The Lutheran Church of the Triune God

The Full Armor of God

A Study on Demon Possession and Demon Affliction

 

In the first few centuries there existed considerable superstition with respect to demons and their horrific powers. Ancient incantation texts are quoted as saying: “These demons were everywhere; they lurked in every corner, watching for their prey. The city streets knew their malevolent presence, the rivers, the seas, the tops of mountains; they appeared sometimes as serpents gliding noiselessly upon their victims, as birds horrid of mien flying resistlessly to destroy or afflict, as beings in human forms, grotesque, malformed, awe-inspiring through their hideousness. To these demons all sorts of misfortune were ascribed – a toothache, a headache, a broken bone, a raging fever, an outburst of anger, of jealousy, of incomprehensible disease”. (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia quotes Rogers pertaining to Bab incantation texts, op. cit., and 145)

 

In recent decades we have witnessed the opposite extreme in terms of what people believe concerning Satan and his angels. Many in our society have simply refused to acknowledge the existence of demons. But as times change, so do beliefs and practices. People seem more fascinated than a generation ago with the supernatural. This is evidenced by an increased number of those dabbling in the occult, to say nothing about Hollywood’s attraction to demon-like characters and symbols which routinely find their way onto the local movie screen.

 

Meanwhile, in the church there appears to be a great disconnect. On one side are educated and liberal theologians who are reluctant to acknowledge the existence of Satan. Others in the church, like those from former days, attribute too much power to Satan. Some Evangelical or Charismatic Christians, for example, will speak of being exorcized of their demons. This represents anything from a bad temper to lousy hygiene.

 

So, where shall we come down as Confessional Lutherans? Might we from time to time make a case that “the devil made me do it! Or shall we declare to another extreme that Satan has gone home; following Christ’s resurrection and victory over death and the devil, the same devil has been reduced in fury and cropped in size? Are we to conclude that yes, he may tempt and seduce, but he can’t touch us otherwise? Are his powers limited to a spiritual realm where he may not affect us physically, emotionally or psychologically?

 

We might be surprised by Luther’s words in the Large Catechism. He refers to the devil as one who seeks incessantly to bring harm to God’s creatures. Commenting on the seventh petition of the Lord’s Prayer; “and lead us not into temptation” Luther says:


Nevertheless, this petition includes all the evil that may befall us under the devil’s kingdom; poverty, shame, death, and, in short, all the tragic misery and heartache of which there is so incalculably much on earth. Since the devil is not only a liar but also a murderer, he incessantly seeks our life and vents his anger by causing accident and injury to our bodies. He breaks many a man’s neck and drives other to insanity; some he drowns, and many he hounds to suicide or other dreadful catastrophes... For if God did not support us, we would not be safe from him for a single hour. (Large Catechism, paragraph 115)

 


1. As a direct result of Satan’s power upon God’s creation, Luther asserts, the Devil is responsible for inflicting tremendous harm and sorrow upon believers. Is this to say that Satan directly and personally wills tragedy upon another person?

 

No. The Devil may not inflict evil upon anyone unless it is in accordance with the will of God. Nor can he force anyone to sin.

 

(See 1 Corinthians 10:13).

 

Demon Possession - What is it Really?

 

2. According to New Testament Scripture, how shall we understand demonic activity?

Is all such activity equivalent to demon possession?

 

(See Luke 8:27, Mark 5:2, Matthew 4:24)

 

In the original Greek text, there are three different expressions which are used generally to describe the activity or influence of demons. An individual may have an unclean spirit be with an evil spirit or be demonized.

 

The verb “demonized”, however, is usually overlooked in the translations. Most translations mistranslate the Greek verb “to be demonized” stating the people were “demon-possessed” or “those possessed with devils” etc. The translation is unfortunate and inaccurate. A more reasonable translation could be rendered using an English word such as “afflicted”.

 

3. How will most people today, in your opinion, define demon possession? Compare your answers to what Scripture actually says about those apparently possessed by a demon.

 

(See Luke 8:27, Mark 5:2 Luke 8:30, Mark 5:9, Luke 8:2)

 

Those rightly identified as possessed, are those who have a demon or in whom a demon has entered.

 

4. How is demon possession unique in comparison to other forms of demonic activity?

Might we cite cases where a person could rightly claim: “the devil made me do it?”

(See Luke 11:26 and Mark 5:6-13, Luke 4:33-34)

 

The differences between possession and affliction are not slight. In instances of possession, the evil spirit does not merely enter the individual. He lives in the possessed person and is not compelled to leave unless expelled by the Lord. The demon occupies and controls the individual. Thereafter, the possessed person is absolutely under the domination of the demon. He or she has no control over their body’s operations or speech and no power to resist the demon’s manipulations.

 

Even so, there is today a very broad use of the word “possession”. Popular perception about the term is that we are referring to almost any kind of demonic activity, regardless of whether a demon has entered an individual.

 

5. Were all cases of demon possession essentially the same?

 

(See Luke 9:39-40 and Mark 9:18, 22, see also Luke 8:29, Acts 19:13-16)

 

6. What were the means by which a demon might be expelled?

 

(See Mark 9:17-27, Luke 4: 31-37, Then see Mark 9:28-29, See also Acts 19:13-16)

 

If the prospect of possession by a demon proved a real threat to believers, no Christian could remain undisturbed by the thought. We may especially find such images horrifying when we associate possession with losing one’s freedom and ability to serve Christ. Some educators on the subject have tried to relieve our fears. A distinction is made between physical possession and spiritual possession. Theoretically, a believer could become possessed physically, it’s suggested, and remain Christian. As for those who are possessed spiritually, however, we are referring to those who have lost or forsaken the faith.

 

7. Is such a distinction helpful? What about Judas? Where does he fit in?

 

(See Luke 22:3-4, 47-48)

 

This was more than a case of having lost his will. Having been possessed spiritually, Judas had given up his will. He had given Satan the freedom in fact to exercise Satan’s will through him. What wicked acts Judas performed, hence were not against his will. He delighted in them.

 

We may also correlate spiritual possession with unbelief or a rejection of Christ’s Gospel.

 

8. Other than Judas, whom else would we assert is spiritually possessed?

 

(See Acts 26:18)

 

I do not find it helpful speaking of people as being possessed in a spiritual sense. To be quite honest, we then are obligated to include every nonbeliever under this category since Satan has complete power over those who do not believe the Gospel.

 

Comment on the following statements.

 

“All who do not believe the Gospel are thinking and doing what the devil wills; they are completely in his power (Christian Dogmatics, F. Pieper Vol. I p. 509)

 


“Thus the human will is placed between the two like a beast of burden. If God rides it, it wills and goes where God wills... If Satan rides it, it wills and goes where Satan wills; nor can it choose to run to either of the two riders or to seek him out, but the riders themselves contend for the possession and control of it.” (Luther’s Works Vol. 33 pp. 65-66)

 

9. What does the doctrine of Baptism teach us concerning demon possession?

Is it possible for a demon to enter a baptized Christian in whom the Holy Spirit dwells?

 

(See Acts 2:38, Galatians 3:27, and Romans 14:8)

 

Possession denotes total ownership. Obviously, this cannot hold true for the Christian who is owned by Christ. Through Baptism, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit and have put on Christ.

 

With little insight to what extent demon possession might occur today, I would argue that it never occurs among believers. Furthermore, I do not believe the extent to which the Lord permits Satan to possess human beings, is very relevant to our discussion on how the believer may do battle against Satan. No believer is capable of serving as a host to a demon.

 

Comment on the following statement: The devil may still scowl fierce as he will (L.S.B. # 656; Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” verse 3), but he cannot make you or I or any other Christian agree to do anything we do not want to do. He may not force a believer to sin.

 

 

Demon Affliction

 

The condition we may refer to as demon affliction or demon torment is apparently at least as common in Holy Scriptures as demon possession. The New Testament generally speaks of the afflicted as those who were demonized or who were troubled or tormented by an evil spirit. Although a case of demon affliction was perhaps not as frightening to behold as demon possession, we may assume Satan’s purpose was much the same. He wanted to interfere with the spreading of the Gospel. He was consumed with intimidating and terrorizing Christ’s believers.

 

10. According to Scripture’s references, how would you describe demon affliction?

How did it differ from demon possession?

 

(See Matthew 12:22, Luke 13:11)

 

11. Who are the afflicted in this case? Can we in any general way observe an association between demon affliction and unbelief?

 

(See Matthew 4:23-24, Luke 6:18)

 

Christ does not discriminate or show favoritism. He heals all.

 

People came from all over Judea, Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre & Sidon.

 

The cases cited above do not help us determine where they were spiritually. It is simply evident that enormous crowds are seeking relief and healing from the Christ. They believe Jesus can help them. And he does not turn anyone away.

 

(See also 2 Corinthians 12:7, Job 2:7)

 

The Apostle is tormented because of his surpassingly great revelations.

 

Satan afflicts Job, who is blameless and upright.

 

Everyone gets sick now and again regardless of whether they believe in Christ. We may conclude the same thing about demon affliction. The extent to which people formerly may have been troubled by a demon has no relation to where they were spiritually.

 

 

Demon Possession and Affliction Today

 

12. So, what about today? Are people today either possessed or afflicted by demons?

If so, how might we distinguish between the two?

 

(See again Mark 9:14-27 and 2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

 

13. To what extent does Satan have an interest today in demon possession?

 

(See Ephesians 6:12)

 

There are cases of demon possession today, but we may not be sure how common such incidents are in modern society apart from an active involvement some people have had with the occult.

 

(See Leviticus 19:31)

 

Regarding possession, Scripture does not give us much with which to work. What is apparent is that demon possession today is not as common as it was in the day our Lord was visibly about his ministry.

 

14. Why might Satan have had a greater interest in demon possession when Christ was about his ministry here on earth than he does today?

 

(Genesis 3:15, Luke 11:14-20, Luke 4:33-37, Luke 8:28-34, Mark 3:11-12)

 

15. To what extent are Christians afflicted by demons today?

 

Generally speaking, Satan prefers working behind the scenes. Typically he does not want believers to i.d. him and his great power to torment and generate alarm among God’s children. He seems to work more effectively against his enemy when he infiltrates their troops and no one is the wiser. It is unlikely that Satan will assault believers using a method which may easily be traced back to his wicked intentions.

 

(See 1 Peter 5:8-9, Matthew 7:15-20)

 

There are Christians today, nevertheless, who maintain they have been tormented by demons. In some cases, the believer was suicidal suffering from a mental illness or disorder. Because of their state of mind, they are not generally believed.

 

Another possibility is that Satan uses mental illness or instability as a channel through which he may torment.

 

16. Assuming that Christians are afflicted by demons today is such affliction of the same nature as instances cited in Scripture?

 

When talking about known Christians, it will be helpful to broaden our definition of demon affliction. From the scriptural citations above, we envision people plagued with various physical infirmities and possibly as in the case of King Saul and St. Paul, with something of a mental or psychological nature. From a biblical study, therefore, we may understand demon affliction as that torment or suffering which a given demon will inflict on a given human being. Whether or not such cases still occur, it may be argued that in some ways we all suffer affliction under Satan. Behind the scenes, in ways that remain unidentified, Satan assaults you and me and all mankind. On a much larger scale, furthermore, he is responsible for aggressive offensives against the world’s societies, the church, and even nature. In evil and destructive ways, the Devil influences people and affects all of creation. Everyone who belongs to the human race is affected negatively by the devil’s wicked ways.

 

(Luke 13:11, 1 Samuel 16:14-23, 1 Peter 5:8, John 8:42-44, Matthew 13:24-30, Job 1:12-21)

 

  1. To whatever extent Christians suffer today from demon affliction, why do they come under Satan’s attack? Is it because they are less equipped to handle his assaults? Is it because they are lacking spiritually and don’t have the proper defenses?

 

(2 Corinthians 12:10, Job 1:1, 1 Samuel 16:14)

 

This is not evident. Paul was not attacked because he was weak. In God’s wisdom, Satan is permitted to torment the apostle in order to humble him. God allows it so that his disciple may rely not on his own strength but God’s.

 

The same may be said about Job. He is attacked not because he is a vulnerable prize or because he has lost his faith. Job was blameless and upright, fearing God and shunning evil.

God permits Satan to do a number on him because Job is in need of some serious humbling.

 

Even in the case of Saul we may not contend that he broke under the pressure, that Satan identified a weakness (and Saul fell on his sword having lost his faith). Saul lost his faith some time beforehand. The Spirit of the Lord departed from him, “and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him”.

 

Throughout the ages, the devil has surely intimidated countless believers in order to raise questions in them concerning their faith and God’s grace. For a very long time he has used many and various methods to torment God’s people. Satan, however, does not have the power to intimidate a Christian into unbelief.

 

18. Neither “demon possession” nor “demon affliction” may be as relevant to our understanding of how Satan assaults us, as a more general discussion of how Satan attacks all of God’s children. In what ways are Christians today assaulted or afflicted by Satan and his demons?

 

(See Mark 4:15, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 2:1-2)

 

The devil desires to afflict all Christians. Satan is on the prowl seeking to devour every Christian on earth. (1 Peter 5:8) He is constantly seeking ways to use our sin-based deficiencies against us so that we may doubt our relationship with God. The devil afflicts us by his attempts to confuse and mislead us. Specifically, he wants us to question whether the Gospel’s saving news is relevant in our particular case. He desires that we evaluate our faith not on the basis of whether we believe in Christ and his saving work on the cross, but on the basis of our work. What kind of record do we have as a disciple of Christ? Have we truly been faithful? Of course, Satan has a problem. He knows the Gospel. He knows Christ gave his life as a ransom for all sins. So Satan invents sins which presumably have not been covered by Christ’s blood. He then tries to convince us that we are guilty of such sins.

 

Luther often notes the deceitful assaults he personally experienced under Satan, remarking once: “At times he plagues me, too, to such a degree that he converts a pardonable sin into an ocean and a fire so vast that I do not know which way to turn.” (What Luther Says An Anthology, Ewald Plass, Volume 1, p. 397)

 

19. We may not underestimate the suffering which Satan is capable of inflicting on any or all of God’s children. But is Satan directly responsible for the various afflictions we note, or is he responsible only in the sense that he influences people, creatures and creation? In what sense may Satan have his way with us as he did with Job?

 

I am not sure the boundaries can be drawn precisely. God allows Satan’s acts. He afflicts us and attacks us, but precisely where or at what point we can’t always say. Perhaps God in his infinite wisdom prevents us from understanding the extent of Satan’s power to keep us from despairing. We cannot predict what afflictions God will permit Satan to carry out in our lives. Nor do we know when we will encounter harm under Satan despite the fact that it serves God’s will. In one sense, we may say that Satan is behind all death, disease, poverty, and injustice. This incites us to look to Jesus in mercy and faith. That is when we are assured that Satan may not intimidate us. After all, guess who gets the last word?

 

(See Luke 22:31-32, Hebrews 2:14, Job 1:7-8, Job 2:6-10, Romans 8:28)

 

Lest we ever become discouraged, let us learn from the experience of Job.

Note who first comments on honorable Job. It is not Satan. It’s God!

After the devil presents himself before the Lord, it was the Lord who asked Satan: (Job 1:8).

 

Remember how the story unfolds after this point? Job loses everything dear to him in life with the exception of his wife whom we might in fact conclude urges him onto suicide squawking “curse God and die”. It’s open season on Job.

 

But when all is said and done, Satan did not get his way. God did.

Job is humbled by God’s wisdom. He receives the means to persevere in faith.

 

And thus he carries on as an example to all believers. Only according to God’s consent and will may Satan ignite disaster and grief upon God creatures.

 

Comment on the following statement made by a well-known Lutheran theologian.

 

“Satan is an authorized minister of God. God has even anticipated the demonic opposition of the adversary and the determined seductiveness of the tempter, and has systematically integrated it into his own world order. So really the devil is the power in God’s world who always wills evil and yet always effects good.” (Principalities and Powers, John W. Montgomery, p. 179)

 

(Revelation 13:5-8, Revelation 2:10, Romans 8:38-39)

 

20. How does Scripture admonish us in our warfare against the evil angels? What is the full armor of God?

 

(Matthew 26:40-41, James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:8-9, Psalm 1:1-2, Proverbs 4:14-16, 1 Corinthians 5:11, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, Matthew 4:4, Ephesians 6:10-17)

 

21. How is Christ’s victory over Satan and his angels also our victory?

 

(Matthew 4:1-11, Colossians 2:15, 2 Timothy 1:10, Hebrews 2:14-15, 1 John 3:8, Romans 8:33-37, Genesis 3:15 and Romans 16:20, 1 John 5:4, Revelation 15:2 and Psalm 17:15)

For centuries people credited Satan as the force behind virtually every pet sin and life’s mishaps. You could not go anywhere, do anything, say anything or think anything without fear of Satan gaining the upper hand in his lifelong battle against Christians. To make matters worse, no believer could really be certain he would win until the moment of death. Today we know better. When Christ spoke his word from the cross “It is finished!” he declared Satan and his cronies defeated in their long but futile assault against God’s elect. Yes, we shall be self-controlled and alert since our enemy both night and day prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour our faith (1 Peter 5:8). But in the end, we have nothing to fear concerning the relevance and permanence of Christ’s victory.

 

Luther drives it home well:

 

“Why should you fear? Why should you be afraid? Do you not know that the prince of this world has been judged? He is no lord, no prince any more. You have a different, a stronger, Lord, Christ, who has overcome and bound him. Therefore let the prince and god of this world look sour, bare his teeth, make a great noise, threaten, and act in an unmannerly way; he can do no more than a bad dog on a chain, which may bark, run here and there, and tear at the chain. But because it is tied and you void it, it cannot bite you. So the devil acts toward every Christian.

(What Luther Says An Anthology, Ewald Plass, Volume 1, p. 402)