by Shawn Paul Sauve
What this article is not debating . . .
Let's begin by clarifying what this article is not debating. The Bible clearly teaches that non-believers can be possessed by demons. The Bible also instructs believers to speak to these demons and cast them out of the nonbeliever. This article is not debating whether demons exist, whether they possess people, or whether Christians should speak to those demons to cast them out. Additionally, this article is not debating whether Christians ought to fight spiritual battles. The question discussed is "How should Christians fight spiritual battles?"
What this article is debating . . .
What this article is debating is the practice in many churches of speaking to the devil. During services at many churches it is perhaps easy to get the impression that the congregations and teachers spend a significant amount of time not talking to God, but to the devil. Often in these churches you will hear people shout statements like:
At this point you may be asking yourself, "So what?" After all, is it really important whether Christians speak to the devil? I believe it is important for two reasons:
I think it is important to frame the discussion from the start with two clear warnings from scripture that tell us that we need to be careful how we deal with spiritual beings:
One of the first verses that is generally cited to make the argument that Christians ought to speak to the devil is Luke 10:19-20 (NIV) "I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." I don't disagree that we have authority to overcome the power of the enemy. Nor do I disagree that we ought to rebuke and cast demons out of people who are demon possessed. However, I think two questions ought to be answered. What is the "power of the enemy," and how do we overcome that power? Therein lies (I think) the debate.
While the devil has varying powers, the one most central to scripture that underlies the concept of spiritual-warfare is the power of sin and spiritual death:
Two other verses that are generally cited to make the argument that Christians ought to speak to the devil are the following:
The traditional interpretation of Matt 16:19 is that the subject is personal salvation. Just as a person professes faith in Jesus Christ and joins faith with a body of believers on earth, their name is written and bound in the Book of Life in heaven and they are loosed from the penalty of sin. As St. Augustine noted about this passage: ". . . whosoever in the Church should not believe that his sins are remitted, they should not be remitted to him; but that whosoever should believe, and should repent, and turn from his sins, should be saved by the same faith and repentance on the ground of which he is received into the bosom of the Church." 1
In Matt 18 the context is not binding spiritual forces or the devil, but it appears to do with discipline within the church. Further, the next two verses describe the binding as taking place after directing prayer to God, not speaking to the devil.
Mala 3:11 is frequently quoted from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible to indicate that believers should "rebuke the devourer": "And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes . . . saith the LORD of hosts." Two observations may be made about this scripture. One is that the "devourer" noted in the KJV refers to pests and pestulances and not the devil. This is why the NIV translates the passage "I will prevent pests from devouring your crops . . ." The second observation is that even if it is the devil that is being described as the "devourer" in this passage, God is the one doing the rebuking.
Finally, Titu 2:15 is often cited to make the argument that Christians ought to speak to the devil "These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you." The meaning of this verse cannot be confused when it is viewed in context. The context of this letter Paul was instructing elders or leaders of the church to teach according to sound doctrine. What is being rebuked are members of the body of Christ, not the devil.
The New Testament talks a good deal about spiritual warfare, which is why I think it is an important topic. The question is not whether we are in a battle or whether we ought to fight. Rather, the question is how should we then fight? Certainly, if we believe we are in a battle and that the battle is for spiritual life and death, we ought to fight that battle in the most effective way.
I think the Bible is clear about how to fight spiritual battles, and I implicitly assume that the biblical methods for spiritual warfare are going to be more effective than other non-biblical methods.
The imperative from the Bible is to be prepared in advance (Ephe 6:13). Soldiers don't train on the field of battle, they train in advance of the battle. None of the preparation in Ephe 6:10-18 involves talking to the devil. Rather it involves spiritual preparedness in pursuing the following seven spiritual virtues: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer.
Within the context of the New Testament, fighting spiritual battles is almost always discussed within the context of drawing closer to God. We put this armor on so that "when the day of evil comes, [we] may be able to stand [our] ground" (Ephe 6:13). The way we stand is not by talking to the devil but by drawing closer to God. Jame 4:7-8 admonishes us to "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you." is a scripture that is used to justify speaking to the devil. However, looking at the context of the verse we realize that we don't resist the devil by speaking to him, but by submitting to and coming near God.
1Pet 5:6-9 (NIV) contains a similar theme: "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith." Again, we do not resist the devil by talking to him, but by putting ourselves in God's mighty hand and by casting our anxiety on God. Verse 10 continues by assuring us that God "will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."
Part of drawing closer to God includes "throwing off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles" (Heb 12:1) because sin can give the devil a foothold. That's why 1Pet 5:8 told us to "be self-controlled and alert." Both Ephe 4:25-27 and 2Cor 2:9-11 continue a similar theme:
At this point you may be wondering why people speak to the devil if the concept is not supportable in scripture. While I am not sure of the origin of the idea, its occurrence in churches is probably at least partially explained by the wide-spread acceptance of "faith theology."
Teachers like Ken Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, and Benny Hinn et al, teach a metaphysical concept of faith where faith becomes a "force" or "material substance" rather than a trust in God. In their theology, because faith is a force or material substance it needs a container, and words are the container that activates the force of faith. All of this is unbiblical, but they continue by saying that words create reality. If you want something, you just "speak it into existence." 2
If words create reality and we exercise faith through the words we use, doesn't it follow that we would fight spiritual battles with words also? If someone accepts the "Faith teachers" view of faith that we ought to speak to our circumstances to create our reality, why should they not also speak to demonic forces at large in the world?
Faith teachers teach faith in faith or faith in words rather than faith in God. Faith has ceased to be an assurance in God and His divine providence. For example, when we struggle financially we ought to place our trust in God, knowing that He will provide for us (He may also command us at the same time to be better stewards of our money!) Instead of trusting in God, Marilyn Hickey tells us to "speak to your wallet." 3
Now I think you will see a parallel between dealing with life's physical problems in the preceding paragraph and fighting spiritual battles. Suppose that we suspect that we are being hindered by demonic activity in some area of our life. If we apply the same principles in the proceeding paragraph, Biblically we place our trust in God, knowing that He will provide for us and sustain us (He may also command us to confess and get rid of any sin in our lives that may have given the enemy a foothold!) However, instead of trusting in God, some people teach us to speak to the devil.
Understanding what the faith movement teaches can give us a better understanding of how the doctrine of speaking to the devil has been made palatable to Christians. In this case the heretical metaphysical concept of faith has spawned another heresy ( that of slandering celestial beings even though the Bible expressly condemns such activity.
Despite the biblical evidence that running to God is the effective and biblical way to engage in spiritual warfare, some Christians have expressed concern over the idea. Their concern is that they don't like the idea of running away from battles, after all, ought we not run forward into battle rather than turncoating? In answering the question I will attempt to explain why it is more effective. Though we must keep in mind that we choose our battle strategy the biblical way because it is inclined to be the most effective. In explaining why this strategy is effective, I have basically two observations.
First, as a Christian it puzzles me that other Christians would view the act of running to God in the matter of spiritual warfare as a weakness. Think of the issue in terms of team sports like basketball or football. If it is the end of a game and a team needs one more score to win, who do they try to give the ball to? The answer is the person who stands the best chance of scoring. You see, in sports we understand instinctively that to win, we need to play to our strengths. Playing to strengths is not seen as a sign of weakness. Likewise, why would running to God be considered a weakness?
The Bible says that God is our strength (see Exod 15:2, Psal 46:1, and Psal 73:26) and we as Christians ought to get used to running to our strength in times of peace and in spiritual battles, namely God.
In team sports you will sometimes see that as time is running out in the game, an inferior player will choose not to pass the ball to the player that has the best chance of winning the game for the team. Instead, he or she tries to make the game winning play all by his or herself. Sometimes in our Christian walk because of our arrogance and pride we try to "make the play" ourselves instead of passing the ball to God. Psalm 55:22 and 1 Peter 5:7 both admonish us to cast our cares on God, because He cares for us.
Sometimes we lose sight of the truth in Matthew 19:30 that "many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first." (Also Matt 20:16; Mark 9:35, 10:31; Luke 13:30) As Christians we realize that trying to run all the plays ourselves is likely to make us last, and running the plays to God is guaranteed to make us first.
The second way of looking at the question involves asking if we are not taking the warfare metaphor and applying it too literally. Ephesians 6:10-18 is really a metaphor that describes fighting spiritual battles within terms we understand ( human, physical battle terms. Hence, descriptions are used like putting on an armor with a shield and sword. However, the text explicitly states that while physical metaphors are used ( the nature of the battle is different ( "for our struggle is not against flesh and blood." (Ephe 6:12) We need to be cautious of translating the physical metaphor so that we don't try to fight spiritual battles physically.
Let me try to illustrate fighting spiritual battles physically. Imagine that the National Guard is called out to help people an ocean-side town before is gets hit by a hurricane. Fighting a spiritual battle physically would be like putting the National Guard in front of the hurricane with guns and tanks. Rather than being effective, such a maneuver would be fool-hardy. What would the National Guard do to "fight" a hurricane? Well, there are basically two options:
The second option is used when you are unable to avoid the hurricane (find the most secure shelter you can). We realize that God is our shelter (see Psal 27:5, 61:4, 91:1; Isai 4:6; 1Pet 1:5, 2The 3:3) and just as running to shelter in the face of a hurricane is a sign of wisdom ( running to God during spiritual battles is nothing to be ashamed of.
In this article I have attempted to evaluate the practice of speaking to the devil against scripture. I have demonstrated that this is not a practice that is normative in scripture. In fact, scripture warns us explicitly about speaking about the devil and his demons. As we have discussed, the practice of speaking to the devil may be perpetuated in many churches due to the influence of faith theology.
I hope that this article will benefit Christians by refocusing their attentions on effective methods for conducting spiritual warfare. Think of spiritual warfare with the acronym ADS. A stands for putting on the full armor of God to prepare ahead of time for battle. D stands for drawing closer to God and placing our trial and circumstances in His hands by casting our cares on Him. S stands for resisting sin and not giving the devil a foothold in our lives.
I have attempted to offer two explanations for why running to God instead of facing the devil directly would be the most effective way to fight spiritual battles (in addition to the panoply of scriptural evidence). One way of viewing running to God is like a sports team running plays to their best player. A second way of viewing spiritual battles is to view them like a natural disaster like a hurricane. If you can't avoid a hurricane, you find the most secure shelter possible.
This brings us to the more important question of the entire article. The question we should be asking is not why we would run to God in the midst of spiritual battles, the question is, why would we attempt to do anything else?
1 Saint Augustine translated by J.F. Shaw "The Great Books: On Christian Doctrine." Encyclopedia Britannica: Chicago. 628.
2 See Hank Hanegraaff's "Christianity in Crisis" for a detailed analysis of the Faith movement.
3 Hickey, Marilyn. "Claim Your Miracles" (Denver: Marilyn Hickey Ministries, n.d.), audiotape #186, side 2. Cited by Hank Hanegraaff’s "Christianity in Crisis."