If you asked various people about how to live the Christian life, some of the responses might include: know Jesus, recognize Jesus’ power, read your Bible, and attend church. While all of these are important, they are also problematic. Here’s why: demons did all of these things as well:
Know Jesus: On several occasions when Jesus was casting out demons, the demons spoke about his identity. Mark 1:34 reports that Jesus would not allow the demons to speak “because they knew him.” Luke 4:41 reports demons crying out, “You are the Son of God!” but Jesus silencing them, “because they knew that he was the Messiah.” Although scholars have debated the meaning of these passages, it is likely that Jesus silenced the demons in order to protect his ministry. If he had become widely known as the Messiah at the beginning of his ministry, his journey to the cross would have occurred very quickly. Roman rulers would not allow the rebellion of an unsanctioned Jewish king. By silencing the demons, Jesus secured more time to travel throughout the region preaching the good news of the coming kingdom of God. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, demons continued to proclaim their knowledge of Jesus. When the seven sons of Sceva unsuccessfully tried to exorcize a demon in Ephesus, the demon boldly declared, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?” (Acts 19:15). Knowing Jesus does not mean that one is allied with Jesus.
Recognize the power of Christ: Matthew, Mark, and Luke depict the story of the Gerasene demoniac as a battle royale between Jesus and a legion of demons. In introducing the story, the Gospel writers underscore the power of the possessed man and the inability of the villagers to contain his strength. This (and the huge economic loss of an entire herd of swine) explains why the villagers are terrified, rather than grateful, after the even-more-powerful Jesus frees the man from demonic possession. An intriguing aspect of the story is the fear that the demons have of Jesus’ power. In Luke 8:31, “they begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss” (a prison for spirits). In the next verse, they beg Jesus to allow them to enter the swine instead, and Jesus “gave them permission.” His authority is never in question! Notice, too, that in all three versions, the possessed man calls Jesus the Son of God and begs Jesus not to torment him (Mark 5:7, Matt 8:29, Lk 8:28). Even the demons recognize the superior power of Jesus.
Read the Bible: When the devil tempts Jesus in the wilderness, Scripture becomes a key weapon for both opponents (see Matt 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13). Jesus deflects the temptations in each case by quoting from Deuteronomy, but Satan fights back by quoting from the Psalms. In trying to get Jesus to throw himself off the Temple, Satan declares that God will command his angels to protect Jesus so that he will not dash his foot against a stone (quoting Psa 91:11-12). How stunning that Satan quotes Scripture in service of his wicked goals! Jesus, of course, recognizes that Satan is twisting the psalm out of its original context; the psalmist refers to a person who trusts in the Lord’s direction and protection, whereas Satan suggests that a person can force God to do one’s own bidding. But Satan aptly demonstrates that it is not enough to read one’s Bible: proper interpretation is necessary.
Attend church: Several of Jesus’ healing miracles occurred in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Some of these included freeing people who were afflicted by demons. Jesus healed a woman who had been afflicted by a spirit for eighteen years (Luke 13:10-17), as well as a man possessed by a demon (Luke 4:31-37). In the latter case, the demon cries out (in the middle of the synagogue!), “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy one of God!” In this case, too—as we saw before—Jesus silences the demon and casts it out. Nonetheless, it is remarkable that the demon-possessed man attended synagogue services, just like the faithful Jews in his community.
When we consider what it means to live the Christian life, then, it can never be simply a matter of attending church, reading one’s Bible, and recognizing the power and identity of Jesus. Rather, living the Christian life flows out of our allegiance to Christ: knowing Jesus means loving him and wholly submitting to his authority, trusting that the one who died for our sins loves us enough to guide and shape us in life-affirming ways (Rom 6:4). Recognizing the power of Jesus entails running toward that transformative power and not shying away (Rom 12:2). Reading Scripture involves careful study, with a desire to honor God’s will rather than manipulate it (2 Tim 4:2-4). And attending church includes sharing in a faith-filled community, building others up so that God will be glorified (1 Thes 5:11; 2 Cor 4:15). Anything less is, well, simply demonic.