But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men (Matthew 16:23 KJV)
As darkness is escalating before our eyes these days, proficiency in dealing with the demonic is not only needed but is mandatory to fulfill God’s purposes on the earth.
Besides, since Satan is the prince of darkness, he thrives when we are ignorant of how he operates. Therefore we must allow the Word of God as light to expose the works of Satan; one critical truth is the difference between demonic possession, oppression, and influence.
Controversies abound regarding demonic possession and oppression, especially in the western world; some hold that demons do not possess human beings but oppress them. Others maintain that though demons can possess people, a true believer cannot be possessed. Furthermore, some have suggested the word “demon” does not refer to the evil spirit beings but to the people possessed by them.
This devotional, however, will not seek to discuss these controversies but examine critical biblical guides that point to the distinction between demonic possession, oppression, and what I often call “influence .” I do not want you to dwell on the play of words( possession, oppression, etc.) but on what those words refer to.
Let us begin with demonic possession. Demons or Satan can live in a human being as their house to dwell and function on earth. It is the highest form of demonic control over a human being.
God created human beings to be vessels that could contain a spirit being just as a container holds water. In fact, God designed human beings to be His house on earth( 1 Cor. 6:13). After the fall, Satan and his demons can now live as human beings after the fall, doing what God had reserved for Him alone, just as demons seek human worship. You will never find in the entire Bible where a holy angel of God possessed a human being, just as they never accept worship. But demons do—they live in human beings and crave worship.
For example, Jesus commanded the evil spirits( legion) living in the mad man to come out of him( not the prepositions) and enter into the pigs( Mark 5:8-12). Just as God can live as a spirit being in a human being, a demonic being can also live in a human being—this is demonic possession, where an evil spirit being lives within a human being.
The next degree of control beneath possession is oppression. For comprehension, I use oppression to refer to a level of demonic control over human beings in which devils do not live within that person but exercise spiritual power to inflict injury or pain in the body or mind.
Demons do not always have to live in somebody to afflict them. An excellent example of demonic oppression is seen in Luke 13:16, where Satan bound a woman causing bodily ailment through the spirit of infirmity. This spirit of infirmity was not a demon living in this woman but demonic power causing illness in her body.
Jesus did not cast out any spirit, as He typically did with those possessed. He healed her by breaking the bondage of that evil power from her body. Likewise, demons can oppress people’s bodies, minds, and emotions. As you would expect, demonic possession is more severe but less common, while demonic oppression is less severe than possession but likely more common.
I use “influence” to refer to the final form of demonic control over us. Although it is the least severe, it is nonetheless the most common. In fact, many of you reading this devotional now have probably been attacked in this way already since you woke up this morning!
The classic example is Satan’s influence on Peter in the presence of Jesus in Matthew 16. Peter had just declared Jesus as the Son of God, but he turned around and rebuked Jesus for saying He was going to die, just as any good friend would do. I would also guarantee that many of us would have done what Peter did.
There was nothing spiritual, demonic, or even occultic in Peter’s actions. If Jesus had not responded the way He did, we should have never known intense spiritual warfare was going on.
Get Behind Me Satan!
Jesus said to Peter:
But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men (Matthew 16:23 KJV).
Peter was not possessed, and neither was he oppressed. He was being influenced to think and act in a way he did not even know he was under the influence.
Satan influences human beings through the flesh. He tempts us to sin and leads us astray in our thinking, feeling, desires, etc. Paul’s words to the Ephesians were nothing but chilling as they reveal Satan’s cryptic operations in human affairs:
“in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:2–3 ESV)
While many believers are binding and casting devils, even in places where they are not there, demons are secretly influencing millions to sin, blinding their minds to the truth, making them desire things God does not want, producing sinful behaviors, make us sleep when it is time to read the Bible or pray, discourages ministers while tempting others to fall into sin, etc. The list continues.
An Assignment for You
I have a challenge for you. Use your favorite concordance, and find every instance where Satan is mentioned directly or indirectly in the Bible. Study the context of the activity of Satan as mentioned in the passage and see for yourself what Satan is truly doing amongst us.
The Influence of Our Culture
Sadly, our culture and background profoundly influence how we interpret demonic activities. I remember a beloved minister of the Lord living here in the US once told me demons do not exist in America; She said they only exist in developing regions in Africa, Asia, Latin America, etc. I was appalled at the spiritual ignorance I heard. For her, demonic activity is only witchcraft, sorceries, possessions, etc.
Similarly, I grew up in a culture in Africa obsessed with sorcery, witchcraft, occultism, etc. Understandably, many African Christians have their thinking severely skewed to see Satanic activity only in these overt demonic activities; some see demons everywhere and every time, and so spend their entire lives “binding and casting.” They think spiritual warfare only takes place in the sea or some space out there. Little do they know that their minds, emotions, desires, behaviors, etc., are the most coveted battleground for demons, not the seas or outer space.
Stick to the Word
Do not be in either extreme. Embrace everything the Word has said about demonic activity. The Word of God should be the only light to understand what God says about Satan and his activities.
Beware of the so-called testimonies of those who have “been in the underworld.” Yes, there are some things you can learn, but no testimony, prior experience, or cultural inclination should blur our understanding of the Word of God regarding spiritual warfare.
Embrace everything God has said about Satan! Yes, he can possess, oppress or influence people. And he can also operate through witchcraft or occultism and the way people think, feel or even desire things. Satan will go as far as we allow him to go and use what we believe in. He will thrive in witchcraft as in Africa, where people are more involved in these practices, but he will not tempt those who do not believe in these things but will work in the ways they let him control them.
If the Church will thrive in these troubling days, we must be proficient in dealing with demons in all their forms of operation. If we fail to do that, we will only see darkness escalating before us.