A Collision of Worlds: Evil Spirits Then and Now - page 5


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From the Summer 2009 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

A Collision of Worlds: Evil Spirits Then and Now

by Clinton E. Arnold, Ph.D.
Chairman and Professor. Department of New Testament Talbot School of Theology, Biola University

 
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   Evil spirits are thus weakened in their ability to influence Christians only insofar as believers realize their position in Christ and draw on the divine power and authority over this realm that is theirs in Christ. Paul wanted believers to regard themselves as so closely united with Christ that they considered themselves as having died with him on the cross and having been raised with him to an exalted position, “far above” every rank in the hierarchy of evil spirits (Eph. 2:5-6; 1:19-22). Just as Christ holds a position of superiority to the powers, so too believers have a position of superiority and authority over the forces of the devil. Paul tells the Colossians, while facing a demonically inspired opposition, “you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every [demonic] power and authority” (Col. 2:10). Becoming a Christian means being linked to a powerful Lord who wields overpowering (“disarming”) authority over the realm of darkness. 
   Being a Christian does not guarantee victory over every demonic attempt at influence. The Apostle Paul envisions the real possibility of Christians “giving a place to the devil” in their lives (Eph. 4:27). Paul stresses that believers can resist Satan and make progress in their Christian lives only when they draw on the divine enabling power that God supplies (see also James 4:7 and 1 Peter 5:8-9).

Discerning the Demonic

  How can a person detect the direct influence of Satan or an evil spirit, as opposed to a social influence or one’s own inner bent toward doing evil?
   In the Gospels and Acts, it appears that Christ and the apostles had little trouble detecting the work of evil spirits in the lives of demonized people. Their physical conditions (sometimes unusual muscular strength, at other times physical debilitation and illness), bizarre behavior (like living among tombs), extreme reaction to Christ or to the use of his name and authority, or using a person’s vocal apparatus in direct response to Christ or one of his followers appear to have been foremost among the evidences.
Many would contend that the same evidences of intense demonic influence can be seen in certain people today. People involved in satanism and the occult open the door wide to this kind of severe demonic control; in most instances, such people specifically seek communion with demons and the prince of evil. It also appears from the evidence of scripture that those who persistently and willfully continue in certain patterns of sinfulness may experience increasing amounts of direct demonic influence.
  While Satan may manifest himself in these ways, what I have just described is also the stereotype of satanic activity. Limiting our perception of his activity to these more severe and dramatic forms of his influence could hinder us from seeing the more subtle ways he operates. We need to be wary of too readily restricting the devil’s work exclusively to murderous satanic rituals, scenes similar to the The Exorcist, and occult activities. Satan and his spirits can influence even those who do not experience voices in their heads or roam graveyards.
   The church has often ascribed the source of evil influence to “the world, the flesh, and the devil” which I believe accurately reflects the teaching of the Bible (especially Paul, John, and James). While Satan may often work in a direct and immediate way in people, he also asserts his sway more indirectly through exploiting “the world” and reinforcing the appetites of the flesh (our inclination toward evil). Thus we need to speak of varying levels of his influence.
   First, we must remember that as “the prince of this world,” Satan attempts to exert his polluting influence on all aspects of societal life and culture. When biblical ethics are portrayed in a negative light in society, Satan has been successful in extending his evil influence on a broad scale. For instance, when pilfering from one’s employer can be rationalized, Satan has been victorious. When vengeance is regarded as the best course of action against a person who wrongs us, Satan has successfully twisted our moral conscience. In short, Satan can pervert societal morals, traditions, and customs.
   Secondly, we need to realize that Satan works in concert with an individual’s inclination toward evil (“flesh”). If a person is naturally inclined toward anger and bitterness, in some way an evil spirit may directly encourage that attitude. If the malice continues and intensifies, the more direct the demonic involvement in the person’s life may become. This is what Paul would refer to as giving “turf” to the devil (Eph 4:27).

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