Exorcism and the Believer’s Authority
I’d like to take a different approach with this article by examining a relatively recent film based on a true story. We’ll flesh out its biblical themes and use it as a bridge to our dealings with cases of demonic oppression or possession.
The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel
Released in 2005, The Exorcism of Emily Rose was loosely based on the real story of a 23 year-old German girl, Anneliese Michel, who died while a priest was trying to exorcize her of demons in the late 70s. He was then put on trial for neglectful homicide.
In the movie, Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) is the agnostic lawyer who defends the priest (Tom Wilkinson), while the prosecutor (Campbell Scott) is a non-Catholic believer. I’m sure you see the conundrums of the situation: How can an agnostic defend a minister who performs a supernatural operation that ends in the death of a young woman? How can a genuine believer prosecute another believer who was simply fulfilling his calling and performing a service for a congregant?
The prosecution argues that the woman was physically & mentally ill with symptoms of epilepsy, psychosis and schizophrenia; and that the attempted exorcism was just a bunch of witch doctor hooey. The defense, on the other hand, argues that such physical/mental manifestations were the result of diabolical spiritual possession. In other words, the girl’s possession produced the symptoms of epilepsy, psychosis and schizophrenia. It’s the proverbial chicken or egg question.
In the Bible, didn’t Jesus deliver people from demons who induced insanity, deafness, muteness and infirmity? See Mark 5:1-20, 9:17-29 and Luke 13:10-16. It’s clear from the Scriptural evidence that being possessed (or oppressed) by an evil spirit can induce mental or physical ailments. Such demons are “spirits of infirmities,” which we’ll address momentarily.
Another point of the defense in the movie is that a powerful drug that Emily was prescribed prevented the exorcism from being successful because it physiologically trapped her in a mode that was resistant to exorcism and the corresponding freedom.
All of this provokes many questions: How many people in our mental institutions are being drugged up and essentially imprisoned for the rest of their lives when what they really need is exorcized of dark spiritual entities that have possessed them to one degree or another? Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not against these kinds of asylums and realize that we, as a society, are just doing what we have to for such ailing people; that is, what we can.
Yet, what if someone of Jesus Christ’ stature were around, someone who had the authority, faith and courage to rebuke demons and send them fleeing with their tails between their legs, so to speak? The first chapter of the gospel of Mark shows the Messiah exorcizing demons from numerous people and this is merely one chapter of the New Testament! (See verses 25-26, 34 and 39).
A Real-Life Experience with Demonic Possession
I know of one person who was seriously mentally ill all her life but the best professionals medical science had to offer couldn’t deliver her. The best they could do was sedate her, try this or that (including shock treatments) and help her cope. Some of this is good to an extent, but they could not set her free. She lived and died with this severe illness. I’m convinced that these symptoms were the result of some type of demonic possession/oppression. Others who were close to the situation have drawn the same conclusion. The signs pointed to a partial possession, which we’ll look at shortly. If only I knew then what I know now and was the person I am now, I would have exorcized her of this spiritual subjugation without a second thought, as long as she was willing (which is necessary since God will never heal or deliver people against their will).
Am I suggesting that we should let loose a bunch of religious kooks into our mental institutions to supposedly exorcize the severely ill of their (very possible) literal demons? No, but if some people show evidence of the power and boldness Jesus Christ walked in, shouldn’t we? Didn’t Jesus come to “set the captives free,” “heal the sick and brokenhearted” and “release the prisoners from the darkness”? (See Luke 4:16-21 and Isaiah 42:5-9).
The fact that so few believers are walking in this authority, power, faith and boldness is a shame to the modern Church in general. It’s also testimony to the powerless nature of so many counterfeit sects and “believers” who “have a form of godliness but deny its power” (2 Timothy 3:1-5). Not that all the believers within these camps are counterfeits, not at all. But their leaders are ignorant, disingenuous or spiritually blind. And didn’t Jesus say, “If a blind man follows a blind man they will both fall into a pit”? (Matthew 15:14).
One of the purposes of this book is to reveal the reality of dark spiritual entities, how their attacks manifest, and how to effectively combat them by faith.
Further Commentary on the Film
The Exorcism of Emily Rose works beyond the courtroom drama where the theological questions are hammered and tested; it works as a simple horror film, based on a true story. The movie successfully shows the reality of dark spiritual malevolence. It drives home the reality of unseen menace and literally scares the hell out of the viewer, but only unbelievers and immature Christians. Strong believers, by contrast, laugh at evil spirits and simply command ’em to shut up, like Christ did (more on this momentarily). You must understand that believers have authority over evil spirits and thus we have no reason to fear them (Luke 10:18-20). I don’t.
And yet, thankfully, the film is somehow affirming of life, love, hope and faith.
I only have one theological criticism introduced late in the story, the idea that Emily only had one of two options: To physically perish and go home to be with the Lord or stay in the body and suffer further as a supposed testimony to the world of the reality of the spirit realm and the dark powers thereof. This implies that God allowed Emily’s possession for the purpose of showing the world the unseen truth. The obvious problem with this is that Jesus was Immanuel, aka “God with us,” and He never hesitated to exorcize demons from the afflicted. In other words, it’s always God’s will to deliver the demon-possessed, as long as the person wants free. Such deliverances are not only a testimony to the realm of the spirit, but of the victory of light over darkness.
Although I wouldn’t call the film a masterpiece it’s effective in many ways. It provokes important questions: How many of our mentally ill—perpetually drugged-up and confined—are suffering from demonic possession? The drugs and confinement can only sedate them and help them cope (which helps those nearest them, of course); they cannot set them free. Only exorcism can do that, which is deliverance.
The Believer’s Authority
Where is the church of Jesus Christ, the “called-out” ones who are called out of the darkness of this world? Why is the church so inert and seemingly powerless when it comes to dealing with victims of demonic possession or oppression? I know there are a few “radicals” or “extremists” who function in this capacity, but what of the general body of Christ? I’m not talking about young, immature or erratic Christians, but rather seasoned believers who know the Lord & His Word and function in the body as deacons, elders, praise & worship warriors, teachers, pastors and prophets.
Let’s not forget the incredible authority Jesus gave believers:
“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
“Snakes and scorpions” are figurative of the devil and demonic spirits. Jesus gave his disciples authority to trample them under their feet, that is, overcome their power. Hence, filthy spirits had to submit to them and the disciples were understandably elated (see verse 17). They delivered people from demonic oppression and possession; they healed the sick and brokenhearted; they set the captives free because they had the authority and power to do so. Authority is the right to rule whereas power is the ability to rule.
If Jesus’ disciples—who weren’t even spiritually regenerated at the time—had authority to overcome the powers of darkness, how much more so Christians who have been spiritually born of the imperishable seed of Christ?
Get a hold of this fact: If you’re a believer YOU have authority over the kingdom of darkness! All the spiritual forces of evil are under your feet! They don’t have the authority to overcome you; you have the authority to overcome them!
As stressed in Chapter 4, words have the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21), so make this powerful positive confession:
I [state your name] have the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the devil and his wicked angels. Nothing will harm me. I have the victory in Jesus Christ — Hallelujah!!
Make Biblical statements like this your regular confession. Speak them with fervor! Never speak disempowering words of doubt, defeat, fear or grumbling. Cast such things off on the LORD in prayer, which is venting (Psalm 55:22 & 1 Peter 5:7). When you spend quality time praising, adoring and communing with the Most High the very light of his presence will squelch emotional waste like doubt, fear and worry. Do this regularly. God is the Fountain of Life and in his light we see light (Psalm 36:9); darkness naturally vanishes!
Jesus Christ is the Genuine “Lion” while Satan is a Counterfeit
The devil may prowl around like a roaring lion trying to frighten people immobile with his intimidating roar, but for the believer who walks in faith he’s a toothless, clawless, sinew-less lion. More than that, the Bible describes Jesus Christ as the genuine Lion of Judah. In other words, Jesus is the real deal, while the devil is just a counterfeit—a fake—who prowls around like a roaring lion. Oh, sure, he can attack since he’s “the god of this world” and we’re invading his turf, but the Bible says that all we have to do is “submit to God and resist the devil” “standing firm in the faith” and the enemy will literally “flee” from us (James 4:7 & 1 Peter 5:8-10).
This is what the apostle Paul called fighting “the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). When we stand in faith with our spiritual armor on and swing our spiritual swords the forces of evil have no recourse but to “flee.” One minister I heard said the imagery in the original language paints the picture of a dog running away with his tail between his legs—“Yipe, yipe, yipe yipe!!” Picture that the next time you take a stand in faith against the enemy—including exorcisms—and have yourself a knee-slapping victorious laugh.
Walking in the Amazing Authority of Jesus Christ
As The Exorcism of Emily Rose illustrates, we live in a generation that idolizes reason and science above all. These are the only criteria for determining reality to the unspiritual man, and understandably so. Thus anyone who looks to the Holy Scriptures for truth and has the audacity to act accordingly is viewed with disdain and ridicule. Which explains why the church is so powerless and timid when it comes to dealing with demonic possession or oppression: We fear the scorn of the world.
This reminds me of a Pentecostal pastor who told me about a prophet he had at his church for a series of services. The prophet ministered to the people and apparently dealt with a couple cases of demonic oppression or possession. The pastor said he was uncomfortable with the man’s ministry because it was sometimes awkward and even shocking. But, let me tell you, dealing with filthy spirits can get ugly! Yelling, vomiting, screaming, wiggling on the floor, etc. come with the territory. We’ll look at examples from the Scriptures in a moment. The pastor said that the experience made him “gun shy” of demonic deliverance and everything that goes with it. Unfortunately, he threw the baby out with the proverbial bathwater because his church had the most sterile atmosphere of any I’ve experienced, and it was “Pentecostal”!
I realize we have to “become all things to all people that by all possible means we might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Hence, we have to “locate” where people are and act accordingly, otherwise we’ll scare ’em off with things they simply can’t handle, at least not presently. We need to do this to reach people, but let’s not do it to the extent that we become as spiritually powerless as the world. We are the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), meaning that the Church is the light that inspires those lost in the darkness of this world. Those in the darkness “who have ears to hear and eyes to see” will naturally be drawn to the light and ultimately delivered; and the closer they get to The Light the freer they’ll be (John 8:12,31-32). This is the way it’s supposed to be.
But something’s wrong when the church allows the darkness of the world to squelch our light to the point that we’re impotent and ineffective, all because we fear the world’s contempt and ridicule! Needless to say, this is an example of allowing the world to mold us into its form; something the Bible instructs us not to do (Romans 12:2).
One of the things that drew people to the Mighty Christ was the genuine authority he walked in, which shouldn’t be confused with pompous authoritarianism. This made his ministry—his service—effective, including demonic deliverance. Observe:
They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”
25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching – and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
Verse 22 shows that the people were amazed at the aura of authority Jesus displayed merely with his public teaching. This was something the religious leaders of that day didn’t have, like the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The people were even more amazed when he proceeded to command evil spirits to shut up and come out of people, as shown in verse 27. Unsurprisingly, news then spread about him throughout the region (verse 28).
Speaking of commanding demons to shut up, Christ typically did this when encountering possessed people (Mark 1:24-25 & Luke 4:35,41). Why? Because evil spirits are liars who have ages of experience duping even the brightest of people. In light of this, never talk with demons; just tell ’em to shut up and exorcize the individual, presuming the person is willing.
A pastor I know testified of his first encounter with a demon-possessed man. The wicked spirit started a conversation with him that went on for a couple of hours (!) whereupon the pastor’s head was spinning, so to speak. Then a seasoned fellow-minister, who just happened to be visiting from out of state, entered the room and immediately discerned what has happening. He didn’t talk with the foul spirit at all, but simply said “loose” and that was the end of it.
Rise Up and Walk in Your Authority!
Unlike 1st century Israel where Christ ministered, I realize most reading this live in irreligious cultures of the post-Christian Western world (or, at least, Western-influenced). As such, we have to be careful how we minister and make sure we’re led of the Holy Spirit. Regardless, you can be sure that if we boldly rise up and walk in our authority and people start getting miraculously healed and freed from life-dominating sin and demonic oppression or possession nothing will keep the news from spreading. It will light a spiritual fire in this dark, dying world and those who long for healing and freedom will literally come running for deliverance! Make no mistake, Jesus plainly said that “anyone who has faith” will do the works he did. In fact, he said such people would do even greater works (John 14:12)! Please note that he said “anyone who has faith;” this means “anyone” who simply believes!
Do you sometimes struggle with faith? All believers are believers precisely because they have “a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3). The wonderful thing is that this is merely the starting point of the faith walk because faith can grow. Faith grows three ways:
- Getting closer to God, who is the Fountain of Life and therefore He gushes life, light, power and belief into whoever gets close to Him (Psalm 36:9).
- Through regular feeding on God’s Word, as shown in Romans 10:17 and Matthew 4:4. Whatever element of the Word you feed on is where your faith will grow. For instance, if you want strong faith in regards to the believer’s authority, spiritual warfare and exorcism then I encourage you to master the material in this chapter, as well as Chapter 19 and 20 of my book ANGELS.
- By praying in the Holy Spirit, as shown in Jude 20 (see also Ephesians 6:18, 1 Corinthians 14:14-15 and 2 Timothy 1:6-7).*
* For details, see the seventh piece of the armor & arms of God in Chapter 19 of ANGELS.
A pastor I know, Rick, testified to something he experienced when he was in Bible college: He attended a big service where the Charismatic leader was ministering and Rick happened to be standing in the front row. The minister was not far from him when fear suddenly seized Rick and he felt paralyzed. The minister looked at him, but seemed to be focusing on something unseen over Rick’s shoulder. He simply pointed to this thing and waved his hand, as if to say “Go,” and the fear immediately left the brother.
This minister was obviously walking in the gift of discerning of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:1-11), which is the ability to perceive what’s happening in the spiritual realm. (Contrary to what some think, discerning of spirits is not the gift of carnal judgment and gossip & slander). An Old Testament example of this spiritual gift can be observed when Elisha’s assistant was suddenly able to see into the spirit realm (2 Kings 6:15-17).*
* Since Paul, by the Spirit, didn’t elaborate on the gift of the discerning of spirits there must be a biblical precedent to define it. While the gifts of the Spirit are a New Testament phenomenon, Old Testament prophets obviously functioned in these gifts, as the Spirit willed.
Don’t you want to walk in the gifting and authority that this minister functioned in when he delivered this brother seized by a spirit of fear? Of course you do; I do too. The material in this book is a good starting point.
Dealing with “Spirits of Infirmities”
At the beginning of this chapter it was pointed out that Christ delivered people from demons which induced infirmities of one sort or another, including mental illness. Here are two biblical examples:
- Deafness and muteness: Mark 9:17-29.
- Crippling: Luke 13:10-16.
Let’s look at both cases, starting with the first:
A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
This passage reveals several insights:
- As you can see, this evil spirit induced muteness and deafness (verses 17 & 25).
- While the muteness and deafness were presumably constant conditions, the demon only seized the child on occasions, not 100% of the time (verse 18). Luke’s account verifies that the spirit would leave him on occasion (Luke 9:39), which indicates a partial possession. (This was the situation with the person in my life, shared earlier this chapter). In this particular case of partial possession there was only one demon involved whereas in the example of total possession with the man from the Gerasenes there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of demons involved (Mark 5:1-20).
- Speaking of partial possession, it’s clear that the infamous serial killer Ted Bundy was demonically influenced to commit his atrocious crimes; and the evidence points to partial possession: When he was his normal self he was affable and charismatic, which explains the inexplicable loyalty of several naïve people close to him, not to mention his mounting fan club (!). Many remained loyal during his eleven years of imprisonment before his execution. Even the judge who sentenced him noted how likable and gifted he was. Yet his myriad wicked murders and subsequent abuse of the corpses indicated a wholly sinister side. An investigator who visited Bundy’s cell in Florida witnessed firsthand his satanic mood swings: During an ordinary conversation the murderer abruptly metamorphosed before his very eyes wherein Bundy’s body & countenance weirdly altered and the investigator perceived an odor. He described the situation as extremely intense during this dispositional change, which lasted about 20 minutes.
- Getting back to Mark 9:17-29, when the demon took control of the boy it threw him to the ground where he foamed at the mouth, gnashed his teeth and became rigid. Needless to say, it helps to recognize these characteristics of demon-possession (verse 20).
- The demon drove the boy to self-harm by often trying to kill him, throwing him into fire or water (verse 22). This demon-influenced tendency is covered in Chapter 9 of ANGELS.
- Christ rebuked the demon, calling it a “deaf and mute spirit,” which simply means it was a demon that had the ability to bring about deafness and muteness (verse 25).
- Jesus commanded the wicked spirit to come out of the boy, adding “and never enter him again” (verse 25). It’s an important addition.
- The spirit shrieked and convulsed the lad violently during the exorcism (verse 26). These are further characteristics we need to recognize when exorcizing demons.
- Explaining why the disciples couldn’t cast out this particular wicked spirit, Jesus said “This kind can come out only by prayer” (verse 29).* Since prayer is communion with God this indicates that a close relationship with the LORD and the corresponding increased spiritual sensitivity & anointing are required to operate in the authority necessary to deliver people from demons of this magnitude. Obviously some evil spirits are more powerful and obstinate and hence are more resistant to exorcism.
* While some translations say “prayer and fasting” (e.g. the KJV), the earliest (and therefore most reliable) manuscripts omit “fasting.” It was likely added by an overzealous scribe at some point.
Now let’s look at the other passage and cull insights from it as well:
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
- The woman’s crippled condition was caused by a demon (verse 11). This shows that evil spirits have spiritual powers that can negatively affect those in the physical world. Medical science has, of course, discovered various other causes of ailments, whether physical or mental, but this does not discount the effect the spiritual has on the physical. Furthermore, could it not be possible—even likely—that these spirits induced these “causes,” as pointed out earlier this chapter?
- Unlike with the spirit that induced muteness and deafness, Christ did not rebuke the demon or command it to leave (at least Luke didn’t cite this in his account). Jesus simply said, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity,” followed by laying his hands on her, and she was both delivered from the spirit and healed (verses 12-13). This shows a correlation between the two—being delivered from demonic oppression and receiving healing. Comparing the two accounts also shows that 1. exorcizing demons and healing people are not one dimensional in nature as there are various methods we can employ, which grant the same result, and 2. we should rely on the Holy Spirit’s distinctive leading in each case.
- On a side note, this passage shows that legalists like the Pharisees—i.e. lifeless religionists—are prone to opposing genuine ministerial works, such as exorcism and healing. Big surprise, huh?
Of course, not every infirmity is directly caused by evil spirits, so you have to have spiritual discernment in order to effectively minister in these situations. And the only way you can do this, again, is to have genuine spiritual sensitivity, which comes by drawing closer to the LORD, as well as eagerly desiring gifts of the Spirit rather than eagerly denying them (1 Corinthians 12:1,31 & 14:1,39). If you’re not sure if a malady was induced by a demon, you can simply rebuke the ailment itself, as Jesus did here:
Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. 39 So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.
As a believer and co-heir in Christ you have the authority to do the works the Messiah did (John 14:12).
Rise up O man of God, rise up O woman of God, and walk in the authority that is yours in Jesus Christ. May you walk in faith and do the works Jesus did! May you heal the sick and set the captives free through the power of God that’s in you and upon you. Let it be so.
For additional insights, see the linking article Demons Vs. Jesus Christ — No Contest.
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