What is a deliverance ministry?
A deliverance ministry is an activity or group that aims to release people from the influence of demons (Mt. 25:41). It is based on the belief that problems are caused by demons influencing the body or soul. These problems include: physical infirmities, emotional problems, abuse, torment, mental illness, recurring sins, addictions, financial problems, fear, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, lust, pornography, and homosexuality.
A deliverance session usually involves a team of people taking authority over Satan and his demons, using the name of Jesus Christ. It often includes prayer: to bind the demons; to loose God’s plans for deliverance; for the blood of Jesus to provide protection; for guidance; to invite the Lord to heal and deliver. It also includes: confessing and renouncing specific sins; taking authority in Christ over demons and commanding them to depart; reading passages from the Scripture that support the believer’s authority over evil; asking the Lord to heal past emotional, spiritual or physical wounds that may be footholds for the current oppression; and prayer for severing sinful connections with other people, demons or objects. Deliverance may also involve the use of spiritual gifts such as prophecy, tongues and a word of knowledge.
Deliverance ministries became more prevalent after the release of the film “The Exorcist” in 1973, as it created interest in casting out demons. Also, interest in casting out demons came with the rise of the charismatic movement.
Is it scriptural?
Jesus and the twelve apostles certainly cast out demons: “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Lk. 9:1-2 niv). Philip, the evangelist, and Paul cast out demons (Acts 8:7; 16:18; 19:11-12). There are no examples in the Bible of Christians being possessed by a demon, although they may be afflicted by Satan and demons (Lk. 13:16; 2 Cor. 12:7). The woman who had been bound by Satan for 18 years was healed, whereas Paul’s “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan” (2 Cor. 12:7) was not healed. There is no indication in the New Testament that Christians might have to deal with their own sin or the sin of another Christian by casting out a demon and there are no examples in Scripture of Christians casting demons out of other Christians.
Deliverance ministries are usually based on instances of exorcism in the gospels and Acts. Three verses that are commonly used to justify them are as follows:
“Calling the Twelve to Him, He sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits” (Mk. 6:7).
“These signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons” (Mk 16:17).
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (Jas. 5:16).
It is not clear that the signs, wonders and miracles described in the gospels and Acts are available to Christians today. Instead, they were God’s confirmation of the ministry of Christ and the early Church (Heb. 2:3-4). Also, in context, the verses above do not support deliverance ministry. For example, Mark 6:7 was addressed to the apostles, who were a distinct group among the early believers (1 Cor. 12:28-29). The statement in Mark 16:17 is followed by, “they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all” (Mk. 16:18). Clearly, this occurred in the early Church, but we should not expect it today. The context of James 5:13-20 is the restoration of a backslider. In this case, physical healing is connected with forgiveness of sins, so presumably this sickness was a result of a sin, not demon influence. The meaning of James 5:16 is that when we sin against someone else, we should be prompt to confess this sin to the person we have wronged.
The idea of needing deliverance from demons goes against the fact that demons have no power other than that given them by God (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). We are commanded to fear God, not demons. God controls the world, demons do not (Mt. 4:8-11). They can’t separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:38).
As Christians we should not become obsessed with Satan or demons and blame outside influences for our problems instead of our own sinful nature. This makes it difficult to take responsibility for our behavior and leads to seeking deliverance instead of repentance. It also makes us feel incapable of resisting our spiritual enemy and needing to rely on others for deliverance.
Should I get involved?
If we wish to live victorious lives and overcome Satan, we need to obey the Scriptures and apply their principles with wisdom to our lives (Rom. 16:19-20). Satan is not crushed under our feet by miracles or a deliverance ministry.
In the Old Testament, God prohibited His followers from seeking to make contact with demons (Lev. 19:26,31; 20:6,27; Dt. 18:9-13; Jer. 27:9-10). According to the New Testament, every Christian is capable of resisting Satan through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 10:13; Eph. 6:11; 1 Pet. 5:6-11). “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).
Instead of relying on a deliverance ministry to bring wholeness to our lives, we should pray daily that God may “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Mt. 6:13), and stand against the enemy by living in the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Eph. 6:10-20).
Published, April 2009
Satan’s Invisible Agents
Many people doubt the existence of demons or evil spirits, because they believe in a scientific view of the world. They assume the physical world is all that exists, as only it can be observed and measured by scientific methods. But what if a reality exists outside the world of science? Our Christian faith believes in such a reality because after His resurrection and ascension Jesus Christ lived in the unseen world which science cannot sense in any way. Such unbelief is nothing new; the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, angels or demons (Acts 23:8).
The Unseen World
The Bible is the only reliable source of information about demons and the unseen world. It teaches that God’s creation has two components: visible and invisible (Col. 1:16). The unseen spiritual part of our world is like an extra dimension which we can’t detect with our physical senses. The word translated “spirit” in the New Testament is the same Greek word as “wind,” which is used to describe things that are invisible and powerful. By faith we can be “certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1 NIV).
The unseen world is inhabited by personalities with intelligence, emotions and wills; not “forces” or “influences.” It is comprised of two components; the divine and the created. The triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the divine inhabitants of the unseen world (Jn. 4:24). The created inhabitants of the unseen world are: angels who are God’s agents that serve God and His followers (Heb. 1:14); Satan who opposes God and His followers (1 Pet. 5:8); demons who are Satan’s agents; and human spirits which are the eternal part of our being (2 Cor. 4:18). Note that demons are not divine and they are not human spirits.
The unseen world is eternal, it will never end: “What is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). Demons are immortal. Their destiny is eternal torment in the lake of fire (Mt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10).
Demons are Satan’s angels and Satan is described as the “prince of demons” (Mt. 12:24; 25:41). Demons share some things in common with angels and with Satan. They were created as God’s angels, but they followed Satan and rebelled against God. There are many references to demons in the Bible. Demons are always associated with evil because they work as Satan’s agents.
Demons have greater power and knowledge than humans, but less than God their creator. They were created as angels and because they have existed since the creation of the world, they have much more experience than we do.
Demons are not just superstitious explanations for an unknown disease. A clear distinction is made in the Bible between disease and demons. For example, Jesus told the apostles to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons” (Mt. 10:8). When demon activity is associated with ill health, a clear distinction is made between the two.
Demons are not spirits of the dead. Human spirits are separate from demons. After the rich man and Lazarus died, their spirits were in a place of torment and in paradise (Lk. 16:19-31).
Agents work in various ways. Satan can work in secret as an “angel of light” and a “deceiver.” This is the main way he works today, because Satan and demons want us to believe that they don’t exist. This helps them to achieve many of their purposes because people are unaware of their activity. Satan and demons can also work in an obvious fashion as a “roaring lion” (1 Pet. 5:8).
Four arenas where demons are particularly active as agents of Satan are: idolatry and false beliefs, the occult, demon possession, and the apocalypse.
Idolatry And False Beliefs
Idolatry is linked with demons: “The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons” (1 Cor. 10:20). It seems as though demons use idolatry to control unbelievers. So those who are involved with idolatry of any kind are involved with demons and are influenced by demons.
Paul wrote, “Some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). In this case people were being encouraged not to marry and not to eat certain foods. This was a false belief or philosophy that was deceiving people at that time. It originated from demons who inspired the hypocritical false teachers to spread these false beliefs. Demons are the power behind false beliefs.
Demons are also involved in the occult. The word “occult” means hidden, secret, dark, mysterious and concealed. This is Satan and his demons deceiving as an “angel of light.” The occult involves predicting the future by means such as astrology, horoscopes, visions, or crystal balls. It also involves magic such as charms, curses, spells and attempts to communicate with the dead through such means as seances in which a demon may be disguised as the spirit of a person who is dead.
Demons have superhuman knowledge and intelligence. The slave girl who was possessed by a demon could foretell the future (Acts 16:16). This shows that mediums can get information from demons.
Demons desire to live in people (Mt. 12:43-45). Demon possession occurs when one or more demons inhabit the body of a person and take control of him/her. It was particularly evident in the Gospels and Acts. Satan was particularly active in opposing Jesus Christ and the early Church. Our struggle against demons is described as being “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). There is not one example in the Bible of a Christian being possessed by demons, although they may be tempted and afflicted by Satan and by demons (Lk. 13:16; 2 Cor.12:7). However, demons can promote jealousy, selfishness, pride and disorder (Jas. 3:14-16).
The man who lived in the tombs was demon possessed (Mk. 5:1-15). His symptoms were caused by an evil spirit, not by an illness (Mk. 5:2). He had unusual physical strength: “No one could bind him any more” (Mk. 5:2-3). He was isolated from society, living in the tombs. He had a spilt personalty; he ran to Jesus at first, but then he cried out in fear (Mk. 5:6-7). He resisted Christ. He had clairvoyant powers; he knew who Jesus was even though he was isolated from the community. The demons spoke through him; maybe in a different voice or a different language (Mk. 5:7-9). These show the characteristics of demon possession. They include opposition to Christianity. On this occasion, Jesus caused the demons to transfer into a herd of pigs (Mk. 5:13). From this episode we see that demons have names, they have intelligence, they have emotions and they have a will.
In another instance, demon possession is associated with physical ailments such as lack of sight and lack of speech (Mt. 12:22-29). When Jesus healed the man, the people thought He was the promised Messiah. They knew that this act indicated that Jesus was more than just a human being. Jesus claimed that the demons were driven out “by the Spirit of God” (Mt. 12:28). We see that Christ’s will prevails over the demons. His power was strong evidence of His deity, as the Trinity is the only power that is stronger than Satan and his demons.
There are instances of others casting out demons. Jesus gave His disciples “authority over evil spirits” and they drove out many demons (Mk. 6:7,13). Of course it didn’t always work for them. The reasons given were: “because you have so little faith,” and “this kind can come out only by prayer” (Mt. 17:14-21; Mk. 9:14-29). They needed to have the power of God working through them to cast out demons.
Philip cast out demons (Acts 8:7), and Paul said to a demon in a girl who could predict the future, “‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ … at that moment the spirit left her” (Acts 16:16-19). When some Jews imitated Paul they failed to cast out demons, which indicates that the power of God was not working through them (Acts 19:13-16).
Satan and the demons are revealed as a “roaring lion” in the end times. We read of people who “did not stop worshiping demons and idols” (Rev. 9:20). Here we see that demons are associated with idolatry once again. The other behaviors associated with worshiping demons were murder, magic arts, sexual immorality and theft (Rev. 9:21). Three evil spirits are described as “spirits of demons performing miraculous signs” that gather armies for the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 16:13-14). These demons have great power as they are associated with miracles.
Babylon the Great, the evil system that killed many believers, is called “a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit” (Rev. 17:6; 18:2,24). Demons are influencing any people that persecute believers.
God’s Power Over Demons
As Satan’s agents, demons are strong influences in the unseen world. They promote Satan’s strategies in his ongoing battle against God and believers. There is a spiritual war going on in the unseen world around us even though we may not be aware of it. In our response to this we need to be aware of the following:
Christ’s Victory – The Son of God appeared “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8). He died “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). The demons are working for Satan, but Christ is destroying Satan. God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves” (Col. 1:13). Christians have changed sides, from Satan’s to Christ’s kingdom.
Christ’s Power – Only God’s power can defeat demons. “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). Do we really believe that one believer and Jesus are stronger than any other force in the universe? When we fear the evil about us we need to realize that we have access to a greater strength than the demons do. “If God is for us, who can be against us? … We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither … angels nor demons … nor any powers … will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:31-39). “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” (Eph. 6:10). Christ’s power is the only power that is stronger than that of Satan and his demons.
Delegated Authority – There are two Greek words for power: “exousia” means “delegated power or authority” while “dunamis” means “inherent power.” As Jesus subjected Himself to the limitations of humanity, He didn’t use His inherent power, but exercised the authority He received from God the Father (Acts 2:22). He gave His disciples a similar delegated authority/power to cast out demons (Mt. 10:1). They reported: “‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name.’ He replied, … ‘I have given you authority … to overcome all the power of the enemy … However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’” (Lk. 10:17-20). Similarly, God has given believers authority over Satan and demons, provided we use His weapons His way (Eph. 6:10-18). But our salvation is much more important than any power over demons.
Our Response To Demons
First, we need to pray before we act. We need to resist the enemy in the unseen world, that’s where the real battle is happening. God’s kingdom is advanced through God and this requires prayer and Spirit-led action.
Second, we need to resist the enemy by using God’s resources. Our weapons should be directed at Satan, demons and the issues involved, not at people: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12). Otherwise we are not building up the kingdom of God or tearing down the kingdom of Satan. Release any anger about sin and Satan in prayer. Our weapons are:
Jesus’ Name – This carries the victory of the cross and the resurrection. But we must be wholly committed to Jesus to use it effectively.
God’s Word – Claim Christ’s victory and power. Remind the demons of the “eternal fire” prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25:41). “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God … Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God” (1 Jn. 4:1-3). Get help from a believer with the gift of “distinguishing between spirits” (1 Cor. 12:10).
The Holy Spirit’s Power – “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit has a greater influence on people and circumstances than we do.
Jesus’ Blood – Believers can overcome Satan and demons “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Rev.12:11). Remind Satan and the demons of Christ’s victory and their defeat at the crucifixion.
The Truth – Tell them about God and be honest about ourselves.
Believers don’t have to fear Satan and his demons. We have been rescued from their dominion of darkness, sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13) and provided with the resources to stand against them. We are more than conquerors through Christ. If God is for us, who can be against us?