The apostle Paul said, “we are not ignorant of his [Satan's] devices” (2 Cor. 2:11). The same could not be said of many modern evangelicals who rarely think about the third enemy in Scripture's triad of "the world, the flesh, and the devil."
This post begins a series on spiritual warfare by demonstrating that demons can indeed be at work within true churches of God. And if we are to be able to "stand against the schemings of the devil" (Eph. 6:11), it is imperative that we not be blindsided by his schemings through ignorance.
While Satan can manipulate and control unbelievers any time he chooses (John 8:44; 1 John 5:19), the only way that Satan's kingdom can "touch" a person who is "born of God" is if that person fails to "guard himself" (1 John 1:18). Realizing that demons may be at work in our churches is the first step toward guarding our churches against such attack.
The following list is not an exhaustive list of demonic actions within churches, but they should be sufficient to make us realize that we must resist demons steadfast in the faith.
Demonic involvement in the church
Demons can be involved in:
Promoting deceit and lying within the church
In Acts 5:3, Peter told Ananias that Satan had filled his heart to lie to the Holy Spirit. Though our flesh is quite capable of lying without any help from Satan (Prov. 12:20; Jer. 17:9; Matt. 15:19), Acts 5:3 makes clear that at least some deceitfulness in the church can come from Satan.
Often this demonic lying has an irrational component that makes no sense because there is no good reason for the lies. I have seen Christians so deceived by Satan that they can’t tell when they are lying and when they are telling the truth.
When you see over-the-top irrationality in lying (such as lying when there is no benefit gained; lying without realizing they are lying; inability to conquer lying; etc), there is probably the demonic behind it.
Bringing sexual temptations into the church
Can we sin sexually on our own? Of course we can. But 1 Corinthians 7:5 explicitly says that Satan can tempt you to sexual sin if your sex life is not right before God. James 4:1-7 credits a list of sins, including sexual sins, to both the flesh and the devil and says, “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”
So it doesn’t have to be either flesh or demons; it can be both. If you read the testimonies of kids who have had their first experience with homosexuality, it often has an irrational component to it. One child testified that he walked into a washroom and a man was there whom he instantly felt attracted to. When the man touched him, he felt paralyzed, fearful, yet attracted to something he had previously found revolting. After the encounter he had shame, yet he could not shake the new hungers and urges to perversity.
Those who have visited prostitutes have frequently gotten a demonic attachment that they could not rid themselves of. And 100% of the homosexuals I have counseled have had demonic attachments. Don’t underestimate the potential role of the demonic in the sexual arena. For example, it is unlikely that you will gain full success in helping a homosexual to overcome his orientation until the demonic is dealt with.
Causing division in the church
Paul in 2 Corinthians 10-13 seems to credit the irrational division in the church of Corinth to demonic activity. My sermons on the Jezebel spirit (Rev. 2:20-25) show how various demonic influences can be used to undermine elders and to divide the church.
Discouragement in the church
1 Peter 5:6-10 speaks of Satan seeking whom he may devour, and in context he seems to be devouring people by discouragement. And Peter tells us how to resist that by being steadfast in the Lord.
Pride within the church
Pride was the first sin of Satan (Is. 14:13-14) and he eagerly takes advantage of any pride that may appear in the church (1 Timothy 3:6).
Anger/Bitterness within the church
Ephesians 4:26-27 says that harboring anger can give a foothold to the devil in our lives. I call it legal ground.
Persecution of the church
Revelation 2:10 attributes the imprisonment of saints to the work of the devil, and Revelation 12:13 attributes persecution to the devil. Demons can work through humans to move them to persecute the church. The irrational rage that China is currently exhibiting against the church (including forcing a state church to remove the first commandment from a plaque) has all the earmarks of the demonic.
Administrative or travel hindrances to ministries of the church
In 1 Thessalonians 2:18, Paul said, “Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us.” His travel was somehow hindered by the demonic. We are not told how this happened; just that it did happen by demonic opposition.
When you see groupings of frustrating technical, computer, or logistics problems hindering your work, at least think about the possibility that this may be demonic opposition.
False doctrine spreading in the church
1 Timothy 4:1-5 attributes at least some false doctrines in that church to demons. They are the doctrines of demons. And they can stay unnoticed for a long time because "this sort are those who creep into households..." (2 Tim. 3:6) and have "crept in unnnoticed" (Jude 4) in order to "subvert whole households, teachings things which they ought not" (Tit. 1:11).
Teaching alone will not rid the church of these problems. The demonic needs to be dealt with.
False believers becoming members of the church
In Matthew 13:38-39, Jesus said that Satan deliberately plants false believers into the church, and these "tares" can undermine the effectiveness of the church. Many times these false believers are hard to get rid of or convert, but they create spiritual problems.
In my ministry in other churches I have witnessed these false believers being so clever in their false spirituality, that they even become officers in the church, undermining it the whole time.
Disease within the church
Job 2:7 says, "Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head." If Satan can afflict such disease upon Job, it is possible that some disease comes from the demonic. Jesus said that the hunched-over woman that He healed was a believer (daughter of Abraham), yet Satan had bound her with this disease for eighteen years (Luke 13:16).
Some disease cannot be cured with medicine because it has a demonic component.
Slander and gossip within the church
Have you had slander in your church? No slanderer can say, “The devil made me do it,” because Matthew 15:19 says that slander comes from our own hearts. But Satan knows how to use unrepentant Christians to continue to engage in their slander. His very name, διάβολος, means slanderer.
Revelation 12 says that Satan accuses the brethren day and night (v. 10). Job shows Satan slandering Job. 2 Corinthians 10-13 attributes the irrational slander that had been stirred up against Paul at Corinth to the devil (2 Cor. 11:13-14). In Zechariah 3:1, Satan slanders the high priest, Joshua.
While this list is by no means exhaustive, it should be sufficient to make it clear that Satan seeks to destroy the effectiveness of the church of Jesus Christ. These examples should also clue us into the fact that the call to spiritual arms in Ephesians 6:10-17 is not an empty metaphor.
There are myriad fallen angels who hate God and who will do anything in their power to hinder His kingdom. If we do not "stand against the wiles of the devil" (v. 11), the devil will be gaining ground against us. If we do not "wrestle... against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (v. 12), then those demonic forces are automatically winning the advances they engage in.
If we are not "strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" we are defenseless against very powerful forces of darkness. The whole call to put on the armor of God is a call to receive supernatural resources from outside of ourselves, and those resources alone can give supernatural victory against supernatural evil.
This series of posts will investigate the nature of the enemy we face and the mighty weapons that God has given to enable us to tear down demonic strongholds (2 Cor. 10:3-6).