The practice of witchcraft / voodoo / obeah is becoming increasingly widespread. It is prevalent in Africa, however it is gaining popularity in the West. Classified ads direct us to those who can help us win back lost love, make anyone fall in love with us, steal someone else’s wealth and prosperity, etc. I have heard reports of persons sprinkling potions in someone else’s food to make them fall in love with them. Others try to bring curses on people using items of clothing. Some of these are charlatans and fakes, but some really “deal” with the devil. The practice of divination is as old as the Old Testament, where witches and sorcerers obtained messages from demon spirits. So this is a real phenomenon. Witchcraft comes in many forms and is very real.
The question is, could such practices work or succeed against believers in Jesus Christ who have the Holy Spirit living in them? Ultimately this comes down to answering the question, to what extent can the devil attack us? What authority does the devil have, and what doesn't he have? It really does not matter whether the devil attacks on his own initiative or on someone else’s behest. How far can the devil go? Do we have a hedge of protection that the devil cannot penetrate? And if so, what is the extent of this protection? Are there things we can do that breaches this hedge? These are questions I attempt to answer in this article. As such the content this article will also answer questions like “can Christians be cursed or demon possessed?”, etc.
We must start off by stating that not everything bad that happens is the result of demonic activity. Some sicknesses are demonic while others are just the result of living in corruptible bodies or through unhealthy lifestyles. Some financial troubles are the result of “the devourer” while others are the result of laziness, poor investments and bad money management. Not every sin is because “the devil made me do it”. Some are the result of failure to crucify the flesh and walk in the Spirit. It would be nice if we could cast out a devil whenever something bad happens, but unfortunately, crucifying the flesh is much harder work. Christians today love the short cuts. They would run with money in hand to every deliverance minister because they do not care for the discipline required to walk in the Spirit – “just rebuke the devil and solve all my problems, I’ll pay for it if I have to.”
God’s Hedge of Protection
Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.
The devil complained that he could not do anything to Job because of the hedge that God had placed around him, his family, his possessions and his health (Job 1:9-10). Interestingly, the devil could not even attack Job’s ungodly children because of that hedge. It was only after he convinced God to give him permission to attack Job that the devil was finally able to. He could not attack Job without God’s permission because of that hedge.
Some may say that it was Job’s fear that breached the hedge (Job 3:25), but this makes no sense. If Job had breached the hedge, then there was no need for the devil to still seek God’s permission. In any event, the bible teaches no such thing. Job was righteous and blameless by God’s own testimony (Job 1:8). We also learn from this that God sometimes gives the devil permission to attack us, but places a constraint on what he can and cannot do.
Now we know that Job was a righteous man. Suppose Job was not righteous, then could the devil attack him? Further, what does righteous mean in this context – right living before God or right standing with God?
31 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.
32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
We see something very similar in the NT when the devil requested to “have Peter” so he could “sift him like wheat” (Luke 22:31). But Jesus prayed for him that his faith fail not. He then told Peter that he should strengthen his brothers when he was restored. Interestingly this happened around the time when Peter denied Christ and was possibly living in a backslidden state. Yet the devil needed permission to attack him and Christ still interceded for him. In this case, Peter could not boast of any great righteousness. Could it be because Peter was a chosen vessel by God and God had claimed ownership of him?
Back to the OT, Balaam is described as a soothsayer (Joshua 13:22). Yes he heard God’s voice, but that did not make him a genuine prophet, otherwise we could just as easily say that the donkey was a seer. Balak went to Balaam with a divination fee, and although that sounds like many prophets running around the church today, the fact is that this was more resembling of false prophets or diviners. But Balaam was not a fake prophet – one who duped stupid people and took their money. No! Balaam was a genuine false prophet – a true diviner – one who actually heard from the spirits, mostly demons. So he was often accurate and hence his reputation. But as powerful as he was an operative of witchcraft, he could not curse Israel because God had blessed them (Numbers 22-24). Note that this was a nation that was continually murmuring against God and invoking his wrath. Israel was chosen of God, and although they were not living right, they had the protection that came with being God’s chosen people.
So far it seems that God places a hedge of protection around his people such that the devil cannot attack them without God’s expressed consent. The hedge is not necessarily dependent on their right living, but their right standing with God via God’s imputed righteousness. In other words, the determining factor seems to be “are you a child of God or not?” We also learn that if God gives the devil permission, God controls what the devil can and cannot do. The devil is likened unto a bad dog with limited rope. The bible portrays God as being completely in control.
What Can the Devil Do?
Are there some things that the devil can do without permission from God?
We know that he could tempt us. He tempted Christ in the wilderness. But what is his end goal in bringing temptations? If we sin, then is the hedge broken? We know that Satan can hinder us in our mission (1 Thessalonians 2:18). We know that he walks around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Peter urges us in this light to resist him, standing firm in the faith. He can blind people so that they cannot see the truth of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4).
We also know that the devil has possessed / oppressed unsaved people? The New Testament uses various terminology to describe this phenomenon. Jesus healed those who were possessed by demons, vexed by demons, who had demons, etc. All of these terms mean the same thing – to be demonized and under the influence or control of the demon. The boy with the deaf and dumb spirit is described as an epileptic (Matthew 17:15) who had a spirit (Mark 9:17) that seized and threw him (Mark 9:18). Jesus rebuked the spirit which is exactly the same thing as casting it out (see Mark 9:25). If someone is possessed, then the prescribed treatment is deliverance via rebuking or casting out the devil. That’s clear from the scriptures. When someone is possessed, the demon controls their actions.
There is no account in the bible of demons possessing believers in the same manner. Demons are assigned to attack Christians in other ways – tempting, hindering, seeking to devour, etc. But he cannot possess or demonize Christians. There is a group today who claims that 99% of Christians have demons and require deliverance. They are wrong! That may be the experience of the professed Christians in their degenerate churches, but not in the true church of God. There are many people who are not possessed by demons, but want deliverance. As I said earlier, they are just looking for shortcuts. No doubt that there may be demons attempting to influence their behavior but ultimately the individuals are in control of their own actions. That’s the difference between demon possession and other modes of demonic activity.
How do we deal with the devil when it is not an issue of demon possession? Do we still bind and rebuke anyway? Well let’s look at what the apostles did. On various occasions, Paul listed various activities of demons other than possession. For example, someone can be blinded by the devil in the sense that he is preventing them from coming to Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4). But in that scripture, he mentioned nothing about rebuking the spirit of blindness. Instead, he places the blame on those who choose to remain in blindness even after the light of the gospel has been shone on them. People are blinded by the devil, but the solution to that problem is not to rebuke the blinding spirit, but rather to shine the light of the gospel. Once the person hears the gospel, he is then free to choose Christ. If he instead chooses to remain in blindness, then that is to his own condemnation (John 3:19, 1 John 1:5). In other words, the drawing power of Christ through the gospel is stronger than the blinding power of the enemy, but ultimately, people must choose.
Paul said that Satan hindered them (1 Thessalonians 2:18). He wanted to visit the Thessalonians but Satan hindered him. Did he rebuke the hindering spirit? No. He just left it at that. He seemed to understand that God was ultimately in control and that if Satan hindered, it was really God allowing him to do so for some reason that only God knows.
Peter warns that the devil is seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). But the solution to that is to resist him by remaining steadfast in the faith (vs 9). Sometimes the devil cannot be rebuked or cast out. In cases other than demon possession, the devil must be resisted. How do we resist? By remaining steadfast in what we are called to do. If the devil has blinded people’s eyes, the solution is not to bind and rebuke, but to shed the light of the gospel which is greater than the darkness. By all means continue to pray and intercede (1 Timothy 2), but the light of the gospel is greater than the blinding of the devil.
The New Testament is unanimous on how we are to deal with the devil. If it is a case of demon possession, cast it out. If the devil has blinded an unsaved person, then present the light of the gospel – the true gospel not the “sinner’s prayer”. If the devil is attacking Christians, then the solution is sound bible teaching so that they can act appropriately. Paul addressed many problems Christians faced in his epistles, and every single time his solution was to preach Christ and to teach/disciple the people. He did not bind the devil on anyone’s behalf because he understood that they needed to act for themselves. He also prayed and interceded for people. Many of those prayers are recorded in the bible. For example, he prayed that our eyes be open so we could see (Ephesians 1:15-23). He prayed that we would be strengthened in the inner man (Ephesians 3:14-21). His prayers displayed an understanding that people needed to resist the devil and to fight for themselves. (See the following scriptures for more of Paul’s prayers – Romans 10:1; 2 Corinthians 13:7-9; Ephesians 6:19-20; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 4:3-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, 3:2; 1 Timothy 2:1-11).
So many Christians don’t really need deliverance from witchcraft or demonic oppression, but rather just need to learn how to resist and to remain steadfast. What they need is not deliverance but proper teaching and discipleship.
Can We Breach the Hedge?
Now if the devil is seeking whom he may devour, there must be a state whereby someone is considered devourable. Although Balaam could not curse Israel, he instructed Balak to send the women of Moab to entice the men of Israel, and caused them to invoke God’s wrath. In other words, the devil could not curse them, but he got them to curse themselves.
Can we breach the hedge by our actions? Can any sin we commit breach the hedge? Or just certain sins? Our righteousness in the NT is the result of Christ imputing his righteousness to us, so I refuse to believe that just any sin can cause the hedge to be broken. The fact is that we have an ongoing battle with the flesh and therefore will never reach a state of sinlessness as long as we are in this life. So if just any sin causes our hedge to be broken, then the hedge is completely useless. But not even the sin of denying Christ gave the devil automatic access to Peter.
However it can be inferred that certain sins may give place to the devil. Contrary to popular opinion, not all sins are equal. One may argue that unconfessed or unrepented sin might cause a breach in the hedge. Ephesians 4:27 urges us to give no place to the devil. This scripture is most likely talking about the consequences of unrepented sin – sin that is allowed to fester. For example bitterness (vs 31) or letting the sun go down on your wrath (vs 26). Sin that isn’t dealt with or confessed or rectified can give place to the devil. Since Ephesians 4 is discussing the unity of the body of Christ, more than likely such sins will allow the devil to sow his seeds of discord and disunity in the church. There really isn’t much indication that this will allow him to possess us.
Fornication on the other hand is different. It is the only sin that we can commit against our body (the temple of the Holy Spirit) (1 Corinthians 6). The bible tells us that the greater one is in us (the indwelling Holy Spirit) than the one who is in the world. So it is possible that if we commit fornication, we violate the Holy Spirit’s temple and risk breaching the hedge. In cases like this, it is possible for the devil to gain a foothold. Such an incident is recorded in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, where Paul instructed the church to excommunicate an incestuous member and deliver him to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. Interestingly in verse 5, Paul expressed his reasons for this command – so that the man’s spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even here we see an indication that God is in control and will allow the devil temporary access to us to achieve a certain purpose – in this case destruction of the flesh (sinful tendencies).
Ultimately the bible teaches that God is in control, not the devil. The devil needs permission from God to attack us, and although God may allow it, he always has a greater purpose in mind. God knows those who are his, and he hides them in his secret place in the shadow of the Almighty. Therefore, witchcraft is not supposed to succeed against Christians, because God is in control. Then why do so many Christians complain about witchcraft attacks? There are number of possible answers to this question:
- They are not really saved.
- God allowed the devil to attack them for some reason. God might want to develop some aspect of our character, so he occasionally uses the devil as an agent to bring trials and hardship.
- What they are experiencing is not really the consequences of witchcraft, but regular trials; and because they do not understand the nature of trials, they mistake it for witchcraft and demonic oppression.
- They have committed some sin which they have not completely dealt with, and have caused God’s hedge to be breached.