Christians are not the only ones who have historically been interested in or aware of a spiritual realm, the existence of angels and demons, and those forces that interact with our world. There exists an extensive Jewish theology of angels apart from the Old Testament. Remote peoples live in fear of evil spirits. Movies like The Exorcist, Fallen, and Legion, or songs like Sympathy for the Devil and Demons propel the subject into pop-culture consciousness, usually lacking the clarity of biblical truth.
But the Bible is clear that a spiritual world exists, that spiritual warfare is a significant part of reality. In Daniel 10 we are told of a demonic spirit, the Prince of Persia, who interfered with Daniel’s answered prayer being communicated to him. In the gospels, we are made privy to encounters Jesus and his disciples had with demons (Matthew 8:16; Mark 1:29, 5:1–13; Luke 9:1). The epistles further warn of Satan’s schemes (2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:11; 1 Peter 5:8). What then should we recognize about the spiritual warfare in which we are engulfed?
1. Demonic activity is real and damaging.
Based on Scripture we learn that demons will, when given the opportunity, hurt people or cause them to hurt themselves. Mark 5 records a man under the influence of demonic spirits who lives among tombs and cuts himself repeatedly. In 1 Kings 18, the false prophets of Baal cut themselves in a bloodletting frenzy to get his attention.
But, physical damage is not their only weapon. Among many pre-modern peoples of the world today demons bind them in fear and superstition, while scientific people are deceived through skepticism. The former are captive to fear while the latter are captive to pride.
And we should always remember the very real influence of demonic forces around people who are tormented by addiction, victims of abuse or oppression, or those deceived by greed and worldly ambition.
2. Jesus has authority over all of the spirit world.
In Mark 5:6–13, when Jesus converses with the demons inside the man, the original language alternates between singular and plural hinting that one demon spoke for the legion. All of them, however, were fearful of Jesus’ authority.
Ephesians 6 as well as Daniel 10 allude to organizational structures in the spiritual domain: principalities, powers, evil, rulers, princes, and the like. Wherever you find structures enforcing abuse — whether the Nazi’s Final Solution, Stalin’s orchestrated famine in Ukraine, the chattel slave trade in America and England, or China and Myanmar persecuting minorities — you can be assured principalities and powers are at work.
However strong the ruler or authority, they are already defeated as Colossians 2:15 says: “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them in him.”
3. Christians can engage people who are bound in sin in the name of Jesus.
Without delving into whether and how Christians can or should try to cast out demons, one thing is sure: when we live with the mind and heart of Jesus we will see those who are being destroyed by demons as Jesus saw them. We will have hearts of compassion for the marginalized, the outcast, and the unloved. Compassion will drive us to share the gospel which is the power of God (Romans 1:16) with them.
Being engaged in this part of spiritual warfare requires us to think missionally about our lives. When we do not see ourselves as missionaries on assignment, we will have the same number of opportunities to engage people, but we will not always recognize the opportunities. We are Christ’s ambassadors, empowered by the Holy Spirit, sent to implore people to be reconciled to God through the gospel of Jesus.
4. The gospel obliterates distinctions.
Rome had entrenched social distinctions: slave and master, father and children, and class elitism. These distinctions were enforced to maintain the social order, an order that was about to meet the people of God. The power of the gospel changed how people should view each other, as Paul wrote, “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The same ethos should be true of Christians today.
Admittedly loving people on different sides of social gaps can be hard. In fact, the wider the gap the harder understanding and loving those on the other side can be. But it is no excuse for not trying. In early Christianity, compassion was a hallmark, not because the upper class was drawn to The Way, but because the early believers had learned from Jesus that compassion was not an add-on to the faith; it was and is integral.
How can we disrupt principalities and powers? Bridge chasms with the gospel. How can we demonstrate Jesus’ victory over spiritual authorities? Proclaim the gospel. How can we live as God intended? Believe the gospel.
Spiritual warfare is real, ongoing, and all around us. It is not only an angels and demons thing. It involves Christ’s victory that His people enter into, thereby demonstrating His supremacy over all creation in all we say and do. “Whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and by him all things hold together. He is also the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything” (Colossians 1:16–18).