I was contacted a few weeks ago through Facebook messenger by a woman named ‘Anita’ with the request to help her cousin, Renate, who was possessed by demons. Renate was in the emergency department at the Royal Hobart Hospital, and Anita had said that she was in desperate need of spiritual assistance from a Christian minister. So, would I possibly go to help?

I didn’t respond immediately because I didn’t actually know either Renate or Anita, but I prayed for the LORD to give me wisdom and guidance. After talking to Renate on the phone, I agreed to go and visit, and was immediately struck by how lucid and rational Renate was. She told me that she was going through a spiritual awakening which began five months ago, and only in the last week was it revealed to her that she was possessed. Renate was desperately wanting me to do an exorcism on her. She had been under the impression that her spirit-guides (or ‘angels’)  were good, but came to the realisation that they were evil and connected to the Devil.

In fact, she was in hospital because a ‘spirit-guide’ had instructed her to do an exorcism using elemental forces. As part of this exorcism, she was led to use ‘the elemental force of water’ and swim in her local bay in the southern Tasmanian ocean. According to the paramedics, Renate was in the water for over ninety minutes and her internal body temperature dropped to 30 degrees. While this was happening, she had been led to believe by the ‘spirit guide’ that the water was warm and was ridding her body of all its demons. This was part of the trickery that demons undertook in an effort to keep her swimming. Renate said that whilst swimming, she became completely demon-possessed and at this point lost consciousness. However, the LORD was watching over her and saved her by leading her to safety. 

Over the next two weeks I visited Renate regularly with an elder from church or one of the female chaplains or deacons. I also asked all of my elders, deacons and many of our small groups at church to commit themselves to prayer. What happened next was nothing short of amazing.

Each time we visited Renate we prayed and opened the Bible—she’d never read God’s Word. Over the last five months she’d zealously pursued the spirituality associated with the ‘elementary spirits’ of the world. 

She found that the ‘elementary spirits’ were real, giving her supernatural powers such as extra sensory perception, especially regarding her voice, sight and touch with the ability to heal others. But lately, they’d started to frighten her and become destructive, all of which resulted in the current crisis affecting her health and physical safety. Most importantly of all, she realised that she had been sabotaged spiritually and in short, deceived. As the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15: 

‘…for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.

 It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. 

Their end will be what their actions deserve.’

Following the swim, Renate was taken to hospital where staff assessed her as needing psychiatric treatment. All manner of tests were conducted to see if there might be a biological explanation. But there was no sign of a brain tumour or epilepsy or drug use. However, the hospital doctors still unofficially labeled her as having been the victim of a severe psychotic episode, with bizarre religious beliefs.

Renate was placed on an involuntary treatment order for two weeks and remained in the hospital mental health ward, forced to take anti-psychotic drugs. But the medicine she was asking for and needing was that of a spiritual nature. She needed the good news that “God sent His son to destroy the works of the Devil” (1 John 3:8).

Up until this point, Renate had been trying to rid herself of demons through other means outside of Christ. It was horribly self-defeating. What’s more, we told her that being free of the unclean spirits was only half of the solution. Not only did the house of her life have to be swept clean, but she needed One even more powerful to come in and take control (Matthew 12:43-45). Renate was convicted that she needed Jesus and she called out to Him to be saved.

At the same time, we wanted her to slow down and count the cost of what following Jesus would mean (Luke 14:28-30). Was she prepared to leave her old life behind? All of the familiar power and pleasures involved with the occult? And so, we also asked her to write down on a list all of the ways she had rebelled against the LORD, asking Him for forgiveness (Psalm 139:23-24). At the same time we explained the meaning and purpose of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension (Colossians 1:9-14). 

Over the space of the next week or so, she was profoundly and beautifully changed. There was peace, joy and an increasing presence of God’s Holy Spirit. It was a wondrous thing to behold. The elder who accompanied me on nearly all of my visits wrote out for her a list of Bible passages on a piece of paper so that she could easily refer to them. One of these verses was from James 4:7:

“Submit yourselves to God, resist the Devil and he will flee from you.”

That was the promise we kept on bringing her back to, because her battle against the principalities and powers had only just begun (Ephesians 6:10-20). There was no longer any need to be afraid of the Devil though, because Jesus had defeated him though the cross (John 12:31-33). She needed to have faith and call on the Name of the Lord Jesus, renounce her sins and work with Jesus against the legal bonds that Satan had on her.  

Rather than an over-the-top screaming, struggling, vomiting, exhausting power encounter, this precious person’s exorcism was gentle and calm. We sang hymns, read different passages from the Bible and spent time in prayer. Just as she had attached herself to another unclean spiritual being to begin with, so too her deliverance began through Jesus being her Saviour and Lord, demonstrating His power over the elemental spiritual forces (see especially Colossians 2:8-15).

As we were leaving the hospital that evening, the elder who was with me commented on what a gentleman Jesus is. The reason he said this was because Jesus started to free Renate of her oppression in a way that maintained her dignity, decorum and respect. Having prayed and fasted for twenty-four hours beforehand, we were both prepared for anything, as well as more than a little hungry. But what we didn’t anticipate however, was just how awesome, majestic and powerful the Lord Jesus Christ is!

He who made the world simply by speaking a word, can bring about a person’s new birth in precisely the same way. In fact, that’s precisely the way the LORD God Almighty chooses to act. As the apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 1:23-25: 

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.”

Many people get nervous, even a little freaked out, at the mention of evil spirits. But what I have learnt once again is that we have absolutely nothing to fear. Indeed, we have every reason to be confident and even assured, because the strongman has been bound and now is the time in which we can rob him of his possessions (Matthew 12:29).

The Christian life is at its essence a war: a fight against the world, the flesh and the Devil. The Scriptures consistently reveal to us that our battle is not just against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers (Eph. 6:12). What’s more, there are some places on earth where Satan is more active—and hence has more influence (see Rev. 2:13). 

As people increasingly turn to new age spiritualities and pagan religious practices they are directly opening themselves up to the influence of evil spirits. Indeed, all forms of idolatry are explicitly connected to the worship of demons (1 Cor. 10:18-22). As such, ministering to people who are suffering from either possession or oppression—depending on their background—is only going to become more prevalent.

Through Christ Jesus, we have been given everything we need to deliver those who are affected in this way. Not because we are competent to save in and of ourselves, but because we know the One who is. And with this in mind, the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 16:20 are of timeless strength and encouragement:

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. 

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.”

However, the story does not end there. As any genuine follower of Jesus knows, after one is born again of God’s Spirit the true battle begins. And it doesn’t end until the LORD calls us home. Renate continues to grapple with the presence of the evil one but knows that the strongman has been bound and remains in limited capacity. But it does raise the very important question as to why hasn’t God given her full deliverance? Because this is still an almost daily battle for her.

This is a vexing pastoral problem that Renate and we who are trying to support her spiritually continue to wrestle with. On the one hand, I believe theologically that no one can be a true child of God and also possessed by Satan (Matt. 12:43-45; 1 Cor. 12:1-3). And yet, as we all know, the Devil can oppress us in all kinds of different ways (e.g. 1 Pet. 5:8-9). While I wouldn’t want to be definitive on this, the following passages of Scripture seem especially apt.

Mark 9:14-29. Unique to every other exorcism recorded in the New Testament, the disciples are confronted with a young boy who is not only demon possessed, but they are also inextricably unable to deliver. Jesus, however, heals the boy with a simple command (see verse 25). When they ask Jesus about this later they are told, “This kind can come out only by prayer” (verse 29). Hence, it seems that we need to devote ourselves to praying with and for Renate so that she receives a complete healing (see also Mark 8:22-26). 

James 5:13-16. One particular step I suggested proved to be especially encouraging. And that is, in keeping with James 5, some of the elders from my church—as well as the leadership of another evangelical church near where Renate lives—anointed her with oil as a sign that she had been both set apart to God as well as asking for His further healing. This was done as part of a celebratory dinner at my house and was a wonderful display of the unity that we all have in the Gospel. This was especially important for Renate, as it demonstrated that rather than joining a particular Christian denomination, in coming to faith in Jesus she had been incorporated into a much larger family of God. 

2 Corinthians 12:7-10. One of the mysteries of God’s sovereign wisdom is that He sometimes allows difficulties in our lives to remain. Indeed, He not only ‘allows’ but also intentionally orchestrates these things to occur so that we might rely on Him for grace, humility and strength. If this is true for apostles such as Paul, then surely this remains pertinent for us. It means that God is glorified through our weakness, and we grow the most spiritually when we realise how dependent we are upon Him.

Ephesians 6:10-18. Every Christian disciple needs to learn what it means to put on the Gospel armour. Learning how to fight the good fight is crucial. And sometimes the LORD allows our enemy to remain—in limited capacity—so that we know what spiritual warfare really means (see Judges 3:1-2).

Witnessing Renate’s spiritual awakening has been encouraging for me. The conversion of any soul is a miraculous event (1 Pet. 1:23-25) but especially when one comes from a background so immersed in the principalities of evil. There is tremendous comfort in knowing Jesus because “the One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John. 4:4). In the coming of Jesus the strongman has been bound (John 12:31; Rev. 20:3; Matt. 12:29) and we no longer need to live in fear (Heb 2:14-15). As the apostle John writes:

“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4).

Postscript: The name of the central figure in this article is “Renate”, which is her actual name, but in a beautiful conclusion to her amazing spiritual transformation, she recently discovered that ‘Renate’, of German origin, means ‘re-born, regenerated, renewed’. In the profound providence of God, that is a wonderful confirmation of what has taken place. Renate truly has come to know God as her lovingly heavenly Father who predestined her to be part of His family from even before the creation of the world (i.e. Eph. 1:3-10).