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8. Recognizing Demonic Affliction

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What is demonic affliction or oppression and how can we recognize it? Scripture teaches that believers are in a very real battle with the demonic world. In Ephesians 6:11-12, Paul said:

Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.

This struggle with demonic evil forces can take various forms. It can show up in the enemy’s efforts to stop our attempts to worship God and minister to others. In 1 Thessalonians 2:18, Paul said this about trying to minister to the Thessalonians: “For we wanted to come to you (I, Paul, in fact tried again and again) but Satan thwarted us.” It is not uncommon to experience multiple inconveniences and difficulties in preparing for a special ministry, such as preaching a sermon, putting together some type of retreat, outreach, or mission trip. Satan is always trying to thwart the works of God and his people. When Christ was preparing to go to the cross, Satan spoke through Christ’s chief disciple, Peter, trying to dissuade him from dying on the cross and being resurrected. In response, Christ said to Peter, “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” (Matt 16:23). As with Peter, sometimes Satan attempts to hinder the works of God through people, even well-meaning ones. We should not be surprised by criticism or attacks, even by church members. The enemy at times uses people to try to weaken the hands of those plowing in God’s field.

But, also in our ministry, we may encounter the demonically afflicted whom God calls us to minister to. Demonic affliction can show up in many ways, including intense anxiety, depression, and strange or violent actions. Apparently, when a demonic spirit “tormented” Saul (1 Sam 16:14), it showed up in intense negative emotions which enhanced Saul’s tendency to make irrational decisions, even trying to kill David who was helping him. At times in Scripture, demonization manifested itself in physical afflictions such as epilepsy (Matt 17:14–18), blindness (Matt 12:22), deafness (Mk 9:25), and the inability to speak (Matt 9:32–33). Most even believe that Paul’s demonic affliction was some type of physical disease like blindness, since it was a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7). With that said, it must be understood that not all emotional or physical problems are demonic in nature. In fact, Scripture distinguishes between Christ’s healing of natural physical diseases and those that were demonic in nature. In Matthew 4:24, it says this about Christ’s ministry to the sick and demon possessed:

So a report about him spread throughout Syria. People brought to him all who suffered with various illnesses and afflictions, those who had seizures, paralytics, and those possessed by demons, and he healed them.

The fact that the healing of the physically sick and demonized are separated proves that not all physical or emotional problems are demonic in nature.

What are some other characteristics of those who are being demonically afflicted? With the demoniac in the region of the Gerasenes who Christ healed, demonization manifested in supernatural strength as the man was able to break his chains. It showed up in extreme isolation, as the man stayed away from people in caves. It showed up in violence, as the man continually tried to harm himself by cutting. Mark 5:2-5 says,

Just as Jesus was getting out of the boat, a man with an unclean spirit came from the tombs and met him. He lived among the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For his hands and feet had often been bound with chains and shackles, but he had torn the chains apart and broken the shackles in pieces. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Each night and every day among the tombs and in the mountains, he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When Christ cast the demons out of him into the pigs, the demons destroyed the pigs (Mk 5:12-14). In considering this, Wayne Grudem said this about demonic activity:

Satanic or demonic activity always tends toward the ultimate destruction of parts of God’s creation and especially of human beings who are made in the image of God (cf. Ps. 106:37, on child sacrifice).1

As further support of this, with the demonized child in Mark, the demonization manifested in continual suicide attempts. In Mark 9:22, the father said this about the demon: “It has often thrown him into fire or water to destroy him. But if you are able to do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

In addition, strong negative reactions to the preaching of God’s Word also are marks of demonization. Apparently, it was a common experience when Christ was preaching in the synagogues that demons would start to manifest in people. Mark 1:21-25 says,

Then they went to Capernaum. When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people there were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like the experts in the law. Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “Leave us alone, Jesus the Nazarene! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” But Jesus rebuked him: “Silence! Come out of him!”

No doubt, Satan and his demons hate God’s Word and therefore react violently when it is preached or read.

Furthermore, demons seem to at times have strong, negative reactions to worship. When Saul was being demonized, the demon would flee when David played the harp. First Samuel 16:23 says, “So whenever the spirit from God would come upon Saul, David would take his lyre and play it. This would bring relief to Saul and make him feel better. Then the evil spirit would leave him alone.” Though the music was apparently instrumental, since the Psalmist of Israel was playing it, we can safely assume it was worship music—played to honor God.

Apart from these objective signs, Wayne Grudem adds that demonic activity is also at times discerned subjectively. He says:

In addition to these outwardly evident indications, demonic activity was sometimes recognized by a subjective sense of the presence of an evil spiritual influence. In 1 Corinthians 12:10, Paul mentions “the ability to distinguish between spirits” (“discerning of spirits,” KJV) as one kind of spiritual gift. This gift would seem to be an ability to sense or discern the difference in the working of the Holy Spirit and the working of evil spirits in a person’s life.22 The gift would apparently include an awareness of demonic influence that would be registered both in terms of objective, observable facts, and also in terms of emotional and/or spiritual uneasiness or perception of the presence of evil.2

When ministering to people, we must be aware of these types of signs which might represent a demonic influence or attack: violent acts towards oneself or others, intense negative emotions like anxiety or depression, and antagonism to God’s Word, the worship of God, and other acts that honor God or minister to others. The existence of one or more of these characteristics does not mean that demons are involved, but it certainly should be a warning sign that they might be involved. Satan hates God and his people, and he continually strives to hinder the works of God in various ways.


  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
  2. What are some forms of demonic affliction?
  3. What are some signs of demonic affliction?
  4. 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. 425). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

2 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 426). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

Related Topics: Satanology

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