NOTE: This was prepared in 1999 after many people witnessed prayer for a young man at Tri-State Camp. To protect identities that individual is referred to as TYM. For more information please refer to the articles and books listed at the conclusion of this article.
Many of you witnessed the power of God at work in the life of several Campers last week. It was awesome! We praise God and rejoice in His power and authority over evil and sin.
Some of you have arrived home from camp having had a new experience. That of dealing directly with the power of sin in the life of TYM. It has come to my attention that the term exorcism has been used to describe what took place. I strongly disagree with the use of that term. I am also concerned that this one instance is being blown out of proportion because what we participated in and observed was God, through the Holy Spirit, dealing with the power of sin.
First of all, using the term exorcism produces Hollywood images in our minds and leads us to be further deceived into thinking that we had something to do with the freedom that TYM found in Christ.
Secondly, there is a large amount of evidence – and we were aware of this evidence at camp – that TYM made a genuine profession of Faith, received Christ as his Savior and repented of his sin two years ago at Tri-State. Such individuals are then owned by God and cannot be possessed. However, sin is still at work and can do horrible damage.
Third, and most importantly, the whole vocabulary associated with exorcism generates a sense that there was a battle where victory was in question and that is a trick of Satan! Don’t be deceived! God has power over Satan!
FOCUS ON THE POWER OF GOD
For many years, Believers have discounted Satan?s power underestimating his ability to deceive and harass Christians and even influence their behavior. Today, with renewed emphasis on spiritual warfare, we must also be wary of the opposite error: to overestimate his power. Many well-meaning Christians give Satan more power than is his due.
Because we are talking about an invisible being whose powers are in realms beyond us, we might think it difficult to specify how much power Satan has. Yet looked at in another way, the question can be answered accurately: He has exactly as much power as God lets him have and not one ounce more. He has all the limitations of a creature in the presence of a sovereign creator!
But as long as we live on the earth, we are still on Satan?s turf. He will try to rule our lives by deceiving us into believing that we still belong to him. As aliens in a foreign, hostile world, we need protection from this evil, deceptive, hurtful tyrant. Christ has not only provided protection from and authority over Satan, but He has equipped us with the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, to guide us into all truth and help us discern the evil one?s schemes (John 16:13).
Even though our eternal destiny is secure and the armor of God is readily available, we are still vulnerable to Satan?s accusations, temptations, and deceptions. If we give in to these, we can be influenced by Satan?s wishes (Galatians 5:1). And if we remain under his influence long enough, we can lose control. Yes, believers can be controlled by Satan if they fail to stand against him. Ownership is never at stake, however. We belong to God, and Satan can?t touch our basic identity in Him. But as long as we are living in this body, we can be vulnerable targets to all his fiery darts.
As I understand the Word of God I see three methods that Satan uses to influence and attack people. (And, remember, he will attack those of us who are Christians as quickly as anyone else!)
Even today demons sometimes inhabit the bodies of the unconverted. We can see in the account of the demon possessed man in Mark 5 some of the characteristics of this phenomenon: isolation, self-hatred, disassociation, bizarre behavior, and fixations. Although believers cannot be inhabited or possessed in this way because they are owned by God, those who have been converted out of occult lifestyles often battle with past demonic influence and behaviors.
Even though I doubt Satan can read our thoughts, he or his demons can inject ideas into our minds that we think are our own, enabling him to remain hidden while luring us into sin.
When Ananias and Sapphira choose to lie about the price for which they sold their land, Peter asked, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit?” (Acts 5:3). They thought this idea was theirs; they likely were unaware that they were actually cooperating with an idea Satan had planted. If they had not followed this deceptive suggestion, Satan would have been powerless to make them practice this hypocrisy. He cannot control us, but he can seduce us if we let him.
Sexual temptation is common to us all. We are fallen creatures who struggle with sinful lusts and desires. I struggle with sinful lusts and desires.
If we give ourselves to these sins, we give Satan a foothold an opportunity to reclaim ground that once was his. This is particularly true when people have been converted out of sinful lifestyles. The temptation to return to those behavioral patterns is powerful and unrelenting.
Temptation can take as many forms as there are sins that attract us. Satan uses the sins of the flesh, increases their power and deceives us by making them look good and even beneficial. Peter reminds us our adversary the Devil “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (I Peter 5:8).” Behind the lie is the liar; behind the trap is the trapper
We’ve all met believers who struggle with terrible thoughts that at times drive them to destructive behavior fits of anger, for example, often erupt with little or no provocation. Paul wrote, “be angry and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not give the devil an opportunity ( Eph. 4:26-27 ). The Greek word for opportunity is topos, which means “foothold.” Simmering anger gives rise to the Devil?s work providing an opportunity for his encroachment.
Obsession is feeling trapped by certain behaviors from which there is no escape. Satan uses these compulsions to communicate a sense of helplessness, a feeling that one must simply give in to those urges.
PRINCIPLES FOR APPLICATION
1. Please don’t search for encounters with evil or even a ministry of “deliverance.”
I very strongly believe that a Biblically functioning church will be equipped to deal with evil and sin as they submit to and obey the Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. What we witnessed and participated in should be as much a part of the church as communion, baptism, and altar calls.
2. Don’t exaggerate the spectacle.
One of the things that really bothered me about the situation with TYM is that too many people were “spectators.” We ought to deal with these things within a close circle and then we should thank God for allowing us to witness His power. Then it is time to go home and enter once again in to the routine and rhythm of work, worship, and family.
3. Avoid solo encounters with evil.
I would really like you to read the paragraph below with “we” inserted for every “I” and with the understanding that you and I should never try to deal with the evil in someone’s life by ourselves. We need to do this within the community of saints. I repeat: Never knowingly approach an evil situation alone.
In Released From Bondage, Neil Anderson says: “In a truth encounter, I deal only with the person, and I do not bypass the person?s mind. In that way people are free to make their own choices. There is never a loss of control as I facilitate the process of helping them assume their own responsibility before God. After all, it isn?t what I say, do or believe that sets people free – it?s what they renounce, confess, forsake, whom they forgive and the truth they affirm that sets them free. This ‘truth procedure? requires me to work with the whole person, dealing with body, soul and spint.” (Released from Bondage, p.17)
4. The focus should always be on God’s Power
In the final analysis, it isn?t what “I” say, do, or renounce even in the encounter, but what “I, in the name and authority of Jesus,” say and do that brings deliverance. Let us also remember that there is no power inherent in truth. All power is in and from God. It is the God of truth who has power to set the captives free.
5. Get Ready – we are to be New Testament churches.
If we are serious about the power of God through the Holy Spirit, we are called to constantly be living on the threshold of God?s new and powerful work. We will not only have to live with change, ambiguity and opposition; we will want to – just as the early church did in Acts. As churches we must be prepared to deal with the evil of sin’s grip on the lives of people. The church was not meant to be a stagnant, tradition-bound institution but a dynamic, Christ-centered household of faith.
The church, the household of faith, is the place for struggling with evil in the lives of people. Evil – especially the evil that becomes imbedded in people’s hearts through habitual patterns of sin – should be dealt with in our churches. And remember, I am not talking about a building but the people who make up a household of faith. To anticipate your question, yes, I believe Tri-State Camp becomes a household of faith when we meet together.
6. The Biblical Community
The church should be neither sectarian nor shallow. It is to be a household of faith under the lordship of Jesus Christ, by the power and love of the Spirit of truth, to the glory of God the Father.
The household of faith is a “loving, serving, joyful congregation that is truly open to the powerful work of the Holy Spirit. This community expresses a quality of openness that reflects maturity, not indifference; it takes biblical integrity seriously, rather than casually, and passionately seeks spiritual vitality rather than cheap emotional hype. We want to tap the true drama of the gospel, which answers our quest for transcendence, the human need for significance and our longing for community. This calls for a tremendous work of spiritual discernment, humility and heartfelt prayer.
Such a biblical community can be seeker-sensitive without being consumer-oriented. It can make the gospel interesting without entertaining, and convicting without condemning. It can be both effective and faithful, serious and joyful, cross-generational and mission-focused. It can redefine felt needs and meet spiritual needs. The household of faith is not a fun center or an escape from boredom, but a place of worship where the spiritual disciplines are modeled, the psalms are prayed and maturity is nurtured. It is a place where peer pressure, self-centeredness, anonymity and affluence are resisted. It is a community marked by the cross and blessed with resurrection hope.” (Doug Webster in Selling Jesus, p.13)
Thanks for your prayerful consideration of this whole subject. It is not my desire to rebuke or even correct but rather to provide a fresh framework so that we gain a more Christ-like perspective on how the church should function. Let’s pray together that God will continue His mighty work in the hearts of campers and staff alike. And may each of us be challenged by the truth that, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome the evil of the world, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
Rev. James Eschenbrenner
Principalities and Powers, Collection of Articles, Moody Monthly, July-August 1997
Neil T. Anderson, The Bondage Breaker (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 1990, 1993)
Roger Barrier, Listening to the Voice of God (Mpls., Minn.: Bethany House Publishers, 1998)
Gregory A. Boyd, God At War (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997)
George Mallone, Arming for Spiritual Warfare (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1991)
Eugene H. Peterson, Subversive Spirituality (Grand Rapids, Mich., Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997)
Douglas D. Webster, Selling Jesus (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992)