“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.” (Matthew 12:43–45, NASB)
Those in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction may understand this passage very well, along with others who have fought the battle against life-controlling issues. “Out with the old” is not enough: We have to welcome the new things God has for us.
It is important to take note of the context of this passage. Jesus has been answering His critics, who claim that His signs and wonders (including casting demons out of people) prove that He is controlled by Satan (Matthew 12:24). Jesus answers them with several points: one of those is that, to plunder an opponent and take his possessions, you first have to bind him (v. 29). First, you bind the strong man. Then, you can plunder his house and take what he possesses. Likewise, you first must bind the demon (bring him under your control, disarm him, and bring him into your subjection); then, you can claim the person he has controlled.
This particular passage (Matthew 12:29) provides the background for verses 43–45. The demon has been cast out of the person whom he had claimed as his home. Now evicted, he wanders aimlessly. Life must really stink if you are a demon who cannot tempt, possess, or oppress someone. If you’re a demon, you make life miserable for humans and try to deter the work of God in their lives; it’s what you do.
The demon has been cast out of the man, but nothing else has been done. The man had Satan in his life. Now, he has just a vacant hole in his heart. However, the soul, like nature, abhors a vacuum. It cannot remain empty for long; something will eventually fill the hole.
So, since nothing has replaced the demon’s place in the man’s life, the demon returns with a whole group of his buddies. To make sure he does not get kicked out again, he brings reinforcements.
How does this play out in everyday life? The New Testament ascribes many forms of suffering to the work of demons: physical illness or handicaps, emotional turmoil (what we now almost exclusively attribute to mental illness and treat with medication and counseling), etc. Just for the record, I believe in many cases demons may find a weak spot in our makeup and capitalize on it; therefore, in some cases, physical or mental illness can have a natural or biological cause which has been manipulated by a demon into some kind of manifestation.
Today, many addicts will refer to the “demon in the bottle” (or whatever other container delivers their life-controlling chemical). The demon does not live inside the bottle, but it is manipulating their minds, emotions, thoughts, perspective, and choices. Those who seek deliverance cannot simply throw out the bottle, bag of weed, cigarette packages, magazines, etc. That demon must flee! Once he flees, you need immediate opposing occupation! To grab hold of lasting deliverance demands replacement: out with the old and evil, in with the new and holy.
The recovering addict may start attending nightly meetings, to avoid stopping off at the bar to unwind. Twelve Step programs urge their members to add prayer, meditation, and service to others into their lives; this can provide a sense of purpose which enables them to resist and avoid temptation.
However, this lesson is not for the addict alone. All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23); all Christians are in recovery from a life of sin. However, we cannot just stop by fighting off the demon. We need to invite the Holy Spirit to possess that hole in our soul. When tempted, we need to turn to the resources God has for us: when Satan offers illicit sex, drugs, hatred, or any of his other garbage, we need to grab hold of what God wants us to receive. Prayer, Bible study, worship and fellowship should be the foundation of the believer’s life.
Cleaning out the garbage of our past, leaving a vacuum/hole in our soul, and not filling that hole with the things of God is a recipe for spiritual disaster.
This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.