What it means to be “Born of Water and the Spirit”

Some have taught that being born of water means baptism (implying baptismal regeneration) and some others have interpreted it as physical birth. To find out, we need to take a look at the entire teaching of the New Testament.

John 3:3, 5 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again … Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”

If this text alone implied that baptism was a key prerequisite to entering the Kingdom of God, then Jesus would have made it a requirement of salvation, but this is not so.

Now, if baptism is not the New Birth, to what does the word “water” in John 3:5 refer? Let us look elsewhere and see what are the agents and instruments by which the work of regeneration is wrought:

1 Peter 1:23 “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

James 1:18 “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

1 Corinthians 4:15 “Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.”

Titus 3:5 “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

In these passages we see that regeneration or rebirth is wrought by the word of God and Spirit of God. We are born again by the Word of God and the Spirit of God.

Now in John 3:5, we have the Spirit directly mentioned but can the “water” be taken to mean “the word” without forcing the language? First, let’s compare it to Ephesians 5:25, 26:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.”

Indeed, the Greek word translated “word” here in Ephesians (rēmati) is a different word from the Greek word translated “word” (logos) when the Word of God is spoken of. But in 1 Pet. 1:25 (“… And this is the word that was preached to you”), the same rēmati that is translated “word” in Eph. 5:26, is used twice of “the Word of God,” and that, too, is direct connection with regeneration by the Word.

In John 15:3, Jesus said: “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” See also John 17:17 “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”

But some may ask why did not Jesus say plainly, without a figure in John 3: “Except a man be born of the word and the Spirit”? The answer to this is very simple.

The whole passage is highly figurative. The word translated “the Spirit” (Pneuma) is itself figurative: means literally “wind” and is without the definite article.

Literally translated the passage would read, “Except any one be born out of water and wind.” In this, the wind symbolizes the vivifying element, the Holy Spirit. (Compare Ezekiel 37:9, 10.) Naturally, therefore, “the water” symbolizes the cleansing element, the “word.” (Compare John 15:3).

The passage thus reduced to non-figurative language would read, “Except any man be born of the word of God and the Spirit of God.” Thus we would have Jesus teaching the doctrine afterwards taught by Paul and James and Peter.

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Can Christians need Deliverance? (I)

The field of deliverance ministration is one in which many saints have laboured for ages. Today, there are many helpful materials on the subject and it’s not my intention to add to them.

In fact, I wasn’t particularly interested in wading into such an extensive area until a dear friend of mine recently brought up a question on the subject and I couldn’t provide an answer without delving into it. His question was: Can a Christian be infested with demons?

Now, before I give my answer, I need to emphasize that I have read from both sides of the fence – those who argue that a Christian cannot be inhabited by a demon and those who argue otherwise.

 So, my answer to the question is not based on denominational indoctrination, but from personal study, experience, interactions with other believers and logical deduction.

I was raised in a church which maintained that once you are born again, you have been automatically delivered from every demonic connection from your past. We believed deliverance ministration was only for witches, satanists, weirdos and tormented sex fiends.

But as the years went by as I began to critically examine my own life as well as those of others in that church, I didn’t see the “peace and joy” that we often talked about.

The people assured us that they were walking in victory on every side; that they were blessed above measure; that the devil was a babbling fool writhing underneath their feet, but right before my very eyes, I could see that these ecclesiastical idioms were just words they rehashed; their lives belied their gnomic claims.

I also observed strange things (which I later discovered to be demonic activities) operating in our lives. We were not really enjoying the things we claimed to have. But I didn’t want that. I wanted a realistic Christianity; one in which my life spoke louder than my words, and it was while searching for this better way that I realized that I was myself under demonic oppression!

Since my church had failed to enlighten us about demonic oppression or how to deal with it, I had unknowingly allowed demonic bondage persist in my life for several years through denial and loose living.

I was blinded to my own true spiritual state because the extent of the light entering our eyes determines how and what we will see. The extent of the spiritual truth you know will determine how far you will discern. We all see within the limits of our horizons.

Today, this church in question, now accepts the reality that even spirit-filled Christians can also need deliverance. But they were too late in admitting it.

Many sincere folks had left the church in frustration when they couldn’t find solutions to their problems. Many fervent pastors who knew about deliverance also left when they realized their ministry found no acceptance within the church.

Most of those in the “a-Christian-cannot-have-demon” camp are sadly casualties of an all-too-academic war; a war that is usually waged by ivory tower theologians who would not know a demon from a hole in the ground.

Whenever I come across preachers or authors who argue that a Christian cannot need deliverance ministration, I always want to assess their backgrounds, their level of experience in ministry, their knowledge of cultural nuances, their denominational positions and of course, their degree of dogmatism.

These are key factors that often shape most people’s acceptance and/or interpretations of spiritual realities.

I have observed that many missionaries who have worked with people from diverse cultures usually have a good understanding of spiritual warfare, deliverance and the operation of the Holy Spirit than many “sit-tight-in-church” clergymen with theological degrees under their belts, daily ensconced in one cool room, in a high brow part of the city.

Besides, you can’t have a vibrant ministry that leads people out of the cults, occult, drugs and sexual perversion and tenaciously argue against the reality of deliverance for believers. Unless, you are wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Granted, as Africans, sometimes when you read books written by some American or European Christian authors, you feel a sense of disconnect because of the differences in our cultural backgrounds.

The depth and scope of prayer ministration that a believer from a multi-generational pagan/occult background would need will not be the same as one from a multi-generational Christian family.

So, when an African or Asian Christian parrots the “anti-deliverance” arguments gleaned from a preacher who thinks the whole world revolves around America or Europe, it amounts to self-harming disservice. I would take the words of a man with experience above the one with an opinion any day.

First, let’s examine some basic facts about this issue:

(1) The Bible shows that deliverance is God’s provision for His people:

The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles” (Psa. 34:17)

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” (Gal. 5:1).

And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18).

It’s instructive to note that the Greek word for salvation, soteria, or sozo which is translated “to save” is used in a variety of ways in the New Testament that go beyond the forgiveness of sins.

It is used in many cases of people being physically healed (Matt. 9:21-22; 14:36; Mk. 5:23, 28). It is also used of a person being delivered from demons (Luke 8:36) and of a dead person being brought back to life (Luke 8:50). The same Greek verb is also used to describe God’s ongoing preservation and protection from evil (2 Timothy 4:18).

Therefore, salvation should not be limited to the experience of having one’s sins forgiven and being born again – and many Christians have sadly done this. Salvation is the key to abundance, healing, success, blessing and deliverance, which some have dubiously omitted from the package.

2. Deliverance is an arm of the ministry of Jesus Christ which the church must pay attention to.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18).

As Jesus and the disciples preached the gospel and the people believed, they were healed of their sicknesses and freed from demonic oppression (Matt. 10:1, 8; 12:24, 43; Mark 1:26; 1:39; 3:15; 6:13; Luke 4:36; 8:29; 9:49, 11:18;13:32 etc.).

These signs go hand-in-hand with the preaching of the Gospel and no preacher or theologian has any right whatsoever to set any of them aside.

It must also be noted that Jesus called deliverance from demonic bondage “the children’s bread” (Mark 7:27). The Greek woman had to put her faith in Christ to receive this privilege on her daughter’s behalf; it was (and is) a benefit for only God’s people.

If you have accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour, deliverance from all forms of captivity is your “bread”; your spiritual right.

Furthermore, the people from whom Jesus expelled demons in the Gospels were all Jews, under the Covenant of Moses. They could be viewed analogously to Christians in the New Testament under the New Covenant.

The apostles might have been an exception to this because Jesus directly cleansed them: “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (John 15:3).

3. A common objection frequently raised is, “Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to cast out demons from one another.”

If we apply this argument to the signs Jesus listed in Mark 16:17, then we should also say that Jesus never asked the disciples to minister the baptism of the Holy Spirit to other believers, neither did He say we should lay our hands on other believers to be healed.

Besides, the term ‘disciple’ has to be properly defined. It means a follower of Christ. And there were many disciples – before and after Pentecost – who were set free from the influence of demonic powers by the power of Christ (Luke 8:2; Acts 8:7; 19:12).

The premise behind the “Jesus-didn’t-expel-demons-from-the-disciples” argument is that once you are born again, you will never be physically sick again; you will never sin again, and of course, you wouldn’t need to be prayed for to be freed from spiritual bondage!

That’s more of Word-Faith mental cotton candy which flies in the face of reality and sound Bible exegesis.

4. Some Christians object to deliverance ministration by citing Colossians 1:14 and Ephesians 2:6 which say Christians have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness and are now seated with Christ in heavenly places. “This is what became our possession when we became born again! We were absolutely delivered!” they argue. The answer to this is yes – and no.

There are two sides to this issue: the legal and the experiential. The answer will differ according to which side we view it from. Let me explain.

Legally, we were delivered from the kingdom of darkness and became heirs of God when we were born again. But experientially, we must appropriate in faith, step by step, all the benefits of redemption that are already ours by legal right through our faith in Christ. This is not automatic.

In John 1:12-13, the apostle says concerning those who have been born again through receiving Jesus, that God has given them “the right to become children of God.” The Greek word translated “right” is exousia, usually translated “authority.”

That’s what a person actually receives at the new birth: authority to become a child of God.

Now, the believer must exercise that God-given authority to experience the actual results of the new birth. This is what deliverance entails: using your God-given authority to completely sever all the links you had with the kingdom of darkness.

Since the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan are in total opposition to one another, you cannot enjoy the full rights and benefits of a citizen in God’s kingdom until you have finally and forever severed all connections with Satan and totally cancelled any claim he may have against you.

Take a look at the example of the children of Israel. God spoke to Joshua on how they were to take possession of their inheritance: “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses” (Joshua 1:3).

Note the perfect tense: “I have given [the land].” Legally, the land of Canaan had become the inheritance of the children of Israel, but experientially, nothing had changed. The Canaanite nations and all their giants were still living there.

So the task before Joshua and his people was to move from the legal to the experiential. That’s also the task before us today. The children of Israel were to go to battle – one step at a time – and destroy the illegal occupants until they recovered their inheritance.

Actually, they fought a long series of battles against the various inhabitants of the promised land before they could posses it. Even after much warfare, God still says to Joshua: “There remains very much land yet to be possessed” (Josh. 13:1).

If Joshua had been like some Christians today, he would have led the Israelites to stand before the Canaanite nations, thumb down their noses and fold their hands saying, “Well, God has given your lands over to us. Now it’s our possession! It has been settled and we don’t need to lift a finger to take them.” And the people of Canaan would have laughed at their grandiose claims.

Now, just as Joshua led Israel into the land of promise, Jesus is leading Christians into the land of promises. The legal to experiential appropriation of redemption applies to every area of our Christian life.

Being born again legally delivers you from Satan’s kingdom, but in terms of experience, that’s just the beginning of a long process that requires your actions. You need to still evacuate the strangers nesting in your life and fight to be free. Christianity is not theoretical; it’s very practical.

5. An objection that is often put forth is an appeal to 2 Cor. 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

It is asserted that automatic deliverance from all spiritual captivity takes place the moment we are born again based on this verse.

While I admit that God can sovereignly intervene and completely set a new believer free, those who use this argument either lack a full understanding of the complex, tripartite nature of the human person or do not know what regeneration entails.

Before regeneration, we were dead in our sins and trespasses and separated from the life (Greek: zoe) of God. At salvation, our spirits are “made alive” by indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:5). But our bodies and souls are not born again; they are susceptible to the old ways we lived and the evil spirits we had hosted.

Though our life of sin is legally passed away and we have been made a new being, the responsibility lies on us to use our spiritual authority to bring other areas of our lives completely under the direction of the Spirit of God. This is why self-crucifixion and deliverance are important.

The story of Lazarus in John 11 illustrates this. He had been dead, but Jesus raised Him from the dead and new life entered him. But he still had his grave clothes on. Jesus said: “Loose him and let him go”. He needed others to help him remove those grave clothes so he would be free.

There are many Christians like this; they have been saved for years, they attend church fervently, witness for Christ, know the Bible and even teach it, yet there are spiritual grave clothes wrapped around them, holding them back from complete freedom and enjoying their spiritual birthright.

Though they talk about liberty, they experience spiritual slavery. Though they testify of victories, their personal lives evince defeat. They have the potential to soar high, but their wings have been clipped down. They need to be liberated.

 

Can Christians need Deliverance? (II)

Having explained the relationship between salvation and the ministry of liberation, let’s now take it up a notch by examining the issues surrounding demonization:

(1) The term “demonization” is an Anglicization of the Greek word frequently used in the New Testament: daimonizomai. The word may be translated “under demonic influence” or “to be demonized.” Some folks interpret demonization as being “demon possessed,” but this is incorrect and misplaced.

The term demon possession is an unfortunate term that found its way into some English translations of the Bible but is not really reflected in the Greek text. The Greek NT speaks of people who “have a demon” (e.g Matt. 11:18) or people who are suffering from demonic influence (Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine, Inter-Varsity Press: England, 1999, p. 179).

Demonization can range from demonic oppression to severe demonic control. Though there are degrees of demonic attack or influence in the lives of believers, the term “demon possession” should not be conflated with demonization and shouldn’t be applied to Christians.

The term “demon possession” conveys to an English ear that a person is owned by a demon, but this is impossible for Christians. A Christian’s personality can come under demonic influence but he/she is still owned by Christ. Therefore, a demon cannot have a Christian, but a Christian can have a demon.

(2) A major objection raised against deliverance is, since the Holy Spirit lives within the believer, it would be impossible for a demon to live in the same place as the Holy Spirit. This brings us back to the question: can a Christian who has the Holy Spirit also have a demon?

While the Bible does not definitively answer that question, there are some things we need to reflect on. For instance, the Holy Spirit is everywhere in the universe; would this mean that there are no demons anywhere in the universe? Obviously not.

The Scriptures teach that the true believer is no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit (Rom. 8:1-9), yet the flesh continues to operate in the believer’s life alongside the Spirit. So let’s rephrase the initial question with a twist: How can the Holy Spirit cohabit the same body with the unholy flesh?

Our flesh/carnal nature is not any less evil or unclean than is a demon. Both the flesh and demons are in sinful rebellion against a holy God. Therefore, if the Holy Spirit can indwell a saved sinner who still has the flesh, then He can also live in a believer who has a demon. The demon wouldn’t “hurt” the Holy Spirit. That idea is even absurd. And the demon wouldn’t automatically flee because of the Holy Spirit (William Schnoebelen, Blood on the Doorposts, Chick Pub., 1994, p. 47).

Contrary to what some folks teach, the Holy Spirit will not come into you and cast out the demons that you’ve invited in, and which Christ has already given you the authority to expel.

(3) The Bible says we are the temples of the Holy Spirit (1Cor. 3:16). Just like the ancient temple of the Lord in the OT, we have three basic constituents – body, soul and spirit. The temple had the outer court, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place.

In Ezekiel 8, we see that the temple of God was defiled. The people brought an idol of jealously into it; they practised abominable acts; drew images of demon gods and unclean animals on its walls; burned incense to idols; they worshipped the rising sun and their women wept for Tammuz – occult rites that invited evil spirits into the temple.

Yet, all the while, the presence of God was still in the Holy of Holies. This can be a reflection of a Christian today; the Holy Spirit can dwell in His spirit while sinful practices – before or after salvation – have led to demonic infestation in his body and soul.

It doesn’t mean he’s unsaved or evil, he only needs to purge his temple and evacuate the evil strangers from their hiding places.

(4) An objection raised to the above is to appeal to 2 Cor. 6:14-16 that since there can be no agreement between darkness and light, or Christ and Belial, a Christian who has the Holy Spirit in him/her cannot also have a demon in him/her.

This argument is based on the fallacious notion that for the Spirit of God and an evil spirit to reside simultaneously in the same person, mutual cooperation is required between both of them. This is a fatally flawed thinking.

The passage was actually directed to the Christians in Corinth who were in unequal partnership with pagans and their norms. Apostle Paul was warning them against entanglement with unbelievers (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Eerdmans, 1979, Vol. 1, p. 780).

(5) In several places, Scripture tells us that sin opens the door to captivity, affliction, bondage and attack from the devil e.g. Eccl. 10:8; Isa. 5:12-13; Matt. 23:37; John 5:14; Eph. 4:26-27.

If a Christian for instance, dabbles in divination (consulting palm readers, Tarot cards, psychics etc.), that sin can open the door to demonic bondage/invasion. This may not always be the case every time, because demonization is not a cut and dry phenomenon as some of us think.

The demons’ degree of influence in Christians varies from person to person – depending on the magnitude of sin and the class of demons involved – yet, the spiritual doorways provided by sin are no less real.

(6) Scripture shows us that our lives can be defiled, and we are to cleanse ourselves from spiritual filthiness and have our bodies, souls and spirits preserved blameless (1Cor. 3:16-17; 1Cor.7:1; 1 Thess. 5:23). If it wasn’t possible for Christians to be defiled (whether by sin or demons), these verses wouldn’t be in the Bible.

Interestingly, the same Greek word for “defile”, phtherei, is also used for “destroy.” It means to spoil, corrupt, bring to a worse state and to deprave. This is what sowing to the flesh does to the believer (A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament, Ethelbert Bullinger, Zondervan MI, 1975, p. 213).

(7) To neglect, deny or ignore the ministry of deliverance has more serious consequences than the other way round. If a Christian who needs to be liberated is being taught that he doesn’t need deliverance, two major things can happen:

One, the Christian fruitlessly struggles against besetting sins until he/she is exhausted or completely demoralized. It becomes a vicious cycle of falling into the sinful habit, praying for forgiveness, promising to apply spiritual discipline and falling after a few hours and praying for mercy again. It soon gets to a point where he begins to embrace it as normal.

Two, the Christian is overwhelmed with demonic oppression and begins to doubt if he was ever saved at all. The demons will then bombard his mind with thoughts like: “I can never be a good Christian!”; “This is my destiny”; “God has rejected me because I was too evil”; “God doesn’t answer prayers” etc. 

(8) What I find striking about the “demons-in-Christians” debate is how people on both sides of the divide, usually reduce deliverance to casting out of demons from a person or place. That’s reductionist and distracting, and it should be pointed out.

Any Christian who has studied the Bible and has a keen understanding of spiritual things will agree that deliverance is more than expulsion of evil spirits. There are many people who are not infested from within but bound from without. Therefore, deliverance in its full scope involves:

(a) Releasing people from destructive pacts/covenants and seals (Isa. 28:18). These things remain in place even after salvation unless they are specifically addressed in prayer.

(b) Releasing people from generational/family and personal curses (Gal. 3:13). These are also categorized as “vertical and horizontal curses.”

(c) Breaking occult spells, triggers and cues that have been placed on/in people (Micah 5:12). These are tools used by the enemy to enslave individuals or groups of people.

(d) Destroying evil linkages, soul ties and spiritual yokes (Isa. 10:27). These are used to impede a person’s progress in a divine direction.

(e) Removing demonic implants and demonic luggage from people (Matt. 15:13).

(f) Breaking spiritual chains placed on people by the powers of darkness and setting them free from spiritual prisons and cages (Isa. 61:1).

(g) Revoking evil dedications, renouncing false worship/communal bondages (Acts 19:19).

(h) Recovery of what the enemy stole (Obadiah 1:17). It could be a person’s virtues, joy, finances, vision, body parts or spouse.

Conclusively, from the highlighted points, it’s important that believers understand what this aspect of spiritual warfare entails. We have been commissioned to keep enforcing the defeat of Satan and his imps in our lives and those of others.

While the ministry of deliverance is not to be touted as the silver bullet to every problem, it should not also be ignored, disparaged nor reserved only for extreme cases in our churches.