Sin & the Fall 3
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (I John 4:4)
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Eph.6:10-13)
Perhaps the most intimidating and fearful aspect of our thinking about the Bible’s teaching on sin, the fall and its impact, is in the sphere of the unseen ‘spiritual’ world. What are we to make of the Bible’s teaching about ‘that ancient snake called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray’ (Rev.12:9); and deceiving spirits (II Chron.18:22, I Tim.4:1), unclean / impure spirits (Mk.1:27 etc.) or demons (Mk.1:34 etc.)?
We must step into this discussion from a firm and settled conviction both that any and all malevolent and adversarial spiritual forces are both under our Lord’s sovereignty (see study 1), and that they are rendered fully defeated at the cross (Col.2:15; I John 3:8). If we falter in either of these convictions we make ourselves vulnerable to a world of fear and anxiety. We must also be disciplined in allowing our thinking to be shaped exclusively by what is revealed to us in the Scriptures. Some of us may have had powerful experiences, both before and after we became Christians. Many of us will have been exposed to dramatic and flamboyant teaching that sounds spectacular and is backed with many anecdotes, but which in the final analysis lacks any Biblical foundation.
You may remember from our consideration of Genesis 3 in our previous series on Creation that we spent time exploring what the Bible teaches us about the origins of Satan (Jn.8:44), and his fall from his place of exaltation as guardian cherub in Eden, forming an alliance with Adam and Eve against Christ (if you missed that, you can get the notes from Mark). Other angels were seemingly involved in this Edenic rebellion, and becoming demons are enmeshed in the falleness and God’s judgement of ‘this present evil age’ (Gal.1:4; II Pet.2:4; Rev.20:10), and we may cautiously suggest that, under God, they shape the idolatrous religious life of nations (e.g. I Cor.10:20-21, Rev.9:20 which makes God’s warnings and condemnation of idolatry all the more pertinent) as well as their military-political life (Dan.10-12 & e.g. Rev.13; 20:7-9, along with Mark’s sermons on Revelation which can be found on the MIE website, if that helps!). The whole world, we are told, is under the control of the evil one (Matt.4:8-9; John 14:30; 16:11; I John.5:19; Eph.2:2; Acts 26:18). And yet we are told with equal conviction that the earth is the Lord’s (Ps.24:1), and that Christ and His Spirit are triumphant and ‘greater’ (I Jn.4:4; Lk.10:18; 11:17-22).
We are reminded that these spiritual foes are ranged against us (Eph.6:11-12; I Pet.5:8), but in those same passages we are also told how to defend ourselves against their advances. We are stridently warned against the dangers of spiritism, or indeed of any spirituality outside of Christ (Lev.19:31; 20:6; Dt.18:11; Is.8:19 etc.); and we alerted to the fact that such spiritual beings lie behind false teaching in the life of the Church (I Tim.4:1, ironically in the light of Jas.2:19; II Cor.11:3); and can ensnare us to do their will (II Tim.2:24-26, see also I Tim.3:6).
The fact of this unseen dimension to reality is simply taken for granted throughout the Scriptures, and forms an implicit and integral part of a Christian’s thinking about the world, and of their life and worship and mission within that world. We cannot make sense of the Gospel accounts of our Lord Jesus, or the ministry of the Apostles without reference to it. And embedded in our most foundational prayer is the petition: ‘lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil / the Evil One’ (Matt.6:13). Scripture strikes a glorious balance: we are made aware but not given over to anxiety. We do well to sustain that posture.
Especially as we realise that Satan is given access to the life of the Church (e.g. Acts 5:2). We’ve already seen that in these few lines of introduction, but it is worth remembering that not even the Apostles such as Peter (e.g. Matt.16:23; Lk.22:31, notice again the authority of our Lord) or Paul (II Cor.12:7) were preserved from his approaches. Indeed, neither was Christ Himself. In dealing with such potentially disturbing incidents the Scriptures repeatedly stress God’s supremacy and sovereignty, and that even here He is working ‘for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose’ (Rom.8:28).
Have you had any experiences of evil spirits? Is there anything you feel you could share with the group? Is there anything you would like them to pray with you / for you about?
What do you make of Paul’s practise of handing people over to Satan (see I Cor.5:5; I Tim.1:20)?
What would you say to a Christian who visited one of the spiritualist Churches in town?
Read Mark 5:1-20
Do you think that modern medical and psychological understanding has done away with the idea of demonic possession?
Do you think people can still be possessed (v.15 & 18)? If so, under what circumstances? Should a Christian attempt to cast a demon out if they think someone is possessed?
Why do you think the ‘impure spirits’ (v.13, though also identified as demons v.18) asked to be sent into the herd of pigs? Why do you think Jesus gives them permission (v.13)?
What do passages like this teach us about the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ and the spiritual forces of evil? On the basis of Mark 5:1-20, what would you say to a Christian who was anxious about the reality of demons?
What would you say to someone who wasn’t a Christian, and who was anxious about the reality of evil spirits? What do you think is the evangelistic potential of passages such as these?
Why do the people want Jesus to leave their region (v.16-17)?
In the light of this study, how would you as a group now pray for each other?
He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
For further reflection:
The question of whether a Christian can be possessed seems to haunt the Church. Leahy in his excellent book (Satan Cast Out) argues emphatically: ‘In the light of Scripture we are compelled to reject the view that the Holy Spirit and an evil spirit can co-exist in the same person … demon possession of a believer is utterly impossible …’ (p.95). We are, if I may put it like this, already possessed by the Christ through His Spirit (Gal.2:20). Nothing in all creation (Paul specifically mentions demons) can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Rom.8:38-39). Believers are in Christ and Christ is in them. We are spiritually made alive and are seated in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (Eph.2:6).
Much more could be said, but a more profitable use of these few lines might rather concentrate on the ways in which as Christians we are still vulnerable to the spiritual forces that rage against the Church and the cause of Christ. Paul’s epic passage in Ephesians 6 helps us realise that our struggle is won not through exotic strategies of ‘spiritual warfare’, but in our clinging to the truth, living in a way characterised by righteousness, preparedness in evangelism, putting our faith in Christ, resisting temptation, working out our salvation, studying the Bible and being constant in prayer for ourselves and for each other (6:13-18).
Much of our engagement with spiritual forces of evil will feel like a struggle to believe what the Bible teaches, a struggle to live in way that is faithful to Christ, a struggle to speak of Jesus, a struggle to pray with and for others. This is the front line of ‘spiritual warfare’, and where the battle is won. This is the pattern of the Church in Acts, where they are concerned to build the Church and proclaim Christ, not demon-hunt - though when demons explicitly opposed that work, they were dealt with authoritatively and succinctly - whether inside the Church (Acts 5:5) or outside her (Acts 16:18).