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There are times when your efforts to rebuke demons will appear to be very effective. There are other times when your mighty Guardian—the magnificent Holy Spirit—will lower His guard around you just enough to let a few demons give you a hearty thrashing. In such moments, no amount of praying, rebuking, Scripture quoting, anointing, or Name flinging is going to save you. You’re going to get pounded until the Holy Spirit throws them off of you, and He isn’t going to throw them off until they’ve served His purposes.
So what exactly are God’s purposes for letting you get mowed over by demons? He has many. We can break them down into the development of four critical soul attitudes: trust, reverence, submission, and dependency. You can’t move forward with God unless you are making progress in one or more of these four areas. It turns out that demons are fabulous tools for propelling you down the road of spiritual maturity. Let’s now talk about how this works out.
Just what is your little mind thinking when you try to apply the Church’s no-fail formula for beating demons back? Who is that you’re commanding when you start rebuking demons? Are you trying to boss them or God? Well, it depends on who you think has the power to throw demons off of you.
If you are way out in the deep waters of arrogance, then you think that you—a powerless fleck of a creature—have the intrinsic ability to control the supernatural realms with mere verbal words. In other words, you’re a mega sorcerer. Move over, Harry Potter, here comes the real deal: Bible quoting Christian prayer warriors who have suited up in Paul’s magical armor and are now ready to take on the powers of darkness. Just where does God fit into your moment of glory? Is there any room in the spotlight for Him? Not really. It’s all about you and your awesome faith. Jesus’ only contribution to the battle is His Name—that potent, five-letter spell which no demon can stand up under. Funny how we find demons lipping off to Jesus in the Gospels. Funny how we find them trying to negotiate with Him and intentionally defying His Authority by screaming out that He is the Son of God after He told them not to. If Jesus is such a demon neutralizer, how come the demons were so feisty in His very Presence? How come we read about Satan going several rounds with Yahweh in the book of Job? Why does Jesus present demons as so fearlessly attacking the Church in Revelation? Apparently it’s just Jesus’ Name that has the real power to zap those demons into some paralyzed state. Apparently God Himself is at a loss for how to keep those demons reined in which is why He depends on you—His superior—to beat them back for Him. This is one very popular theory that the Church puts out on the mechanics of spiritual warfare.
The second version repackages the arrogance to sound a little less obnoxious. Instead of saying that the power to control demons resides within you, this second theory argues that you only have the power to control God. Okay, maybe it’s not less obnoxious after all. According to this second theory, the Holy Spirit and Jesus play the part of your very able Servants who drop everything and rush to respond to your call. So when you say, “Devil, I rebuke you in Jesus’ Name!” what you’re really saying is, “Jesus: sic ‘em!” In this second scenario, Jesus is privileged to play the part of your well-trained dog who drives demons off at your command. The Holy Spirit gets to play the part of your subservient, albeit somewhat dense Bodyguard who keeps having to beat back the demons that He accidentally let come near you.
Now if God hated you and wanted to enjoy laughing at your stupidity, He’d leave you to rot in your pompous delusions about how spiritual warfare really works. But because He loves you, He wants you to grow up, and this is why He brings demons in to grind your face into the dirt. While you desperately apply all of the irreverent formulas the Church has taught you, the Holy Spirit stands by and does nothing. You feel rejected and abandoned, but in reality you are being given a great gift. By forcing you to see how impotent you really are and intentionally doing the opposite of what you want Him to do, the Holy Spirit is helping you get in touch with something you’ve completely lost sight of: your absolute dependency on Him. You see, beating back demons isn’t a team thing. It isn’t you bark and God bites. It’s you duck behind the Holy Spirit’s back and recognize that if He doesn’t defend you, you’re toast. You’re like a caged bunny who has been set down in the path of an oncoming military tank. If someone greater than you doesn’t either neutralize the tank or move you out of harm’s way, you’re going to become a bunny pancake.
In the demon attack scenario, you have no power. God has all the power. This is where the development of reverence comes in. As long as you think you’re the one with the power, you aren’t going to revere God. Instead, you’re going to boss Him about and give Him a bunch of condescending smack. “Jesus, do this. Jesus, do that. Holy Spirit: rain down, fall afresh, blow and burn.” Are you being respectful when you talk like the Holy Spirit is some kind of weather system? Are you treating Jesus like your King when you bark orders at Him? These are your Gods you’re talking to. These are the Beings who keep the sun from moving too close and burning Earth to a crisp. You are the fleck who is so fragile that you can’t handle a single day in one of Their deserts without dying of dehydration. You can’t even swim across one of Their oceans, or climb to the peak of Their tallest mountain, yet you are going to tell Them what to do? Where is your fear of being punished for disrespecting Them? Clearly you have completely lost your grip on reverence if you think it’s okay to boss your Creators about and tell Them how They ought to manage creatures who you don’t know the first thing about. It’s rather heady of you, isn’t it?
Submission is another critical soul attitude, and you’re clearly not submitting when you’re busy bossing God around or thinking you can handle your demon problems without Him. Here’s where it is oh so good for you to get heartily trampled on. What happens when we feel utterly dominated by demons? We whine and snivel and throw pity parties, of course. We accuse God of being a heartless creep for abandoning us in our hour of need. But once we work our way through these initial outbursts, we end up having to deal with the concept of submission. Clearly God isn’t doing what we want. Hm. How can we fix this situation? Maybe we should try listening a little closer when He talks to us. Maybe we should start reviewing some of the things He says about what He wants from us. Submission is at the top of the list. God says He will not take orders from us. God says that we exist to serve Him, not the other way around. It begins to occur to us that if we want to get on God’s good side, we’d better start practicing submission—the real kind, not some phony pretense, because God will know the difference and He hates hypocrisy.
So what about trust? Trust in the goodness of God’s Character is the foundation of our whole relationship with Him. If we don’t trust Him, we won’t ever experience soul peace, joy, and confidence. Because God loves us, He wants us to experience these things. Bring on the demons. As they pound us into the ground, our trust in God’s goodness is royally challenged. Why would a good God treat us so meanly? Or can God’s goodness really be measured by how often He acts in ways that we personally approve of? God says His goodness is defined by His motivations. Why is He letting us get pounded on by demons? Because He wants to develop four critical attitudes within us which will strengthen our relationship with Him. In other words, God lets demons pound on us in order to help us. Are we going to trust Him? Are we going to remember that He is sovereign and in absolute control of the situation at all times, therefore the demons won’t be on us a second longer than He wants them to be? To grow strong, trust must learn to hold on in the face of experiences which seem to prove it is misplaced. If God really can’t be trusted, then we have no hope at all. But if He can be, then why do we have to feel so threatened by demons harassing us? Why do we have to interpret their engagement with us as some sign that things have gone terribly awry between us and God? Why can’t we respond to their attacks with an attitude of “I know You are putting me through this to help me. Help me learn everything You want to teach me”?
When it comes to helping us mature in the faith, demons are such useful little things. Whenever they’re given the chance, they pound on us like ocean waves against a cliff, desperately trying to erode our faith. But when we learn to stop listening to idiot teachers in the Church and start seeking the wisdom of the Holy Spirit instead, everything changes. As He puts us through the paces of practicing submission, reverence, dependency, and trust, our arrogance changes into humility. Our bossy commands turn into humble requests for God to make us all that He wants us to be. Our obsession with being comfortable fades into the background as we become more and more fixated on the idea of God being pleased, glorified, and blessed by us. The more we focus on God and what He wants, the more satisfied we feel. When it comes to drawing us closer to God, demons are fabulous. We don’t want to be intimidated by God using them as tools in our lives. Instead, we want to fully embrace His plan for us and get the most we can out of His maturation program.
Spiritual Warfare in the Church: Delusions vs. Truth