There is a segment of Christianity that focuses heavily on the idea that Christians have authority over demons, that demons are behind all ‘bad’ events and actions, and that we must claim our authority over them. Some who are caught in this have also been caught up into occult practices, taken captive by the very enemies that they claimed power to conquer.
As creatures of extremes, there are others who totally deny all of the above and who reject that there are evil forces at work. This group would say that ‘bad’ things happen because we did something to bring them on, something like Job’s ‘comforters.’ This extreme view does not accept that there are unseen entities that roam the world, at least not in our time.
Not wanting to be caught in a power struggle with demonic forces, or duped into thinking they do not exist, Bible passages like this one bring balance to the two extremes. The following is at the end of an event that happened just after the transfiguration of Jesus Christ. He had been revealed to three of the disciples in all His kingdom glory, hinting that soon there would be an end of sin and evil, but the kingdom had just begun for those evil forces were still harassing people . . .
And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:25–29)
This event speaks to both extreme ideas about evil spirits. For the first one it shows that even the disciples of Jesus are not always able to conquer evil spirits. We are given some authority, but it is not total. This particular task was not for His followers; they needed to take it to the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer.
As to the second view, Jesus Himself knows there are demonic forces causing grief for humanity. This little boy was mute and had seizures, but Jesus identified the cause as a “mute and deaf spirit” and commanded it to leave the boy. They do exist and they can be ordered to leave.
However, the disciples who failed to help this child had forgotten a small phrase. It is included it Paul’s declaration of what he had learned about doing anything . . .
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
The phrase is “through Him” and the principle is that we do have power and even authority to do things in the spiritual realm, but we cannot do them apart from Christ. No matter what I try to do, even with faith, my failure rate goes up if I neglect taking the problem to God in prayer.
Even with prayer, I sometimes pray out of duty or with a formula or rote prayer, such as: “God bless this food,” when my eye is on the table settings, or “God, bless the missionaries” when I’ve no clue what I am asking Him to do. Prayer ought to be a firm declaration of who I am trusting. It is about the heart, and about my weakness and humility. It is also about the problem at hand.
The text does not say if the disciples tried to heal this boy to gain the respect of the crowd, or to show off their new-found powers, or any other self-centered motive they might have had, but I know that when I try to do anything in the name of Jesus when it is really all about me, my efforts are in vain.
Instead, I must be willing to fall on my face asking for His help. All the Bible study and doctrinal degrees I might gain will not equip me to fully understand that unseen world or give me an authoritative power over it. To fight evil, or even recognize it, requires the illumination of the Holy Spirit and the mighty power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not only that, landing on either of the above mentioned extremes is both dangerous and simply not what the Scriptures reveal.