The belief of demons
This sermon is going to be both normal and abnormal. Normal in that we'll return to looking up a good number of scriptures together—abnormal in that we'll spend quite a bit time talking about demons. As a whole I don't think it's good to focus on the Devil and his angels. They are plenty interesting…but that's the problem…they can be too interesting, and they can pull our eyes off the One we really should fix our gaze upon.
The One who, when compared to the entire evil host, is light a beach compared to a single grain of sand—and that's still exaggerating their significance.
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
The previous sermons
Although I didn't originally plan it this way, this is the third in a series of sermons. The first one was "50 Reasons to Question God" where we discussed what kinds of queries we would have for God, and I ended up saying "the one that, for us mortal humans, really gets to the heart of the matter" is:
What must I do to be saved?
Last week, in a sermon titled "Ockham's Razor" we asked God that question and He replied with a very simple answer from Acts 16:31:
Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.
And when I wrapped up that talk I said, "Next week we'll discuss what exactly ‘Believe' in "Believe in the Lord Jesus" means…"
Which brings us to this week…and oddly brings us to a discussion of demon belief.
Because often we can learn about the true version of something by looking at the false forms…and it would seem the most significant case of false belief could be found in angels who, after communing with God in heaven, would choose the father of lies over the bread of life.
Have your reference-finding fingers stretched and ready? Let's go!
Interactions with Jesus
Son of the Most High God
Convenient to our discussion of what it means to believe in Jesus, multiple demons actually directly "testified" about Him as he was about to cast them out of the person they were afflicting. The first one we'll review led to a whole bunch of sausage and bacon being drowned:
They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. 3 He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, 4 for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. 6 And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. 7 And crying out with a loud voice, he said, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me." 8 For he was saying to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!" (Mark 5:1-8).
What did he call Jesus? [ Son of the Most High God ]
Did Legion know who Jesus was? [ Yes ]
Did Legion believe that Jesus could cast him out of the poor man? [ Yes ]
The demon (actually demons, "for we are many"—Mark 5:9) "believed" in Jesus.
Before we look at our next reference…this incidence also teaches us to be very, very cautious in listening to the words of a demon, even when they include truth. Note that he begged Jesus not to torment him.
Does that mean Jesus would torment him? [ No ] This tricky demon snuck a condemnatory comment in a divinity-confirming declaration.
Holy One of God
Our next interaction between a demon and our Lord also shows us the danger of demonic words:
And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, 32 and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. 33 And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 "Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God." 35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent and come out of him!" And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm (Luke 4:31-35).
What did the demon call Jesus [ The Holy One of God ]
Did he know who Jesus was? [ Yes ]
Did he believe Jesus had power over him? [ Yes ]
So, we have another demon that "believed" in Jesus.
But also note the disdain mixed into his statement. What does it lead off with?
An exclamation of contempt.
Not only that, but the demon was stirring up trouble. It wasn't the time in Jesus' ministry for everyone to know exactly who it was…that was guaranteed to quickly lead to controversy (and ultimately the cross). Thus why he Jesus sternly commanded, "Be silent and come out of him!"
Jesus I know
And it wasn't just with Jesus that demons admitted their knowledge of Him…one interesting case is just before they attacked those who clearly had the wrong kind of belief in our Lord. Let's turn to Acts 19:13-16:
Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, "I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims." 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?" 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
"Jesus I know"…but notice the difference in "faith" they show…in the two former instances they knew the one they were speaking to had power over them; in this one they knew the weakness of those calling on Jesus' name outside of having faith in the person behind it.
And the "itinerant Jewish exorcists" "fled out of that house naked and wounded."
Perhaps the most famous comment about demon faith comes from our first-century brother, James:
But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (James 2:18-19)
The demons not only believe in God…they believe in the "one" godhead…but their faith isn't a saving faith, it's one where they know "eternal fire [has been] prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).
What kind of belief?
So far what we have learned that it's not enough to…
- Know Jesus
- Know Jesus is the Son of the Most High
- Know Jesus is the Holy one of God
Which means, from a human sense, it is not enough to…
- Believe that Jesus lived
- Admit that He was a very wise and kind man
- Or even accept that He was the divine Son of God
There must be something more than mentally acknowledging facts, even when that includes believing Jesus is God…that Jesus is the Savior…that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (see John 14:6).
What is "saving belief"? We've seen examples of belief in Jesus that won't keep the demons out of the lake of fire…what needs to be different about our belief so that we don't join them?
Let's turn back to the Scripture that started this discussion, Acts 16:30-31:
Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.
The Philippian jailor had an honest question…got a trustworthy answer…and…praise God…believed! (And with the right kind of belief.)
Now, keep that reference in mind and take a look at a very simple question Jesus asks in Luke 6:46:
Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?
When Paul and Silas told the jailor he had to believe, did they just say, "Believe in Jesus"?
No, it was "Believe in the Lord Jesus."
Here is a big clue to a saving faith. We know it's not works that save you, but if you have a saving faith that Jesus is Lord, then your actions will reflect it. That was the James' point in his comment about demon's shuddering…and, by the way, just like we use the word "belief" to mean different things, the Greek word for "believe" in James 2:19 is the same as the one in Acts 2:31. The need to figure out the right type of belief is not new to our day-and-age or our sometimes over-flexible English language.
Either way, it's not enough to mentally acquiesce to the fact that Jesus is Lord…that He is God.
You must truly believe that He knows what's best for you better than you know what is best for you.
That "for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).
Perhaps the reason it is so hard to get our minds around the word "believe" is because we haven't spent enough time considering its synonyms. What are some other proper biblical ways to translate the word?
Looking at the Greek word for "believe" in Acts 2:31, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament concisely says:
4100. π, from pístis (4102), faith. To believe, have faith in, trust.1
When it comes to salvation, belief equals faith equals trust.
Do you believe in Jesus?
Do you have faith in Jesus?
Now…be very honest…do you trust Jesus? Really trust Him?
The Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek is a bit more verbose, but makes the type of belief we need more clear:
π DBLHebr 586; Str 4100; TDNT 6.174—1. LN 31.35 think to be true, to believe, implying trust (Mt 24:23; Lk 1:20; 1Co 11:18; Jas 2:19; Mk 16:13, 14 v.r.); 2. LN 31.85 trust, faith, believe to the extent of complete trust (Mt 18:6; Ro 4:3; 1Pe 2:6; Mk 16:17 v.r.); 3. LN 31.102 have Christian faith, become a believer the Gospel (Ac 4:32; Ro 1:16; Mk 16:16 v.r.); 4. LN 35.50 entrust, put something into the care of another (Ro 3:2; Gal 2:7; 1Th 2:4; 1Ti 1:11; Tit 1:3)2
What new words did you hear? We have believe, trust, and faith again…but how about "believe to the extent of complete trust"…or…my favorite…"entrust."
Do you believe in Jesus?
Do you have faith in Jesus?
Do you trust Jesus?
Do you have complete trust in Jesus?
Will you entrust your life to Jesus?
Will you put your life in Jesus' care?
Will you face persecution for Jesus? It is promised—see 2 Timothy 3:12.
Will you die for Jesus? Our Lord Himself guaranteed that some of us will, and that our murderer "will think he is offering a service to God" (John 16:2)
Now…at this point it can seem all so overwhelming. How do I know if I have true belief…true faith…true trust?
Do you call Jesus Lord?
Do you do what He tells you?
I don't mean every time…He knows how weak we are and will forgive us when we make mistakes.
But has your belief…your faith…your trust…changed you? Or do you fight the "limits" of your Lord tooth and nail? Do you do what is right because you are following rules, or because you have entrusted your life to our Lord?
Please…please…do not forget my previous sermons about the assurance of salvation. You were chosen, and you cannot be snatched out of God's hand. The question, instead, is if you have the type of belief that put you in our Father's hand to begin with.
And unless you truly trust our Lord Jesus Christ you do not.
What to do?
Because I wrestle with my own doubts, one of my favorite scriptures in the Bible is in Mark 9:17-24. We'll wrap up today with it:
And someone from the crowd answered him, "Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able." 19 And he answered them, "O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me." 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." 23 And Jesus said to him, " ‘If you can'! All things are possible for one who believes." 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!"
You see the same word basically three times in that quote. The father cries out "I believe"…the same "believe" that we saw in Acts 2:31…then asks for help with his "unbelief"…which is basically the same word with an "a" in front of it (from an English transliteration sense) to negate it's meaning (like "atypical" means "not typical"). The third form is the adjective version of "unbelief"…when Jesus calls them a "faithless generation."
Just as Jesus was surrounded by a faithless generation, an unbelieving generation, we are also surrounded by a faithless world, and unbelieving world. That's why He was crucified, and why we, at a minimum (if we have a saving faith) will be persecuted.
Does that worry you? Is you belief…faith…trust…prepared for it?
It shouldn't…especially if you have taken the time to read through the Gospels and have seen Him for yourself. Then you belief won't be naive. Your faith won't be blind. Your trust won't be unwarranted.
- Believe in Jesus. Cry out to our Lord to help your unbelief.
- Have faith in Jesus. You only need faith the size of a mustard seed and not only will you be able to move mountains, "nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:20).
- Have trust in Jesus. Complete trust. Romans 8:28 kind of trust.
- Entrust your life in His hands. Put your body and your soul into His care.
Do this, and "He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed" (Deuteronomy 31:8).
And that's the kind of God we can safely believe in!
1Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary : New Testament (electronic ed.). Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers.
2Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.