Thoughts on “Exorcism”

I recently saw a news article describing a rise in exorcisms in the United States and throughout the world. “Exorcism” is “the expulsion or attempted expulsion of an evil spirit from a person or place.” Some people believe that the devil has the present power to arbitrarily possess a person’s mind and senses, causing them to experience a wide range of destructive behaviors, from uncontrollable fits and seizures to a near comatose condition.

People of many different “faiths” and religious ideologies now perform exorcisms. Most people are familiar with Catholic exorcisms, with their priests, holy water, crucifixes, special formulas and incantations. However, there are now several hundred Protestant evangelical exorcism organizations. These groups generally use prayer and laying on of hands to cast out the alleged evil spirits. Some New Age religions believe that dead human spirits and spirits from other creatures can attach themselves to the living and must then be expelled.

Catholics and Protestants appeal to the Bible for their belief in the need for exorcisms. Jesus and the apostles did cast out devils (Matthew 8:13; 9:33; 12:24; Mark 3:14-15; 16:17; Acts 19:12). Acts 19:13 refers to certain Jews who were “exorcists” (from the Greek word exorkistes). “Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims’.

The problem is that some fail to consider the timing of the events described in these passages, as well as the teaching of other passages showing the limitations that God has placed upon satan. This has led some to think that satan continues to work supernaturally today. This, however, is not the case. As God works through the medium of His word and through those who are affected by it (Hebrews 4:12 + Philippians 2:13), even so satan works through the agency of his influences and followers. Jesus told unbelieving Jews, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires…” (John 8:44). People serve satan today, not as a matter of compulsion, but as a matter of choice.

According to Revelation 20:1-3, John saw an angel bind satan with a great chain, then lock him into a bottomless pit. This “binding” of satan refers to a limitation that God placed upon satan, preventing him from working outside of God’s designs and parameters. As free agents, humans exercise their “will” in making moral choices (Romans 6:16). They choose either to do God’s will or to do satan’s. The miracle age ended at the time of complete revelation (1 Corinthians 13:8-10), and thus ended the ability of satan to supernaturally occupy a human body. Satan still controls people, but not through supernatural and irresistible means.

The problem today is not that people are supernaturally overcome and overruled by satan. The problem is that people willingly serve satan, and their sins cause them all sorts of mental, emotional, psychological and physical problems. They don’t need an exorcism — they just need salvation. Thankfully, they can do just what Paul said that the saints at Rome had done. Though they “were the servants of sin” (in the past), they had “obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine that had been delivered to them” (Romans 6:17-18). Based upon their, belief, repentance, confession and baptism, they were made “free from sin” (Romans 10:9-10; 6:3-6). No one needs to consult an exorcist today. They need simply to obey Christ’s gospel and have their sins washed away! Contact us if you have any questions.

—Tim Haile

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