Having An Evil Spirit

gargoyleOccasionally I’ll hear a Christian remark that he or she is being harassed by some type of spirit.  For example, they may say, “I sometimes get attacked by a spirit of doubt. ” Or, they might explain that another Christian has told them that they are being plagued by a particular spirit, of which they have identified.

It’s not always easy to know what people mean when they say these kinds of things.  I think there’s a temptation to envision some sort of demonic spirit that is circling around and influencing that person with a particular type of power.  In fact, there might even be some Biblical precedent to believe that this is the case.

In 1 Kings 22:19-23, the prophet Micaiah told Kings Ahab and Jehoshaphat that in a vision he had seen an evil spirit volunteer to “be a lying spirit” in the mouths of the false prophets.  Not much information is provided about this vision, but it would seem that a demonic spirit was going to focus its energies on influencing its victims to tell lies.

In the New Testament we have a few accounts that might suggest a similar conclusion.  In Mark 9:25-27, Jesus exorcised a demon that had been causing a young boy to have convulsions.  When Jesus addressed the demon he called it a “deaf and dumb spirit.”  This seems to suggest that although the spirit had been causing the boy to suffer convulsions, it may also have caused him to be both deaf and mute (another possible reading is that the demon itself was deaf and mute.)  I don’t believe the Biblical data is sufficient for us to determine exactly what is the case.  In any event, it seems the evil spirit’s leading trait was that of being “deaf and dumb.”

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas encountered a slave girl who was described as having “a spirit of divination.”  This demonic spirit, soon to be cast out by Paul, had been enabling the girl to be a fortune teller.  Although we can’t say for absolute certain, it seems that this evil spirit had the very distinct trait known as “divination.”

These anecdotal accounts of demonic activity might suggest that we can be harassed by demons who have special talents or traits.  However, sometimes the Bible uses similar language differently.  For example, in 2 Tim 1:7, Paul reminded Timothy that the “spirit of fear” does not come from God.  In this case, I don’t get the sense that Paul is naming a particular evil spirit.  I say this because Paul contrasts what comes from God; love, power, and a sound mind.  Since these godly traits are not described as individualized spirits, there is no reason to think that the “spirit of fear” is anything different. In other words, Paul may be using the word “spirit” in a generic way.  This would be like someone saying that their daughter has a lot of “school spirit.”  The person doesn’t mean to imply that their daughter is possessed by an evil spirit named “school,” but that she possess a noteworthy zeal for the school.

This is probably true when Christians speak today.  When someone complains that they are plagued by a “spirit of doubt,” they might just mean that have seasons of doubt.  Of course, I cannot rule out that there is a possibility of real demonic activity going on. After all, Paul warned that our battle is a spiritual one (see Eph. 6:10-17). We would have to take a look at each situation on a case by case basis and trust God’s leading for discernment.  After all, Jesus sometimes healed blindness by casting out a demon (Matt 12:22), while other times he treated it as just some type of infirmity to be healed (Matt 21:14).  This is not a one-size-fits-all doctrine.

In my opinion, there is a tendency among Christians to polarize into one of two camps regarding demon activity.  On one side are those who completely discount the work of the devil. They view demon activity as something that died out with the Apostles. They don’t give it a passing thought. This is frightful because they might be surrounded by people who are demonized but have become immobilized by their own theology so that they can offer no practical assistance.  Then, there are those who attribute everything that goes wrong and every little bad habit to the presence of Satan.  They are “casting” out demons left and right that weren’t even invited to the party. They do this while ignoring the real cause of the issue.

A few years ago I heard a man complain that he was being afflicted by the “spirit of poverty.”  In his opinion, a demon named Poverty was assaulting him.  I remember thinking to myself that a good way to cast that demon out was for him to get off his butt and get a job.  I suspected that instead of a demon the man was just plain lazy.  I guess it was easier to blame a demon than to take personal responsibility.

If someone tells you that you have a particular spirit it might not be a good idea to automatically assume that there is a demon involved. Let’s say, for example, that you are told that you have a “rebellious spirit.”  What they might mean is that they see in you part of your sin nature that hasn’t been brought into submission to God yet.  Even without a demon that’s a pretty common thing.  I would recommend praying about that and staying in close fellowship with strong believers who can help you.  If a demon is in fact involved, the close contact with other believers will likely bring that fact to the surface where it can be dealt with.

Whether a demon is involved or not, we must not give up on our calling to be more like Jesus. Having “a spirit” of something does not mean that our choice for something different has been taken away or that we cannot be free from our sin. Rather, it may mean that we have an area that has not been completely surrendered to God.  Maybe if the truth were known, that area hasn’t been turned over to God because we secretly love it. Blaming a “spirit” could just be an excuse.

We must not forget that we have an enemy who will use every available resource to bring us down.  However, let’s not go looking for evil spirits under every rock.  Instead, let’s keep our focus on Jesus and trust Him to lead us in understanding our problems.



Dane Cramer is a backpacker, Christian blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmaker, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us.




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