Spiritual warfare is real. It might not make the news; but it ought to. Paul acknowledges this in Ephesians 6: 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
But the weapons of this warfare are often somewhat misunderstood. In some church circles, for example, it is commonplace to hear pastors and their people talk of “binding Satan” or “renouncing the devil’s presence” or some such display of confidence.
Here are three reasons I believe this is misguided.
1. Satan is (most probably) not in earshot
There is a pernicious paranoia that permeates churches today: folks think Satan can hear them speak. Some people unwittingly pad Satan’s résumé to include God’s unique attributes of omniscience and omnipresence. Yes, Satan certainly is ambulant (1 Pet 5:8), but he is confined to one place at a time. He can’t read your mind, and he doesn’t perk his ears when he hears his name mentioned in your prayers.
I have heard a pastor who was praying to God, lapse into addressing Satan! “Lord we pray against the forces of evil in this place today, and Satan we bind you in the name of Jesus, we denounce your efforts to distract us by messing with the PowerPoint projector again, and we rebuke your presence here today. You are not welcome here!”
First, Christian should pray to God, and not Satan (even if what we are saying to Satan is meant to irk him). Second, I doubt Satan is loitering around your church anyway. So unless he has demons recording our prayers and then e-mailing him the transcript, Satan would have to be in the room.
As one who understands the very basics of time management (I have read Kevin DeYoung’s Crazy Busy) I am confident that fiddling with my church’s sound equipment has got to be a lower priority than say, what happens at the UN or a North Korean nuclear testing facility.
2. Binding Satan is above your pay grade
Satan can be bound, just not by you. The task of binding Satan is given to an angel. (Rev 20:1-3). It’s a pretty important task, and a lot of eschatology depends in it being done properly.
Jude sternly warns precocious people who presume to venture above their pay grades and malign angelic beings.
Jude 8 Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. 9 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” 10 But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.
The archangel Michael himself didn’t pull rank on Satan the way many swaggering televangelists do.
Even invoking the name of Jesus is no guarantee that your exorcism would work. Sceva’s boys tested that hypothesis…
Acts 19:13 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.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
Next time you are tempted to start bossing an evil spirit around in the name of Jesus, make sure you have a change of clothes in the car.
3. God has a better idea
The Bible is not written in code. There are sections written as descriptive narrative, which record what happened in history. And there are other narrative sections written as prescriptive commands that apply to you and me.
The only instruction Christians are given about how to confront the spiritual forces of darkness is Ephesians 6. Note the conspicuous absence of what you’ve seen on TV.
Eph 6: 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. …13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
He then lists: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, readiness given by the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and praying at all times in the Spirit.
No holy water required.
On an unrelated note, my apologies for any typos that crop up this week. The devil is in the details.