I find myself walking into a smoker-friendly room at a Motel 6 we rented for the night. Too far to drive home, my mother forgets to request a non-smoking room for her asthmatic son. Problems? Not at first. I simply got past the smell until I was no longer aware of it.
But 3:00 found itself waking me to a fatal situation never experienced before or since. I was experiencing an asthma attack while simultaneously hyperventilating, preventing me from taking the one thing that would alleviate the problem: my inhaler. My mother called 911 as I began to lose air and began to feel life slip from me. Throwing my inhaler against the wall in frustration of its inability to help me now, I resign to the fact that death is at my door. The room begins to black out as I remember falling to the ground. Black. Nothingness. Darkness. And then finally I wake. I’m sitting on my bed with my mother praying over me while her hands are on my shoulders. What could only be described as two hands gripping my lungs prohibiting air from coming in, was suddenly lifted and I could breathe as freely as I am while writing this very story. Now any skeptic could find some way to reason off the miracle I had experienced, but anyone in a life or death situation will always see a life-saving miracle differently than the person looking in. It was this very night I knew I needed no further evidence to understand my God was real and the power of prayer was near tangible. I could tell you I knew it was a spiritual attack on my life… but would you believe me? Even if you didn’t, would it change the fact that the problem was solved by prayer before any emergency crew got there? That night I knew I would never again question God, or prayer again.
The topic of spiritual warfare has always seemed to be a sticky one. With such a vast majority of Americans finding it to be a joke or hoax, many people simply reason the idea of a spiritual realm or Satan and demons away. But nonetheless, the question still remains constant: do angels and demons really exist? Is there such a thing as an unseen spirit realm where angels and demons actually are battling over good and evil? Who and what are these creatures? Does it affect us and what really is “spiritual warfare?” Is there such a thing as spiritual attack, and if so what is it?
According to the Bible, angels and demons exist. If we refer to Scripture to look at an understanding for us in our present age, nowhere does it say that neither angels nor demons ever ceased to exist, leaving us with a strong scriptural argument that, at least in the Christian sense, they are still among us today.
About 76-80% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. That’s a startling number of people who identify themselves with a religion that most certainly believes in a spiritual realm. Almost more startling is the fact that the vast American public, with very little knowledge or acceptance to the idea of a spirit realm, are unaware of it. In my years of mission work across three different continents, I’ve found that America and Western Europe literally remain the exception with regards to acceptance of belief in a spiritual realm. In many third world countries, people who have never heard the gospel still believed in a spirit realm long before Christian missionaries showed up on the scene. This makes evangelism even easier in many aspects outside of the U.S. because more people are willing to believe in an invisible God that changes lives. It seems in America we’ve made it much more of something fake, something of a joke, or something reserved to Hollywood horror or fantasy films. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Many Christians today question whether Satan and the demonic realm are real. But, even as recently as 1972, Pope Paul VI, restating the Catholic belief and understanding of scripture, wrote:
“It is contrary to the teaching of the Bible and the Church to refuse to recognize the existence of such a reality… or to explain it as a pseudo reality, a conceptual fanciful personification of the unknown causes of our misfortunes… That it is not a question of one devil, but of many, is indicated by various passages in the Gospels of Luke 11:19-20; Mark 5:9. But the principal one is Satan, which means adversary, the enemy; and with him many, all creatures of God, but fallen, because of their rebellion and damnation; a whole mysterious world, upset by an unhappy drama, of which we know very little…”
What shapes our belief in whether or not we believe angels and demons exist? There are two answers to that question: our experiences and scripture. It’s hard to read through the Bible and not find a plethora of scripture involving Jesus confronting Satan and a whole realm of demons. Jesus’ chief title in scripture is Savior or Redeemer, meaning of course that he actually saves us from something, from a real danger from something evil. The evils we see Jesus confront in scripture are sin, sickness, affliction by evil spirits, and death. 1 John 3:8 says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” When Jesus teaches us to pray, he gives us the Lord’s prayer in which he tells us to pray “deliver us from evil.” When you read the New Testament, you see an enormous reference to evil spirits. You read many accounts about how they harm and attack people. The gospels tell general and specific stories of Jesus freeing people from demonic powers.
To list a few specific accounts:
The man in the synagogue tormented by an unclean spirit (Mark 1:21; Luke 4:31-37)
The blind and mute demoniac (Matthew 12:22-29; Mark 3:22-27; Luke 11:14-22)
The demonized Gerasene men (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39)
The Syrophoenician woman’s daughter (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30)
The epileptic boy (Matthew 7:14-21; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43)
The woman with a spirit of infirmity (Luke 13:10-17)
The possessed mute (Matthew 9:32-34)
Further scripture tells us of the same: Acts 10:38, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” Here we see scripture of Jesus freeing people from those “under the power of the devil.” It’s actually in Isaiah though, that we get a glimpse of the Satan story and where demons come from: Isaiah 14:13-14 “For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God… I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’” Satan sets his sights on the kingship of God and in the process is thrown down from Heaven along with all of the angels that partnered with him in his rebellion. Lucifer was one of three highest ranking angels in the heavens. Scripture’s accounts suggest that a third of all of heaven’s angels were thrown down with him. This is the root of where demons came from, having been expelled angels from heaven.
Though scriptures overflow with depictions of the demonic realm left and right, many theologians and preachers profess a profound skepticism as to whether it actually exists and accounts of the “demonically oppressed” can be taken credibly. Human accounts aside though, 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” As well, Ephesians 6: 10-12 says, “Finally my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
First question: if there was no such thing as demons or an unseen spiritual realm, why is scripture showing us how to fight against it and says that it is the very thing that we war against? Though some may not read this passage in a literalistic sense (and rather demythologize and interpret it more metaphorically without having to buy into the reality of things like demons,) my personal belief is that this scripture conveys out that our struggle isn’t against each other as humans but it’s against the powers of the unseen realm. Furthermore, as we read in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 “…bringing every thought captive to Christ,” we can understand that Satan’s strategy is to introduce his thoughts and ideas into our minds and deceive us into believing they are ours. Have you ever been driving and thought to yourself, “I’d like to run my car off this road?” Many people have had that thought. It stands to make sense our thoughts don’t have to necessarily be our own, especially if we’re directed in scripture to take thoughts captive. I would propose that this verse isn’t designated solely to sinful thoughts on our own behalf.
Anyone in a life or death situation will always see a life-saving miracle differently than the person looking in.
So where does all of this information leave us? It leaves us with a mandate to be aware of the unseen around us. When Christ left, he broke the curse of sin on the earth and took the authority away from Satan. It says in Colossians 2:15 that “He….disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” He gave us his authority to rule and reign in him on the earth. It says in scripture that you are seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Ephesians 2:6).
Your identity as a child of God and your authority over spiritual powers are not things you are receiving or will receive sometime in the future, you have them right now. The only power Satan has over us is to get us to agree and partner with the lies he feeds us, once we come into agreement with the lie being spoken over us, he then has power in our lives. He has no power outside of what we give him in our lives. We fight better and harder when we realize our identity and authority in Christ. Our only authority is in Christ. How do we fight? By exercising our authority and praying. In Luke 10:17, Jesus’ followers “returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name’” The word “subject” in the Greek is hupotasso and one use of the word is as a military term meaning “to arrange under.” It pictures a group of soldiers snapping to attention and following precisely the orders of their commanding officer. This is the power we carry as believers!
The next question then is what many still wonder: Does the spirit realm affect us? What we do know is that the spirit realm affected people in the time of scripture as we see encounters with various kinds of angels and demons. There are countless stories where angels appear to, or help those in need. There are various accounts (many posted above) where demons have come to attack and oppress. Are there still reports of people who have reported seeing angels or demons? The answer is overwhelmingly yes, as our current-day culture has even created television shows around both entities. Why is it possible to believe the “then and there” accounts of the word of God but not believe they still occur today? Scripture states Satan’s plan of attack and it’s three aspects include stealing, killing, and destroying. All three of these aspects can be broken down into countless ways in which we see a broken world suffering. Poverty, dysfunctional families, addictions, murders, hatred, or strongholds are just a few examples of what could be categorized into “steal, kill, and destroy” territory. If Satan was clever enough to convince a third of the angels of heaven to join him, he’s clever enough to blind a money-thirsty, self-independent, performance and competition driven culture to believe that much of what we do is actually worth something. We’ve already bought into the American dream, the same dream we work our whole lives to achieve and must leave behind when we’re gone anyway.
There are realms around us co-existing at the same time. Even string-theorists in science now say they have evidence to prove there are as many as eleven realms! As far as Christians are concerned the word of God teaches that our battle is against “the unseen forces” all around us. What does that tell us? The attack of the enemy has continued to come without us seeing it! We live in the natural realm, however the natural realm co-exists with the spiritual realm around us. So we’ve established biblically that the spirit realm can and does affect us. One way is by what Christians call “spiritual attack,” meaning simply that the demonic realm has once again done the will of their master (Satan) to bring destruction or death in some way.
The spirit realm is two-fold: angels and demons, Jesus or Satan, goodness or sin. In Revelation 3:20 Jesus illustrates his supernatural way into our hearts, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with me.” The way to accept Jesus is to open your heart and let him in. Conversely, it’s possible to do the same to the enemy. If we open doors that Satan or his demons are standing at, we give them permission to come in and torment us. However, many times we don’t give permission and the enemy will come at us. “Spiritual attack” can look like sickness, mood swings, or a propensity to lust, hate or speak negatively towards someone. It might even look like your thought-life taking a mind of its own. That’s because Paul instructs us to take our thoughts captive. Now if everything we thought in our mind was our own, why would we need to take it captive? Thoughts are a well-known place of spiritual attack for the enemy. I believe that the vast majority of the things that go on in our lives are affected in or by the spirit realm. That’s not to say everything that goes wrong is because of the enemy, but we must be aware of our influence in the spirit realm and aware of its effect on us. At the same time we must be Christians that have a gospel of a big God and a little devil, not the other way around.
Many people see the enemy as being so powerful and involved in our lives as a quiet and defenseless God sits by and lets us take the bullets so to speak. But this isn’t biblically accurate! When Jesus left, he left the authority of the earth in our hands. He took the power away from Satan and reversed the curse of sin on us. That means any power that Satan had was taken away and given to us. Where does that leave Satan to attack our lives? It leaves him with one weapon: agreement. Since he has no power, the only power he obtains is the power we give him. We give him this power by agreeing with a lie he feeds us. For example, if I believe the lie I don’t have the authority of Christ given to me through the cross, I will believe that I am powerless. If Satan can get me to agree that I have no power, he has just regained control over my life. If I believe, however, that I can stand against him and have been equipped to do so, and choose not to partner with the lie to the contrary, he gains no power. His job has been downsized to simply go around and get people to agree with his lies so he can speak more false truth to us.
Your identity as a child of God and your authority over spiritual powers are not things you are receiving or will receive sometime in the future, you have them right now.
The good news? We can affect the spirit realm as much as it affects us. In James 3:9-10 it speaks of those unaware of the authority they carry as Christians when it says, “With it we bless our God and Father, with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren these things ought not to be so.” James is referring to a person who is careless and does not understand that words powerfully affect the people and situations of life. Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” We carry the power to speak blessing and life into anything. We also carry the ability to curse or speak death over anything as Jesus did when he rebuked the tree not producing fruit in season. It shriveled and died. Our words are meant to bring life and not provide a target for the enemy to proceed. As well, our words can also be used to stand against the attack of the enemy (Eph. 6.)
The unseen is simply that: unseen. But as we know, many things that are unseen remain very real. The idea of love, emotions, or the wind still remain unseen. Why do we believe in these things? Because we can feel them. But unseen realms can be felt as well. James 1:17 tells us, “every good and perfect thing comes from above.” That means accepted yet unseen ideas such as love, unity, and peace come from heaven. Next time you think about logically waving the spiritual realm away, ask yourself to reconsider. If you can see the effects of these things coming from the spirit realm, chances are you’ve been affected by things in the spirit realm negatively as well.
I believe “unseen doesn’t mean unreal,” and our words carry more weight than we may ever know. We are divine humans that carry both a supernatural spirit and a humanly body. We are joint citizens of both heaven and earth that God partners with to release his will on earth as it “is in heaven.” If we believe in heaven (the ultimate unseen reality), believing it here on earth should be a piece of cake.