Christians’ questionable (or just-plain-wrong) beliefs about things such as spiritual warfare take a very long time to — ha ha, exorcise. 1
Going over all the possible assumptions Christians have about how demons operate would take a while. In some cases, I’m thinking Christians need to practice love and firmness, coupled with careful emphasis on God’s power and His Spirit within Christians. That’s a more extensive process than, say, pointing to one Scripture as proof against a wrong idea about Satan and his fallen angels.
But let’s look into just one questionable idea. It crumbles simply by reading verses before and after a common proof text.
Ye have heard that it was said …
“We need to come against that spirit (or evil spirit, demon, power) and bind him (or it).”
AKA: “Lord, we just pray that Satan would be bound …”
Or even a prayer not directed to God: “Satan, we bind you!”
But Matthew 18:18:18 has nothing to do with demons. This is a bit dangerous to say, in part because some Christians will assume the one saying it doesn’t believe Satan or demons are real and terrible.2 So for now, let’s just bypass the whole “spiritual warfare” issue and look at the verse by itself.
The verse isn’t talking about spiritual warfare or demons. They’re not mentioned here. Maybe they’re in the surrounded verses — the context of what Jesus is saying to His disciples. That usually clears things up.
Wait. The paragraph here is actually not about fighting demons at all. It’s about the church’s role in personal conflicts!
Matthew 18: 17-20
So the “binding” isn’t of the Devil or demons at all. Instead, Jesus is talking about church leaders’ “binding” decisions on conflicts between church members.
Maybe the Bible elsewhere encourages Christians to “bind” Satan, or ask God to bind him.3 But it’s not here.
Some things in Scripture are unclear and require deep contemplation to see them more clearly. This isn’t one of them.
Consider the time and effort some well-meaning and zealous Christians give to battling demons directly. But compared with that, direct demon-fighting is topic that is mentioned almost in passing throughout the New Testament.
Yes, the Devil and his demons are real, they are dangerous, but they are at best bit players. Christian should pray to Christ, never direct prayers or commands against Satan.4 “Binding and rebuking” is about church discipline and authority, not bossing fallen angels or fighting temptation. And the famous “full armor of God” portrayal in Ephesians 6 shows us that spiritual warfare is primarily about learning and living the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and battling false doctrines that infect our minds, hearts and lives.
So here are three spiritual warfare “formulas” for casting out questionable assumptions about spiritual warfare.
a. Number of Scriptures teaching this > number of Scriptures about demons.
b. Epistle instructions for proper exorcising of demons = 0.
c. Christians possessed or controlled by demons = x/0.
- Perhaps “this kind can only come out through prayer.” (BA-dum, tisssh!) ↩
- Trust me, I know they’re real, and I know they’re bad. They’re in Scripture, and I see their “best” work in weekly police reports — or too often in my heart. ↩
- Hint: no. ↩
- John MacArthur once rhetorically asked how Christians who command Satan could know if Satan, a non-omniscient being, could hear them. ↩