Raised, as most of us were, in an age of spiritual skepticism, we find it difficult to believe in, or at least take seriously, the reality of things that we cannot see. This, as you can imagine, offers convenient cover for the spiritual beings that the Bible considers our greatest enemies – the demons.
1. Demons: what are they?
The demons are angels that lost their position in heaven, and were thus cast down. The chief of the evil angels is named variously throughout the Scriptures, but his most common designation is “Satan” or the “devil.” Remember that, even though Satan and his evil angels are “spirits” (Luke 24:39, Ephesians 6:12), they are not omnipresent like God. Satan cannot be in multiple places at once. So when the Bible speaks of Satan tempting or attacking people, it must generally mean that he is working through the agency of the demons under his control. This makes sense because, just as there are many, many angels (Daniel 7:10), there are also many demons, presumably an easily sufficient number to pester every person in the world. Furthermore, the Scripture describes this conglomeration of demons as though it were strategically arranged into a massive system to carry out the will of the devil. The Bible uses terms such as principalities, powers (Ephesians 6:12), thrones, dominions (Colossians 1:16), princes (Daniel 10:13), gods, lords (1 Corinthians 8:5), angels (Romans 8:28), spirits (Matthew 8:16, 12:45), unclean spirits (Matthew 10:1), evil spirits (Luke 7:21), seducing spirits (1 Timothy 4:1), and elemental spirits (Galatians 4:3). Granted, nothing in the Bible teaches how the kingdom of the devil is arranged, but we must conclude that Satan is not merely formidable, but also very well organized. Thus, when we are told that the devil prowls around like a lion looking for whom he might devour, the agents doing the actual prowling are usually subservient demons.
2. Their power
The New Testament is immensely concerned with the subject of the devil and demons, even if the modern American church is not. This makes sense. The devil is very powerful, according to the Bible. His power (or that of his demonic henchmen) can extend to influencing nature (Mark 4:39, Job 1:19), stirring up crowds into riots (John 8:44,59), putting men into prison (Revelation 2:10), enacting signs and wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9), possessing humans (Luke 22:3, John 13:27), perpetrating false teaching (1 John 4:1, 1 Timothy 4:1), attempting to destroy the church (Matthew 16:18), controlling city councils (1 Thessalonians 2:18) and even manipulating entire nations (Daniel 10)!
But the most characteristic device of the devil is his capacity for temptation. Paul even names the devil “the Tempter” (1 Thessalonians 3:5). Here we confront one of the more unnerving traits of Satan: he has access to our mind. In Luke 8:12, Jesus says the devil can take the word of God away from our hearts. John 13:2 reports that the devil prompted Judas to betray Jesus. In fact, the devil has managed to blind the minds of all unbelievers from the light of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4). The devil has access to our minds and hearts.
Surprising though it might sound, the Bible never teaches that either angels or demons can read our minds. Some have suggested that demons know what is on our mind by studying our body language. Centuries of studying the human condition has made them better students of human gestures than the best of our own law enforcement interrogators. But, though they cannot read our minds, they can make tempting suggestions to our minds.
Lest we underestimate the danger of such mental suggestion, consider Paul’s very significant warning in 2 Corinthians 11:3: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” The serpent deceived Eve by tempting her audibly. He spoke into her ears. So also, when Satan tempted Jesus (Matthew 4), he spoke audibly. In other words, the devil has the capacity to speak into our human ears. However, for purposes which are his own, he hardly ever does it. Rather, Paul warns that the devil wants to corrupt our thoughts. The devil doesn't speak into our ears, but he tempts us in the same way he tempted Eve, only in our minds. To put it even more specifically, the devil avoids battling us in our ears and prefers the battleground of our conscience (1 Timothy 1:18,19).
3. Our Defense Against Demons
The devil is not merely interested in tempting us to various sins, but rather is our “accuser” (Revelation 12:10). This is the meaning of the word Satan – “accuser.” So he tempts us and accuses us in our minds or consciences. His temptations are to break commandments, his accusations are to give up our faith and hope in Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of our sins. The devil would drive us to despair of God’s mercy and turn again to our own resources and resolutions for our spiritual safety.
Thus, over and over again, the Bible urges us to fight against the devil using weapons which are external and objective. While the devil avoids tempting us audibly, the Lord’s counter strategy is to speak to us as audibly as possible. We are to hear his words. Consider how many of Paul’s suggested spiritual weapons in Ephesians 6:13-18 are various manifestations of the spoken Word of God: “the belt of truth,” “the gospel of peace,” “the sword of the Spirit, which his the Word of God.” Nothing in there about performing strange exorcisms or séances. Nothing urging us to use rabbit’s foot-like formulas. Just hear the word of God in your ears. Hear the Law of God to tenderize your conscience and hear the Gospel of God to encourage you against the devil’s false accusations. This is our chief defense against the devil.
Finally, the Bible urges us to pray against the demons (Mark 14:38, Luke 21:36, Ephesians 6:18, Colossians 4:2, for instance). I am surprised by how sparsely the weapon of prayer is used by Christians as a defense against the devil. Consider that when Our Lord dictated to us the prayer He intended for us to pray daily, the final petition is against the “evil one.” We are supposed to do this. Pray daily that you would stand firm against the temptations of the demons. If you struggle against some specific temptation like alcohol or depression or pornography or gossip, then pray specifically for strength to resist the devil in that area. If you are discouraged or bored with the Gospel, pray for a new heart, for strength and comfort. And, do not be afraid to pray out loud. A woman said to me once that when she prays, she whispers so that devil will not hear her. But when David or Paul, Moses or John, or even Jesus, prayed, they generally prayed out loud. They didn’t care if the demons could hear; they might have even desired for the demons to hear. For their prayers were damaging the stronghold of the demons.
The Bible teaches that the demons are real, and they are strong, and they hate you. But Jesus, His death and resurrection and promise of forgiveness are also real, and in the end the demons will be cast out, and you will be brought to the light and joy of the Lord’s life.