A missionary and I encountered a man in Ecuador we both felt was demon possessed. He was practicing witchcraft on a street corner. We shared the gospel of grace with him, but he rejected it. As we walked away, the missionary asked, “Have you ever cast out a demon?”
“No,” I said, “nor would I.”
“Why not?” he asked.
“Because I care for that man more than that,” I replied.
The missionary said, “What? If you cared for him, you’d exorcise the demon.”
I said, “What do you think that demon will do? Jesus said he will go recruit seven other demons to possess the man, and he will be worse off than he is now. He doesn’t need a demon-cleansing: He needs the gospel.”
The missionary had never considered that before. To his credit, he asked me to write to him more about the subject when I returned home; and I did.
Jesus taught (twice) that a demon who has been cast out doesn’t merely get mad. He gets revenge. Jesus explained:
When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.Luke 11:24-26 (see also, Matt. 12:43-45)
The demon possessed person’s only hope is the gospel: believing that God’s Son perfectly fulfilled God’s law for him/her, died in his/her place for sin(s) (original and actual), was buried, and rose again the third day for his/her justification. As that message is proclaimed, the Holy Spirit looses the bonds of the demon (Rom. 8:2), which before held his/her heart captive (Eph. 2:1-3). As the Holy Spirit frees them, He also indwells them (Rom. 8:9-11), seals them (Eph. 1:13-14), and, thus, prevents the demon from re-entering them. This is why most Christians believe a demon cannot possess a genuine believer, although the NT does indicate that demons can tempt believers. Demon-possessed people, therefore, desperately need the gospel.
Someone may object, “But, didn’t Jesus and His apostles cast out demons?” Yes, they did. Yet, God had them do so for a specific purpose: To authenticate His gospel message (Lk. 9:1; Acts 14:3; Rom. 15:19; Heb. 2:3-4; see also Mk. 16:20). A survey of the NT reveals that exorcisms occur frequently in the four Gospels and the book of Acts. God was confirming His Son’s (and the apostles’) message through such signs and wonders.
Later, by the time of Paul’s epistles (i.e., the letters to actual churches), we hear little (if any) of exorcisms. Rather, we see the gospel cleansing souls through faith and repentance. The Apostle Paul tells Timothy:
God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.2 Timothy 2:25b
The Sufficiency of the Gospel
We see exorcisms sensationalized in movies and on television today. Perhaps some are genuine; we can’t be certain one way or the other. Here’s the problem, though: They likely are doing more harm to the person than good. Unless a greater strongman—namely, the Holy Spirit of God—indwells them, then that demon will rage, retaliate, and re-inhabit with greater reinforcements. The latter end of that person is worse than the first. God’s chosen method of exorcising demons is shining the gospel’s light into the sinner’s heart, awakening him/her to their sinful condition, and sending His Holy Spirit to indwell them. This is done through the preaching of the gospel.
I heard of a case in which family members were rejoicing and praising God. Their daughter had been addicted to drugs and alcohol and other awful things. Something had a grip on her life, and it wasn’t just the drugs and alcohol. One day, she was involved in a terrible accident and found herself in a hospital bed. I was told that a minister came and exorcised the demon. The family was rejoicing and praising God because she was free from that demonic possession. Once I heard this, I feared greatly for her soul. I suspected what would happen. That enraged demon would find no rest until he returned with greater vengeance. It would only be a matter of time. Sadly, my suspicions proved true.
The gospel is sufficient, isn’t it? We declare that it is, even to conquer demon possession.
So, should you (and I) be casting out demons? Absolutely, we should: not by saying incantations or commanding them in the Name of Jesus, but by preaching the glorious gospel of grace. Within the gospel proclamation—that Jesus Christ died for their sins, was buried, and rose again the 3rd day—there is Holy Spirit-power to break the stronghold of demon possession, cast them out of the sinner, and seat the redeemed sinner in heavenly places with Christ Jesus: fully, finally, and forever.
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