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You hear thoughts in your mind. You assume most or all of them come from you when in reality this is not true. A vast number come from demons, some come from God, and a very small fraction of them actually originate from you. In this post, we’ll introduce you to some key principles about how the spiritual world interacts with you and how your physical brain interacts with your soul.
Now then, the thoughts in your head are better described as voices. There are only three sources: you, God, and demons. There is nothing simple about sorting this mess out and the Bible gives us no practical help in the matter. Happily, God is quite capable of teaching us without the help of a book.
When God calls us sheep, He’s using a metaphor that applies in more ways than we care to admit. Sheep are very responsive animals, reacting instinctively to many types of stimuli. So also, we humans are very responsive and suggestible beings. This makes us very easy for demons to manipulate.
Demons want as much influence over you as possible. One of the greatest footholds they have is being able to plant thoughts in your mind and then trick you into taking credit for them. They’ve been successfully doing this to you your whole life, and unless you’ve become very good at spiritual discernment, they’re still doing it to you now.
How do you know when demons are talking to you? They’re a very crafty group and they use one very simple trick to disguise their voice: they speak in the first person. They use “I” instead of “you” when speaking to you. Sidling up to you, they whisper in your mind, “I am such a loser.” Because the thought appears in first person, you assume you thought it yourself and chalk it up to your low esteem. But you didn’t think it. They said it, then you owned it, and that’s where the mess begins. Once you think you thought something, the effects are just as damaging as if you’d actually thought it.
Suppose you watch a movie in which some evil villain sets out to convince a woman that she’s going crazy. The villain moves things about in her apartment and then writes a letter in her handwriting. He then shows the rearranged things and the forged letter to the woman and says that they are evidence that she’s doing things she’s unaware of. Once the woman falls for these deceptions and actually believes she is going crazy, depression and anxiety quickly overtake her. What we believe has an enormous impact on how we view ourselves. If demons can get you to take ownership for all of their negative thoughts, they can lead you to accept all kinds of despairing conclusions about yourself and God.
So what’s the point of these games? Well, demons want to keep you separated from God. They can’t spiritually separate you from Him, but they can try to stop you from ever growing closer to Him by bombarding you with distractions and deceptions that will cause you to remain despaired about how God views you. The truth is that God loves humans dearly and created them for the purpose of thriving in a positive, personal relationship with Him. God is also very easy to succeed with, but if you really got a hold of this idea you’d be much harder to drag down, so demons work hard to get you to think otherwise.
SPEAKING IN THE FIRST PERSON
“I’m always doubting. God must find that so exasperating. I can’t do anything right. I’ll never be a strong Christian. I think God must have given me a very small portion of faith, no doubt because He doesn’t see much potential in me.”
All of these thoughts are classic demon lines. Doesn’t it seem hard to believe that a third party is actually saying “I” in your head? The way that demons use grammar to camouflage themselves is pure genius. If another human tried to plant thoughts in your mind by speaking in the first person, it would never work. You’d be aware that someone was speaking in your ear and you’d never mistake them for yourself. Humans can’t speak directly into your brain like demons can. Humans can’t hear your thought voice or perfectly imitate it. But demons are masters of disguise.
SPEAKING IN THE SECOND PERSON
“You are such a disappointment to God. You’re not even worth the effort He spent in making you.”
If there are other humans in your life who are always tearing you down, then you will be much a much easier target for demons to use second person language on. The goal of this approach is to convince you that you’re hearing “echoes” from your past, or that you’re simply imagining what some nasty human would say to you if they could see you now. But when demons bombard you with these kinds of thoughts, they are careful to suggest that you are the one originating them. They say that you are the one imagining what others would say to you, and that you are the one who is choosing to call up painful memories from your past. Yet the truth is that you are doing nothing but standing there while they make stuff up and drag up all kinds of negative memories from your mental archives.
Demons are more familiar with your memories than you are and they will quickly hit replay on the snarky comments your sister made ten years ago anytime they see an opportunity to drag you down. You are not the one rifling through your memory banks constantly recycling painful thoughts—they are, and they are very good at it. Ever wonder why you have such a hard time forgetting those crushing words your father said to you as a child? Or perhaps you struggle to stop thinking about that joke your friend made at your expense the other day. Are you haunted by some past sin you committed and do you find yourself keep reliving your actions over and over again? Demons are the ones who help upsetting memories stay at the front of your mind. The more negative memories you have, the more extensive their arsenal is. Because it’s your own memory that they’re replaying, you’re very likely not to suspect their involvement.
We humans are extremely easy to deceive. It is vital that we get a firm grip on this truth for learning how to discern between God and demons is largely a matter of becoming very educated on the extent of our own vulnerability. We all fall for the first person language trick. We all fall for the negative mental flashbacks. It takes a lot of time and discomfort to learn how to catch demons in the act of deceiving you. When they see you start to make strides in this area, they will instantly react with new deceptions and more intense attacks. You need to be patient with yourself and not expect to get this overnight. You also need to remember that there are no limits on how far you can go when God is your Teacher.
So where is God in all this? Doesn’t He ever talk to you? Demons would prefer that you think He does only when they are imitating His Voice, which they do a lot.
“You know I hate divorce, but you went and got one anyway. I will never forgive you for this.”
Here’s a classic example of demons imitating God. Notice how the second person language makes it sound like someone else is talking to you. In this situation, demons want you to recognize a second party, so they’re using grammar to their advantage. Notice the biblical reference to God’s feelings about divorce. Demons will take advantage of all the verses and sermons you’ve got stored in your mind in order to help their deceptions slip past your guard.
“I am so disappointed in the way you raised your children. You didn’t honor Me at all.”
Here’s another classic God counterfeit: notice the reference to past activities that you can’t do anything about. Maybe you really were a crummy parent, but this comment doesn’t give you anywhere to go but down. When demons impersonate God in your mind, their goal is to create a sense of distance between you and Him by convincing you that He is upset with you and that there’s nothing you can do about it.
RECOGNIZING THE TRAP
With so many tricks up their sleeves, how can you possibly defend yourself against the onslaught of demons in your mind? Most of the time you won’t even recognize them: you’ll mistake their voices as your own, a memory of someone else’s voice, or God’s. Once we realize what masters of deception demons are, it feels almost impossible to ever win against them. But there is one massive chink in their armor—one fatal flaw in their strategy that you can take advantage of. The end goal of demons is always to discourage you from pursuing God. When you can learn to recognize this signature on any thought in your head regardless of where it seems to be coming from, you will know that demons are talking to you.
Demons are masters of disguise, but their bottom line message is what always blows their cover. To make things even more clear, God is just as consistent as they are, but in the opposite direction. Everything He says to you will encourage you to pursue a deeper relationship with Him–even when what’s He’s saying to you is some corrective conviction.
SOUL VS. BRAIN
So how does God talk to us? Here is where we need to tread out into that mysterious land of body and soul. We are spiritual beings (or souls) who are temporarily encased in physical bodies (which we call earthsuits). Our physical brains are an entirely different thing than our souls, yet the two interact with each other all the time.
Your soul has its own will which is separate from the will of your earthsuit. Before you submitted to God, your soul’s will was aligned with the will of your earthsuit. Your earthsuit couldn’t care less about pleasing God–it only cares about pleasing itself. Because your earthsuit is depraved–meaning that it has many natural desires which God calls immoral–what your earthsuit wants often goes against what God says is right. When Christians groan about struggling with sin, what they’re really talking about is their earthsuits wanting to please themselves. The only reason so many of your natural desires are labeled as sins is because God has intentionally set you up with an earthsuit that craves what He calls evil. Here’s a critical point: you didn’t choose your earthsuit and the kinds of things it would crave. God chose these things for you. He essentially programmed your earthsuit to delight in things like gossip, slander, brutality, perversity, and lying–then He later came along and taught your soul that these things were wrong, but He didn’t change any of the desires of your earthsuit.
By now you’ve probably heard the theory that at salvation God cleansed you of all impure desires. What a crock. You can toss that theory out as the useless guilt trip that it is. Your earthsuit is depraved and it always will be. God might free you up from an addiction or perversity here or there, but He has no intention of ever making you righteous through and through. The more your soul cares about pleasing God, the more distressed it will be to find itself trapped within a stubborn machine that wants nothing to do with God. It is the constant clashing of agendas between your earthsuit and your soul that results in the feeling that there is a civil war going on right inside of you. Learning to discern between these two entities and learning more about how reasonable God’s expectations are goes a long way towards helping your soul find peace in the midst of a moral dilemma (see Divine Judgment Q&A).
God judges us only by the choices of our souls, and whenever He convicts us, our souls are forced to choose between rebellion and obedience. Rebellion is when our souls say to God, “I don’t care what You want. I’m going to please my earthsuit.” Obedience is when our souls choose instead to align with God by saying, “Pleasing You is more important than pleasing myself; I want to honor You with my actions.” Here is a key point: when our souls choose to align with God, He may or may not help us to force our earthsuits into alignment as well. If He does, we will act obedient to God on the outside. If He does not, then we will act disobedient on the outside while our souls are groaning in frustration within. In the latter case, we are still being obedient to God and are given full credit for choosing righteousness even though we look on the outside like we are choosing to ignore His convictions (see Understanding Divine Judgment: Illumination, Empowerment & A God Who Delights In Mercy).
Now many Christians will tell you that your earthsuit became regenerated and purified of wicked desires at the moment of salvation. These same teachers will tell you that God is judging you by the actions of your earthsuit, thus it is your responsibility to control your flesh and overcome its lusts. These people are delusional. God has intentionally left us powerless to overcome the lusts of our earthsuits. Self-control comes from Him, and He is constantly changing how much self-control you have access to in a given moment. He never gives any of us the ability to keep our earthsuits in check at all times. Even fully devoted Christians will find themselves overwhelmed by some pretty nasty temptations, and when this happens, they will appear to others as not really caring about God. Yet the truth is that their souls do care immensely about pleasing God, even as their earthsuits run amuck on them. In such cases, God credits these souls for their sincere desire to honor Him.
So why doesn’t God allow us to master our earthsuits and not let our depravity get the best of us? There are many reasons, but they come down to the same bottom line: God wants us to thrive in our relationships with Him. God has designed us to be creatures who are utterly dependent on Him for every little thing. He wants us to fully embrace our dependency on Him and learn to see it as a good thing. If He were to allow us to live truly sinless lives, as many believe He does, we would swiftly become arrogant and self-exalting. Watch any Christian who believes he can keep his own earthsuit in check and you will soon hear him taking the bows for his supposed moral perfection by saying things like, “I simply choose not to sin.” Any teaching which leads us to believe we need less of God in life is a false teaching. When God teaches us, He increases our awareness that we are absolutely dependent on Him for everything and encourages us to exalt Him alone (see The Great Gift of Sin: Why Our Depravity Gives Us Hope).
So what does all of this have to do with voices in your mind? Well, you need to be aware that your soul and your earthsuit are frequently clashing in their agendas because this is a key area of attack for demons. Demons fully understand that your soul cannot control your earthsuit without God’s help. They also understand that God is only judging you by your soul’s response to Him. But they certainly don’t want you to understand this. Instead, they will try very hard to teach you that God holds you accountable for your earthsuit’s desires and that your soul and earthsuit are one entity. When your earthsuit is aroused by some pornographic picture and your soul groans in repulsion, demons will say, “You chose to lust.” No, you didn’t choose to lust because you are your soul. Your earthsuit lusted because that’s all it knows how to do, but your soul turned away in repulsion because it was being obedient to God.
Whenever your soul chooses to oppose your earthsuit’s depraved agendas for the sake of honoring God, it is a major victory, but demons will try hard to distract you from this. They’ll try to convince you that you’re actually losing the fight by saying something like, “If you were really trying to obey God, you wouldn’t feel aroused by that dirty picture.” This is an absolute lie. You cannot control your hormones or the way your body physically reacts to what your eyes see. All you can control is your soul, and in this scenario, your soul acted righteously. Whenever your soul chooses to honor God by not sinning, it will try to rein in your flesh, like a man pulling on the leash of his disobedient dog. But unless God steps up with some empowerment, your soul will find that your earthsuit is ignoring its commands, and you’ll end up like a man who is getting hauled down the street by a powerful dog who is determined to catch the squirrel it has spotted.
HOW GOD TALKS
So what about God? When does He pipe up? Your soul is the real you, and your soul is the part of you that God speaks to. Instead of whispering thoughts in your physical brain as demons prefer to do, God speaks directly to your soul. He doesn’t speak in English or any other human language, but instead He speaks in a spiritual language which your soul is perfectly fluent in. Don’t miss this key point: your soul always hears and understands when God is talking to you. Your physical brain is the part that is often out of the loop, for it does not clearly hear the conversations between your soul and God like a man who is listening in on a phone call. It takes time and focus to be able to tune in to the constant communication that is happening between your soul and God. But in the meantime, your mind does have a general awareness that these exchanges are going on and it translates a small fraction of them into verbal thoughts that you can understand.
If your primary language is English, then your brain thinks in English and it forms thoughts in English. Demons and God will speak to you both in English and in an unutterable spiritual language. When they speak to you in a spiritual language, your soul fully grasps the message, yet before you can hear it like a thought in your head, that wordless message must be translated by your brain into an audible language. This is rather like trying to translate poetry from one language to another. In the first language, the poem might have beautiful rhyme and rhythm, but by the time its meaning is translated into a second language, it sounds more like random phrases of thought and there isn’t any nice flow at all. Likewise, when we try to translate spiritual words into human words, we lose a lot in the translation. For example, in English, we say “I love my wife” and “I love pizza.” English speakers automatically understand that there is a vast difference between these two types of love, but accurately explaining that difference in words is rather hard to do. So also, when God says to your soul that He loves you, He communicates something much deeper than “I love you” and your soul understands this. But when your soul conveys this message to your brain, your brain can’t find any human words which accurately convey what has been communicated so it ends up simply translating God’s message as a verbal thought in your mind. You hear the words “I love you” in your mind. Your brain knows that this is a poor translation, but it doesn’t really matter because your soul knows what God meant.
Your brain and your soul are more connected with each other than you realize. Suppose you were on the phone with an alien on Mars. The alien speaks only Martian, which you understand when you hear it but you can’t speak it yourself. In this analogy, the alien is like your soul and you are like your brain. Your brain only speaks verbal human languages. You can listen to your alien friend and understand what he’s saying to you, but when you review it in your mind, you must use English thoughts that really do a poor job of capturing the original message. This is how it is with your brain and soul: many of the thoughts which your brain forms are actually its attempts to translate what it has heard from your soul. This is something we do automatically because we are used to only thinking in human languages. It is possible to skip this translation step and learn to just think directly with your soul, but this is a very advanced discernment skill that we won’t get into here (see Wordless Prayer).
BODY, MIND & SOUL
Now if you’ve never heard anyone break down the mechanics of brain and soul communication before, all of this might sound rather bizarre and mystical. Yet the fact remains that we are spiritual beings operating in physical bodies and the mechanics we’ve been describing in this post are very real. Our brains are in constant communication with our souls and it is important that we realize this. God has created us so that the many components of our earthsuits interact with each other and affect our souls. When your stomach is empty, it sends signals to your brain to make you feel hungry. When your eye sees a provocative image, it communicates it to your brain, which then spikes your hormone levels which then gives you physical sensations of arousal. There are some cultic spin offs of Christianity which try to deny this interaction and argue that our minds and souls are totally separate from our emotions and bodies, therefore we can fully engage in the lusts of our flesh and it doesn’t matter at all. Yet this is not true: God has created us as a very intricate system in which each piece affects how the entire system operates. This is why chronic physical pain ends up depressing our emotions which ends up depressing our souls. Likewise, spiritual angst ends up upsetting our earthsuit’s emotions, which in turn ends up harming our bodies in the form of strained hearts, ulcers, and high blood pressure. God is an ingenious Creator who loves creating masterpieces of intricate detail. To learn discernment, we must gain some basic understanding of how body, mind and soul interact so that we can understand how demons will try to use those interactions to their advantage.
Demons will attack your earthsuit’s emotional and physical components directly if they get the chance, for they know that these things will have ripple effects on your soul. If they can get you to feel emotionally depressed, they can get you to believe it’s a sign that there is some spiritual disconnect between your soul and God. All of the horrifying conclusions we draw during “the dark night of the soul”—such as God abandoning us—are really misinterpretations of very real emotional, physical and psychological events (see Why the Holy Spirit Left You: Guidance for Panicking Christians). If you are praying for God to help you understand His love for you and suddenly a wave of self-disgust comes over you, you will easily be fooled into thinking that God is answering your request by saying He hates you. God has not said He hates you, but He is letting demons manipulate your emotions. If God allows, demons can do many things to make us miserable, like sending cold chills down our spines to try and make us embrace fear. We humans are very easy to deceive.
Let’s review what we’ve discussed so far. As God allows, demons attack you using many different strategies. They plant thoughts directly in your mind, they manipulate your emotions and physiology, and they try to imitate God’s Voice. Meanwhile, God is constantly talking to your soul, and your brain translates the gist of some of these conversations into thoughts which you once again take the credit for because you are under the false impression that God hardly ever talks to you. So how can you get to a place where you feel like God is talking to you more? You have to stop taking the credit for everything He says to you.
When an encouraging verse surfaces in your mind, you assume that you just happened to remember it. But no, what actually happened is that God just brought that verse to mind for you in order to encourage you. God spoke to you directly but you missed seeing it that way because He used a verse instead of saying something new. God says new things to you all the time, but you miss those as well. For example, after you get into a phone fight with your friend and hang up in her face, you hear your mind thinking, “That was rude. I shouldn’t have just hung up on her like that.” You think this is you being reasonable, but it is actually God convicting you. He spoke directly to your soul, which delivered the message to your brain. But you don’t believe that God speaks to you directly, so your brain translated the message into the first person “I” because that is the only grammar that makes sense if you believe you’re talking to yourself. If you were to recognize that God was the One talking to you, your brain would have translated it differently: “That was rude. You shouldn’t have hung up on her like that.”
Do you see what a huge difference wording makes? Theology also makes a huge difference, for we will only recognize God at work if we believe in faith that He is there. If we do not believe that He loves us, then we will refuse to hear Him say so. We hear what we expect to hear a good measure of the time. We have extreme difficulty hearing what we don’t think is possible. This is why it is so hard for the Christian with a poor self-image to hear God saying that He loves him. God is saying it, but the Christian is deflecting His words instead of allowing them sink in. We do the same thing with humans. Friends can say that they forgive us, but if we can’t forgive ourselves, we refuse to believe that they were sincere.
God’s convictions are not always the sharp, painful things we tend to expect. When we are listening to Him and wanting to obey Him, we will mostly experience His convictions as natural, logical, and even pleasant thoughts (see Conviction Q&A). Always when God convicts us, He provides some clear instruction on how to correct the problem. God never just raises up a problem so that we can feel despaired and hopeless—this is a sure marker of condemnation (see Identifying False Conviction: Three Easy Tests).
Remember that demons always speak with a goal of making us feel distanced from God while God always says things that invite us closer to Him. Your task now is to start testing the thoughts that form in your brain to see what their bottom line messages are. In real life, things get messy. It isn’t all God or all demons, but a constant blending of both. Let’s look at an example of a train of thoughts you might have on your way home from work after you lied to your boss.
“I shouldn’t have lied to my boss.”
You think this is your own guilty conscience talking, but it’s actually God who has just convicted your spirit. Your brain has translated the conviction into first person grammar because it doesn’t recognize that God is talking. You think it’s just you keeping you on the straight and narrow road.
“I was really a rotten witness. Just last week I told him I was a Christian. Now I’ve really given Christianity a bad name.”
You think you’re still talking, but you haven’t said a single word yet. God said something, and now demons have jumped into the conversation to try and twist His conviction into condemnation. They want you to feel bad—notice the way they are amplifying your mistake. Demons love to focus on failure, because it makes you feel rotten with God.
“I need to apologize to him tomorrow.”
This is God talking again, giving you clear instruction on how to correct your mistake and get back in alignment with Him. Your brain has once again translated His words into the first person and erroneously credited you as being the originator of the thought.
“That’s going to be a really awkward conversation.”
This is a demon, who is trying to scare you away from obeying God by using classic fear tactics. You think it’s just you having a human reaction and so you don’t deflect the fear as an attack from your enemies, but let it sink in.
“What if he gets really angry at me? What will I say? I don’t have a good excuse.”
Since you’re taking their bait, demons continue their attack and are pushing very hard to amplify your fear. Now you’re getting nervous knots in your stomach—knots which you are helping them to tie by being so cooperative.
“I knew I shouldn’t have lied but I did anyway.”
This is a demon once again, working in a little condemnation by emphasizing your guilt and trying to get you to stay focused on your mistake.
“What if he gets so mad that he fires me?”
Here’s another scare tactic to discourage you from obeying God. Notice the constant use of the first person to make it sound like you are talking to yourself.
“Maybe I should just let it go and forget about it. It was just one small lie.”
Demons now flip tactics, trying to downsize your sin so that you can justify not having to do anything to correct it.
“But honesty is important. God says it’s wrong to lie.”
This is God, pulling your focus back on the bottom line: you need to obey Him.
“Still, it’s just one silly lie. Everyone else in the office lies.”
This is a demon, sticking with their minimization strategy and trying to tempt you with new excuses to disobey.
“But I’m not everyone else. Christians are supposed to act differently than the world.”
This is God, encouraging you to do the right thing.
“But if I admit I lied, I’ll look no different than the world so what’s the point?”
This is a demon, trying to discourage you.
“Then again, Christians aren’t perfect. We make mistakes like everyone else but we prove that we’re different by owning those mistakes and taking responsibility. By apologizing to my boss, I can still be a good witness.”
This is God, showing you how He can bring good out of your mistake if you do what He says.
“I’m going to apologize first thing tomorrow.”
This is the first time you have actually said something in this conversation. This is your brain translating your soul’s decision to obey God.
The shocking reality is that you are the quietest speaker in your own mind. Most of the thoughts in your head are coming from either demons or God. You actually say very little and what you do say is always a reaction to what one of them said. We are like sheep—we follow and we react to the leaders in our midst. We always respond, we do not initiate. When demons speak, we react by either receiving their words and feeling dragged down, or we reject their words as lies and turn our focus onto God. When God speaks, we react the same way: we either receive or reject what He says to us.
What we’ve quick discussed so far is a very quick overview of a very vast and complex topic. In real life, we learn discernment by inches and it takes years to grasp many of the principles we’ve discussed here. As with all teaching, it is vital that you ask God to show you which parts of this lesson, if any, are applicable to you right now. God wants us all to become very skilled at discerning His Voice, however He tackles this subject with each of us at different times. If you feel this is too much to grasp for now, then take in this one basic principle: demons and God are always talking to you and you erroneously take credit for much of what they say. With God’s help, this can be corrected. The better we become at recognizing who is speaking to us when, the more effectively we can learn to resist demons and the more confident we will become in following God’s lead. If you are feeling frustrated about not being able to recognize God’s Voice, be encouraged, for this is an indication that He is stirring you up to receive further teaching on the subject. God often stirs up in us a hunger to learn the next lesson He wants to present to us. Ask God to help you fully absorb every kernel of wisdom He presents you with and then trust that He will grant your request.
Brain-Soul Mechanics: Why God Doesn’t Expect You to Have Pure Thoughts
Brain-Soul Mechanics: Sorting Out the Voices
Understanding Soul-Earthsuit Mechanics: The Origin of Warm Fuzzies
Faith Development: Basic Mechanics
For an in-depth discussion of Spiritual Discernment & Warfare, click here to start our Advance Series on this subject.