What Spirit is Leading You?

Pastors have often received requests from professing believers such as, “I need you to pray for the spirit of porn and lust to be cast out of me.” “I’m battling with the spirit of discouragement. Please pray for me,” others will ask. And from the pastors themselves, often during sermons, you will hear a question posed to members: “What spirit is leading you?”

Whenever professing believers have employed the term ‘spirit’ in a statement, it is often times usually tied to a sin, for example, porn, lust, or masturbation. Therefore, what is usually meant when one says, for example, “I am struggling with the spirit of anger,” is that an evil spirit is responsible for the person’s anger. It is important to realise that whenever we speak about sin in the said manner, we knowingly or unknowingly pass the blame for our sinful choices onto a spirit instead of taking personal responsibility.

Evil Spirit or Temptation?

Is it biblically correct for a born-again Christian to say that the reason they’re struggling with sexual immorality, discouragement, or some other temptation is because of an evil spirit? Or is it correct to say that each one is tempted by their own evil desires (James 1:14-15)?

The biblical position, as demonstrated by James 1:14-15, is that we struggle with sin because of our own evil desires and not because of an evil spirit. Our “desires”, which are “longings” according to the Greek rendering in James 1:14, are evil. We naturally come by these evil desires and will continue to be tempted by them (Galatians 5:16-17). Scripture says that before we were born again, our hearts were evil (Jeremiah 17:9). We were filled with every kind of wickedness (Romans 1:29-32), and our hearts would not seek after God on their own (Romans 3:9-18). Indeed, we were unable to please God (Romans 8:8) because we were like corpses, dead to the truth of salvation (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13).

The only hope that our lives and hearts could be changed was through new covenant promises (Jeremiah 31:33), which Jesus came to enact by making us born again (1 Peter 1:3). The question then becomes, will a born again person who has received the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13) still be possessed by an evil spirit who controls and leads them? 

Could Our Evil Desires Overwhelm Us? 

To be born again means that we are regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). It further means that we practice righteousness (1 John 2:29), avoid sin (1 John 3:9), love other believers (1 John 4:7), believe Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God (1 John 5:1, 5), love the Father (1 John 5:1), love God’s commandments (1 John 5:2-3), and resist the ways of the world (1 John 5:4). Moreover, 1 John 5:18 asserts that if we are born again, the evil one cannot touch us.

Thanks to Christ, these new covenant promises are a reality in our hearts as promised by the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Praise God that we are born again (1 Peter 1:3)! In light of these truths, would you still imagine that a born-again Christian could be controlled or led by an evil spirit? 

The new covenant promises do not mean that we are perfect and, therefore, can never sin while on this earth. It is on account of our frailty that we are exhorted to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), to set our minds on things above (Colossians 3:2), to put sin to death (Colossians 3:5), and to no longer be captive to sin (Romans 6:6). If we didn’t struggle with obeying our evil desires then such commands would not exist. But we have the ability as born-again Christians to walk in the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and say no to our sinful desires (Galatians 5:16). We have power through the Holy Spirit to have self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) and to put to death our sinful desires (1 Corinthians 6:9-11); otherwise we wouldn’t be so commanded. This means we are not bound to the evil desires that tempt us from within, for we have strength through the Spirit of God to say no to sin no matter where the temptation comes from (Romans 8:5-9). For this reason, it is wrong to attribute sin to some spirit. When we sin, it is because we have personally chosen to give in to our evil desires, not because an evil spirit has overwhelmed you.

Satan and Temptation

Apart from our evil desires, the Bible does teach that Satan also tempts us (Matthew 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5). Satan tempted Jesus while in the wilderness, according to Matthew 4:1-11. He also tempted Peter when he demanded to sift him like wheat (Luke 22:31).

How does Satan tempt us? You may ask. The answer is that Satan tempts us by getting the attention of our flesh (James 1:14-15). His goal is to destroy our faith (John 10:10) through us giving in to the evil desires of our sinful flesh. However, the Bible is clear that we can resist the Devil’s temptation through our faith (1 Peter 5:8-9) and that “no temptation has overtaken” us (1 Corinthians 10:13). Thus when we give in to Satan’s schemes, it is not because some spirit is leading us, but because we have believed Satan’s lie (John 8:44) that yielding to our sinful desires will bring us more pleasure than being obedient to the Lord (Hebrews 11:25-26). 

A born-again Christian cannot be possessed by Satan or an evil spirit. Jesus is in us, and he is greater than Satan (1 John 4:4). We no longer follow the schemes of the Devil (Ephesians 2:2). We are no longer in the kingdom of Satan, but in the kingdom of the beloved Son (Colossians 1:13-14). Because of this, it is inaccurate to say a believer is led by some evil spirit. When tempted, we should say, “I am struggling with sin; please pray for me to say no to temptation and yes to the joy of the Lord.” We need to take personal responsibility for our sins as Scripture teaches us, and not blame it on a “bad spirit.” If you do, God will provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). 

There are some who, in retort, claim that Peter (Mark 8:33 – “Get behind me, Satan”) and Ananias & Saphira (Acts 5:1-11) are examples of Christians who were possessed by Satan. But these were “influenced” by Satan, according to the Greek rendering of Acts 5:3, not possessed. To take their examples and use them as proof texts to argue that Christians can be possessed by an evil spirit is a misinterpretation of the Bible. That would not align with the biblical truth that we are no longer in the kingdom of Satan, where he can freely possess us. We are now in the kingdom of God (1 Peter 2:9, Colossians 1:13-14). 

Jesus is our Savior; he is not sitting and watching, hoping that you will win the battle against the evil one. He has delivered us from sin’s power, not leaving us to do our best. Therefore, let us walk in the Spirit and refuse to gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).  

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