THE DEMONS ALSO BELIEVE

"You believe that God is one, you do well; the demons also believe, and shudder." - James 2:19

I can remember the surprise I felt when I first read the Gospels and Acts and kept coming across instances where demons or evil spirits spoke through their "host" and said things complimentary to Christ or about the Apostles. I was equally surprised to find that Christ and the Apostles didn't much care for their endorsement. I thought, "What?! Why would you want to silence your enemy when he is praising you?" Christ and His Apostles, of course, were plenty pleased with God's approval and felt no need of the devil's support. But these instances have an important lesson for us.

When Jesus preached in the synagogue of his home town of Capernaum (He had moved there from Nazareth) a man possessed by "an unclean spirit" suddenly cried out, "What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are - the Holy One of God!" Jesus replied, "Be quiet, and come out of him!" and the spirit, after throwing the man into convulsions, departed. (Mark 1:21-28) Although the evil spirit definitely regarded Jesus as its enemy, it freely confessed that Jesus was the Messiah. This was not an isolated occurrence but a regular feature of Jesus' public ministry, as we read in Mark 3:11 - "Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, 'You are the Son of God!' And He earnestly warned them not to tell who He was."

Later, when Jesus came to a Gentile region on the other side of the sea of Galilee, He met a man possessed by a legion of demons who ran to him and, bowing down, loudly shouted, "What business do we have with each other, Jesus son of the Most High God? I implore you by God, do not torment me!" Here we not only have a free confession of Jesus' deity but also a prayer! Yes, demons prayed to Jesus. But Jesus began commanding the demons to leave the man. At this, the demons prayed all the more, first asking that they be allowed to remain in that country and finally, that they might be allowed to enter a herd of swine. And Jesus answered their prayer! (Mark 5:1-13) I've never been certain if the ensuing mass suicide of the pigs was something intended by the demons or not. It may simply have been the natural reaction of the pigs!

The Apostles also experienced this reaction by the demons. Luke recalls that when he, Paul and some other believers were on their way to a place of prayer in the city of Philippi, "a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, 'These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.' She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, 'I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!' And it came out that very moment." (Acts 16:16-18) Here we see that a demon not only commends the Apostles to anyone who will listen but also publicly testifies that their message reveals the way of salvation. Nevertheless, Paul is not pleased with the demonic endorsement and casts out the spirit.

There are a number of insights we gain from these instances and others like it (see Acts 19:11-17), but the one that is most challenging, I think, is how close hell is to heaven. By that I mean that these demons were doing things we think only obedient children of God will do. They "believe" in God (James 2:19), they acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, they go out of their way to proclaim Jesus to the people (something most Christians are reluctant to do), they testify that the message of the gospel is the way of salvation, they pray to Jesus and their prayers, in some instances, were answered! Amazing!

It is shameful to think that demons seem to have greater faith, spiritual insight, perseverance in prayer and boldness to speak out the truth than many of us who count ourselves as believers. It also serves to remind us that saving faith is more than simply acknowledging the truth. Though the demons were well aware of whom Jesus was and felt compelled, while in His presence (before His person or His disciples), to loudly acknowledge the truth and even to beg for favors from Him, they did not do it out of love for Him. That must remind us to make sure, first of all, that we love Jesus and we love the truth of the gospel. He is so very worthy of our love! Not mere fear of torment but abounding love for Jesus should compel us to live for Him and speak up in His cause. (See 2 Corinthians 5:13-15) Otherwise, we are doing no more than did the demons recorded in Scripture and even less well than they did! May the love of God be poured out in our hearts afresh, through the Holy Spirit He has given us! (Romans 5:5)