Here’s a question I just received. I’m blogging about it today because its a question I get on a pretty regular basis.
Hi Craig, I wanted to ask a couple of questions. I have been told that when Paul refers to the thorn in the flesh he is referring to a person or a demonic spirit. What do you believe about this? Also, in regards to spiritual warfare, what material (if any) would you recommend. We went to a Bible study called Freedom Encounter by Keys of the Kingdom International. It seems to focus on how bound up people are and that everyone needs constant intervention in the spiritual world or even deliverance. I agree to a point but I feel like they are looking for almost “magical” ways of being set free from the sinful self, besides obedience in Christ. Generational curses, demonic influence…. ugh. I was involved in the occult so I KNOW who the enemy is however, I thought I was set free in Christ. I am sure there is not short answer to this, so if you want to refer me to study material I would be thankful!
I suspect Paul is referring to a physical ailment that had a demonic origin, rather than to a person or to a demonic spirit precisely. In other words, my best guess (though really nothing more than a guess) is that he had a disease but understood that the disease had a demonic component. It’s interesting that the New Testament sometimes attributes particular symptoms to demons and sometimes attributes those exact same symptoms to just “being sick.” This indicates that they did not have a simplistic or superstitious understanding of illness but a nuanced and discerning one…perhaps more so than ours!
In any event, as a Christian, evil spirits have no authority over you. On the contrary, you can command them “in the name of Jesus” (which really just means “as a representative of Jesus possessing his delegated authority”), and they have to obey you as they would Jesus. In that sense we are free. However, these spirits are still present in the world and will sometimes take a particular interest in individuals. You can kick them out of a geographical area (exorcism) but they may hang out on the periphery and look for opportunities to plague a person even though they have no real “grasp” on that individual. Think of it this way: a Christian has become slippery with Christ’s righteousness and demons can no longer grasp us…but they can still try to poke us with sticks, so we need to be aware of the possibility that they are operating nearby and take advantage of our authority to tell them to go away.
I don’t think anyone really knows all the rules of this stuff: i.e., how far do they have to go away when we cast them out of a place, how much can they poke us, etc. What I know is this: as a believer you have absolute authority over evil spirits. Because of this they will be less direct in their efforts. This, of course, assumes that there are still demons interested in you, personally, which there may not be. Any spirits that were interested in you while you were involved in the occult may well have moved on to an easier target. There are a limited number of these spirits (though I have no idea how many) and they are neither omniscient nor omnipotent. They have to be in nearby in order to do their thing. The same applies to Satan himself. I’m always amused at how many people who say things like “Satan has really been giving me a hard time” as though he was either omni-present or was personally following them around. I’m almost positive that Satan himself has no idea who I am! J
We live in fallen world and much of the pain and difficulty we face is a result of that, rather than spiritual attack. However, our sin does give evil spirits a “foothold” in our lives (Eph. 4:26-27), so it’s important that we stay holy so that we can stay free. In other words, it’s a balance: there are spirits who will try to hurt us, so we need to be aware of them and take up the authority we have over them. But evil spirits are not the cause for every problem we have, either. As C.S. Lewis said, we need to be aware of them without being in awe of them.
Is this at all helpful?