There is a spiritual battle going on in the heavenly realms (Daniel 10, Ephesians 1:20-21, and Ephesians 6:10-18). Satan is the ruler of this world (John 12:31) and he prowls around like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8). A Christian is tempted by evil through influences from outside and from within. Temptations come from Satan, from the world around us, and from our own “flesh” (that is, our sinful desires).
But there are various situations in which the Christian is confronted by a much stronger temptation than usual; this happens when someone trespasses spiritual laws and thereby (consciously or unconsciously) lets Satan enter his life. The comparison to a besieged city is helpful here. Hostile armies can besiege a city, they can make breaches in the city wall, or they can enter the city. These are all hostile activities, but the last situation is worse than the previous ones.
I would recommend to refer to “demon possession” only in the worst cases (when someone’s life is totally possessed by the enemy), and to use the phrase “occult influence” for all other cases.
How do people come under demonic influence?
If someone consciously gets involved with demons by summoning the ghosts of the deceased, or by visiting healers with occult powers, for example, that individual enters Satan’s territory and gives him a “legal base” of operation. The gate of the besieged city is opened for the enemy! This also happens if people are involved in fortune telling, black magic (to harm others), or white magic (to heal). People are not always aware of the scope or consequences of their deeds. It is possible to be involved with demons relatively unconsciously.
The worship of idols can bring people under demonic influence too. After all, the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:20 that idols can represent demons. Wooden or stone statues can’t do anything, but there is a spiritual reality behind the idol worship that explains a lot of strange phenomena, including demonic bondage. Practices like hand reading (to predict the future), astrology, and witchcraft can also have serious consequences.
The influence of previous generations and other causes
It is possible for the curses and sins of ancestors to affect their descendants. Demonic bondage can be transmitted from one generation to the next. Therefore, it is important to inquire what someone’s parents or grandparents have done in this respect. However, this kind of contact or relationship does not always lead to occult influence. Often only part of the group or family is affected by it. Satan usually chooses the weakest individuals.
Not all these problems are caused by occult matters; it is also possible that sexual impurity, stubborn adherence to particular sins, or traumatic experiences give Satan an opening. In pastoral ministry, it is good to inquire about these issues. Not out of curiosity, but out of a desire to help and to heal. Christ has triumphed over all spiritual powers and there is liberation in His Name.
If somebody realizes that he or she is under demonic influence, it is important to offer this person further pastoral counseling. He needs to acknowledge his guilt since having contact with Satan or with evil spirits is sinful. The guilty person must confess this, doing it in the knowledge that no sin is so bad that Jesus’ blood cannot atone for it. If he acknowledges and confesses his sin, Satan’s “legal ground” is taken away. Referring to the example of the besieged city again, the gate that was opened to let Satan in, closes. This step can be accompanied by the removal or destruction of objects that are under occult influence, just as the people in Ephesus burned their magic books (Acts 19:19).
In many cases, it is sufficient for the person involved to do this himself and to ask God to remove everything that is wrong and evil. But in more serious cases, the help of others is needed to send Satan away in Jesus’ name. Next, it is important to pray for the filling of the Holy Spirit. Liberation is but one aspect of Christian life; it is also necessary to fight against our own “flesh” (our sinful desires), and against sin. For more information about this “battle”, see How can you overcome temptation? and How can you overcome habitual sin?
Jesus is the Victor
The topics discussed in this article are not easy. But Christian churches must be biblically equipped in this area. We may be startled by the power of the ruler of darkness and impressed by his many deceptions. However, Jesus is the victor. Let us therefore bear witness to the name above all names, the name of Jesus.