What are demons?
An African proverb says, “When elephants fight, the grass always loses.” In the realm of spiritual warfare, Christians are the “grass”: “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
On one side of this battle stands our Heavenly Father, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, the Lord of all that is. Our God who so loved us that he sent his Son to give us eternal life with him in heaven.
On the other side is Satan. His name means “adversary” or accuser. He constantly acts in defiance of God’s word and will. He tempted Jesus, and tempts us as well. We are the “grass” in his battle against the Lord. And so God warns us, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). His foot soldiers are his demons. We need to know about them, because they’re after us.
Learning to recognize our enemies
According to the Bible, a “demon” is a created spirit being, a kind of angel. These beings sinned with Satan in heaven, and so are commonly called “fallen angels” or “unclean spirits.” Satan is now their ruler (Matthew 12:24), and he has organized them into his army of evil (Ephesians 6:11-12). God created hell for them, where they will be with Satan forever: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). The Bible teaches five important facts about demons.
First, demons are real. Most Americans don’t believe they exist. Most Americans are deceived. Demons were real to Jesus. Six times in the gospels we find him casting them out of suffering, demon-possessed people. Mark 1:34 says that Jesus “drove out many demons.” They were real to the early Christians. Acts 5:16 records this scene from their ministry: “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” Peter and Paul both exorcised demons personally.
Second, demons are evil and unclean. The Bible often calls them “evil” or “unclean” spirits. Demons are filthy, both physically and morally. Wherever you see demonism you find filth, rubbish, and sin. It’s no accident that with the rise of Satanism and the occult in America we also have the rise of drug abuse, pornography, child abuse, perversion, and obscenity.
Third, demons are stronger than we are. In Mark 5 we meet a demon-possessed man, so strong that men could not bind him even with chains (vs. 3-4). Fragments of their attempts lay all around the tombs where he lived, stark reminders of the impotence of human ability against the forces of darkness. We cannot defeat their temptations in our ability. But we don’t have to.
Fourth, demons always seek to destroy. We read of the demoniac in Mark 5, “Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones” (v. 5). Imagine the scars running over his body, the blood caked on his filthy clothes and in his matted hair, the wild eyes and foaming mouth and shaking hands. This is what the demons did to him. Later they killed the herd of pigs they occupied as well. They ruin and corrupt whatever they touch. They are cancer of the soul.
Last, demons are after us. If you have not made Jesus your Savior, you belong not to God but to Satan. He doesn’t want you to know that, but it’s true. If you do belong to Jesus, Satan is doing all he can to keep you from winning the battle for the souls of others. He will try his best to minimize your ministry, to cripple your witness, to poison your spiritual life.
As the parable goes, a Christian and nonbeliever were walking down the road when Satan appeared before them. The non-Christian hid behind the believer and said, “Protect me! He’s after me!” But the Christian smiled and said, “No, it’s me he’s after. He’s already got you.” Demons want to tempt us to sin, ruin our witness, corrupt our lives.
Here’s the good news: we can defeat Satan and his foot soldiers in the power of the Holy Spirit. We can refuse their temptations and defeat their strategies each and every day.
First, receive Jesus. Make him your Savior and Lord. As he defeated the demons in Mark 5, so he has power over Satan and his temptations always. Make him your Lord, and he will help you win the battle over temptation and sin every day.
Next, recognize temptation. When sin knocks at your door, demons are hiding behind it. And that sin will always take you further than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you wanted to pay. Know that every sin is part of a demonic strategy to ruin your witness and life.
Now, run to the Spirit. Every time you are tempted, go immediately to the Spirit for his help. Don’t try to win this battle on your own, because you cannot. James 4:7-8 is God’s antidote to temptation: “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” Submit to God’s Spirit—be filled and empowered every day by him—then resist the devil with his strength and help.
Last, rescue others—all who belong to the enemy. When Jesus healed the demoniac of Mark 5, he then sent him to be used to heal others. To his family, and to the ten Gentile cities along the eastern edge of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan river. He became their first missionary, preaching the gospel of God’s love and power for their lives and souls. In a war, every soldier matters. Where are you stationed?