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10. Ministering to the Demonically Oppressed

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How should we minister to those being demonically oppressed or even to ourselves, when strongly assaulted and afflicted by the enemy? To answer this, we must consider how the demonically oppressed were ministered to in Scripture. There are various ways.

1. When ministering to the demonically oppressed, believers should rebuke the demonic spirit in the name of Jesus—recognizing their authority in Christ.

This is the primary method we see used in Scripture. In Matthew 16:23, Christ rebuked Satan when he was influencing Peter. He said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.” In Acts 16:18, Paul rebuked a woman who had a demonic spirit of prophecy by saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!”

Some might argue that Christ had authority over demons, which he specifically gave to his apostles (Matt 8:19), but other believers do not have that authority. However, in Scripture, others, outside of Jesus and the apostles, cast out demons. The seventy who followed Christ also cast out demons. In Luke 10:17, it says, “Then the seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name!” In Luke 10:19, Christ said to them: “Look, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions and on the full force of the enemy, and nothing will hurt you.” Also, Philip, one of the early deacons, cast out demons. Acts 8:6-8 says,

The crowds were paying attention with one mind to what Philip said, as they heard and saw the miraculous signs he was performing. For unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, were coming out of many who were possessed, and many paralyzed and lame people were healed. So there was great joy in that city.

Some deny that regular believers have this ability based on Jude 1:8-9. In it, Jude warns of false teachers who reject authority and boldly insult demons, even though Michael, the archangel, would not even speak a harsh word against Satan. It says,

Yet these men, as a result of their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and insult the glorious ones. But even when Michael the archangel was arguing with the devil and debating with him concerning Moses’ body, he did not dare to bring a slanderous judgment, but said, “May the Lord rebuke you!”

Does this passage directly or indirectly say that believers should never attempt to cast out demons through Christ’s authority? This passage does tell us that Michael did not have authority to rebuke the devil, which probably represents how Satan was originally equal to Michael or in authority over him in the original creation. Therefore, Michael had to appeal to God to rebuke Satan. It also shows us the pride of the false teachers who reject authority and in their pride insult demons. Neither situation directly corresponds to the believers’ authority to cast out demons, which is demonstrated throughout the New Testament (the apostles, the seventy, and Philip). Believers have a special authority because of their relationship to Christ, which angels don’t have. According to Paul in Ephesians 1:20-22 and 2:6, believers were resurrected with Christ and seated in the heavenlies above angels and demons, which represents Christ’s authority and the believers’ authority in him over the angelic and demonic realm. Ephesians 1:20-22 and 2:6 says:

This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And God put all things under Christ’s feet, and he gave him to the church as head over all things… and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus

To further support the believers’ authority in Christ even over the angelic realm, in 1 Corinthians 6:3, Paul said that one day believers will judge angels (1 Cor 6:3).

When Jude warns of the false teachers’ presumed authority in Jude 1:8, it better corresponds with the Jewish exorcists in Acts 19:13 who presumptuously tried to rebuke a demon “by Jesus whom Paul preached” but then were beat up by the demonized man. They failed when rebuking the demon because they were not true believers and could not exercise Christ’s authority. The same was true of the prideful false teachers Jude warned about.

Unlike false teachers, believers have authority based on their relationship to Christ (cf. Eph 1:20-22, 2:6, Matt 20:18-20). For this reason, Scripture calls believers to “resist the devil and he will flee” (Jam 4:7) and describes how we gain victory against the devil through the power of God and his armor (Eph 6:10-18). Revelation 12:11 describes how believers gain victory over the devil in the end times: “But they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.” The ability to cast out demons was not reserved for Christ and the apostles; it is an authority all believers have because of their relationship to Christ. Certainly, some may be more gifted at it than others, but we are all told to resist the devil and that he will flee (Jam 4:7).

Some might ask, “Why should believers rebuke the devil, instead of simply praying to God to get rid of them?” Wayne Grudem gives an apt answer to this:

We may ask, however, why does God want Christians to speak directly to the demon who is troubling someone rather than just praying and asking God to drive away the demon for them? In a way, this is similar to asking why Christians should share the gospel with another person rather than simply praying and asking God to reveal the gospel to that person directly. Or why should we speak words of encouragement to a Christian who is discouraged rather than just praying and asking God himself to encourage that person directly? Why should we speak a word of rebuke or gentle admonition to a Christian whom we see involved in some kind of sin, rather than just praying and asking God to take care of the sin in that person’s life? The answer to all these questions is that in the world that God has created, he has given us a very active role in carrying out his plans, especially his plans for the advancement of the kingdom and the building up of the church. In all of these cases, our direct involvement and activity is important in addition to our prayers. And so it seems to be in our dealing with demonic forces as well. Like a wise father who does not settle all of his children’s disputes for them, but sometimes sends them back out to the playground to settle a dispute themselves, so our heavenly Father encourages us to enter directly into conflict with demonic forces in the name of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thereby he enables us to gain the joy of participating in eternally significant ministry and the joy of triumphing over the destructive power of Satan and his demons in people’s lives. It is not that God could not deal with demonic attacks every time we prayed and asked him to do so, for he certainly could and he no doubt sometimes does. But the New Testament pattern seems to be that God ordinarily expects Christians themselves to speak directly to the unclean spirits.1

Speaking directly to those potentially being oppressed by a demon, which is causing anxiety, depression, sickness, or a strong inclination to sin, might practically look like this, “If any demons are causing this depression, sickness, or addiction, I command them to go away in the name of Jesus.” There is no reason to yell or be loud. Demons aren’t deaf. We should speak gently and firmly—trusting that if the affliction is demonic, God hears our prayers. Sometimes, we may need to speak this to ourselves when we are discerning that some intense negative emotion or strong inclination to sin might be influenced by the devil. Wayne Grudem’s comments on how to practically rebuke the devil are helpful both in praying for ourselves and others:

In our own personal lives, if we find sinful emotions that are unusually strong welling up in our minds or hearts (whether they be emotions of irrational fear, anger, hatred, bitterness, lust, greed, etc.), in addition to praying and asking Jesus for help in overcoming them, it would also be appropriate for us to say something like, “Spirit of fear, in Jesus’ name, I command you, go away from here and don’t return!” Even though we may be unsure whether there is a demonic factor in that particular situation, and even though a demon’s presence may be only one factor contributing to the situation, nonetheless, such words of rebuke will sometimes be very effective. Though we do not have in the New Testament a complete record of the personal prayer life of the apostle Paul, he talks openly about wrestling “not … against flesh and blood, but … against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12) and about “not carrying on a worldly war” (2 Cor. 10:3). It is reasonable to think that his own extensive prayer life included this kind of verbal rebuke of demonic forces as one aspect of his spiritual warfare.

Moreover, such wrestling against “the spiritual hosts of wickedness” may mean that in our private times of intercessory prayer for others we will include an element of verbal rebuke to demonic forces that may be a component in situations for which we are praying. (This kind of spiritual warfare would not be in the presence of the person for whom we are concerned, who in many cases would be confused or frightened unnecessarily.) For example, parents may appropriately include a brief word of rebuke to a spirit of rebelliousness in one child, of laziness in another, or of anger in yet another, in addition to praying that the Lord would give victory in those areas, and in addition to teaching and disciplining their children.2

Other than rebuking demons in Jesus’ name, what are some additional ways we should minister to people being oppressed or tormented by demons?

2. When ministering to the demonically oppressed, we should use God’s Word.

When Satan continually tempted Christ in the wilderness, Christ always rebuked the devil with God’s Word (Matt 4:1-11). In Ephesians 6:17, Paul calls God’s Word the sword of the Spirit, which is our offensive weapon in spiritual warfare. We should use Scriptures relevant to that person’s struggle (or our struggle). We may need to explain these Scripture to help replace the lies a person has accepted, which is keeping him handicapped and oppressed by sin and Satan. We may also need to rebuke the demon using Scripture, even as Jesus did with Satan in the wilderness. If he is struggling with lust, while praying for him, we should quote Scriptures speaking on sexual purity. If he is struggling with rage, we should quote Scriptures dealing with self-control. If he is struggling with anxiety or depression, we should quote Scriptures dealing with God’s peace or joy in the Spirit.

When a person is under strong demonic oppression, such as when the demon has rendered the person helpless and taken over his voice-box, we should quote Scriptures that represent Satan’s defeat, as we command the demon to leave, and pray over the person. Consider the following:

So he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Look, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions and on the full force of the enemy, and nothing will hurt you.

Luke 10:18-19

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil)

Hebrews 2:14

He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. Disarming the rulers and authorities, he has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Colossians 2:14-15

But they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.

Revelation 12:11

Then I saw an angel descending from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a huge chain. He seized the dragon—the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan—and tied him up for a thousand years. The angel then threw him into the abyss and locked and sealed it so that he could not deceive the nations until the one thousand years were finished. (After these things he must be released for a brief period of time.) … And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are too, and they will be tormented there day and night forever and ever.

Revelation 20:1-3, 10

When ministering to the demonically oppressed, we should use Scripture, both when rebuking the devil and when counseling the person on how to get free from the oppression and stay free.

3. When ministering to the demonically oppressed, we must be prayerful.

When the disciples could not cast a demon out of a young boy, Christ told them that this kind only comes out by prayer (Mk 9:29). Also, when Paul taught about the armor of God needed to stand against the evil one and his demons, he ended with the believers’ need for Spirit-led prayer. In Ephesians 6:18, he said, “With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.” Spirit-led prayer is directed by God’s Spirit and God’s Word. It is powerful in setting people free from the enemy’s strongholds. It is noteworthy that “praying” is plural in the verse, which may indicate our need for corporate prayer as we tackle strongholds in individuals, communities, and nations. God hears the prayers of his saints, especially as they pray in unison. In Matthew 18:19-20 in the context of church discipline, Christ said: “Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them.” Before ministering to people oppressed, we should spend time in deep prayer and possibly fasting—preparing to enter into warfare. While ministering to them, we should continue in prayer. It is wise to encourage many to pray for someone who is being severely oppressed by the evil one. God hears the prayers of his saints, and corporate prayer is especially effective.

4. When ministering to the demonically oppressed, we should at times use worship in our warfare.

With Saul, David played worship, which made the demon flee (1 Sam 16:23). We should at times do the same. If someone is strongly being oppressed, it might be wise to minister to them as a team. One person might play worship in the background, as others minister to the demonically oppressed person through reading Scripture, praying, and commanding the demon to leave in Jesus’ name. When counseling a person who is struggling with depression or anxiety, which we’re discerning might be at least partially demonic in nature, it may be wise to encourage that person to continually listen to worship music throughout the day, as well as increasing their spiritual disciplines like praying, reading Scripture, and fellowshipping with believers, to help provide relief.

5. When ministering to the demonically oppressed, we must help the person recognize and get rid of any open doors in his or her life.

In Ephesians 4:26-27, Paul says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger. Do not give the devil an opportunity.” Since sin gives the devil a foothold in a person’s life, it is wise when counseling a person that we suspect is being demonically oppressed to ask if he has any unconfessed sin which might be opening a door to Satan, including unforgiveness towards someone who hurt him (Matt 18:32-35), sexual immorality, deceit, or dabbling in the occult (i.e. horoscopes, ouija boards, and the like). Sin opens the door to the devil; therefore, to get rid of demons and to keep them gone, the person must repent and close any potential doors.

Helping a demonically oppressed person recognize and close doors is especially important because Christ said that when a person is set free from a demon, the demon tries to return by bringing stronger demons to get back into his home. In Matthew 12:43-45, Christ said:

When an unclean spirit goes out of a person, it passes through waterless places looking for rest but does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the home I left.’ When it returns, it finds the house empty, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there, so the last state of that person is worse than the first.

Therefore, getting free is often not the hardest part of ministering to the demonically oppressed; it is staying free. For this reason, we must provide biblical counseling to the demonically oppressed to help them recognize doors the devil may be using and close them.

6. When ministering to the demonically oppressed, we must prepare ourselves spiritually.

As mentioned earlier, one time Jesus cast a demon out of a young boy, and the disciples approached him to ask why they couldn’t cast the demon out. In Matthew 17:20, Christ said it was because of their “little faith.” However, in Mark 9:29, Christ said, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” Essentially, the reason the disciples could not cast out the demon was because they were not spiritually prepared. Their faith and prayer lives were weak. For this reason, in ministering to those oppressed, it may be wise to take time to fast, pray, and saturate oneself in the Word before ministering to a person being oppressed, lest we find ourselves unfit and unprepared like the disciples.

7. When ministering to the demonically oppressed, we must be persistent.

In James 4:7, James said, “resist the devil and he will flee from you.” With Christ in the wilderness, he rebuked the devil three times with Scripture and then told him to leave (Matt 4:1-11). At times, when we minister to someone, we will pray for them, share the Word of God with them, help them worship the Lord in faith, and yet, they won’t experience much victory. We may need to do this multiple times, while enlisting others to fast and pray for their victory as well. Sometimes, deliverance tarries because of our unpreparedness, sometimes because of the oppressed person’s unwillingness to confess and get rid of sin, and other times just because the stronghold is that firmly ingrained in the person’s life. Even then, we should not lose courage. As James said, we must continue to resist the devil and he will flee. And as Paul said, “So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal 6:9).

In addition, we must trust that if for whatever reason full deliverance doesn’t come, we must trust that God is using the trial for the good and that God’s grace will be made perfect in the person’s weakness, as he relies on and rejoices in God. In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, Paul said this about his demonic thorn in the flesh which God refused to remove:

… even because of the extraordinary character of the revelations. Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me—so that I would not become arrogant. I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me.

Conclusion

When ministering to those demonically oppressed, we must rebuke the demon in Jesus’ name. We must use God’s Word, prayer, and worship. We must help the oppressed person recognize and get rid of any doors opened by sin. We must prepare ourselves spiritually and be persistent in ministering to those oppressed, as some battles are not won quickly and some not in this lifetime by God’s sovereign decision (cf. 2 Cor 12:7-9). However, we can take confidence in the fact that Christ has already won the war (Heb 2:14, Col 2:14-15). In Romans 16:20 (ESV), Paul said this: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

Reflection

  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
  2. What are some signs of demonic oppression?
  3. How should we minister to those being demonically oppressed?
  4. What has been your experience ministering to those demonically oppressed?
  5. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?

Copyright © 2021 Gregory Brown

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1 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 429). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

2 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (pp. 429–430). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

Related Topics: Satanology

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