Spiritual warfare is a matter which Christians discuss rarely and understand poorly. We tend to over-spiritualize or under-spiritualize many of our circumstances. Some people think that the devil is under every rock and behind every situation, calling people and their natural, sinful tendencies demonic, while others bury their heads in the sand and are completely unaware of the Spiritual realm and beings that Scripture affirms are present. Paul exhorts us to preparedness thusly:
“Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”
– Eph 6.11-13
We must beware of and resist the schemes of the devil. Our struggle, as the Church, is against spiritual forces that would seek to silence our witness and thwart our efforts to glorify and represent the Kingdom of God. Paul goes on to teach us the various tools that we should employ in resisting the devil:
“Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feed with the preparation of the Gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints…”
– Eph 6.14-18
In short, Paul assumes that we will have interactions and battles with the devil, in the Spiritual realm. And the tools to fight the Devil are:
1) Truth (Knowing God, His heart and His ways)
2) Righteousness (killing our sin and obeying God)
3) The Gospel (Knowing our sinful state, how Jesus took our place: grace)
4) Faith (Trusting God, believing in what we have not seen)
5) Salvation (Having been born again, remembering that transformation that happened and trusting it)
6) Sword of the Spirit (The written word of God! Know and claim His promises, trust Him)
7) Prayer (Turn to God for direction and instruction in these battles, listen to His leadership)
These tools are clear and vitally important. We can use them against the enemy, we can use them in putting to death our sinful flesh and tendencies, and we can use them for basic discernment between two good options. But there is a strange teaching prevalent in our churches today that says,
“The demons will flee at the name of Jesus.”
This is a drastic perversion and misunderstanding of a very powerful verse:
“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”
– James 4.7
James teaches us that when we resist the devil, He will flee from us. But resistance is not simply saying “Jesus”. Paul taught us what resistance is, and that is those seven facets outlined above. If all we had to do was say “Jesus”, then we would not need truth, righteousness, the Gospel, faith, salvation, the Bible and prayer to fight against Him.
Consider these interactions with demons – who were not even as powerful as the Devil Himself:
It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment.
– Acts 16.16-18
But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
– Acts 19.13-16
The demons also said the name of Jesus themselves (Mark 1.24, 5.47, Acts 19.15).
And there were demons that the disciples were incapable of casting out, even though they could cast out other ones:
I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.”…When He came into the house, His disciples began questioning Him privately, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.”
– Mark 9.18b, 28-29
Not only that, but the reality that should transform our entire perspective on this conversation is that God uses Satan in a specific role: the accuser (Rev 12.10). Satan actually works in the Heavenly Court as the prosecutor.
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?”
– Zech 3.1-2
Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it.” The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause.” Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. However, put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face.” So the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.
– Job 2.1-7
When God called in the heavenly court, all the “sons of God”, Satan was included. Satan stood before God and spoke boldly to Him. Not one human being who stood in the presence of God or in the presence of an angel ever spoke boldly – they all fell on their faces and trembled. And not only that, but Jesus informed Peter that Satan had demanded permission to sift Peter and show his real commitment to Jesus, the results we saw in Peter’s denial of Christ:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
– Luke 22.31-32
It is indeed true that there is power in the name of Jesus, when it is declared at the end of the age, every single knee will bow: heavenly, humanly, and all demons and wicked beings will acknowledge Him as God:
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
– Eph 2.9-11
But the power is not in the saying aloud of His name. The word, name, title “Jesus” is not a magical tool that we can just whip out and send the demons into a tail spin. The power of the name of Jesus is in He who bears the name. Jesus alone has the power to save, to conquer demons, to defeat the enemy and help us to die to our sins. The power is in the man. And He will enable us to resist the devil, and when we resist the devil, when we stand firm in the faith, when we persevere with the tools that Scripture gives us, the devil will flee from us. But there will be times that the enemy mocks us, that he mocks Jesus, and there will be times that we do not have the ability to cast out a demon, because we have not prayed and fasted over it. Satan stands in the Heavenly courts, and while he knows and acknowledges Jesus as Lord and king – asking for permission to to tempt us – he is not thwarted by a whisper.
Do not believe in the voodoo-ish teaching that saying the name of Jesus is adequate resisting of the devil. Satan can say Jesus’ name. The demons can say Jesus’ name. And saying “Jesus” aloud does not cause him to flee from your presence. Jesus’ presence and authority causes him to flee form our presence. So let us bulk up our Spiritual strength, developing the full armor of God, so that we can resist Him and prove ourselves believers.