With Halloween right around the corner, we are about to be confronted with something we usually don’t like to think about: demons. Pirates and princesses might be the costumes we prefer, but all too often the holiday is marked with darker elements.
Unfortunately, Halloween often makes light of something that is a pretty serious matter. Demons are real. They are evil spirits, personal beings with a mind and will, but no body. They are like evil angels. In fact, scripture suggests they are angels who God originally created good but who, like Satan, rebelled against God and are now fallen and evil. Matthew 25:41 says, describing the final judgment, “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.’” Likewise, the apostle Peter tells us in 2 Peter 2:4 that angels “sinned” and are now being “reserved for judgment.” The flow of the passage suggests these angels sinned before the days of Noah. Revelation 12:7-9 describes the devil and his angels losing a fight with the archangel Michael and his angels. It seems that demons existed before man and will be judged in the last days along with man.
So, demons are real, and not something to make light of. They show up quite a bit in the gospel accounts where Jesus dramatically demonstrates His power over them, but only occasionally in other parts of Scripture. Demons don’t seem to play a role in Genesis (unless 6:2 is referring to them) or Exodus, for example, or the books of the prophets. In general it’s not common in Scripture to have a direct demonic encounter.
Many people today worry about “demon possession” like in the gospels, but the more common evil in scripture is “demon worship.” In Deuteronomy 32:17, Psalm 106:37, 1 Corinthians 10:20, and Revelation 9:20 we’re told that some people worship demons, sinning by worshipping and sacrificing to false spiritual powers rather than the one true God who made heaven and earth.
1 Corinthians 10 is a particularly strong warning for us as Christians. The Apostle Paul writes, “I do not want you to become sharers in demons” (1 Cor 10:20). That’s an astonishing warning to write to a church – that through their misuse of the gifts of God, and a turning away from true worship, they could come to worship idols like the Gentiles. Paul uses the Israelites as an example. The Israelites were given many blessings, all of which came from Christ: “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:2-4). Like us, today, the Israelites were brought through water and given spiritual food and drink to sustain them.
But, what did the Israelites do with these blessings? They were unfaithful, rebelling against God’s wise governance: Paul says that “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased” (1 Cor 10:5). Psalm 106:37 describes the Israelites practicing child sacrifice like the pagan nations around them. Just as many Israelites, who experienced all the blessings of the covenant, failed to truly worship God, we too can experience all the blessings of being in the visible church and yet fail to properly honor God. Just as “not all Israel is Israel” (Rom 9:6), not all who sit in church pews are Christians. For, as Paul writes, “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that of the flesh” (Rom 2:29).
These are challenging words for us today, but they are words filled with hope. For what comes next in Romans is this: true circumcision is “by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Rom 2:29). True followers of God love Him with their whole hearts, approach Him in humility and faith, trust in His provision for their salvation, and know that apart from Him they are lost. Their hope is not in external rituals but in the grace of God manifested in His Son Jesus and working in their hearts by the power of His Spirit. We can have great hope that God is our loving Father.
So, as costumed demons are about to be spread around our neighborhoods, we should remember the Israelites and how they turned away from the true God. We should spend more time resting in Christ’s finished work on the cross than we do worrying about encountering someone with “demon possession.” We should take more care to actively do our part in the worship of God and obedience to His perfect law rather than worry about what demons might do to us. True, evil spirits actively seek to deceive: Paul writes “in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim 4:1). But, it need not be so with us. God has given us His Holy Spirit and has bestowed on us ordinary means of grace that can sustain us through this life: His Word preached and read, the sacraments, prayer, and Christian fellowship. God has graciously given us all that we need, so let us hold fast to Him, a kind and loving Father.