All About Demons

All About Demons

Mark 5:1-20

Dr. Jim Denison

Halloween comes in nine days. Orange and pumpkins are everywhere. As you may know, “Hallowe’en” or “Hallowed Eve” is the eve of All Saints Day, the annual church holiday which honors the saints and heroes of Christian history.

However, Halloween also has connections which are anything but Christian. Centuries earlier the day was connected to Christian worship, the ancient Druids used it as their new year and celebrated it with all kinds of paganism and occult rituals. Across the centuries since, witches, devil worshipers, and other practitioners of the occult have made Halloween their most important day of the year.

So let’s talk about the occult, about spiritual warfare and demons. We’ve seen how much we need the Spirit’s help with the hard places and suffering of life. Now let’s see what he can do to help us with the temptations of life. How we can live in the joy of Jesus, the fruit of the Spirit, daily victory over sin. How we can win the spiritual battle being waged against us every day. But only with his help.

What is spiritual warfare?

First, let me introduce you to the subject of spiritual warfare. An African proverb says, “When elephants fight, the grass always loses.” Who are the “elephants” in the spiritual battle we’re waging? And who is the “grass”?

On one side is our Heavenly Father, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, the Lord of all that is. Our God, who so loved us that he sent his Son to give us eternal life with him in heaven.

On the other side is Satan. His name means “adversary” or accuser. All across the Scriptures he acts in defiance of God’s word and will. He tempted Jesus, and tempts us as well. We are the “grass” in his battle against the Lord. And so the Bible warns us, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

His doom is sure. Revelation sees the day when “the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (20:10).

But in the meanwhile he is fighting for every soul he can bring to hell and damnation with him. And his foot soldiers are his demons. We need to know about them, because they’re after us.

What are demons?

So let’s find out what demons are. According to the Bible, a “demon” is a created spirit being, a kind of angel. These beings sinned with Satan in heaven, and so are commonly called “fallen angels” or “unclean spirits.” Satan is now their ruler (Matthew 12:24), and he has organized them into his army of evil (Ephesians 6:11-12). God created hell for them, and they will be there with Satan forever: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

Demons are very real. Most Americans don’t believe they exist. Most Americans are deceived.

Demons were real to Jesus. Six times in the gospels we find him casting them out of suffering, demon-possessed people. Mark 1:34 says that Jesus “drove out many demons.”

They were real to the early Christians. Acts 5:16 records this scene from their ministry: “Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” Peter and Paul both exorcised demons personally.

And they were certainly real to the man in our story today, weren’t they?

Demons are evil and unclean.

Our text begins early in the morning, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus has just calmed a storm on the sea; now he calms a storm in a soul.

Verse 2 says, “a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him.” In verse 8 Jesus calls this an “evil spirit.” The word translated “evil” can mean “unclean” as well—foul, odorous, vile.

Demons are filthy, both physically and morally. Wherever you see demonism you find filth, rubbish, and sin. It’s no accident that with the rise of Satanism and the occult in America we also have the rise of drug abuse, pornography, child abuse, perversion, and obscenity.

Demons are stronger than we are.

Our text says that no one could bind this demon-possessed man with a chain. Fragments of their attempts lay all around the tombs, stark reminders of the impotence of human ability against the forces of darkness.

You and I cannot defeat their temptations in our ability. But we don’t have to.

Demons always seek to destroy.

“Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones” (v. 5). Imagine the scars running over his body, the blood caked on his filthy clothes and in his matted hair, the wild eyes and foaming mouth and shaking hands. This is what the demons have done to him.

Later they kill the herd of pigs they occupy as well. They ruin and destroy whatever they touch. They are cancer of the soul—always destroying what they possess.

And these foot soldiers of the devil are after us.

If you have not made Jesus your Savior, you belong not to God but to Satan. He doesn’t want you to know that, but it’s true.

If you do belong to Jesus, Satan is doing all he can to keep you from winning the battle for the souls of others. All he can to minimize your ministry, to cripple your witness, to poison your spiritual life. As the parable goes, a Christian and nonbeliever were walking down the road when Satan appeared before them. The non-Christian hid behind the believer and said, “Protect me! He’s after me!” But the Christian smiled and said, “No, it’s me he’s after. He’s already got you.”

Demons want to tempt us to sin, ruin our witness, corrupt our lives.

How do we defeat them?

But there’s good news: we can defeat them in the power of the Holy Spirit. We can refuse their temptations and defeat their strategies each and every day. Here’s how.

First, receive Jesus. Make him your Savior and Lord. As he defeated these demons, so he has power over Satan and his temptations always. Make him your Lord, and he will help you win the battle over temptation and sin every day.

Next, recognize temptation. When sin knocks at your door, demons are hiding behind it. And that sin will always take you further than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you wanted to pay. Know that every sin is part of a demonic strategy to ruin your witness and life.

Third, run to the Holy Spirit. Every time you are tempted, go immediately to the Spirit for his help. Don’t try to win this battle on your own, because you cannot.

There is no sin you have to commit. 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises that God will not allow a temptation in your life which you cannot overcome in his strength. There is no sin which you must commit.

But there is no sin you can defeat without his help. James 4:7-8 is God’s antidote to temptation: “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” Submit to God’s Spirit—be filled and empowered every day by him—then resist the devil with his strength and help.

When you’re being attacked by temptation, take it immediately to the Spirit. Ask for his help, wisdom, and strength. And it will be yours.

Last, rescue others—all who belong to the enemy.

When Jesus healed this man, he then sent him to be used to heal others. To his family, and to the ten Gentile cities along the eastern edge of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. Jesus’ commission to “tell” them uses the Greek word for “preach.” He became their first missionary, preaching the gospel of God’s love and power for their lives and souls.

You have been rescued from Satan, if Jesus is your Savior and Lord. Now go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). Be his ambassador, his living witness, to the lost people you see every day. Rescue them in the power of the Spirit.

Tragically, the townspeople in our story cared more for their pigs than they did this man’s redeemed soul. Don’t put pigs before people, work before witness, status before souls. You have been rescued—rescue others.


Every day’s news brings more reports of the battle overseas and at home, the war against terrorism. Know that this war is spiritual as well, and you’re in it. Satan wants your soul. If he cannot get it, he wants your witness, your joy, your peace, your victory.

But he’s a defeated foe. Despite all the mayhem and evil he is creating in our world today, he’s on the losing side. If you’re in the Spirit, the victory is yours.

Jesus’ death paid for your sins, defeated Satan, and purchased your salvation. This is the assurance of God.

National Geographic told the story of a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park. After the fire was out, forest rangers began to assess the damage. One found a bird literally petrified by ashes, perched on the ground at the base of a tree. The ranger pushed over the bird gently with a stick. When he did, three tiny chicks ran out from under their dead mother’s wings.

This mother, aware of impending disaster, sheltered them under her body and wings, knowing somehow that the toxic smoke would rise. She could have flown to safety, but she refused to abandon her babies. When the fire arrived and its heat scorched her small body, she remained unmoved. Because she was willing to die, those under her wings would live.

Get under Jesus’ wings. Every time the temptations and sin of Satan’s demons attack. And the victory is yours. This is the promise of God.

The War Room of the Soul

The War Room of the Soul

Ephesians 5:15-20

Dr. Jim Denison

In 1940, with German bombs raining down on London, Winston Churchill and his Cabinet and staff practically lived in their Cabinet War Rooms. This fortified basement provided the prime minister a bedroom, and his cabinet a room for meeting and a map room for strategy planning. The White House Situation Room provides the same security to our president and his staff today. In such “war rooms,” battles and wars are won or lost.

My friends, America is facing a spiritual war, a battle for which we need spiritual power. We have learned that the Spirit is the power of God in our lives, and that he lives in every one of us who has made Jesus our Lord. Now we come to the crucial and practical question: where do we find this power every day? Where is our War Room? For the sake of our souls, our families, and our country, how do we use it well?

Why meet daily with God?

Someone once said of their church: “They have all of Jesus they want. Not all they need, but all they want.” We live in a ruggedly self-sufficient, independent culture. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Look out for number one. Pull your own strings. Don’t depend on people, because they’ll let you down. And they will.

“God helps those who help themselves” is our credo. More than 70% of all Americans are sure it’s in the Bible. Actually, this statement first appeared in print in the book of an Englishman named Algernon Sidney in 1698; Benjamin Franklin made it famous.

But it doesn’t work.

In all of recorded human history there have been only four years without war somewhere on our planet.

And now war has come to America. This week, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that there is a “clear and present danger to America” in the threat of further terrorism on our soil. Reports were made this week of a plot to target the Sears Tower in Chicago; the Pentagon says its “primary mission” is now homeland defense.

We need God’s strength and power.

And we can have it—the first church is proof. In Acts 1:6 they are a small, unprepared, ignorant band of frightened men and women, 120 up against a hostile world of 25 million. But by Acts 17:6 they have “turned the world upside down” and launched the greatest, most powerful movement in human history. More people follow Jesus Christ than any other religion on our planet, and history itself is divided by his coming.

All through Acts it’s the same story—the work of the Holy Spirit gives God’s people his power.

In Acts 2:4 the disciples are filled with the Spirit and begin to share the gospel in languages they have never learned. In 4:8, Peter, the former coward, is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and boldly proclaims the gospel to the Supreme Court of Israel. In 4:31, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” In Acts 9 Ananias prayed for Paul to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 17); he was healed and immediately began preaching Jesus (v. 20). In Acts 13:9 Paul was “filled with the Spirit” and defeated the Satanic sorcerer on Cyprus. And on the story goes.

What the Spirit did through them, he is waiting and yearning to do through us. If we will go where they went, and do what they did, the Spirit will continue his miraculous, powerful work through our lives. The choice is ours.

I have in my study a rock, normal and ordinary to anyone else but very special to me. I took it from the valley of Elah, where David slayed Goliath. It reminds me daily of the power of God, of what God can do with a single soul fully yielded to his Spirit. There is no Goliath you and I cannot conquer in his power. So, where do we get our rocks for today?

How to meet daily with God

These first Christians “all joined together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:14), the Upper Room of a home in Jerusalem. They spent their days together with God. They made that Upper Room their War Room. And soon they were filled with the power of Almighty God.

Get an Upper Room with God. Go there before the war of the day begins. Start every morning there with God. But how? Our text tells us.

First, examine your life in the light of his Spirit. “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise” (v. 15).”Be very careful” is an imperative, a command. There is nothing negotiable or optional here with God. This is a present-tense command: “inspect carefully the way that you are living this day.” This makes you “wise” with God, as you apply what God shows you.

So we are to go to our Upper Room, get on our knees before God, and ask his Spirit to show us anything which might keep us from our Father. We confess it to God, and claim his forgiveness. We stay clean daily with God, before the malignancy of sin can spread. Examine your life in the light of his Spirit.

Next, seek God’s will for the coming day (vs. 16-17): “making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (vs. 16-17).

“Making the most of every opportunity” translates a phrase which means to “buy back the time,” to get the most we can possibly get out of the day which is before us, to redeem it for significance and eternity.

Do this by knowing and doing the will of God. Study the Scriptures daily. Ask God to guide you through his revealed word. Examine your priorities and work for the day before you in the light of Scripture. Seek God’s will for that day, and you will find it.

Now, yield your life to the Spirit’s power. “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (v. 18).

Ancients got drunk in their worship of Dionysius, the pagan god of wine and pleasure. By putting themselves “under the influence,” they thought they were yielding themselves to this god. In exactly the opposite way, you and I are to put ourselves “under the influence” of God’s Holy Spirit.

To be “filled” means to be controlled by the Spirit, to be under his influence, his leadership, his will.This is a command, an imperative from Almighty God, as surely as the Ten Commandments are his imperatives for our lives. This is God’s basic expectation for every believer, not some extra-credit status for a select few. Every one of us is expected to be filled by God’s Spirit. He holds us accountable every day by this standard.

So, how are we “filled with the Spirit”? Five steps are involved; we have taken three already.

First, the text assumes that we have already received Christ as Lord, and thus his Spirit in our lives. As we learned last week, when we make Jesus our Savior, his Spirit takes up permanent residence in our lives.

Second, as we have already seen, we ask God to forgive anything which is wrong in our lives. This is the Holy Spirit, and he can only control that which is clean and holy.

Third, as we saw a moment ago, we seek God’s will. We turn our minds, words, attitudes and actions over to him.

Now we consciously ask the Spirit to take control of us. Unconditionally, without reservation, holding nothing back. We give him a blank check for this day.

And last, we believe by faith that he has. Nowhere does the Bible tell us how it feels to be filled with the Spirit. No particular gift is promised, no special proof is offered. It takes as much faith to believe you are controlled by the Spirit as it did to trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord. We step out in faith, believing that God has done what we have asked him to do.

And he will.


Never before have American Christians needed this War Room with the Holy Spirit more than today. I’ve spoken with many of you who survived Pearl Harbor and World War II. To a person you tell me that this is different. In those days you knew who the enemy was and where he was. You were not afraid that he might strike your home, your office, your airplane. But things are different today. The good news is this: there is an Upper Room, a War Room, available to every one of us who will go there. Today.

And the results for our lives can be astounding.

Avery Willis is a career missionary, and an acquaintance of mine. In his classic book, The Biblical Basis of Missions, he describes his own experience with the filling of the Holy Spirit:

“While I was a freshman in college, the Holy Spirit created in my heart an overwhelming desire to bear witness to Christ. In the months that followed, his presence overcame my natural shyness and thrust me out several times each week onto the streets and into bars to witness. However, I was not successful in leading people to Christ. I memorized Scriptures, studied soul-winning books, and prayed. But something was missing.

“One day I received in the mail a booklet that told of the experiences of D. L. Moody, R.A. Torrey, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, and others whose ministries had been transformed when they experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit.

“I had a burning desire to be used of God, but I could not find anyone who could tell me how to be filled. Finally, a friend loaned me the book The Holy Spirit: Who He Is and What He Does by R.A. Torrey.

“For the first time, I realized that the Holy Spirit is a person who possesses us, instead of a power or an influence that we possess. Torrey showed that the Holy Spirit, who lives within us, wants to fill us for service.

“By the next evening I had finished the book and was ready to follow its instructions on being filled with the Spirit. I confessed all my sins, presented myself fully to God, and asked in faith for the Holy Spirit to fill me. As I confessed my sins, I realized how much the Holy Spirit had loved me and had been grieved by my ignoring him. Then I presented my body, will, emotions, intellect, and spirit to be used by God in any way.

“The most difficult part was accepting by faith the filling of the Holy Spirit without any outward sign or manifestation. I told God, ‘I will accept the fact that I am filled with the Spirit on the basis of faith in the Word, no matter what happens when I witness.’ There was no great emotional experience, but I had a deep awareness of the love of the Spirit.

“The next morning when I went to class, the grass looked greener and the birds sang more sweetly. I was so aware of the Spirit’s presence that I wanted to move over on the sidewalk to let him walk beside me. That evening I witnessed to a boy on the street, and he accepted Christ as his Savior. Two nights later two black teenagers accepted Christ; the night after that another man.

“I remarked to a friend: ‘I don’t see how this can continue. Every night I go out to witness, someone accepts Christ.’ That night no one did. I had to come back and ask forgiveness and be filled afresh because I had dared to think that I had won those people to Christ myself. God willingly refilled me with his Spirit when I was willing to confess my sins, present myself, and ask in faith. Once again people began to come to Christ.

“In the twenty-five years since that experience, the Holy Spirit has taught me the secret of being filled for each task of service. Thousands of times I have had to ask him to refill me when I have sinned, and he has done so. The filling of the Spirit energizes and empowers different gifts in different persons, but in every case the result brings glory to Christ and attracts others to him” (pp.63-64).

What could God do with your life if you were filled with his Spirit? Let’s begin to answer that question, right now.

When the Bombs Fall

When the Bombs Fall

Galatians 5:22-23

Dr. Jim Denison

Someone recently sent me this statement: if you have the inner strength to start the day without caffeine, be cheerful and ignore aches and pains, resist complaining about your troubles, understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time, overlook the times when loved ones take things out on you, take criticism and blame without resentment, face the world without lies and deceit, and conquer tension without medication … then you are most likely the family dog.

These are hard days for us all. The normal stress of life is greater than most people or counselors remember it ever being. And of course our military response in the war on terrorism has begun. In fact, in what is far more providence than coincidence, our soldiers began the engagement just as Christians across the nation were praying in church services for them.

In these stress-filled days, we need the filling and empowering of God’s Holy Spirit. We’ve learned how to be filled with the Spirit. Now let’s see why this daily experience is so crucial. God wants you to know what his Spirit can do for every person who is yielded to him. But there’s a catch.

The life of the law

Paul wrote the letter we call Galatians to a specific group of churches he founded during his first missionary journey. It was my privilege to tour this central part of modern-day Turkey a few years ago. I’d like to take you there for a few moments, so you can see why our text is still so relevant to our lives today.

Paul and Barnabas set out from Antioch of Syria in AD 47. They sailed southwest to the island of Cyprus, then north to the seaport of Perga. Then they walked northward to Pisidian Antioch.

Here Paul preached in the Jewish synagogue, then to the Gentile community, many were saved, and “the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (v. 52).

Next they traveled east to Iconium, where they preached and did “miraculous signs and wonders” (14.3). But again the legal authorities drove them out.

Now they came further east to Lystra. The crowds called them gods, then changed their minds and stoned Paul, dragged him out of the city, and left him for dead. But in one of the great acts of spiritual courage in the Scriptures, the Apostle got up, went back into the city, and kept preaching to them.

Next they went still further east to Derbe, where “they preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples” (v. 21). See what happens when the Spirit fills and empowers God’s people?

All was well, they thought. But Paul had no sooner returned to Antioch of Syria than he learned of a problem which would trouble him for the rest of his life and ministry.

The “Judaizers” were Jewish Christians who believed that Gentiles had to become Jews before they could come to Christ. And so they sought to impose kosher dietary laws, circumcision, Sabbath regulations, and the rest of their legalism on these new believers in Galatia.

At risk was the very nature of the Christian gospel: Are we saved by grace or works? Are we justified by what we can do, or solely by what Jesus has done? Galatians is Paul’s response—his most passionate letter, and a triumphant defense of salvation by grace alone.

Let me show you why we need this life of grace so much in hard times. We’ve learned how to be filled with the Spirit—confess your sins, yield your life to God’s will, ask the Spirit to empower you, and believe that he has. Now God wants you to understand the two reasons you need this experience every day. Two reasons to refuse legalism for grace. Especially when bombs are falling in your world and in your life.

Find help with grief

In 1962, Granger E. Westberg published a little booklet which has since become a classic. Entitled Good Grief, it gives an excellent description of the stages of grief. Here’s a brief survey—see where you are in this process.

The first response to grief is shock—this cannot truly be happening. We’re in denial. We keep waiting to wake up, to get back to September 10, to see New York City with her Twin Towers. I went to a movie last weekend which was set in New York City; the producers had to remove the towers digitally from the skyline. It was surreal. Part of us wants to deny that this has really happened to our world.

Next we begin to express emotion. Tears, trembling hands, quivering voices, words of outrage.

Sometimes we feel loneliness and depression, numbness and despair, a feeling that no one knows our pain or truly cares about our sorrow.

Some people experience physical symptoms or distress, especially if they are still denying their grief. The Buddhists have a saying: the body weeps tears the eyes refuse to shed.

Some people feel panic—no way out, drowning with grief.

Many people feel guilt—what more could I have done? How is this my fault?

Next, nearly all people are filled with anger and resentment. This is actually a healthy stage of grief, for it shows that we are dealing honestly with our suffering as it is.

Then finally hope begins to dawn. We realize that it will not always be this hard, our emotions this raw, our pain this sharp.

So we are able to affirm reality at last. We begin to live our lives as they must be. While things will never be what they were, they can be good in a new way. The World Trade Center Towers may never stand again, but their city will. And so will we.

Here’s the point: you and I cannot deal with grief and suffering alone. We weren’t meant to. The Psalmist could say: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). He could add: “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (v. 5).

When we walk with God, our heart in his hands, our spirit with his Spirit, we can “fear no evil.” Even in the presence of enemies, our host prepares a table for us and our cup overflows with his goodness and blessing. So long as we keep our cup clean, yielded to him, close enough that he can fill it, he will. We can be “filled” with his Spirit even in the deepest grief of life.

I’ve watched Spirit-filled Christians walk through such valleys and eat with such enemies. A family who lost their little girl in the hospital, then prayed with their doctors and the parents of other sick children before they left. A woman dying of breast cancer who called Sunday school prospects from her bed until the week she died. A friend who lost his job recently and is excited about a chance to find work in an office where his witness can be greater. A student who lost his wife and four children but could tell our class, “God is still on his throne.”

When the bombs fall, you need the power of God’s Spirit. Don’t try to handle your grief and worry and fear alone. Ask his Spirit to help. He’s waiting to answer that prayer, right now.

Live the life of the Spirit

Here’s the other reason we need the daily filling of the Spirit: then we can experience his results, his “fruit” in our lives. We want to live the abundant, overflowing, empowered life of the Spirit even in the hardest times. And you can. But only when you are filled with his power.

Our Bible study literature is studying each of the fruit of the Spirit in coming weeks, in detail. Let’s overview these nine symptoms of the Spirit-filled life, very briefly.

The first three are fruit of the mind, our attitudes and temperament. “Love” means unconditional commitment. “Joy” means happiness despite circumstances. “Peace” means inner tranquility which transcends circumstances.

Ask yourself: does your love for others depend on their love for you? Are your happiness and peace affected by the stock market, your popularity at school, your health today? In the Spirit, you can be filled with unconditional, transcendent love, joy, and peace today.

The next three are fruit of our relationships with others.

“Patience” means to be gracious with people, even when they are not gracious with you. “Kindness” means to give more than you receive. “Goodness” means to find ways to help people, whether they deserve that help or not.

Does your patience, kindness, and goodness depend on receiving the same from the people in your life? Or do you look for ways to serve, to help, to be kind, even and especially when others do not? In the Spirit, you can have a servant heart no matter whether others serve you.

The last three are fruit of our personal conduct and character.

“Faithfulness” means to be consistent and trustworthy. “Gentleness” means strength under control. “Self-control” means to be godly with our passions and especially our sexual morals.

Your character is what you are when no one is looking. Are you the same person in private as in public? In thoughts as in actions? In the Spirit, your personal conduct can be godly and good.

Don’t you want your life to be characterized by these “fruit”? But fruit come only when the tree is healthy. Ask the Spirit to fill and control you life every day, and his fruit will be his reward for your obedient faithfulness.


In these hard times and days of grief and worry, you can choose the life of the law or the life of the Spirit. In the Spirit you can face grief and suffering, and you can experience abundant life worth living. The choice is yours.

A friend recently sent me this parable. A mountain climber, proud and self-reliant, set out on a hard climb. As night fell, he refused to make camp but continued his trek. There was no moon, and the stars were covered by the clouds.

As he was climbing a ridge about 100 meters from the top, he slipped and fell. Careening rapidly he could see only blotches of darkness as he felt the terrible sensation of gravity sucking him to the earth. He was certain he would die.

But then he felt a jolt which almost tore him in half. Like any good mountain climber, he had staked himself with a long rope tied to his waist. In those moments of stillness, in the blackness of the dark night, suspended in the air, this self-reliant, self-made man had no choice to but shout into the air, “God, please help me!”

Suddenly he heard a deep voice from heaven: “What do you want me to do?” “Save me!” said the climber. “Do you really think that I can save you?” God asked. “Yes!” the climber replied. “Then cut the rope that is holding you up,” God directed.

There was silence and stillness. The man held tighter and tighter still to his rope. The rescue team says that the next day they found a frozen mountain climber holding strongly to a rope, three feet off the ground.

Let go of your rope, and cling to the Spirit. Today.

Winning the War for Your Soul

Winning the War for Your Soul

Ephesians 6.10-12 / John 15.1-8

Dr. Jim Denison

American ground troops are now at war in Afghanistan. Most of us think this is just like the Gulf War ten years ago. Most of us are wrong. This time our troops are equipped with global positioning systems, advanced night vision equipment, weapons with laser sights and thermal imaging capabilities, and computerized fire control systems. Our ground forces are backed by attack helicopters and airplanes. And they are able to launch ground attack weapons from pilotless aircraft.

The right weapons are essential to victory in war.

As with the military, so with the soul. You are engaged in a spiritual war, and you must have and use the right weapons to win. My job today is to teach you how.

Understand spiritual warfare

First we need to know what the Bible teaches about spiritual warfare, then we can learn the practice of spiritual victory. You need these facts.

One: you are in a war. Every day Satan fights against God, and there is no middle ground. If you are on God’s side, you are Satan’s enemy. And so “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

Satan wants your soul. If you’ve given it to Jesus, then he wants your witness, your ministry, your life. You are in a war.

Two: you must choose the right weapons. To win this battle you must “put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (v. 11). You cannot win a battle without the right weapons. I’ll show them to you momentarily.

Three: these weapons are employed through prayer. “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests,” Paul orders. Further, “be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (v. 18). Paul knows that we have spiritual power when we are connected with the Spirit in prayer.

Four: you must stay close to Jesus every day.

This battle is being waged against us every day. And so we must “remain” in Jesus—the word means to abide, to stay connected with, to stay close to. Then Jesus promises that you “will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Only when you stay close to the General can you win the battle. And then you will “bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (v. 8). The patience, kindness, and goodness we’re studying in Sunday school today are yours only when you stay close to Jesus, their Source.

Victory begins when we recognize we’re in the battle, and we choose to win it in the Spirit. Make that decision with me, right now.

Choose submission over self-reliance

Now let’s get practical. How do we defeat Satan’s attacks on us? By knowing what they are, and using the right weapons in defense. The classic spiritual disciplines, practiced by believers for centuries, are our tools in this war. Let’s learn how to employ them.

The first strategy of Satan is self-reliance. In Scripture and personal experience this is always so.

He tempted Adam and Eve to be as gods, knowing good and evil.

He tempted Jesus in the wilderness to use his own power for his own glory—whether turning stones to bread, impressing the crowds by jumping from the temple, or worshiping Satan in return for earthly glory.

Satan tempts me with self-reliance every day. To write a sermon and ask God to bless it; to solve a problem in my own ability or experience.

Am I alone here? Where is the enemy tempting you with self-reliance today? Where are you trusting your abilities more than prayer and Scripture to solve your problems and succeed in your abilities?

The spiritual discipline we need when tempted to self-reliance is submission. Submission to God’s will physically and relationally. We do this in two ways.

First by fasting. When we abstain from food for spiritual reasons, we submit our bodies to our souls. We submit our appetites to God’s control. Regular fasting is crucial to spiritual health.

Second, by accountability. Every Christian needs someone to whom he or she is accountable spiritually. Someone who knows your problems, stands with you, prays for you, is honest with you. Someone to expose your self-reliance and self-sufficiency.

The more your spirit resists submission today, the more you need this discipline. It is essential to my soul, and to yours.

Choose solitude when distracted

A second tool of the enemy is distraction. Using circumstances to take your eyes from the will of God. At Caesarea Philippi, Peter tried to push Jesus away from his resolve to die on the cross. And Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23). Satan loves to use good things to distract us from God things.

Busyness is one of his most effective distractions, in life and in ministry. I still remember the conviction I felt years ago when I first read these words in a commentary: “Perhaps the ministry was never busier than it is now. Hundreds of men are hoarse from continual speaking, and are wearied out with running here and running there. If things slow down, we evolve yet another type of meeting. And when this new and added wheel is spinning merrily with all the other wheels, there may be no spiritual outcome whatsoever, but there is a wind blowing in our faces; and we hot and sticky engineers have a comfortable feeling that something is going on” (Arthur John Gossip, John, in The Interpreter’s Bible, 8:716).

This satanic tactic works well with me. Running from meeting to meeting, finishing one message just in time to start another. Taking little time to be with God, because I’m so busy working for him. How well is distraction working against you?

The weapon to use in defense of distraction and busyness is the spiritual discipline of solitude.

Mark 1 records an extremely busy day in the life of our Lord: preaching in the synagogue, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, teaching the disciples, then healing the townspeople until late in the evening. And so the next morning, “while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (v. 35).

He needed time away, time alone with his Father. So do I. So do you. Time with God every morning, and an extended time for your soul every week or so.

If you’re too busy for solitude, you need solitude most of all.

Choose simplicity when you’re suffering

Another weapon Satan uses is suffering. As he attacked Job, so he attacks us. He causes suffering, and he uses suffering. Then in our hurt, we are tempted to turn from God. Job’s wife speaks for us all: “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).

Where is Satan using suffering in your life? Job loss? Family struggles? Health problems? Discouragement and despair? By no means is Satan the cause of every problem in our lives, though he causes some. But he can use every one of them against us, if we let him.

The spiritual discipline for suffering is simplicity.

Richard Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, helps us to understand simplicity: if we realize that all we have is a gift from God, to be used for him and shared with others, then we will live simpler lives (pp. 88-9). Health, money, success, anything suffering can take from us was a gift from God, to be used for him and others so long as it was on loan to us. We are not what we make or possess. We are the loved children of God. Nothing else matters eternally.

Are you suffering great loss right now? The harder it is to let it go, the more you must. Simplify your life to the essentials which no suffering can take from you, and victory is yours.

Choose Scripture when you’re tempted

Finally, there is the satanic strategy of sin. Rejecting the word and will of God. Jesus says that Satan “was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He is a sinner, and he tempts us to sin every day.

The devil does this in two ways. On the front end he says, “This is no big deal. Everyone does it.” Then after we commit the sin he says to us, “You’re a terrible sinner, not worthy to serve God or anyone else.” He corrupts us then condemns us. We’ve all been there.

The weapon against sin is the spiritual discipline of Scripture. Daily time with God in his word, so we know his will clearly and can find his counsel on the problems and temptations we face.

First, to know what God says about the sin before we commit it. God has spoken to every temptation we can face.

Second, to know what God says about the sinner after we commit it. He is clear about our need for confession and repentance, his promise of forgiveness, and his plan to restore and use us in his Kingdom.

If you’re not practicing the daily discipline of Scripture, you’re exposed to Satan’s most vile strategies. And if you don’t think you need this discipline, you of all people need it most.


Where are you being tempted right now? What strategy is the enemy bringing against your soul? Which disciplines will you practice today?

God offers us in his Spirit the victory over spiritual attack and temptation daily. His Spirit lives in every Christian. Go to him for help when Satan attacks you with self-reliance, distraction, suffering, and sin. In him is your victory. And only in him.

The Russian rabbis told the story of Isaac, son of Yekel, living in Krakov. Isaac was a very poor man whose family was often hungry. One night in a dream he saw the distant city of Prague, with a certain bridge and a treasure buried beneath it. The dream recurred vividly every night for two weeks. Finally he decided to walk to Prague to see for himself.

After several days on the road he arrived in the city, found the bridge, and went beneath it to look for the treasure. Suddenly a soldier grabbed him and started questioning him. What was he doing prowling under the bridge? Being an innocent man, he told the truth: he was looking for a treasure he had dreamed was underneath the bridge.

The soldier roared with laughter: “You stupid man! Don’t you know that you cannot trust what you see in dreams? Why, for the last two weeks I myself have dreamed that far away in Krakov in the house of a Jew named Isaac, son of Yekel, there is a treasure buried underneath the stove in his kitchen. But wouldn’t it be the most idiotic thing in the world if I were to go all the way there to look for it? One could waste a lifetime looking for a treasure that doesn’t exist!” Still laughing, the soldier gave Isaac a kick and let him go.

So Isaac, son of Yekel, walked back to Krakov, to his own home, where he moved the stove in his kitchen, found the treasure buried there, and lived to a ripe old age as a wealthy man.

Where will you find your treasure today?