A thought I have always wrestled with can be summed up like this: "Is evil in the world a result of the fallen, sinful flesh of man or the fruit of demonic activity?"
It is complex and contains many rabbit trails to traverse but it is both.
The first thing we need to do is start with definitions. I will frequently use the three terms/phrases below throughout this writing so it is good to acquaint ourselves with what I mean:
Demonic Possession: the literal inhabiting of a person by an evil, demonic spirit. Demonic meaning essentially that of the devil, one of his ”crew” if you will.
Demonic Oppression: the oppressing of an individual by these same spirits. This could be in the form of temptations or physically.
The Flesh: the sinful nature of man as inherited from our federal head, Adam.
The best my untrained Greek mind can tell, the greek for demon possession literally means “to have a devil or be possessed with a devil.” When we read about demonic possession in the New Testament, here are some of the actions that are exhibited by those that are possessed by demons:
Greater than normal strength (Mark 5)
Distress and self harm (Mark 5)
Insanity (Mark 5)
Convulsions (mark 9)
Takes control away from the host (Mark 9)
Divination (Acts 16)
For your own knowledge, demonic possession is only talked about as an event in the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) and the book of Acts. John’s gospel mentions it as a general knowledge but doesn‘t directly speak about any events revolving around said possession. In the synoptics, we have detailed recordings of demonic possession, the most prominent of them being the man outside of the tombs in the country of the Gadarenes where Jesus casts the demons into a herd of pigs (Mark 5).
If you talk to missionaries today that go into the heart of the most unreached peoples on earth, you will more than likely hear stories of “Hollywood” style demonic possession. Possessions are not something that simply went away after Jesus ascended. I believe the main reason we don‘t see these types of possessions so prominently in the West is because of how broad and rooted the gospel is even in the midst of our current culture’s godlessness. I‘ve seen many people that look like they are possessed, namely the drug abusers in the streets of Philly and LA and the type of people we would imagine are locked up on Shutter Island. This article isn’t about whether or not demonic activity is at the root of mental illness so I won’t digress. However, it is logical that the more you open up willingly to these types of spirits, namely in occult practices, the more likely it is that you will be possessed. In these nations that practice hinduism, buddhism, Confucianism, etc. there are more concentrated encounters with demonic possession. Some Old Testament readers would say, and I agree, that all of the gods of the pagans were demons. Watch this embedded video that shows some of today’s western church practices compared to practices of the occult.
Here is what is important: Christians, those indwelt with the Holy Spirit, cannot be possessed by an evil spirit. Scripture says that a house divided against itself cannot stand. There’s also logic in that the Spirit, He who is greater than he who is in the world, would not possibly allow another spirit to inhabit you and take control of you. Now, that’s demonic possession. The other important thing to note is that Christians can experience demonic oppression.
Oppression by demons is far more common than we are willing to admit. We Westerners and our advanced societies believe we are too advanced in our intellect and our culture to possibly experience demonic activity. I contend that in thinking this way, consciously or subconsciously, you are admitting that religion in general isn’t exactly needed anymore due to our advanced society. Why would a demon be less likely to oppress us now that we have factories or iPhones? No, be wise as serpents. The advanced nature of our society is only more inviting to demonic oppression. More distractions, more opportunity to turn from God and towards oneself and one’s achievements. Less time for private devotion, prayer, fellowship with the saints, or church in general. All of these are important facets of the Christian life that are absolutely necessary to walking faithfully with God.
We know that Christians can be oppressed by demonic influences because Paul warns us to be on the lookout for this very thing:
“Ephesians 6:11–12 (NLT): Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. ”
What else would Paul mean by this were it not possible for believers to face trials from the enemy? Peter says that satan is prowling like a lion seeking to devour YOU. I believe it is very well possible if not likely that many of the ailments and “misfortunes” we experience daily are from the harassment of the enemy. What the actual workings look like in action I’m not sure. It could be something as simple as sitting at a red light and a spirit causing the guy behind you to be distracted by his phone so that he rear ends you and causes you to be severely injured. It could be something more direct, such as the account in Job, where satan directly inflicts Job with “loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” (Job 2) Whatever it may be, and however it may look, we know that it is possible. However, we also know that just as it was with Job, the enemy only acts within the bounds which God has set. Satan had to be given permission from the Omnipotent King of Kings to hurt so much as a hair of Job’s head. This is a comforting thought. We know that God works all things for the good of those who are called according to His purpose. If we pray and seek God’s deliverance from these seasons of oppression, He will most assuredly deliver us.
That rotten flesh. The flesh that drags us down before we ever get going in the morning. The flesh that is decaying every minute because of its own sin. The flesh that caused ailments, natural disasters, and misery to ever be possible.
Galatians 5:16–17 (NLT): So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.
When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they opened up a can of rotten, flesh-eating worms that won’t be closed except by the Lamb of God when he comes back to set forth the new Age. Scripture is clear: man is sinful by nature and the desires of his heart are continually evil (Romans 5:12, Ephesians 2:1-3, Colossians 2:13, Genesis 6:5, Genesis 8:21, Ecclesiastes 9:3, Jeremiah 17:9, Mark 7:21-23, John 8:44, 2 Timothy 2: 25-26, 1 John 3:10, Romans 6:20, Titus 3:3). In Romans 7, Paul gives us a great understanding of what the Christian’s battle with the flesh looks like. Now, how much that flesh contributes to the evil in the world.. I say all of it. Hear me out. Without the flesh being willing to do acts of evil, the enemy would have no channel to operate in. In John 8, Jesus tells the Pharisees that they “are of [their] father, the devil.” Thus we take it to mean that all who are not followers of Christ, worshipers of the one true God, are dead in their sins. Think Ephesians 2:1-3.
Now, the necessary unfolding of this is that those who are not in the Spirit are perpetually in the flesh. There’s no PPV wrestling match going on here. The Spirit cannot be tagged in when you are weak. You are left to “waller” in your sins like a pig “wallers“ in the mud. And just like that pig, you like it. This flesh was tainted from the deception of Satan in our federal head Adam. Truly, our flesh represents the magnum opus of Satan. It is his crown jewel. It is the channel through which he operates to bring misery and discomfort into the life of the Christian. This is why satan will have no power over our glorified, untainted bodies at the return of Christ and why there will no longer be sin and misery. It also helps that satan will have been obliterated in a molten lake of fire.
It doesn‘t have to be one of the three. Judas was evil in his flesh before satan ever entered him for the final act of deception. Satan’s indwelling did not remove Judas’ fleshly responsibility on that day of judgement. The very fact that Judas was willing beforehand was the only reason Satan entered him (paired nicely with the sovereignty of God). Our flesh is the primary means by which satan and his demons operate.
There are two camps: those in christ and those outside of christ. Those in christ cannot be possessed by evil spirits. However, as seen in Romans 7, they will battle the sin nature of their flesh that they were born with until we receive redeemed bodies. Those who are not protected by the holy spirits indwelling will love the flesh and be oppressed and even possessed by evil spirits. We are not called to distinguish the difference between a sinner and a demon possessed sinner. We are called to pray that they be released from their sin and come to know Christ as their Lord. The only way a person can be free from their possession or their sin is for God to draw them up from the doors of death and into his marvelous light. To that end we pray.