Erwin Lutzer has led the historic Moody Church in downtown Chicago for more than 30 years, authored more than 30 books, and is featured regularly on three national radio programs. We visited Dr. Lutzer in his church study to get his perspective on spiritual warfare. He shared his thoughts on deliverance, temptation, the role of the community, and why he believes Satan needs God's permission "even to wiggle."
How would you describe to an unchurched person what spiritual warfare is?
I would explain it by saying we have to understand that the material world is not the only reality. There's a spirit world, and all the spirits are not good ones. Many people even outside the church accept that nowadays; just witness the many shows on television that deal with paranormal activity. If you help people understand that there are spirits, and some are evil and we must stand against them, I think most people could connect with that.
So this is a contested universe. How do evil spirits do their work?
Yes, there are spirits at work in opposition to one another. Some are obedient to God; others oppose him. Their primary method is to put ideas (lies) into our minds that we think are our own (that way we don't fear those thoughts). The best example is Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). They decided to lie about the price they were given for their piece of land. And Peter says, "Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?" Now if when Ananias and Sapphira were discussing this over a bagel some morning, Satan had shown up in a dramatic way and told them to lie, they would have been terrified. But they didn't see him. They were unaware of the fact that he had put this idea in their minds. So they weren't afraid, and did not know that they were being duped by a satanic deception. Satan puts lies in our mind about God, about ourselves, and he uses lies to make sin look good.
Isn't temptation sometimes just our selfish desires? How do you make people aware of the enemy's schemes while avoiding a devil-made-me-do-it mentality?
There has to be a balance. The Bible never teaches that we can say to somebody, "Well, the devil made you do it. Therefore you're not responsible." One way or another we do bear responsibility, even if our actions are generated by certain circumstances or because of the devil's lies. Satan can never force us as Christians to act against our will. At the end of the day, we don't overcome the devil by saying "it wasn't my fault." We acknowledge our fault, but we also recognize the devil's role in seeking our destruction.
We don't always know whether something is of the world, of the flesh, or of the devil (often all three may be involved). And I tell people we don't need to know because whether we're talking about pressure to conform to the world, about satanic influence, or about our own lust, the answer is the same. We need the victory of Christ, the Word of God, the armor of God, which I take to be something that we not only put on in prayer but that involves a lifestyle of integrity, of obedience, of using the Word. Most of the time we don't know whether temptation is demonic. The good news is that Christ's authority and victory extends above all evil no matter where it is found.
Have you encountered something in ministry that you would say was clearly demonic?
There are many examples, but let me select two. One evening I spoke on demonism, and then invited everybody who's ever been in involved in the occult to come to a special room. I wanted to give them group counsel, along with our elders and pastoral staff who were on hand to help. We had about 20 or 30 people that stayed afterwards. I began the session by saying, "Do not leave this room, no matter how much pressure you feel to leave." I knew that some people have demons that agitate them, and they often want to flee the room. They want nothing to do with confrontation or deliverance.