"For [Jesus] said to him, 'Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!'" (Mark 5:8 WEB)
Unclean spirits are real, and their greatest advantage is that many believers do not acknowledge their existence.
How can you defend yourself if you do not even realize you are being attacked?
Based on the Bible, it appears that demon possession used to be fairly common, with exorcism being a primary task of the disciples and apostles. Jesus told the disciples, "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. Freely you received, so freely give." (Matthew 10:8 WEB)
And it is said of Jesus that, "He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out demons." (Mark 1:39 WEB)
In fact, demon possession and exorcism is somewhat common in the New Testament. (See also: Luke 4:35-41; Matthew 8:28-32; etc.) Yet now it seems as if demon possession doesn't exist anymore.
Or are we only unaware of it?
When most people think of demons, they think of a creature with a bodily form and horns. However, while this may not be entirely inaccurate, to better understand possession we will simply refer to them as unclean spirits. The concept of unclean, or evil, spirits gives a better perception of the true nature of demons.
Even while unclean-spirit possession seems to be common in the Bible, it appears that most people back then were also unaware of these possessions. For example, consider the example of the mute man: "[Jesus] was casting out a demon, and it was mute. It happened, when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke; and the multitudes marveled." (Luke 11:14 WEB)
While Jesus was aware of the unclean spirit, and realized the man did not need to be physically healed but instead exorcised, the crowd seemed previously unaware of the evil spirit's presence. The crowds simply knew something was wrong (he was mute), but did not know it was an unclean spirit that was responsible.
Similarly, when Paul casts out the unclean spirit from the fortune-teller girl in Acts 16, it appears that her masters were not aware of the possession. All they understood was that the girl had some ability of divination that was now gone.
Note: In the case of the fortune-teller girl, it is important to realize that being possessed by a demon meant she was not in control – the demon was fortune-telling, not the girl. Having the demon exorcised from her finally freed her from its control. She likely felt like she was waking up from a terrible dream.
Unclean spirits can have all kinds of effects on people that vary in type, duration, and even intensity. They can cause sickness and illness, make people mute and blind, and they can even warp our emotions and thoughts. They can also cause terrible nightmares in children, that cause them to "appear wake" running to escape the evil presence.
Furthermore, these evil spirits do not always fully possess people, instead often oppressing them – which is much less noticeable.
Have you been attacked and oppressed by an unclean spirit? Consider the following:
Have you ever felt extremely depressed for no apparent reason? Was this bout of depression uniquely strong, despite the lack of a reason?
Have you ever been attacked with an abnormally strong feeling of lust? Did it almost feel like the lust itself was on top of you, as if it had a presence?
Have you ever had horrible thoughts that would normally disturb you? Did you feel like you couldn't stop thinking about it? Did you feel scared that you could actually do whatever the thought was? (Examples include thoughts of killing yourself or others, but it can also be less extreme bad thoughts.)
If you have experienced any of these incidents, it is likely you were being spiritually attacked.
When most people think of possession, they think of an evil spirit being inside of someone and controlling their actions. However, there are definitely varying intensities of possession. Often, demon possession is more like being oppressed by an outside, invisible force – like a bully that won't leave you alone.
In the examples above of depression, lust, and disturbing thoughts, these spiritual attacks are of an oppressive nature. These types of spiritual attacks are more unnoticeable, whereas full unclean-spirit possession looks unique. Consider some biblical examples of full possession:
"When he came to the other side, into the country of the Gergesenes, two people possessed with demons met him there, coming forth out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no man could pass by that way." (Matthew 8:28 WEB)
These demon possessed people were fierce, unnaturally strong, and completely crazy, living in tombs.
"For Jesus was commanding the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For the unclean spirit had often seized the man. He was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters. Breaking the bands apart, he was driven by the demon into the desert." (Luke 8:29 WEB)
This demon possessed man was unnaturally strong and crazy.
"When Jesus saw that a multitude came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to him, 'You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him, and enter no more into him!'" (Mark 9:25 WEB)
This possessed man was mute and deaf due to the unclean spirit.
"Now when he had risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons." (Mark 16:9 WEB)
This woman had seven demons possessing her.
"Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is epileptic, and suffers grievously; for he often falls into the fire, and often into the water." (Matthew 17:15 WEB)
This boy was epileptic and suffered seizures due to demon possession.
While possession may still be somewhat common today, oppression by evil spirits is much more common, especially for Christians.
Consider these biblical examples given above. Don't these demon possessions sound a lot like some of the mental illnesses we see today?
Someone might say, "No! It's imbalances in brain chemistry! We can prove it."
Yes; however, what causes these imbalances?
The truth is, no one in the medical community knows why these imbalances in brain chemistry happen. Is it possible that unclean spirits cause these brain imbalances? As noted, unclean spirits can cause sickness and disease, make people mute and blind, and they can warp our emotions and even our thoughts.
If demon possession was so common in the Bible, then why do we perceive it as being uncommon now?
In reality, it may be more common than we realize, especially demon oppression.
In the examples of mute and blind demon possession, it is likely that the people thought the demon possessed needed healing. However, Jesus immediately knew that an evil spiritual force was responsible.
However, sometimes mental illness is caused by physical problems that need healing.
It is also possible that having a mental illness may make someone more susceptible to demon possession.
Sin can also lead to eventual mental illness, especially when sin results in abuse of the physical body by abusing drugs, alcohol, etc.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that God can cause mental illness, although very rarely, such as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:33.
Someone may wonder why God would do such a thing, and the overall answer can be found by Jesus' response to the man born blind. "His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, 'Neither did this man sin, nor his parents. But, that the works of God might be revealed in him...'" (John 9:2-3 WEB)
Basically, God may cause such a thing for his own glory or to illustrate his power to an arrogant Nebuchadnezzar. As Paul discusses, "But no, man, who are you who replies against God? Will the thing formed ask him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' Or hasn't the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel for honor, and another for dishonor?" (Romans 9:20-21 WEB)
Knowing the difference between whether someone needs physical healing or an exorcism will depend on the Holy Spirit's revelation to you.
Possibly the worst form of spiritual attacks is when unclean spirits warp our thoughts. Since it is within our mind, we feel like we are going crazy, or we feel like we are the ones who are having these evil thoughts.
However, this is not true!
Just because a thought is in your mind does not mean it is yours. Here's an example:
Think this thought, "I want to eat mud."
Do you really want to eat mud? Is this thought truly yours just because you thought it? We can hold within our minds thousands of thoughts that are not our own. We can think about things we do not agree with, and we can have thoughts, or even desires, that are not truly ours.
When we have horrible thoughts and desires that we don't normally have on a regular basis, then it is likely these thoughts and desires are from an unclean spirit oppression.
Just like a bully, the unclean spirit is following you and trying to harm you in some way.
The first thing to do if you feel like you are being attacked by an unclean spirit is to pray. The most simple prayer to say in an emergency is simply "Jesus." Just begin reciting Jesus' name over and over again.
You may also start with this modified version of the Lord's prayer (or recite what you have memorized).
Our Father in Heaven,
Blessed be Your Name,
Your Kingdom Come,
Your Will be Done,
On Earth as it is in Heaven,
Give us this Day our Daily Bread,
And Forgive us of our Sins,
As we Forgive those who Sin against Us,
and Deliver us from Evil,
Protecting us from All that is Bad.
You may also say your own unique prayer to God, asking him to fill your life with his holiness and to get rid of the evil forces around you.
The next step is one you should approach carefully. With caution, speak to the evil spirit itself, commanding it to leave by the authority of Jesus Christ. This last part is essential: By the authority of Jesus Christ. You personally have no authority that an evil spirit will respect, even if you are a pastor.
Not to belittle anyone, but it is Jesus who "All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth." (Matthew 28:18 WEB) No matter how respected you are by "people" you are a nobody to an evil spirit. Don't end up in this situation in Acts 19:
"The evil spirit answered, 'Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?' The man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded." (Acts 19:15-16 WEB)
The primary issue here was that these Jewish exorcists did not have their own relationship with Jesus. They spoke of the Jesus that Paul preaches, rather than speaking of the Jesus that they preach, because they did not preach Jesus or know him themselves. And speaking of Paul, even Paul never demanded anything of an evil spirit by his own authority, nor did any of the disciples. All of them realized their insignificance in spiritual warfare, and that only Jesus was to be respected and obeyed by spiritual forces.
However, when speaking to an unclean spirit by the authority of Jesus Christ, you can demand that it leave with boldness and confidence, because it is by Jesus' authority alone and has nothing to do with you.
It is also different when you are speaking to an evil spirit that is bothering you versus when speaking to one that is bothering someone else. If you are speaking to an evil spirit that is bothering you, demanding that it leave by the authority of Jesus Christ means you believe in Jesus Christ and are acknowledging his authority. However, as in the case of the Jewish exorcists, your relationship with Jesus matters significantly when exorcising an evil spirit from someone else.
Your next step may be to seek prayer from others, asking Christians you trust to pray.
In one example, a believer was suffering a migraine that felt like two knives were being shoved into their eyes. After a few days of increasing pain, this person asked fellow believers for prayer in their home, each Christian taking turns praying out loud while the suffering one lay in the middle of them.
The suffering believer wanted physical healing from this excruciating pain that only continued to get worse.
While one of the Christians was praying, an unexpected exorcism occurred. The praying Christian spoke specifically to the source of the pain, simply calling it "the source of this pain" and demanded it leave the suffering believers body by the authority of Jesus Christ.
The suffering believer suddenly felt all their muscles uncontrollably contract, while all the air forcibly left their lungs, and they were flipped around uncontrollably from back to stomach. The suffering believer then began to cry violently.
No one knew this pain was the cause of demon oppression, and even while the exorcism happened, everyone was surprised by the unexpected, volatile event. Even the suffering believer had no idea an evil spirit was the cause.
While spiritual warfare may be occurring all the time, unclean spirits are generally not lurking around you personally all the time.
These events of demonic oppression tend to be irregular and seldom. However, it is wise to always be defending yourself and your family by focusing on God and praying regularly.
For example, in Africa, a witch doctor publicly cursed a Christian pastor, saying he would die by sunset...and he died. Jesus said of one evil spirit, "But this kind doesn't go out except by prayer and fasting." (Matthew 17:21 WEB)
It would have been wise of this pastor to take this cursing seriously and to pray and fast until sundown.
Take your spiritual life seriously by focusing on God daily.
If you are always focusing on God, you will rarely have to deal specifically with evil spiritual forces. The great thing about the Lord's Prayer is that it basically covers ever aspect of our lives, including keeping us from evil.
Don't become obsessed with evil spirits, but rather be obsessed with Jesus Christ. Remember that Jesus is our protector. There is no authority greater in the universe.
"Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name..." (Philippians 2:9 WEB)
"Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.'" (Matthew 28:18 WEB)
"There is salvation in none other, for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, in which we must be saved!" (Acts 4:12 WEB)
"You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe, and shudder." (James 2:19 WEB)
"Be subject therefore to God. But resist the devil, and he will flee from you." (James 4:7 WEB)