Be careful what you ask God for. He likes to give us things, and they seldom come wrapped in nice, neat packages. I’d like to take you back (briefly) to the beginning of my Christian life and show you the path I’ve taken to get to my present understanding of demons and deliverance. After being saved, I lived a pretty ordinary life as an evangelical Christian. I was content to study my Bible, sit in my church pew on Sunday and occasionally witness to strangers about Jesus. To my knowledge, I’d never met anyone who was demon-possessed. I’m certain I’d never met a demon face to face. I couldn’t understand the preoccupation some people had with them. Were these people deceived by an over-active imagination, or were demons really all around us?
And if they were, why couldn’t everyone see them?
If there was one thing I sincerely hoped had ceased with the passing of the early church, it was all this messy business about casting out demons. As with everything supernatural, at that point in my life, I was skeptical about the need for studying the behavior of demons, much less casting them out of people.
Most of the experiences we recognize as ‘real’ involve things that happen in the natural world. For those who confine their lives to the natural realm – angels and demons and their strange activities are seldom thought of. The happenings of that otherworldly place are mostly ignored.
The problem with demons is that most of us can’t see them and for most of us, seeing is believing. Our society has conditioned us to label anyone claiming to see things we don’t as suffering from hallucinations. And yet, isn’t it interesting how often Jesus dealt with demons and those who were harassed by them?
Demons are disembodied spirits. They don’t possess a physical body, as we do, but a spiritual one. They interact both in the spirit world and in the natural. But because they have no physical body, their ability to interact in the natural world is limited. Their movements are a bit like the wind. Just as you can see the wind’s effect, but not the wind itself, demons have an effect that can be seen and heard, but demons themselves, are invisible to the natural eye. The fact that a demon has no physical body compels them to attach to a physical body that is available for use in the physical world.
In 2009, I had a dream that revealed something about demons I didn’t know. As I walked the hallways of a hospital, I looked into one patient room after another and saw a black presence in each room. I knew the presence was a demon of sickness. Although I don’t see demons like this while I’m awake, God revealed an important truth to me; sickness is perpetrated by demons and demons are more prevalent than I suspected.
The ability to sense the presence of demons is not available to most of us for a reason. That reason is illustrated in the following story, told by a friend who is a seer. A seer is someone who receives revelation from God in the form of visions and dreams. (See 1 Sam. 9:9)
My friend and his six-year-old granddaughter, who is also a seer, were riding in the car, when the girl saw an elderly woman hunched over, pushing a shopping cart. The girl noticed that the woman had many demons clinging to her, making it appear as if her hunched over condition was due to the weight of the demons. She asked if they could turn the car around and help the poor woman.
If we were able to see demons clinging to people everywhere we went, but had no power to do anything about them, it might drive us to the brink of insanity. This might surprise you, but if you could see into the spirit world, you would see spirit beings (both good and evil) literally everywhere you looked. But because God is merciful, He hides demonic activity from those who don’t need to see it. The ability to discern the presence of spirits is a gift from God given on a need to know basis. (1 Cor. 12:10) Most of us don’t need to know about demonic activity because we aren’t engaged in warfare against them.
God has a calling for everyone. Each calling has different assignments. Some of those assignments may require us to battle demons. You are free to accept or reject the call of God on your life. That decision requires you to make a choice about whether you want to engage in this type of warfare or not. If the call involves battling demons, you’ll be given the ability to recognize their presence.
My introduction to the world of the demonic actually began many years ago, when out of curiosity, I started interviewing patients who reported hearing voices. For years, whenever I transported a patient with a mental health problem, particularly if they were diagnosed with schizophrenia or psychosis, I asked if they heard voices and what the voices told them. I would then ask if they knew who the voices were.
The answers surprised me at first, but about 80% said the voices belonged to demons. Many said that at some point the voice had revealed its identity. These people had no reason to lie about their experiences. The likelihood that all of them were wrong seemed unlikely. I had to consider the possibility that maybe I was wrong. After interviewing hundreds of patients, I began to understand that demons were more active than I realized.
I’d like to share a few personal stories about my interactions with demons.
One day on my drive home from work, I had an open-eyed vision. Most of the visions I have are with my eyes closed, but this vision was different. I saw into the spirit with my eyes wide open, while I was driving my car. In the vision, I saw myself responding to a call at Tacoma General Hospital to transport a young woman who was demon-possessed. She was in the emergency department in room number 4. I transported her to St. Joseph’s mental health unit.
The next day at work, I responded to a call to Tacoma General Hospital to transport a young woman to St Joseph’s mental health unit. She was in room 4 in the emergency department. She had no history of mental illness and was being treated for what the doctor called “acute psychosis.’ According to her mother, she experienced a sudden change in behavior. For some reason, she became obsessed with telling everyone about God, angels, demons, Satan, the approaching judgment, and the torment of hell. Her ‘witnessing’ about these things was random and had no continuity of thought. The only recent change that might have contributed to her behavior was that she admitted that her boyfriend had convinced her to smoke marijuana for the first time.
This poor woman had come under the control of a spirit of religion. Evil spirits have specialties, which we’ll discuss shortly. I have to assume that her experimentation with marijuana was the thing that opened the door for the evil spirit to come into her life, since no other explanation was available and the timing of the two events seemed too precise to be a coincidence.
I transported another woman who suffered the same symptoms. This woman was a middle-aged Christian. We were called to her church to transport her for a mental health evaluation after she suddenly began ranting about God, Satan, angels, demons, the coming judgment, and the torment of hell. Once again, her statements were completely random and without continuity of thought. This time I recognized that she was under the influence of a religious spirit, so I attempted to cast it out of her. The more I commanded the spirit to leave, the louder her witnessing became. The yelling became so loud that it concerned my EMT partner and since I was making no progress I gave up.
I’ve prayed with my son frequently for healing of aches and pains, particularly during the swimming season. One day he came home with a partial separation of the AC joint in his shoulder, which caused a lot of pain. We prayed and it was healed. Weeks later he told me about a pain he had in the middle of his back. I commanded it to leave and he immediately felt better. But the following day it returned. I was curious, so before commanding it to leave, I closed my eyes to see if God would reveal anything and sure enough, I saw my son standing before me with a black creature about 12 inches in diameter attached to the middle of his back. The pain was caused by a demon. I commanded the demon to leave and after it did, I commanded the pain to leave. It left and didn’t return.
While working in Tacoma, my EMT partner was healed at least a dozen times in the two years we worked together. He has size 14 shoes and loves to run. I guess that’s not a great combination, unless you’re a newbie to healing who needs practice. In the two years we worked together, he was healed of headaches, neck pain, back pain, knee pain, a nasty injury to his hand and numerous other injuries. One day he was complaining of knee pain that was bad enough to make him walk with a limp. I began to command the knee to be healed as usual, but nothing happened. After 4 or 5 tries, it wouldn’t budge. That surprised me, since knee pain usually responds quickly to this approach. Then it dawned on me…I didn’t command the spirit of pain to leave.
When I take the time to ask God to show me what we’re up against, He frequently shows me some kind of demon. Because I saw demons so often, I developed a routine of commanding a spirit of pain or sickness to leave. But this time, I didn’t. So I commanded the spirit of pain to leave. Next, I commanded his knee to be healed. He felt heat all around his knee and in a few minutes, it was healed.
One day I transported a young woman from a fitness club who was hysterical. It took a lot of reassuring to get her calm enough to tell us what her problem was. My partner and I put her in the ambulance and did an extensive interview.
We learned that for the past year, she’d been hearing voices in her head. There were at least two different voices, possibly more. The voice that she heard most often was a male voice that continually threatened her. The threats involved killing her sister. The second voice sounded exactly like her sister. Often while the male voice was threatening to kill her sister, she heard the second voice screaming in terror as if her sister was being killed. The main voice that she heard also performed sex acts on her. I referred her to a friend who had a deliverance ministry, since I knew virtually nothing about deliverance at the time.
On a recent trip to Australia, a group of us were praying with people for various conditions. I was praying with a woman who wanted to be healed of diabetes. Shortly after I began praying, she reported pain that she didn’t have before. I’ve learned that when pain manifests suddenly, it’s a good indication that there is a spirit that needs to be removed. The pain was in her back, near her left shoulder blade. I commanded the spirit to leave and the pain moved higher in her back, near the top of her shoulder. I explained to the group what was happening and a few of them joined us in prayer. We commanded the spirit to leave. It moved to her other shoulder and the pain became worse. We continued commanding the spirit to leave and eventually, it departed. This same woman had just prayed for someone else who had received a remarkable healing of back pain and muscle damage to her leg. And all the while, she had a demon herself and didn’t know it.
When praying with someone, if they suddenly experience pain they didn’t have before, or if a present sensation of pain moves to another part of the body or becomes worse, it’s a sure sign that an evil spirit is at work.
Why does this happen?
Because the spirit is attempting to frighten its host. The spirit wants to create enough fear in the mind of its host that they will ask us to stop praying with them, thinking we’re only making things worse. My advice in these cases is to tell them there is a spirit present and the increased pain is a tactic it’s using to frighten them. Ask if you may continue and reassure them the pain will eventually leave.
Soon enough, my education about demons would become personal. One evening I was praying for my wife to be healed of neck pain, which was so severe it left her in tears at bedtime. I’d been praying over her for months, to no avail. That night I did something foolish, which you should never do. In desperation, I asked God to put her afflictions on me, if it would take away her pain. I went to sleep and had a dream. In the dream I was looking for something I couldn’t find. This is a classic dream that God gives to people who are searching for answers.
I awoke from the dream and a few seconds later I felt something like a net being spread over me. Seconds later, I realized that I couldn’t move my arms or legs. All I could do was roll a bit from side to side. As this was happening, I also became aware that my voice was being taken away from me. I tried to speak but no words came out. All I could do was mumble incomprehensibly. I was aware that what had gripped me in this paralysis was a demon. As my voice left, I tried to say, “Get out, in the name of Jesus”, but I could only mumble. My rolling back and forth woke up my wife, who heard me mumbling. She immediately knew it was a demon that had overpowered me and began praying in tongues. She then commanded the demon to leave. A few seconds later my voice returned and the paralysis left. We later learned that this particular demon is called the ‘shrike’ demon. The big mistake I made was in asking God to put my wife’s afflictions on me. In doing so, I gave the enemy permission to attack me and the shrike spirit was happy to pay me a visit, since I had opened a door. Never ask God to give you the afflictions of someone else. Never make deals with the enemy and never under any circumstances invite sickness or affliction into your life.
All of these stories are merely to illustrate one thing; demons are real and the more you become involved with them, the more they become involved with you. I never suspected how often or how savagely they can attack us. They can and do attack Christians. They come in many different varieties and they can do different things. Many of us have been taught that the only way a demon can interact with a human is for it to “possess” our body and assume control over us. Demonic possession has been popularized in movies and books, but the truth about demons and how they interact is far subtler.
Contrary to popular belief, demons rarely take complete control of an individual. The English Bible descriptions of people being “demon-possessed” are a mistranslation. The term “demon-possessed” isn’t found in the Greek text of the New Testament. Instead, three other terms are used. Some passages say ‘to have a demon’. Others say, ‘to be in a demon’. The most common term is ‘demonized.’ These terms mean essentially the same thing and are used interchangeably in the account of the man with the demon named ‘Legion’ (see Matthew 8:28-34; Mk. 5:1-20; Lk. 8:26-39). None of these terms indicates total ownership or control of an individual. They simply mean the person is in some way affected by a demon.
All of the examples from the Bible involving demonic attack describe people harassed in some way but not completely overpowered or controlled. The single exception is the case of ‘Legion’. This is because it takes many demons to completely possess a human. Demons have limited abilities and one demon alone can only attack its host in a particular area. A single demon, acting alone cannot take complete control of a human.
In the account of the boy with seizures that the disciples couldn’t cure, Jesus made an interesting comment about the nature of demons. When the disciples were not able to heal the boy they asked why:
“Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Mt. 17:19-21)
Jesus said the kind of demon they encountered did not come out except by prayer and fasting, implying that there are different types of demons. Some teachers dispute this, saying that when Jesus said ‘this kind’ He wasn’t referring to ‘kinds’ of demons, but rather the ‘kind’ of unbelief the disciples had.
The word that is translated kind in this verse is the Greek word γένος (genos) from which we get the English word ‘genealogy’. This word describes differentiation between related varieties of living beings – specifically between families, races, tribes or nations. It is unreasonable to think He was describing different families or races of unbelief. He must have meant that there are different families or races of demons and the one they encountered was somehow different.
If you’re curious to know how this demon was different from others, consider this: Mark’s account mentions that the demon caused the boy to be deaf and mute. Matthew notes that it caused him to have seizures. Both accounts mention only one spirit. This is the only spirit mentioned in the Bible that caused more than one type of physical affliction. It was indeed a different type of spirit. (Compare Mt. 17:15 and Mk. 9:25)
God’s creativity is seen in all of nature. No two snowflakes are identical, and no two people are exactly alike. The same is true for demons. They are unique and they all have certain weaknesses, strengths and abilities. Each demon is a specialist in one or more areas, bringing its own brand of affliction to man. This differentiation or specialization is what Jesus was referring to. Some demons specialize in physical affliction, as with the woman who had been crippled by a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years (Lk. 13:11), or the deaf and dumb spirit that also caused seizures, which we just mentioned.
Some demons specialize in emotional trauma, like the spirit that terrorized King Saul with what might be diagnosed today as anxiety attacks. (1Sam. 18:10)
Some specialize in divination, as was the case with the spirit Paul cast from the woman who followed him for many days. (Acts 16:17-18)
James and John became influenced by a spirit of murder, when they suggested they should call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritan city that did not receive Jesus. Hearing their idea, Jesus rebuked them, saying, “You do not know what spirit you are of.” (See Lk. 9:54-55) The Lord told them they had become influenced by an evil spirit, which planted this foolish idea in the minds.
When we look at the words Jesus used when referring to the way the spirit influenced them, the phrase that is translated ‘are of’ is the Greek word ἐστέ, (este) which could better be translated ‘belong to’. The phrase ‘belong to’ carries the connotation that one thing has taken possession of another. Jesus said His disciples ‘belonged to’ (or were possessed by) this demon, even if it was only momentarily.
Another example of demonic influence of a disciple of Jesus is found in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew. Jesus asked the disciples, “Whom do men say that I am?” Peter confessed that He was the Messiah – the Son of God. Jesus commended him saying that His Father had revealed this truth to him. (Mt. 16:16) Later, Jesus began to teach that He would be handed over to the Jews, killed and raised on the third day. Peter rebuked Him, saying these things could never happen. Jesus said: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mt. 16:22-23)
Why did Jesus refer to Peter as Satan? Because Peter, like James and John, had briefly come under the influence of an evil spirit, allowing the enemy to plant thoughts in his mind. Jesus was speaking to the evil spirit behind Peter’s words. If you don’t believe that disciples of Jesus can have demons, here are examples of three disciples who did and they were the three that Jesus trusted most.
As we’ve seen with other accounts of demonic attacks, the evil spirits did not exert complete control over them, but only influenced them in their area of specialty. Each of these people remained in control of their mental faculties, apart from the demon’s area of specialization. Though Saul suffered anxiety, he had no physical ailments. The woman, who was physically crippled by a demon, had no mental or emotional infirmity. Peter, James, and John did not manifest demonic activity or physical illness, neither did the woman with the spirit of divination. Each still retained their own identity and did not exhibit signs of complete control by the evil spirit.
The man with ‘Legion’ was a different story. He had lost control of both his mind and body. He was unable to dress himself and couldn’t control his own actions, even when put in chains. He could not refrain from self-mutilation (Mk. 5:5). He wandered into isolation, and refused the company of family and friends. When he was asked his name, he couldn’t recall it. He took on the identity of the demons that had overpowered him, taking the name ‘Legion’.
As to whether believers can be possessed or harassed by demons, as we’ve just seen, even Peter, James and John were subject to demonic influence. Jesus himself was attacked and harassed a number of times by Satan. It is unbiblical to believe that anyone is immune from demonic attack. The issue isn’t whether a Christian can be influenced or possessed, but rather to what degree can we and how does it happen?
“Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold…” (Eph. 4:26-27 NIV).
In this verse, the word for foothold is the Greek word τόπος (topos) from which we derive the word ‘topography’. This word can describe either a place of occupancy or an opportunity to carry out an action. It is a semi-permanent stronghold in a person’s life that serves as a home for evil spirits, which gives them an opportunity to exert influence over us. Interestingly, Paul’s point that anger provides a foothold for the enemy is demonstrated in the case of James and John. The demon that influenced them was able to do so because they became angry at the Samaritans. Their anger was the foothold the enemy needed to gain influence over them.
Let’s look at what Jesus taught about how demons operate. In Luke chapter 11, He explained the behavior of demons after casting a mute spirit from a man. Some who witnessed it had accused Him of casting out demons by the power of Satan. He refuted their reasoning and revealed the truth about how He overpowered the evil spirit and cast it out:
“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils…When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell.” (Lk. 11:22-23, 24-26)
Jesus likened an evil spirit to a strongman who is armored and keeps his home. (Note that demons see our bodies as their homes.) He went on to say that when one who is stronger comes, he removes the demon’s armor, evicts him from the place that he calls home and divides his goods. The ‘goods’ he spoke of are the areas of the person’s life that are held in bondage by the demon’s specialization. This might be a physical illness or emotional affliction. He said that once removed, the demon may return to its home later if it remains intact.
There is a widely taught doctrine concerning this passage that needs to be debunked. I was taught that when a person is delivered from a demon, they need to be filled with the Holy Spirit immediately because if they aren’t, the demon will return. This sounds logical, and the idea of demons returning is certainly illustrated in this passage, but if you look closely, there is no suggestion that the presence of the Holy Spirit prevents demons from returning. The Holy Spirit isn’t mentioned anywhere in this passage.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit is always our goal. But many Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit are in need of deliverance and that need often follows them to their grave. In the last year alone, I’ve prayed with hundreds of Christians for various problems and most of them had an evil spirit of one kind or another that had to be removed before their healing could be completed.
In the passage we discussed above, Paul said that anger provided a foothold for the enemy. Anger is a sin that must be dealt with if we are to remain free of demonic influence. But it isn’t the only one. Others are rebellion, unforgiveness, bitterness, lust, pride, greed, and the list goes on. Each of these attitudes can allow a place for the enemy to gain a foothold and for a demon to influence us if it specializes in that area.
I had sought healing for chronic neck pain for a long time. I would receive prayer and the pain would leave temporarily, only to return. One day, a woman praying for me asked if I had anger toward anyone. God showed me in a vision, a person I had been angry with for a long time. I knew that I needed to let go of the anger I had toward them. When I released the anger to God, the pain in my neck immediately left and never returned.
The anger I held onto served as a foothold for the enemy. When someone would pray with me for healing, the spirit of pain would leave, only to return because it still had a ‘home’ in my life through anger. The solution came when I realized that even though I didn’t value this person very highly, God did. That truth destroyed the foothold of the enemy. I no longer had a right to be angry and I forgave him and repented of the anger. This destroyed the evil spirit’s ‘home’. When the spirit tried to come back it had no place to return to.
Now let’s look at a more in-depth problem. Some strongholds are rooted in emotional damage that happens when we are children. Pornography and lust are known to be rooted in a lack of love. If a person grows up feeling unloved, there’s a good chance they’ll turn to pornography or lust to fulfill the need that was never met by their parents or family. An unmet need to be loved can create a bondage to pornography, which serves as a demonic home that attracts demons specializing in lust, pornography, and perversion. Knowing they have a home, demons take up residence here. First, we must address the root cause, which in this case is a lack of love.
In order to remove the demon’s home, the individual must understand how much they are loved and accepted by their heavenly Father. The awareness of God’s love destroys the unmet need for love and acceptance. This paves the way for them to renounce and repent of their bondage to lust or pornography. Once this is done, the spirit of lust or pornography can be safely removed since its home has been destroyed.
Most root causes can be dealt with in this manner. The process is to identify the root cause, which is often something the person did not receive at a crucial point in their life. Once the deficiency is found, replace what is missing with the truth from God’s heart about that issue. Assist them in embracing God’s truth on the matter, repenting of any attitudes that stemmed from the root cause, then remove any evil spirits that operate in that area of specialty.
Let’s look at one more passage where Jesus dealt with demonic oppression:
“Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.” (Lk. 13:10-13)
In this passage, there are two things we should note. First, the woman was bound by a spirit of infirmity, which afflicted her physical body, causing her to be bent over. Jesus discerned the spirit’s presence and exercised authority over it. In this case, He didn’t confront the demon. He simply said, “You are set free from your infirmity” and the demon left. After the woman was freed from the demon, He laid His hands on her and healed her deformed body. We can see that she still needed physical healing after the spirit left because she was still bent over. We should not assume that healing has occurred because we’ve cast a spirit out. After the spirit is removed, the person may still require physical healing.
I don’t have much experience with demons manifesting in bizarre ways. But I tend to keep things low-key when I deal with them and maybe that’s why they don’t put on a show. Evil spirits seem to come into our lives secretly and without a lot of fanfare, but sometimes when leaving, they try to go out with a bang. I think it’s wise to give them as little opportunity as possible to draw attention to themselves when being removed.
When I’m praying with people, even when removing demons, I speak in a very quiet tone of voice. This may be due to the fact that instead of churches, I do most of my ministry in hospitals and nursing homes. In these settings, I can’t very well go around yelling at the top of my lungs, commanding demons to leave. I don’t think it’s necessary to yell and scream at them. If the demons try to rant and rave, tell them to be quiet.
I’ve heard people teach that you need to know a demon’s name before you can make it leave. That hasn’t been my experience and I haven’t found this taught anywhere in the Bible. I do try to discern their area of specialty (pain, sickness, fear, lust, ect.) but I’m not certain you even need this information to make them go away. When you discern their presence command them to leave. It may not be a bad idea to assume a demon is present and tell it to leave, even if you don’t discern one is present. For me, commanding demons to leave has almost become a kind of protocol.
Dealing with demons was just another task that Jesus gave the disciples. Along with healing the sick, raising the dead and proclaiming the kingdom of God, they frequently cast out demons. In most of the passages we’ve studied so far, deliverance was as commonly mentioned as healing the sick. In several places, healing did not take place until a demon was first evicted. It’s no different today. Many people cannot be healed without deliverance. In order to walk in the fullness of God’s commission, we must become competent in delivering people from demonic oppression.
This is an excerpt from my book Divine Healing Made Simple.