How Satan Gets a Hold on You

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We don’t know much about demons. The Bible speaks matter-of-factly of them, but provides little detail about them or their history. And God has good reasons for this, at least for now.

We do know a few truths about demons. We know demons oppose the kingdom of God (Luke 11:14–23), that they seek to deceitfully ensnare humans and manipulate them to do their will rather than God’s (2 Timothy 2:26), and that it’s possible for them to gain such an influence over a person that they essentially “possess” them (Luke 8:26–39). And we know that, unless people are born again and live in the authority of the risen Christ, demons have “the power of death” over them and therefore use people’s “fear of death” to maximum advantage (Hebrews 2:14–15).

We also know there is a hierarchy of demonic power (Ephesians 6:12), and that there is a ruling evil being known since antiquity as “the devil and Satan” (Revelation 12:9) who was manifested as a serpent in Eden (Genesis 3:1–5; Revelation 12:9), was present in the divine council in Job (Job 1:6–12), and tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:1–13).

Why We Know So Little

Beyond these, we don’t know much about the demonic world, because God doesn’t tell us. Why doesn’t he tell us more? Demons seem rather dangerous and influential. Wouldn’t we benefit from knowing more about our insidious enemies?

No. Because when it comes to good and evil, God wants us “to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (Romans 16:19). Our best protection against demons is less preoccupation with them and more preoccupation with God — less understanding of deception and more understanding of truth.

Let me illustrate the danger I’m talking about with a reference from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The story is about the evil lord Sauron’s attempt to gain world domination, and the effort of men, elves, and dwarves to resist him. Two characters, Saruman, a wizard lord, and Denethor, a man governing the city of Gondor, obtained powerful “seeing stones” called palantírs. These stones allowed them to mentally communicate with Sauron, the owner of a third palantír, and glimpse goings-on in Sauron’s kingdom of Mordor.

Both Saruman and Denethor, renowned for their wisdom, thought this would increase their advantage in the struggle against Sauron. But they underestimated Sauron’s power to deceive them and overestimated their ability to resist it. Both were corrupted and manipulated by Sauron to their destruction. When another wizard, Gandalf, found himself in possession of a palantír, he refused to look into it, proving his superior wisdom.

None of us is a match for Satan and his demonic underlings. Increasing our wisdom in evil would be the path Saruman and Denethor chose, and we would likely share a similar end. Remember, desiring knowledge of both good and evil is what got us in trouble in the first place (Genesis 3:4–7). We are far better off to “be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.”

Our Spiritual Armor

When the apostle Paul described our spiritual war against our supernatural foes, note how he described our armor and weapons in Ephesians 6:14–18:

Praying to God is what we are mainly commanded to do when confronting demonic powers.

Every aspect of the armor and weapons of our spiritual warfare has to do with being wise as to what is good (and innocent as to what is evil). God is our best protection from the ravages of our evil enemy — God’s truth, his righteousness, his gospel, his promises, his salvation, his word, and our prayerful orientation to him.

What Makes the Devil Flee

When the Bible instructs us how to send devils scurrying away in fear, it says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). This is powerful spiritual warfare.

Here’s the key: we grant authority to whomever we trust. The devil has no authority over any Christian, except the authority we grant him by believing him. The more we believe him, the more influence and control over us we give to him — the more he gets a hold on us. This is not some mysterious spiritual secret. This is the way influence or control works in any relationship we have.

When it comes to demons, we do not need to claim any authority over them. Words don’t act like spells with demons (Acts 19:15). Demons only recognize God’s authority and they tremble before it (James 2:19). When we submit ourselves to God — come under his authority by trusting, obeying, and enjoying him — demons get the hell away from us. This act of faith releases great spiritual power, and demons cannot withstand it.

Demons are real — powerfully real. They wreak more havoc in our lives and society than most post-Enlightenment Western Christians are aware of. We must take God’s words more seriously than our culture’s ridicule. But we do not need to know more details about demons or their strategies than God has told us. We do not need to be wiser in evil things.

We need to know God. The more we know God and his word, the more we trust him and live in obedience to him, the wiser we become as to what is good, the more dangerous we become to demons. Because our submission to God brings his kingdom to bear in the world and is how “the God of peace . . . crush[es] Satan under [our] feet” (Romans 16:20).

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