This posting is the third in a four part series about Evil and The Devil. It assumes the reader is well acquainted with the first two parts — Satan And His Minions, and How Satan Gets To Us. Scripture quotes are from the RSV translation (with Apocrypha).
HOW BAD CAN IT GET?
“Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication…” (Eph 6:13-18)
We must never, never, never underestimate Jesus Christ! It’s hard to relate to the notion of an infinite, triune, spiritual being of love — much less a God/Man who died for us 2,000 years ago. We try to bring Him down to our level so we can better understand Him; or make Him understand us. This often leads us to put limits on Him, unintentionally, but real nonetheless.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:8,9)
Jesus is the Son of God, the Second Person in the Trinity. His power and authority are infinite. He is the author of life. Out of love, He creates us out of nothing and holds us in existence, moment by moment. He is Love incarnate. He cares about each little aspect of our lives. He never, never turns away from us.
“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” (Isa 54:10)
God creates us to share His life in Heaven; but because of Adam and Eve's disobedience, we are weak and damaged goods. Still, no one can become so totally involved with evil Jesus is not able to free him.
Satan and his followers are real — they are many. They're determined to frustrate God’s plans and cause us to lose our inheritance. They want to murder the God-given spiritual life in us through our pride, their accusation and lies — temptations that lead us to chose our appetites, emotions, desires and our selves as the center of our priorities, instead of choosing God’s will and His love for us.
Many priorities in life — serving God and the Church, family, justice, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, protecting the vulnerable and helpless, and others — are important, meaningful, necessary and worthy. Still, at the end of the day, what matters for each of us personally is whether we go to live with God, or are separated from Him for Eternity.
We are exposed to constant warfare. We cannot escape the conflict through denial or passivity. We don't like war, we didn’t ask to be in evil’s crosshairs, and we can complain we don’t deserve it. But we are in warfare, nonetheless. Our success in securing our inheritance is at stake. It’s essential we consistently resist the attacks of evil and regain any lost ground with every weapon at our command — or risk unthinkable loss.
Three categories of involvement with evil are recognized:
OPPRESSION — This is the most common. You might call it "the entry level". Evil constantly tries to prevent us from drawing close to God. The war begins at an early age, in small ways, usually with minor consequences. Evil’s initial objective is to "make acquaintance" and get us used to the inner dialogue.
Once we are inoculated for contact with evil, suggestions soon follow cloaked in fear, guilt, lust, pride, occult and a host of other emotions, appetites and desires. We are urged in our minds to do or say something that is against God’s will, and are given enough rationale to both justify our doing it, and overcome our conscience.
This rationale is cleverly packaged in half-truths, outright lies, personal attack and deliberate misunderstandings — all liberally coated with a promised outcome that changes the appearance of sin into something noble or righteous that rewards and satisfies.
Warfare at this level relies principally on a strong defense: reception of the Sacraments, recognition of the truth, and authoritative rejection of the temptations — all discussed below.
OBSESSION — At this level, part of a person's will is not fully operative in a particular area, and is given over to sinful habits of thought, speech, or action. Temptations in this area do not easily yield to reason, and personal decisions to repent (a significant change in direction) are difficult to implement.
How one arrives at this condition is an important issue. Behaviors can be caused by a number of factors and combinations, apart from involvement with evil: (1) character defects wherein a specific area has not been developed properly due to a lack of training or mentoring; (2) insufficient strength of will; and (3) decisions made to pursue pride, an appetite, emotion or desire, based on ignorance of the consequences.
False paradigms and value systems planted during Environmental Proximity can easily lead one into addiction, abuse, sub-standard behaviors in relationships, and worse. Hurtful memories from Trauma weaken our wills and make us vulnerable to false assumptions and knee-jerk reactions. (See How Satan Gets To Us for more on Environmental Proximity and Trauma.)
Nevertheless, when someone obsesses in an area over time, an evil spirit of similar persuasion will try to attach itself to that same area in the person’s will. The spirit proposes temptations in the sinful area, and the individual’s weakened will assents in an accepting and reflexive manner. Over time, repetitive yielding establishes a de-facto relationship, wherein control of that sinful behavior is ceded to the spirit.
Warfare at this level is concerned, first, with recovering lost ground. Discernment is required to distinguish between causes and any spirits that may be operating. It is best to work on causes first through forgiveness, paradigm shifting, value-system upgrades, healing of memories, repentance, the Sacraments, and will strengthening.
If working the causes is not completely successful, additional discernment is used to evaluate the possibility of an evil spirit(s) at work. These are dealt with by authoritatively discarding the spirit(s) as discussed in the fourth installment of this series, Discarding Evil Spirits.
POSSESSION — All scary tales to the contrary, this title is very misleading. No one can ever be so under the influence of evil spirits that they possess him, and be so possessed that Jesus is unable to free him.
Excessive, sustained and violent spiritual attacks in the mind and on the person are rare. Still, they are recorded in Scripture and throughout Church history. They do not yield to prayer, fasting, or other forms of will strengthening.
Many of the saints, through no sin of their own, have suffered significant attacks from evil spirits. These have sometimes been labeled possession, but are certainly not so in a strict, literal sense. They are often discerned as attacks, allowed by God, to help the saint stay humble after receiving special graces and experiences such as spiritual visions and inner locutions.
More typically, an individual reaches this level after yielding to several areas of obsessive, sinful behavior. Significant involvement with the occult is a regular stepping-stone. A substantial part of the person's will has been given over to wrong behavior, and thus, to the influence and control by evil spirits. The individual’s resistance is so weakened he is unable to summon sufficient will to deal with the attacks.
Warfare at this level requires considerable spiritual horsepower — an intervention by someone from the outside with significant spiritual authority.
“If you’re going to Times Square to throw out all the spirits of lust, you’d better have something under the hood.”(Bob Mumford, circa 1977)
To intervene in these situations, the Church has long used The Rite of Exorcism to free both saints and sinners. It is the only method sanctioned by the Church. An official Exorcist, appointed by the local bishop, is thus delegated the full, spiritual authority of the Church, and is the only one authorized to minister at this level.
More about dealing with evil spirits in Obsession and Possession, is presented in the fourth installment of this series, Discarding Evil Spirits.
STRATEGIES FOR WARFARE
Warfare requires a good offense, a good defense and wise, effective intelligence.
Much as a king builds a castle, defensive weapons are employed to minimize our vulnerability to attack. Since attack comes mostly through “the flesh”, reducing our vulnerability in that area is the primary focus of defensive weapons. We must be strong in spirit and will, so that: (1) our emotions, appetites and desires do not rule our decisions; (2) we're able to detect deceptions, lies and accusations; and (3) we have staying power in the midst of the fight.
Offensive weapons are used to overcome the enemy, drive him away, and prevent his return. This requires confidence in our position, spiritual power, and authority. We can’t wage war effectively by hiding away, hunkering down and letting the enemy pound on us any time he chooses. We’ve got to carry the fight to him as well.
Effective intelligence is necessary to predict how the enemy will attack our weaknesses, what weapons and resources are at his disposal, and where he is vulnerable. Our relationship with the Holy Spirit — who, as our Counselor, provides discernment — is vital here.
It's necessary to work relentlessly in all three areas: defense, offense and intelligence. It's difficult to survive with one or two parts not working properly. Some may object to the use of militaristic terminology, but I find it helpful to put things in proper perspective. After all, the stakes are enormous — With whom will we spend eternity, and how easy will it be, to get there?
WEAPONS FOR WARFARE
Weapons for our armory are obtained from the following three major sources. While some of these weapons are used primarily in either defense or offense, many weapons are used in both capacities; it serves little purpose to classify them as such. What matters is that we acquire and use them.
A Disciple of Jesus — Several important ingredients or elements of our character and life style are acquired during the process of becoming a disciple. They are crucial to the success of our service as a disciple, and equally important as weapons in spiritual warfare.
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Ro 6:3,4)
“Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:22-24)
“All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2Tim 3:16,17)
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” (1Co 12:7-11)
The Church — Jesus builds His Church to provide all necessary teaching, graces, protection and support necessary to live His new life on earth, and to fulfill our call as heirs of the Kingdom. An old cliché says: “Jesus didn’t promise us a rose garden”. I like to add: “But He wants it to be a fair fight”.
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Mt 16:18-19)
“And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.‘ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.‘” (Mk 14:22-24)
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” (1Co 11:26,27)
“…he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (Jn 20:22,23)
“…remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins; remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin; peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation; and an increase of spiritual strength for the Christian battle.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church § 1496)
“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and the resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church § 1449 — Emphasis mine).
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Mt 28:19,20)
“… the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (Jn 14:26)
“The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium's task to preserve God's people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church's shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church § 890)
The Authority of Jesus — What follows, addresses spiritual warfare only at the level of Oppression. More on the use of Jesus’ authority in the other two levels identified above (Obsession and Possession) is presented in the final installment of this series — Discarding Evil Spirits.
It's been said the best defense is a good offense — this is certainly true in spiritual warfare. A boxer jabs and feigns to distract and wear down his opponent, all the while looking for an opening to deliver a power punch to his opponents’ weakness. So too, evil spirits throw many thoughts and temptations at us, some seemingly ridiculous or obvious, in an attempt to overcome us quickly when we are distracted or otherwise vulnerable.
If we have a good defense, we can deal with minor temptations that buzz us like gnats — by just saying no. Still, even the best of us are vulnerable, sometime, somewhere. When the heavy hitters come, and we find ourselves on the ropes, we need a power weapon to drive the onslaught away before we're overcome, and yield. Our power weapon is The Authority of Jesus.
Jesus demonstrated His authority and power over nature and evil, through exorcisms, miracles, and healings during His ministry. Then, He defeated Satan and his minions on The Cross. Jesus has all the authority and power necessary to conduct spiritual warfare successfully.
“And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Mt 28:18)
When we become followers of Jesus, He authorizes and empowers us to carry on the business of the Kingdom. We are trained by Him (discipleship), called by Him to action (anointing), and equipped to conduct His business — wherever we have legitimate responsibilities: Church, family, civic duties, work, and so on. The Scriptures, and spiritual life itself, grant no distinction here between sacred and secular.
A policeman or officer in the Armed Forces is trained and equipped by the government he is sworn to uphold, then given the necessary authority to discharge his duties. Similarly, Jesus delegates His authority and power to His disciples to discharge their assigned responsibilities.
You and I obey the policeman because his badge — a sign of the authority he carries — is backed by the full power of the government who grants it. So, too, evil spirits must obey the authority of Jesus when His disciples, in pursuit of their legitimate responsibilities, administer it.
“And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." (Mk 16:17,18)
“The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (Lk 10:17-20)
Evil spirits are smarter and more powerful than are we. That’s why we need Jesus’ authority in spiritual warfare; for our own protection and the lives of those assigned to our care. However, as much as it is specific, it is also limited. The closer we are to God, the deeper our relationship with Jesus, the more effective will be our use of His authority. If we have great need for His authority, all the more do we need training and purification by the Holy Spirit.
Notice, also, a striking similarity in the two scriptures immediately above: “… in my name they will cast out demons” and “… even the demons are subject to us in your name” (emphasis mine). Jesus’ authority must always be used in His name. Here is one of my favorite scriptures:
“Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, "I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches." Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?" And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, mastered all of them, and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” (Ac 19:13-16)
SOME HELPFUL PRACTICUM
Here are some key points to keep in mind:
The words of warfare are not a formula. We change and adapt them as the Lord leads. Still, there are key elements we must employ:
Let’s assume I’m a parent and have discerned a spirit of anger has recently been playing havoc in my life and my family. My exercise of Jesus’ authority might proceed as follows:
You spirit of anger that is attacking my family and me; I renounce you and choose Jesus as my Lord. In the name of Jesus, I take authority over you, and break any hold you may have on us. In the name of Jesus, I command you to depart from us, leave us peaceably, and go to where Jesus sends you.
Let’s now assume I’ve arrived at work in the morning and want to extend spiritual protection to my legitimate responsibilities. I might proceed as follows:
In the name of Jesus, I take authority over any forces of evil that want to obstruct the exercise of my responsibilities this day. In the name of Jesus, I command you not to attack me, or those entrusted to my care, and I command you not to interfere in any way with our endeavors. I chose Jesus to be the Lord of our efforts.
Please remember, these examples are offered as simply that — examples to illustrate use of the key elements. The specific wording and phrasing is really up to each individual and how the Lord leads. What matters is that we “own” what we say, and that we rely on the authority of Jesus.
Ruth Ann and I do spiritual warfare every morning and night, in addition to our regular prayers of praise, petition and intercession. We do warfare twice a day, not because it doesn't work, but because of the level of attack we observe in our lives and our families.
All of this may sound odd, perhaps intimidating at first. Our experience is that spiritual warfare by the believer at this level is actually simple, easy and effective.
I encourage you to step out in faith. Start small at first, then take bigger steps as you grow in confidence. Stay close to The Lord and within the bounds of your legitimate authority. The results may come swiftly or take longer — but I have every confidence you will notice a significant difference over time.
Jesus has won the war — but we are required to occupy the territory and promote the Kingdom of God. Our assignment places us squarely in the midst of a cosmic battle, a struggle for the minds, hearts and very souls of each of us. Jesus delegates His authority and power to us, that we may be effective in the battle. It’s up to us to use it.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:10-12)The final installment in this four part series about Evil and The Devil, is entitled Discarding Evil Spirits.
© Copyright 2009 by The Cramer Institute, Prior Lake, Minnesota