond them that they are unable to reach him by themselves. They believe the spirits of their ancestors make it possible for them to appease god who is distant and angry with them. They believe that whenever a hardship comes-the death of a child, a crop failure, sickness, etc. they have upset the spirit deities (their ancestor’s spirits). When this happens they run to the witchdoctor who prescribes a remedy. Sometimes they are told to sacrifice a chicken or a goat. I have heard that in some of the tribal areas in South Africa a young girl is sacrificed once per year to appease the deities. I know children are regularly kidnapped in Uganda and sold to people who then sacrifice the children to find relief from the ancestor spirits. Of course these so-called spirit deities are demons.
So after I preached on Jesus being more powerful than demons, that Jesus alone can set people free from demonic possession, a young woman named Sana approached me after the service, telling me that she had several voices speaking through her. She pointed to her throat. Ronni Cronje, my South African friend, and one far more versed in these matters than me, asked her a few questions, and determined that she was indeed demon possessed. Since casting out demons can be a very lengthy ordeal (perhaps hours, even days), and since the hour was late and we had another appointment, Ronni asked her to come back the next night. So the next night I was preaching from Mark 5, showing how Jesus has power and authority over demons, disease, and death; and I gave a three-fold invitation, asking people to come forward if they wanted demons cast out of them, if they needed healing, and if they needed to be saved. Eight or ten came forward for healing, and we prayed for them. Three or four came forward for salvation and we prayed, asking God to save them. And one young man came forward who was demom possessed. Sana did not come forward though she was at the meeting and though we spoke to her later. When asked why she did not come forward to have the demons cast out, she said that she was afraid. Ronni said that often the demons within the people talk them out of coming forward for prayer. Back to the young, demon possessed man-as Ronni and other pastors prayed over the man, he fell to the ground and was shaking violently. He was barking and making other very strange sounds. Two men held him to the ground and they prayed, commanding the demons in the name of Jesus to come out of the man. The pastors took him behind a screen and continued for several hours to minister to him. He was vomiting and many demons apparently were speaking through him.
What are we to make of such things? Was this really demonic possession or was it simply a matter of tribal emotionalism? If real, then how does one become demon possessed? And what does this mean for us in the western world where these things seem so foreign to us? Clearly the some fifty-two references to demonic possession in the gospels were genuine. We can affirm this, at the very least, because the Scriptures are true and without error in all they teach. And William Hendriksen1 points out that by demonic possession the Scriptures are not speaking of insanity, physical or emotional illnesses, or multiple personalities. Geoff Thomas has an outstanding and very balanced article on the issue as well, and I commend it to you.2 Thomas says, with R.L. Dabney, that while he has never seen demonic possession, he would not say that it cannot exist today. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that he saw at least one case of it. To be sure, there can be many factors (like the emotionalism of a worship service, fatigue or sleep deprivation, hormone deficiencies) that cause bizarre behavior and which some attribute to demonic possession. However we would be terribly negligent and naive to say that demonic possession does not occur today.
Well then, how does demonic possession happen? I know of at least five cases (three in the U.S., and two in Africa) that seem to me to be characteristic of demonic possession. In all five cases the people hear multiple voices from within. Of course, these do not necessarily prove demonic possession. These people could merely be mentally deranged. But in two of the cases the people show no other traits of psychosis. Indeed, they are highly accomplished in their professional fields. In one case the person constantly felt the bed shaking. When a friend slept in the bed one night, she said, “Something weird is going on in there. I will never sleep in that bed again.” In all five cases, these people, at some point in their lives, said something like, “I want to serve the devil.” Some went further and engaged in witchcraft and viewing wicked, perverse, and demonic things on the internet.
What does this mean for us? One of the reasons demonic possession seems so foreign and bizarre to us is because we have a long history of Christianity in the west. When Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God the demons were terrified, and they obeyed Him when He cast them out of people. So where Christianity has prevailed, demonic activity has waned. But now, due to our rejection of the Christian faith, due to our consequent superstition and embrace of all manner of perversion, satanic activity in the western world is on the rise. If you are in Christ Jesus, and if you are walking in the light, as Jesus Himself is in the light, then you have nothing to fear from the devil or his minions. Greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). If, however, you are in grievous, unrepentant sin; if you are dabbling in the occult; then you are exposing yourself to the evil one who can bring great harm to you. Paul tells us not to grieve the Holy Spirit, with whom we have been sealed until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30). To grieve the Spirit means to sin willfully, consciously, and unrepentantly against Him. It is to deny His presence, to sin against His love. One who persists in such sin may be forfeiting the Spirit’s sanctifying power and presence.3 He is opening himself up to all manner of temptation. Our God is covenantal. If you obey Him, He promises to track you down and bestow blessing, after blessing on you. If you continue in sin against Him, He will curse you (Deuteronomy 28-29, see also Matthew 5:17-20, 7:24-27). So cling to Jesus. Run to Him for refuge. Be quick to confess and repent of your sin. Don’t “go there” with witchcraft, seductive movies, television programs, even “soft” porn. Do not give the devil an opportunity (Ephesians 4:27). Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:4).
5 New Testament Commentary, Matthew, pages 436-438
6 See the Banner of Truth article entitled “Deliverance from Demonic
Possession by Jesus Christ,” 2003
7 See Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Darkness and Light: An Exposition of
Ephesians 4:17-5:17, pages 274-276.
Reverend Allen M. Baker
Pastor Baker is ordained in the PCA and has been in the ministry for over 30 years. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he received his M.Div. degree from...