With Halloween just around the corner, horror movies and costumes are already beginning to surface on various entertainment outlets and in our community. Though people ask in different ways, a common question I receive this time of year is, “Are ghosts real?”
Answering this question requires a careful delineation between the spirit world revealed in Scripture and the false glamorization of Hollywood myths.
The fictional portrayal of zombies, trapped souls, and people becoming angels or demons should be shunned. The Bible teaches that after death the souls of all people go away either to eternal punishment or eternal life (Matt. 25:46). Our ancestors do not haunt places nor remain on earth to torment their enemies after death. Christians should make no effort whatsoever to communicate with the dead (Isaiah 8:19).
We should not conclude, however, that an unseen spirt world does not exist. To the contrary, Christ followers should put on the full armor of God, realizing that our greatest battles are not against flesh and blood, but against rulers of darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places (Eph. 6:11-12). Satan is not only real, but also the present-day ruler of this world (Eph. 2:2; 1 John 5:19) who has already been judged (John 16:11) and will one day be cast out (John 12:31). Currently, he roams the earth like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).
When the devil fell from heaven, he took one-third the angels with him (Rev. 12:4).
Though the vilest fallen angels are currently being held in outer darkness (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6), many roam the earth today in the form of demonic minions who do the bidding of the evil one, whom the Bible describes as the prince of demons (Matt. 12:24). Their work includes tempting believers, mocking and minimizing the gospel, and attacking the Lord’s church. Modern perversions and immoralities, occult practices, false religions, and distortions of salvation by grace through faith are but a brief sampling of what the Bible refers to as the doctrines of demons that lead people away from the faith (2 Tim. 4:1). Tragically, many are held captive by the snare of the devil because of the deluding influence of false teaching, all of which is demonic in origin (2 Tim. 2:26).
Throughout the gospels, Jesus encountered people who were demon-possessed about a dozen times. We should note that these demons were fearful of Christ (James 2:19), often pleading with Him for mercy (Matt. 8:29, 31). Never intimidated by these evil threats, Jesus usually rebuked every evil spirit with a simple word. In the final battle between good and evil, Hell will vomit out its most fiercest demons in an effort to wreak havoc (Rev. 16:13-14), yet Jesus will be victorious as He strikes down the nations by merely opening His mouth (Rev. 19:15-16).
In the meantime, can Christians be demon-possessed? In a word—NO. Followers of Jesus have been buried with Him in death and raised to walk in newness of life (Rom 6:4). The presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart of a believer leaves no room for Satan’s control (Eph. 1:13-14). That said, there is a difference between demon-possession and demon-oppression. The thoroughness of the devil’s affliction touched every part of Job’s life (Job 1-2). The serpent sifted Peter like wheat the night of Jesus’ betrayal (Luke 22:31). The Apostle Paul identified his thorn in the flesh as messenger of Satan (2 Cor. 12:7), and Jesus Himself endured the evil one’s temptations for forty days in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1). Likewise, believers today will sometimes feel the anguish and burden of Satan’s schemes.
Despite these discouraging realities, Christians should not live in fear because Scripture assures us that Christ will ultimately destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Our existence in a physical world does not prevent the powerful destruction of demonic fortresses (2. Cor. 10:3-4). Our victory has already been settled on the cross. The foolishness of this age should not deter us from the hope and joy that awaits believers in eternity.
Dr. Adam B. Dooley is pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, TN, and author of Hope When Life Unravels. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBDooley.