In recent days I have been drawn to a consideration of the devil. It is quite clear to me that Satan is by no means neutral towards us. He has an agenda and that is to take the people of God away from God by whatever means he can. One of those means is to lie to the people of God so that we might be deceived. This deceit comes out in the form of what is called doctrines of demons. It is certainly not as mysterious as it may sound. Doctrines of demons are mentioned in 1 Timothy 4:1: “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons”. There is an indication of some doctrines of demons in the vicinity of this verse, but I want to come back to this later. For now I will begin with giving an explanation of what I believe is the basis for all doctrines of demons. When I come back later to this passage, hopefully the things mentioned here will fit into what I am trying to convey. So to understand the fundamental matter behind doctrines of demons we will turn to a significant turning point in the narrative of the Gospels.
Doctrines of demons and the cross
In Matthew 16:13- 15 Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is. Peter replied “You are the Christ, Son of the Living God”. This is a pivotal point in the Gospel because it is the first time in Matthew that characters in the narrative, rather than just the narrator, confess that Jesus is the Christ. Peter is commended by Jesus because he has received this great insight from the Father in heaven. However, just after this incident Peter reveals that he does not always listen to the Father.
Matthew 16:21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
When Jesus tells the disciples he will die, Peter takes it upon himself to correct Jesus. It is not right that the Christ, the Messiah, should die! But Jesus does not commend Peter as he had in the earlier discussion. Instead he says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Here we have a clear indication of what is the central feature of doctrines of demons. It was Satan who spoke the notion into Peter’s head that Jesus should not have to die. Doctrines of demons are primarily about taking people away from the cross. In the first instance the doctrine of demons here was intended to steer Jesus away from the cross. It was the goal of Satan that Jesus did not offer himself as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. And it is the goal of Satan that Christians would be distracted away from the cross as much as possible.
It is not surprising then that from the point of view of the world the cross does not make sense. Paul says in 1 Cor 1:18-25:
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
The message of the cross seems to make no sense. People want something else. Jews want miracles. Greeks want wisdom, that is, philosophy. Just as Peter did not want Jesus to go to the cross, everyone else in the world does not want to listen to the message about the cross, because it does not seem to make sense at all. This is why people are happy to listen to doctrines of demons. “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4:3). And if we listen to doctrines of demons these will keep us away from the cross.
There are basically two kinds of doctrines of demons which take us away from the cross. The first is the doctrine which tells us that we do not need to suffer and die on that cross. The second is the doctrine that the cross is not enough and we need to add something to it.
The first doctrine of demons – you don’t need to suffer and die
To understand the first doctrine of demons which points away from the cross, let’s take another look at what Jesus said in the passage we read at the beginning.
Matt 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
The lie of the devil is that we do not need to die. It is the same lie from the beginning. When the serpent tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden he said, “You will not surely die” (Gen 3:4). The lie is that we do not need to take up the cross and we do not need to lose our lives in order to gain them. This takes various forms.
The first is simply expressed as you don’t need to suffer. Jesus tells us to take up our cross, but the devil tells that we do not need to take up our cross, we don’t need to suffer. The idea is present in the words of the devil when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. The devil sees that Jesus is hungry after forty days without food and says, “If you are the Son of God then turn these stones into bread.” The implication is you don’t need to be hungry. You don’t need to suffer. The same temptation arises again when Jesus is on the cross. The people in the crowd call out “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matt 27:40). The demons wanted Jesus to believe that he did not need to suffer. The demons want you to believe that it is not necessary to suffer.
Since none of us wants to suffer we are happy to believe this doctrine of demons. This is why we are content to listen to messages about how the Christian life is one of blessing and peace and which make no demands on us as disciples of Christ. We would prefer to take the easy road. Yet Jesus said: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt 7:13-14).
Instead of listening to doctrines of demons which want to draw us away from the cross we must listen to the word of God carefully. The apostles understood that they had to take up the cross daily. In Acts 5 the apostles had been arrested by Jewish authorities for the second time and they had been flogged. Acts 5:41 is interesting. “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” Suffering for the name of Jesus is a privilege. Paul was convinced of this fact as well. He tells the church in Rome: “we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;” (Romans 5:3). The Philippians are reminded of the privilege of suffering for Jesus in Phil 1:29. “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.”
The second form of this doctrine of demons is one which says that we do not need to die to sin. It goes something like this: “since God is gracious and will forgive you anyway, just go ahead and sin all you like. No one is perfect so it does not matter if you go on sinning.” This doctrine of demons denies that we must die in order to be conformed to Christ, which is in fact the goal of our existence (Rom 8:29). The Bible repeatedly tells us that we must die. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5). “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).
Let’s not be swayed by a doctrine of demons which would draw us away from the cross. The doctrines of demons appeal to our desires for what is easy and comfortable. God on the other hand wants something for us which can only be achieved by our willingness to die to sin and a willingness to go repeatedly to the cross. It is time to repent so that we can say with Paul, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death”, (Philippians 3:10). Don’t be led away from the cross by a doctrine of demons.
Second doctrine of demons – the cross is not enough
Of course there is another fundamental doctrine of demons which also leads us away from the cross. To understand this let’s go back to the passage in 1 Tim 4 which I started with.
1 Timothy 4:1 The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. 3 They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. 4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
The doctrines of demons mentioned in this passage include “forbidding people to marry” and “telling people to abstain from certain foods”. The fundamental problem with these rules is simply that the insistence that the Christian life involves certain rules to follow denies that the cross of Christ is enough. If the demons cannot get people away from the faith by some other means then they are content to get Christians to add things to the faith, by insisting on some rule or another as vital to the Christian life. In this case the important rules are about marriage and food. But when anyone adds something to the gospel this effectively denies the gospel, because it denies that the cross of Christ is sufficient for salvation.
This matter of following rules is addressed in the epistle to the Galatians. There the apostle Paul makes some very extreme statements about what happens when you try to add to the gospel.
Galatians 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. 2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
This is a very strong statement! If you add some rule to the gospel, even a rule which comes from the very law of God, then you have fallen away from grace. Christ will be of no use to you! It is not possible to add anything to the gospel without effectively denying that the cross of Christ is enough. To add to the gospel is to subtract from the gospel. The demons would have us do exactly this. This is why doctrines of demons involve rules to be obeyed. These rules may sound very spiritual but they are simply trying to get us to go away from the cross and to say that the cross is not enough.
The doctrine of demons which says that the cross is not enough manifests in a slightly different form when people suggest that there is a certain sin which is impossible for God to forgive. Every time you say “I did so and so and God cannot possibly forgive me” you are uttering a doctrine of demons. How can I make that statement? I say this because denying that God can forgive sin is denying the efficacy of the cross. To this doctrine of demons we must respond with the Word of God which says: “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14).
Why do doctrines of demons always take us away from the cross?
Demons would have us stay away from the cross either by preaching that we don’t need to die or that the cross is not enough. But why are demons so keen to have us stay away from the cross? The answer is simple. The cross is the place of victory over the devil. The victory has been won by Jesus at the cross.
“having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he [Jesus] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col 2:14-15).
And since we share in the victory of Christ, it is by going to the cross that we also overcome the devil. In the middle of the book of Revelation we read:
“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Revelation 12:10-11).
Satan is the accuser of the brethren, that is to say, he accuses Christians day and night before God. He asserts that we are sinners who do not deserve salvation and therefore we should all be rejected and condemned, just as Satan himself is rejected and condemned. However, the saints overcame the devil in three ways.
1) By the blood of the Lamb. This is quite clearly about the cross. It is the blood of Christ which washes away our sins and makes us holy, righteous and acceptable before God the Father. When we know that the cross is the place of forgiveness and justification we will overcome the devil because we will not be swayed by any of his accusations.
2) By the word of their testimony. This testimony is not the sort of testimony that we give in church on Sunday night about what God did during the week. Rather in the book of Revelation testimony is always the testimony of Jesus Christ (1:2, 1:9, 12:17, 19:10, 20:4). It is in testifying to Jesus who is the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world (13:8) that the saints overcome the devil. Again this involves going to the cross.
3) By not loving their lives unto death. Those who are willing to suffer and die overcome the devil. That is, those who are willing to take up the cross day after day are those who overcome the devil.
So Satan would have us do anything else rather than go to the cross, because at the cross is his defeat.
Therefore we must be alert to doctrines of demons. We need to be aware of what they are – an attempt to turn us away from the cross – and aware of when they are being taught. Doctrines of demons will appear to be quite reasonable things to say. Since the demons are unlikely to put up a sign saying “Doctrines of demons ahead” we must be vigilant and discerning. This takes some effort and continual immersion in the truth. We need to be aware that it is people who teach doctrines of demons. Peter was the one who proclaimed a doctrine of demons to Jesus. He did it unwittingly and he did it not long after he had a great revelation of who Jesus is, a revelation which came from the Father. We need to guard ourselves against being led astray unwittingly.