The advertising announced that the evangelist had a mighty deliverance ministry, but unfortunately, few unbelievers attended the meetings, where he specialized in casting out demons. Was that the reason he turned mainly to believers with his ministry? Surely the preacher who wishes to free those people bound by the power of the devil ordinarily focuses on those who are most obviously under the enemy's sway.
Long lines of people stood each evening, waiting for the minister to lay his hands on them. In those lines stood faithful church members, untiring Sunday school teachers, and even deacons.
Indeed, children stood there waiting for the word of authority to bind the power of Satan within them. Looking into the eyes of a twelve-year-old girl, the evangelist asked, "And what is your problem, young lady?"
She replied, "I don't love my daddy as I should."
With shock in his voice, the minister inquired further, "Why don't you love your father?"
She explained he had left her, her mother, and her four brothers and sisters. They never heard from him. He sent no money for their support. Sometimes they went hungry.
At that, the evangelist proceeded to cast the demon of hate out of the child! From that action, one might ask, "Did he have a valid ministry of assisting people in living a life of victory over sin and Satan?"
Certainly the Bible shows demons are real and points the way to be free from them. However, its approach differs radically from that of the evangelist and others who share his views on demonology. Some scholars not only think that believers can be demon possessed, but they offer little hope for real deliverance.
For example, Grayson Ensign and Edward Howe say freedom comes so reluctantly that "a few persons have had to have deliverance sessions over a period of two years and ranging up to twenty-five sessions." Further, according to them, demons are on such a rampage, that evil spirits "may be shared with other persons (and can therefore flit back and forth between these bodies)."
According to this school of thought, even when victory does come, one is never secure in it. Jessie Penn-Lewis writes, "The believer who is dispossessed is born into the war, and compelled to fight to maintain his freedom." She adds, "For he discovers that even the lesser attacks, which, before the time of his deception and possession, would be unfelt, quickly overwhelm him, and cause him to lose his equilibrium, or spiritual balance, immediately."
By contrast, in a true biblical "power encounter," the believer comes out victorious! Scripture shows that temptation comes from more than a single source, and that victory over sin necessitates being freed by salvation from the guilt and power of sin. That deliverance does not, however, remove the potential for sin from the believer. Indeed, flesh and spirit stand in opposition to each other in the individual's life, and the mere existence of the conflict sometimes produces a sense of false guilt in the conscience. Wondrously, though, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, along with the fruit the Spirit, produces and makes possible a life of constant victory over sin.
In truth, the Bible, rather than experience, must ever be the believer's guide for faith and practice. Even so, scholars such as Merrill Unger, who seem obsessed with the subject of demon possession among believers, say the opposite. He declares, "Certainly the inspired Word of God never contradicts valid experience. The sincere truth-seeker must be prepared to revamp his interpretation to bring it into conformity with the facts as they are."
The Sources of Temptation
Satan is as subtle in the way that he works today as he was in his temptation of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1). His cunning sometimes makes it difficult to recognize that he is the tempter in certain situations. Indeed, once a person realizes that the devil is the source of the temptation, the battle with him is virtually won. A believer can be victorious over all of the temptations of life by determining their sources and coming to a place where he or she is no longer ignorant of the devices of the wicked one (2 Cor. 2:11). The individual can be assured that God is never the source of temptation to do evil. Rather, such enticements come from the flesh, the world, and Satan himself.
God and Temptation
In the first place, then, finding victory over sin requires recognizing that temptation comes from more than one source. Clearly, God is not among the sources, although in the King James Version the Bible declares, "God did tempt Abraham" (Gen. 22:1). J. I. Packer explains:
"The biblical idea of temptation is not primarily of seduction, as in modern usage, but of making trial of a person, or putting him to the test. . . .'Tempt' in AV means ‘test' in this unrestricted sense, in accordance with older English usage. It is only since the 17th century that the word's connotation has been limited to testing with evil intent."
Accordingly, the New International Version translates the Hebrew word nasa in Gen. 22:1 as "test" rather than "tempt." It reads, "God tested Abraham."
This case involving Abraham illustrates what Packer says when he declares, "God tests His people by putting them in situations which reveal the quality of their faith and devotion, so that all can see what is in their hearts." His purpose is to refine their confidence in Him as men purge gold of its impurities in the white-hot fires of the furnace. Peter says, "The genuineness of your faith, being [is] much more precious than gold that perishes, though it be tested with fire" (1 Pet. 1:7).
In regard to God's tempting men to sin, James writes, "Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted of God'; for God cannot be tempted with evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone: But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed" (1:13-14). The apostle thus locates the source of temptation to sin at the center of man's being.
Not only has man been disposed to sin since the Garden of Eden, but also he has been prone to shift the blame for his evil deeds to others. Adam said that Eve caused his sin, and she pointed to the serpent as the guilty one (Gen. 3:12-13). Ensign and Howe continue the practice when they write of a believer, "Quite often the identification (of the cause of the problem) is an evil spirit that controls a certain function in the life of the person such as rage, hate, fear, depression, lust, sex, alcohol."
Rather than take this approach, one who sins must accept the responsibility for his or her own actions.
Satan and Temptation
Of course, Satan and his cohorts stand ready always to encourage man to sin. Matthew gives Satan the very name Tempter (peirazoon) (4:3). Tempting men to sin is basic to Satan's character. In doing so, he appeals to three main areas of man's nature. In his first epistle, John describes those areas as lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life (2:16).
Through the serpent in the Garden, the devil appealed to Eve's fleshly appetite. He made the forbidden fruit appear desirable as "good for food" (Gen. 3:6). Further, he caused it to be "pleasant to the eyes." Finally, he convinced the woman the fruit would open her eyes so she and Adam would be wise as the gods (3:5). The tempter appealed to human nature. He made no attempt to possess Eve. Instead, he sought through fleshly means to influence her will.
The devil also used the same three avenues of approach in tempting the Man, Jesus (Matt. 4:3-11). The fact that Paul calls Him the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45) and the fact that He overcame a test identical to that of the first Adam show He provided the way for all believers to live victoriously over temptation.
In contrast to this biblical view, Unger's statements on overcoming temptation from the devil strike fear in the heart of the believer. He warns, "The Christian adage is, `Stand against Satan or be invaded by Satan.'" Of the believer he writes further, "If he does not stand against Satan in victorious conflict, he will be afflicted and oppressed by Satan in ignominious defeat."
Unger has a kindred mind to others who take a statement by Paul in his second letter to Timothy in a wrong way. The apostle refers to some who are taken "captive by him [the devil] to do his will" (2:26). One must not take this to mean, however, that the will of the individual plays no part in what controls him or her.
Rather, the believer has everything to say as to who controls his or her life. Scripture simply says, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). In his first letter John exclaims, "He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world" (4:4). Later he declares, "We know that whosoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him" (4:8). This produces hope rather than terror for the believer.
The World and Temptation
A second source of temptation is the world. One common Greek word for world is kosmos. Its basic meaning is "order." Thus writers of Scripture use it to speak of the ordered system that rules the world of inhabited men. In defining it Mark Bubeck says, "The world system in its functions is a composite expression of the depravity of man and the intrigues of Satan's rule, combining in opposition to the sovereign rule of God."
Indeed, the present world system is under Satan's sway. Scripture calls him the "god of this age" (2 Cor. 4:4). Sinful men are his slaves and do his bidding (Rom. 6:16). Since the bulk of the world's population remains in unbelief, its system operates according to the devil's dictates. For that reason John warns, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15).
The world serves as an assistant to Satan in the same way demons do in tempting men to sin. It appeals to the sensual appetites of man, including the pride of life. Still, nowhere does the Bible confuse temptations from the world with demon possession. Despite this, speaking of believers, Ensign and Howe declare, "Indeed, pride has been a frequent and powerful demon in various persons with whom we have worked."
Fortunately, true believers remain victorious over the enticements of the world. John writes, "Whoever is born of God does not sin; for his seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God" (1 John 3:9). This statement of Scripture declares that a habitually sinning person is not a Christian.
Of course, this is a relative rather than an absolute cannot. As a creature of choice, a believer still has the ability to sin, but by the nature of God within, chooses not to. A friend may invite one to accompany him on a short journey. The person may reply, "Sorry, but I can't." Generally, this does not mean it is physically impossible, but that some other duty or plan prevents it. So it is with the believer and a life of sin. It is as incongruent to speak of a habitually sinning Christian as to talk of an honest liar or a trustworthy thief.
At the same time, sinners are sons of Satan (John 8:44). They do what their father and this world's system bid them to do.
The Flesh and Temptation
One final source of temptation is the flesh. Fallen human nature serves as a constant source of enticement to evil. The term, the flesh, has a dual application in this context.
The flesh can be a physical entity. The Old Testament's word for flesh is basar. Morris writes, "`Basar' denotes the principal constituents of the body, human (Gn. xl.19) or animal (Lv. vi.27)." In other words, writers of Scripture use this word principally to speak of the body's bone structure along with the muscles and other fleshly tissues attached.
The basic New Testament word for flesh is sarx. Those who penned the Bible under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit use it also to speak literally of either a human body or that of an animal.
Greek philosophers such as Socrates and Plato taught that flesh, or the physical body, was evil. Indeed, they held that all material things were bad, with the human body being no exception. It was the wicked prison of the soul. To them, only things of the mind or spirit were good. In their view basic reality is mental and spiritual rather than material in nature. They taught that man existed in the perfect world of spirit before he was imprisoned in the physical world of the human body. Accordingly, when condemned to die, Socrates calmly drank the hemlock because he believed it would bring his moment of release back into the perfect world of spirit.
The Bible's view of the human body differs radically from that in Greek philosophy. Man's body is the creation of God. God literally shaped it with His own hands. Moses wrote, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground" (Gen. 2:7). Then after having created his physical being, God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being."
In God's view, then, the human body is not evil. As with all He created, the Bible says, "Then God saw everything that he had made, and, indeed it was very good" (Gen. 1:31).
The flesh can also refer to man's immaterial being. Sarx has such a use in the New Testament. Referring to this second usage, Morris writes, "The flesh in this sense denotes the whole personality of man as organized in the wrong direction, as directed to earthly pursuits rather than the service of God." Paul reflects this when he says, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells" (Rom. 7:18).
Clearly, then, sarx also speaks of man's nature as a fallen being. Paul wrote of it again when he said, "I am carnal, sold under sin" (Rom. 7:14). As a descendant of Adam, he found not only the potential, but also the disposition to sin within.
Thus, a big part of living a victorious life is in knowing what the sources of temptation are. Scripture makes clear that God never tempts anyone to do wrong. Rather, all enticements to wickedness come from Satan, the world, and the flesh. This knowledge keeps a believer from remaining ignorant of the devices of the devil. With that information he or she can do battle with all temptations and always come out the winner.
About the Author
Dr. Charles Harris is a recently retired Professor of Bible and Pastoral Ministries as well as the Chairman of the Division of Church Ministries at Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. He was associated with the college for thirty-eight years.
In addition to his duties as an educator, Dr. Harris is also an author. His writings have appeared in The Sunday School Counselor, God's Word for Today, and The Adult Teacher. Among his works are three books, What's Ahead, Proofs of Christianity, and Under the Glass: An Analysis of Church Structure, as well as a commentary on Second Corinthians in The Complete Biblical Library. He was a contributing author of Power Encounter, A Pentecostal Perspective.
Dr. Harris holds a bachelor's degree in Bible, a master's degree in counseling, and a doctorate in education.
Bubeck, Mark I. The Adversary: The Christian Versus Demon Activity. Chicago: Moody Press, 1975.
Penn-Lewis, Jessie. War on the Saints, 3d. ed. Leicester: The "Overcomer" Book Room, 1922.
_____. What Demons Can Do to Saints. Chicago: Moody Press, 1977.