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Counseling and the Demonic

By Dr. Brian Allison


The Demonic Nature of the World

We live in a moral-spiritual world. The ontological character of the cosmos is one of moral corruption and evil because of the entrance of sin into the world (Rm. 5:12ff.) and the presence of morally fallen angels (Is. 14:12ff.; Ez. 28:12ff.). Satan is the moral-spiritual ruler of this world (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Eph. 2:2). He reigns and controls the affairs and systems of this present evil age (Ga. 1:4). The critical truth that must always be remembered is that Christians live in Satan’s ‘sphere of activity and influence’-Christians are foreigners in a distant land and enemies in a hostile country (Hb. 11:13; 1 Pe. 2:11). They are the distinct and despised minority. As Martin Luther has rightly said, this world is full of devils. Demonic power generally lies behind the world political systems and governments (Lu. 4:5,6). Demons by nature are unclean (i.e., morally defiled and spiritually depraved) and evil (i.e., opposed to the decent and wholesome, and set on doing wrong and causing harm) (Mk. 3:11; 5:2; Lu. 7:21; 8:29; Acts 8:7; 19:12-16). There are basically two spiritual camps in the world-that which comprises the righteous (true believers) and that which comprises the unrighteous (unbelievers). Anyone who sins aligns himself with the devil; similarly, anyone who commits unrighteousness identifies himself with him (1 Jn. 3:8,10), simply because the devil’s ‘sphere of activity and influence’ is the spiritual-existential dimension of the realm of sin. Demons are particularly active and prevalent in the moral-spiritual ‘spheres’ of idolatry (e.g. occultism) and gross immorality, particularly of a sexual nature (e.g. pornography) (De. 32:17; 2 Chr. 11:15; Ps. 106:37; 1 Cor. 10:20f.; 1 Tm. 4:1; Rev. 2:14,20-24).

Demonic Habitation

In considering the topic of counseling and the demonic, clarifying terms and delineating concepts will significantly reduce confusion and facilitate understanding of a very complex, and controversial, subject. We may understand demonic activity in two basic ways: 1) demonic habitation (i.e., demonization); 2) demonic attack (i.e., the devil’s influence). Demonic habitation is the entrance of a demon(s) into a person (or animal), and thus it ‘dwells’ or ‘abides’ in him or her (Mt. 12:44,45; Lu. 8:30; 22:3; Jn. 13:27); the indwelling may be primarily in the mind (i.e., one may appear irrational and delusional, but be physically sound) or primarily in the body (i.e., one may appear rational and emotionally stable, but be physically incapacitated). Many demons may inhabit a person at one time (Mk. 5:15; 16:9; Lu. 8:30,35). The Gospel accounts primarily refer to demonic habitation. Vexation, affliction, pain, or torment typically characterizes this experience (Mt. 15:22; Lu. 6:18; Acts 5:16; 10:38; 2 Cor. 12:7b). Demonic habitation entails some form of enslavement or bondage, and manifests itself particularly in some physical or mental illness, disease, abnormality, etc. (Mt. 9:32f., 12:22; Mk. 5:15; Lu. 8:30; 11:14; 13:16; Jn. 8:48,52). Diseases, illnesses, abnormalities, etc. may have a physical/biological cause, a psychoemotional cause, a spiritual cause, or a demonic cause (Mk. 1:32). Admittedly, distinguishing between demonic-induced illnesses, abnormalities, etc. and non-demonic-induced illnesses, abnormalities, etc., by means of signs and symptoms, is virtually impossible. However, one tell-tale sign for differentiating between the demonic and non-demonic is that the demonic is not amenable to medical treatment or counseling.

Accordingly, the sufferer of demonic habitation requires healing, which is realized through the casting out of the demon(s) (Mt. 4:24; Lu. 9:42; Acts 10:38). Jesus and the apostles, through a display of divine authority and power, cured those who were inhabited by demons (Mt. 10:1; 12:28; 17:18; Mk. 6:7; Lu. 4:36; 7:21; 9:1). Accordingly, the act of casting out or exorcism (of a demon) in New Testament times must be understood as the exercise and demonstration of an extraordinary spiritual gift. Further, casting out entails rebuking or commanding the demon(s) to leave (i.e., the utterance of an authoritative word (Mt. 8:16; 17:18; Lu. 4:35f.,41; 9:42). The act of casting out should be done in the name of Jesus (Lu. 9:49; 10:17). Typically, violent reactions and loud crying from the demon(s) accompanies the act of casting out (Mk. 1:26; Acts 8:7). After leaving a host, either freely or through constraint, the demon may return if proper spiritual measures are not implemented (Mt. 12:43ff.; Mk. 9:25). The primary means of casting out demons today is the prayer of faith offered by a righteous Christian(s), just as such an approach is the primary current means for other kinds of healing (Mk. 9:29; Jas. 5:14-16).

Demonic habitation may also be moral-spiritual in character, as well as physical and mental. As John Broadus writes, “This language [in Mt. 12:43-45] distinctly intimates that the possibility of demoniacal possessions depended (at least in some instances) on the moral and spiritual condition of the person, as well as on his physical and mental health” (Matthew, p. 279). All unbelievers are invaded and indwelt by demons, in varying degrees of intensity (Eph. 2:2). They are controlled and enslaved to the whim and will of demons (2 Tm. 2:26; Acts 26:18). Demons have free and immediate access to an unbeliever’s heart, directly influencing mental activities and processes (Lu. 8:12; Jn. 13:2). Further, there are degrees of wickedness amongst demons (Mt. 12:45). Demons may manifest themselves by emphasizing a particular malady or evil such as blindness, lunacy, or deception (Mt. 12:22; 17:15-18; 1 Kgs. 22:20-23). The primary symptoms of internal demonic activity and influence, in general, are lying, deception, lust, and hatred (Jn. 8:44; 1 Tm. 4:1). The unbeliever’s main and necessary route of deliverance from moral-spiritual demonic habitation is repentance and faith (Acts 8:22; 17:30; 26:18; cf. Eph. 2:1ff.; Col. 1:13f.).

The foundational reason and occasion for demonic habitation is sin. First, as a judgement for sin, God may either punish with demonic habitation (e.g., Saul – 1 Sam. 16:14f.,23; 18:10; 19:9; cf. Jn. 5:14) or chastise or discipline with it (2 Cor. 12:7; Acts 5:1-11; cf. 1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tm. 1:20; 1 Pe. 4:1). Christians may be subject to demonic habitation to a restricted degree (NB. Christians who have demonic-induced illnesses, abnormalities, etc., either physical or mental, prior to conversion are not necessarily freed from them after conversion, just as they are not necessarily freed from non-demonic-induced illnesses, abnormalities, etc.). Though demons may vex and torment Christians through habitation, they cannot possess the believer’s renewed, regenerated spirit (1 Jn. 4:4; cf. 2 Cor. 4:16). Second, as a consequence of sin, persistent preoccupation, obsession, or addiction with idolatrous or immoral activities provide a ‘doorway’, ‘portal’, ‘avenue’, or ‘channel’ for the demonic (Rev. 18:2; cf. Lu. 11:26). Demons naturally identify themselves with sin. Again, sin is their natural ‘sphere of activity’.

Demonic Attack

Demonic attack is the moral-spiritual or physical assault of demons, and assumes the character of harassment. Demonic attack may occur from within the individual (e.g. evil thoughts – Mt. 16:22f.) or from outside the individual (e.g. persecution – Rev. 2:10). Both Christians (Eph. 6:11) and non-Christians are subject to unrelenting demonic attack. With respect to the Christian, demonic attack has as its goal the weakening and destroying of faith, through trial and temptation (e.g. Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5; Lu. 4:13; 1 Cor. 7:5; Eph. 6:16; 1 Pe. 5:9). Demons may influence and attack a Christian’s thinking and thus affect his mind (Acts 5:3; 2 Cor.10:4ff.). Their ‘spiritual sphere of activity and influence’, more specifically, is the realm of lusts or passions. They affect the Christian’s mind via ‘the flesh’ (i.e., the corrupt moral-spiritual dimension of fallen humanity), with which they are particularly identified and associated; ‘the flesh’ is the primary access or avenue and ‘spiritual residence’ for the demonic. They, by the very nature of the case, ‘infiltrate’ this moral-spiritual dimension. Their strategy is to provoke, promote, aggravate, and instigate sinful desires and evil thoughts (1 Chr. 21:1). A demon is always only a ‘whisper away’. Unfortunately, Christians may allow demons to have degrees of influence in their lives (depending upon their practice and involvement in sin), and thus give opportunities for demons to exert their wickedness (Eph. 4:27) (NB. the degree or intensity of demonic activity is relative to human choice and acceptance. Human irresponsibility is central in this matter of the presence of the demonic). Habitual sin may become a vulnerable spiritual gateway; and hence may become a stronghold for demons. Incidentally, the expressions of anger and wrath are particular precipitating and occasioning factors for demonic activity and influence because self-control and self-discipline are thus compromised and weakened (Eph. 4:26). In this connection, demonic presence is more prominent in the context of disunity, conflict, and intolerance (2 Cor. 2:10f.).

The Christian’s response to demonic attack should basically consist of: 1) resistance – a) resolutely opposing and rejecting the demonic, and thus refusing to yield to the sinful thoughts and carnal passions/lusts of the flesh through which demons attack (2 Cor. 10:5; Jas. 4:7); b) resolutely enduring and standing firm against persecution (1 Pe. 5:8,9); 2) repentance – this spiritual act closes any moral-spiritual access to the mind, and curtails any demonic influence (Rev. 2:16,22); 3) sanctification – a) maintaining and growing in the spiritual graces and virtues (Eph. 6:11,13); b) conforming the thinking to the truth of God’s Word and obeying it (2 Cor. 10:5); 4) watchfulness and prayer – being spiritually alert to temptation (Mt. 26:40ff.); 5) rebuke – personally addressing the demonic presence, invoking God’s presence and authority to banish it (Zech. 3:2; Ju.9).

© Brian Allison, 2010