Back in the late 1980s, when I was first a Christian, I used to suffer from worries of various kinds that were quite intense at times. On a number of occasions, I mentioned this to older Christians, who gave me advice about what they thought I should do. This helped a little, but it didn’t seem to go very far towards solving the problem.
Over time, what I came to realize was that those worries were due in large part to the direct attacks of evil spirits against me. Once I became aware of this, I found that I was much more able to deal with similar situations that arose.
Looking back, I can see that in Scotland at that time there was a severe lack of ability among God’s people as regards spiritual warfare in general. The whole subject was rarely mentioned, and few Christians seemed to know anything about it. Today, I think things are a bit better, but this is still an area of significant weakness in the church here. There are many devout, born-again Christians in this part of the world who have no real awareness of how to engage in hand-to-hand combat with demonic powers. My impression of other countries is that in some places there is more of an understanding of these things. But I am sure that in many areas of the world, the church has not even grasped the basics.
In this article I want to say a little about basic spiritual warfare, giving some of my own experiences. I hope that by doing so I might be able to help other Christians enter into this combat.
Evil spirits exist
As a starting point in discussing this issue, we need to recognize that it is not possible to accept the authority of Scripture and deny the existence of evil spirits.
The Bible is clear that Satan, also known as the devil, exists and that he is an intelligent being who opposes the work of God in the world. See, for example, Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 10:18; Romans 16:20; Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8; Revelation 12:9.
It is equally clear that subordinate to Satan are less powerful beings which are referred to as demons or evil spirits, these terms being interchangeable. See, for example, Matthew 8:28-33; Mark 1:21-27; Luke 8:2; 11:14-26; Acts 16:16-18; 19:12-16.
There are also passages of Scripture, such as Daniel 10:13 and Ephesians 6:12, which suggest that there are different types of these creatures. Those Christians who are experienced in delivering people from evil spirits will testify to the existence of a variety of these spirits, some being much more powerful than others.
In this article, I won’t try to defend the belief that evil spirits exist. I am writing to those who are already persuaded that they do.
However, I would like to make just one very brief comment on this point. This is because those who deny the existence of these creatures usually seem to assume their view rather than reach it through reasoned arguments. In much modern secular thinking there often seems to be an unreasoned assumption that the physical universe is all that exists. I would submit that this viewpoint is far too simplistic and that the universe is much bigger and more multi-faceted than this worldview even begins to imagine.
Anyway, because this article is not aimed at trying to defend the belief that evil spirits exist, I will say no more on that topic. I will assume in what follows that they are real and that their characteristics are as described in the Bible.
Concentrating on the basics
The whole subject of spiritual warfare is a huge one, and there are various aspects to it. For example, many people suffer from especially significant demonic problems, and there are Christian ministries aimed at helping them. There are also types of spiritual warfare that involve, for example, ridding a place of a certain demonic presence.
None of these specialist areas is my concern in this article. I am interested here only in the absolute basics, the typical attacks of evil spirits that will come upon every Christian without exception.
Evil spirits attack Christians
When we look at the Bible, we find that it teaches us clearly that evil spirits attack Christians. Ephesians 6:10-20 refers to believers putting on the full armor of God to resist demonic attacks. 1 Thessalonians 3:5 speaks about the tempter, i.e., Satan, tempting Christians. James 4:7 refers to Christians resisting the devil so that he flees from them, which implies that he attacks them. And 1 Peter 5:8-9 instructs believers to resist the devil when he prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour, which, again, implies that he attacks Christians.
It is true that the latter three passages, and Ephesians 6:11, refer to Satan, not evil spirits, as the one who plots against or attacks believers. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to see a figure of speech here, in which the leader is mentioned in place of the spirits who actually do the attack. This is the same as when a certain king in the Old Testament might be said to wage a war when what is meant is that those under his authority actually do the fighting in line with his instructions.
In any case, Ephesians 6:12 clearly refers to evil spirits other than the devil as those whom Christians struggle against. What is more, it makes sense to think that as a finite being, Satan is only in one place at one time. And he would therefore be unable to attack more than a tiny proportion of Christians himself.
We should have no hesitation, then, in saying that, according to Scripture, Christians will be the objects of attacks by intelligent creatures known as evil spirits or demons.
They attack by lying and tempting
The Bible reveals that the ways in which evil spirits attack Christians are various, and the experience of believers confirms this. In this article, however, we are concentrating on the basics of spiritual warfare. So we will look at what seem to be the two main ways in which demons attack Christians, i.e., by lying and by tempting.
That the attacks of evil spirits involve lies is implied in Ephesians 6:14, which talks about truth as one defensive weapon against them. Furthermore, Revelation 12:9 describes Satan as the one who deceives the whole world, which surely implies that demons act likewise. Similarly, Revelation 20:8, 10 refers to Satan deceiving the nations which, again, implies that evil spirits do the same.
As far as tempting is concerned, in 1 Thessalonians 3:5 Paul refers to Satan as ‘the tempter’, and he expresses concern that the Thessalonians might have given in to temptation. This verse therefore surely implies that evil spirits attack Christians by tempting them. The accounts of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13 also fit well with the idea that evil spirits are able to tempt Christians. And so does the account of the fall of humans in Genesis 3:1-19.
Resisting evil spirits
We should note carefully that Ephesians 6:10-20 teaches Christians to resist the attacks of evil spirits against themselves. And James 4:7 and 1 Peter 5:8-9, similarly, refer to Christians resisting the devil.
It is true that James 4:7 may well have a rather indirect form of resistance in view. In context, this verse seems to be thinking, at least mainly, of resisting the devil by submitting to God.
But 1 Peter 5:8-9, and especially Ephesians 6:10-20, are apparently talking about a more active form of resistance. These passages seem to envisage situations in which Christians are attacked by evil spirits at particular times and places, and then deliberately fight off those attacks.
Importantly, resisting in this way is only possible if we recognize that we are being attacked. These two passages therefore imply that Christians should, at least often, be able to discern the attacks of evil spirits against them.
We can sum up the discussion so far, then, by saying that evil spirits will attack Christians with lies and temptations, and the ability to recognize such attacks and overcome them should be part of the normal Christian life.
Some personal testimony
In the first years after I became a Christian I was given no teaching on this subject by my church leaders, and I paid a high price as a result. Since then, through much trial and error, I have slowly grown in my ability to recognize when an evil spirit is attacking me. I will mention two ways in which I can now often discern the attack of a demon.
First, there is an experience I often have, in which a thought suddenly impresses itself on my mind in a specific and difficult-to-describe way, accompanied by a specific feeling of mild anxiety. I have learned that when I have this particular sensation, it is always the attack of an evil spirit.
The thought that presses on my mind always involves something that is untrue. Either the thing that is the focus of the thought is untrue in itself, or it is true in itself but the imagined consequences of it are untrue.
For example, there have been numerous times when a spirit has lied to me by telling me that someone is hostile to me when that has been completely untrue. Someone might not have been in touch when I was expecting them to contact me, and I have become convinced that the person is upset with me. Then I found out that it was all untrue and there was a perfectly good reason why they didn’t get in touch.
On other occasions, I have believed a demonic lie telling me that a certain bad situation was hopeless. The situation was genuinely bad in some way. But this time the lie consisted of saying that the consequences of the problem would be dire when in actual fact God provided a solution quickly and easily.
Please note that I am not simplistically saying that because I believed something negative that turned out to be untrue, I must have been attacked by an evil spirit. Sometimes I get things wrong in this way without a spirit being involved. My point is that I have learned that when I have a very precise sensation involving a negative thought pressing on my mind, it is in fact an evil spirit attacking me with a lie then and there.
As well as combating demonic lies, I am learning to discern demonic temptations. There is a very specific and difficult-to-describe sensation that I occasionally experience that involves a kind of relaxed feeling, along with an indifference to whether things are right or wrong. And I am learning that when I feel like that, it is a demonic temptation.
Becoming aware of some of the attacks of evil spirits against me has enabled me to fight back. Years ago when I was attacked without recognizing it, I would pray but usually found that by itself this didn’t solve the problem. Now, when I discern an attack, I not only pray (Ephesians 6:18-19) but also engage in direct warfare, using the authority given to all Christians (Luke 10:19).
To combat a lie, I might say:
‘I expose your lie, your spirit, and I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to leave me now.’
Or I can say:
‘Depart from me now, you servant of Satan. I have delegated authority from Jesus Christ and I use it to order you to withdraw from me right now.’
If I am being tempted, I can say something like:
‘Leave me, you evil spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. I recognize that you are tempting me and I command you to cease.’
Or I might say:
‘The blood of Jesus is my victory and your defeat, you demon. Withdraw from me in Jesus’ name.’
I find that speaking out loud is preferable if circumstances allow, but it is not essential. I will usually have to repeat commands of this kind a number of times, but the demonic sensations will often quickly disappear. At other times it is much more of a battle until I can gain victory.
In my experience, there are a few days when I am not aware at some point of an attack by a demon against me in one way or another. In fact, I think it would be very rare for there to be a 24-hour period in which any born-again Christian is not directly attacked by an evil spirit in some way.
It is true that Ephesians 6:13 speaks about resisting demons ‘on the evil day’, which might seem to suggest that on most days no attacks are made. However, in biblical language, the word ‘day’ is often not used literally. And, even if it is literal in this verse, ‘the evil day’ could just be a day on which attack is more intense than it is usually.
Failure to discern attacks
If Christians are attacked by evil spirits every day, or at least very often, why is it, then, that so many seem to be unaware of the attacks against them?
I am sure that the main reason is the same as what happened to me in the early years of my Christian walk, namely, that attacks are not recognized as such. They are believed to be purely psychological experiences, when in fact they are mainly demonic. I am sure that there are vast numbers of Christians worldwide who are assaulted by evil spirits with lies and temptations, who would be able to fight back effectively if they just realized what was going on.
The attacks of evil spirits will be especially frequent when we are involved in activities that are the most threat to Satan and his work. For example, if I go to a prayer meeting, I will almost certainly experience some opposition. And I know I’m not the only one. On many occasions I have gone to a prayer meeting and, just as the meeting is about to start, I have looked around at the people there, and some who were cheerful a short time before have become silent and worried looking. I am sure that much of this is due to demonic attacks that are not understood as such.
Not being intimidated
In saying that things like prayer meetings often increase the demonic attacks against Christians, I hope no one reading this is thinking that it would be better not to go to gatherings like this. That would be extremely foolish. The safest place for a believer is always as close as possible to God, losing their life for Jesus’ sake (Luke 9:24). Besides, demons can only attack us in ways that God permits (Job 1:6-2:10). And they can’t inflict any real harm if we are in God’s will (Luke 10:19). Going to a prayer meeting and being attacked by a demon as a result is a million times safer than disobeying God by not going to it.
It is true that there are dangers involved in some types of spiritual warfare if the Christian is not prepared for it. I can think of one occasion as a young Christian when this lesson was driven home to me very forcefully.
I and one brother and one sister decided on the spur of the moment one evening that we would go to a place that was well known for witchcraft so that we could declare the authority of Christ to the evil spirits there. Soon after we arrived, the woman in our group began to experience terrifying manifestations of evil, and we realized that we had made a big mistake. We then had to try to beat back this onslaught of the enemy as best we could.
What we had done was a bit like diving into a swimming pool without having a clue how to swim. Our experience reminds me of the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19:13-17, who tried to engage in spiritual warfare that they were not equipped for.
In giving this anecdote of my experience, I don’t want to discourage Christians from ‘pursuing a career’ in specialist spiritual warfare. There is a great need for more believers who know how to operate in this area, and it is not dangerous if you know what you are doing. A team of Christians who are prepared and include some seasoned warriors as leaders will be completely protected as Jesus promises in Luke 10:19. For someone who knows how to swim, diving into a swimming pool is a very safe thing to do.
We could sum up this point with two principles. First, if you are inexperienced in spiritual warfare, only go on the attack against evil spirits if you are under the wing of those with the necessary expertise. Second, if you are defending against the attacks of spirits who come to you, you will be completely safe, regardless of how long you have been a Christian or how experienced you are in spiritual warfare.
Growing in discernment
I mentioned above that I have learned that very specific feelings and sensations I experience are caused by the attacks of evil spirits. I think probably every Christian will be unique in this respect to some degree. My guess is that each person might feel something a little different from others, or at least most others when they are attacked by demons.
Nevertheless, I am sure that there are similarities too. I know from speaking to others, for example, that they experience demonic lies in a way similar to me. I think in spiritual warfare the main way in which we must learn is from our own experiences. Given that evil spirits attack us with lies and temptations, we can watch out for times when we find we have been tempted or when we have believed something that is untrue to see if any pattern of feelings or experiences emerges. This is exactly the way in which I am learning to discern demonic attacks.
If you are a born-again Christian, you have been and will be targeted by evil spirits. They will doubtless have held meetings at which you have been discussed, and your weaknesses will be well known to them. I am fairly sure too that individual spirits will have been assigned to you personally to attack you in various ways.
Scripture is clear that the normal Christian life involves recognizing the attacks of these creatures and defeating them. Every time a spirit does something to us without our being aware, it is always at an advantage over us. Once we discern what is going on, the tables are turned. We are then in a position, with delegated authority from Jesus Christ, to have the upper hand.
Max Aplin has been a Christian for over 30 years. He has a Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Edinburgh. He is a UK national and currently lives in the south of Scotland. Check out his blog, The Orthotometist, at maxaplin.blogspot.com.