Dear Saint, you don’t need ‘deliverance’
Mungai Macharia, Dec 2021.
Big Idea: Christians have already been delivered from the kingdom of darkness and continues to grow in Christ-likeness, trusting in Christ alone and His complete work rather than special deliverance sessions.
If you have lived in Kenyan town you may have come across tents pitched in strategic places where they invite people to walk in to have their blood cleansed – apparently your blood has a lot of toxins. If you walk in they would soak your feet in water and then put in some salt and then turn on a device. After a while the water would change in colour and they would convince you that those are toxins leaving your body. They would then sell you certain herbs or drugs in order to heal the affected part of the body. The only thing they did not tell you was that the water would change colour whether your feet were soaked in or not because this was a simple electrolysis. The ionic salt they put in simply caused the electrodes to rust and the water changes in colour. It is straight from the deceiver’s rule book: Convince a person they have a problem they know nothing about, develop a solution and then sell it them.
How many useless things are in your houses that you were sold by clever marketers that don’t help you at all? My most memorable one is a certain device I bought at Sarit Centre many years ago. I was convinced by a certain Mr. Patel that it would be slicing our tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers very neatly and quickly. He had some vegetables on display that looked very well cut and he said the simple device did all the job. I imagined how impressed our visitors would be with our kachumbari and decided this is the thing we really needed in our lives. We bought one but when we got home and I tried to use it, it was disaster – I could not produce the finely cut tomatoes I had seen on display. Today, I don’t even know where it is. Our kachumbari is back where it was, we lost our money and we have a useless device at home that either we don’t know how to use or it was over-marketed to us. Such is the nature of ‘deliverance’ ministry as peddled in our continent.
You may have been casually told by a well meaning person that you need deliverance. Usually what they mean is that you need intense prayer in order for a particular problem to end – usually a persistent health problem, a bad habit or they may just be joking about your perennial lateness or sloppiness. But do you really need deliverance?
In the last 3 months we have been on a journey unmasking false teachings that have dominated our country and continent for many years. We noticed from the beginning that deception works in one of two ways either by taking away from the gospel or by adding to it. The reason we are taking the time to labour through these topics is because false teaching is a big deal in the Bible and there are warnings after warnings in scripture calling believers away from deception. Deception by its very nature is shady – it is never black and white, never easy to tel. We therefore need constant reminders so that we can carefully watch our life and doctrine so as not to fall into the trap of the enemy.
The passage that was read for us today is part of a book written to church that was clearly battling deception yet its primary message is perhaps the biggest take-away from this series: Christ is enough for you. He is all you need. I pray that as we draw closer to the end of the series and of the year itself that you will walk away knowing that Christ is indeed sufficient for you and that you don’t need to add anything else to his complete work – you call and mine to trust in him and walk in daily submission to His will.
What is Deliverance?
In the Biblical sense, the word deliverance simply means ‘to rescue’ or ‘to save’. To deliver is essentially to save someone from a dangerous situation or circumstance. In the Bible we see God’s people calling on him to deliver them. Throughout Psalms for instance, God’s people plead with Him for rescue from their enemies. David in Psalms 59 cries to the Lord for deliverance
“Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me;
2 deliver me from those who work evil, and save me from bloodthirsty men.
Or again in 143:9:
“Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord! I have fled to you for refuge.”
In many instances in the Bible the Lord is identified as the deliverer of His people (2 Samuel 22:2). Essentially then, to deliver is to save, to rescue or to intervene on behalf. To deliver then, is to save. We can actually see from scripture that deliverance is exactly the same thing as salvation in the Bible.
In the NT, deliverance points to the saving work of Christ on the Cross – that great rescue from judgement. In Luke chapter 2 Jesus is identified as the deliverer of Israel. The word is used interchangeably with the word Saviour because it is exactly the same mission: To save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21)
In Acts 5 we see the apostles pointing to the saving ministry of Jesus.
“The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Deliverer, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”
Peter shows us who the deliverer is and what it leads to – repentance and forgiveness of sin.
Deceptive Deliverance Ministry
As understood by many people in our context today, deliverance is a kind of teaching, prayers and rituals that are aimed to call out evil spirits (demons) from people. It involves special prayers, a particular ‘servant of God’, tools like holy water (exorcism), anointing oil, points of contact like holding certain body parts, slaps, laying on of hands, conversation with the possessed person or the spirits themselves etc.
This kind of ministry is premised on the idea that people are possessed by demonic spirits and that is why they act as they do and if they are prayed for or are taken through a deliverance session, then the problem will go away. At times, this is indeed a sincere desire for rescue from an oppressive habit, a series of misfortunes, bad decisions or broken life circumstances.
At the face value, that kind of ‘deliverance’ looks like a genuine ministry that believers should seek. After all, there seems to be a lot of that kind of ministry in Jesus’s ministry on earth and we also see quite a bit of it happening in Acts of the apostles. However, a deeper look will actually reveal the deceptive nature of this kind of ministry.
First, we need to understand that the purpose of miracles of Jesus and in the early church was to affirm the gospel – pointing to the fact that the savior is here and calling us to put our faith in him (John 20: 30 -31). They were not to continue in the same way exactly as in Jesus’ ministry or in the apostolic ministry shortly afterwards. Our focus then must shift from the miracles to the great miracle of Jesus’ resurrection and our hope of resurrection.
No wonder there is no imperative (do instructions) anywhere in the NT to deliverance ministry. There is no requirement for elders in Titus 1 and 1Timothy 3 that they were to be good at exorcising demons. The reason is simple – Christians are not demon possessed. The holy spirit of God indwells them and so they have no demons in them. What they need is loving shepherding (1 Peter 5) .
Someone might point me to the sending of the disciples in Matthew 10:5 -15 (also in Luke 10: 1-12) and the instructions to set free those who are demon possessed but clearly that sending is specific to the apostles and localized to Israel – a very specific setting where they are not even to greet people on the road or go from house to house. We cannot take that to be an imperative for all believers at all times and in all places. We are not the twelve (or the seventy-two in Luke’s gospel) but believers in Jesus living in 21st century Africa.
It is also worth noting the pre-dominant worldview of Palestine around the first century AD. One of the realities we see present at the time (and to a great extent present in our continent) is a spiritual worldview where demons are seen as active in people’s lives. The unknown was explained as demonic activity and there were even names for some of them (Matthew 12:22 ff). Now, I need to slow down here and say demonic activity may well be a reality but our worldview is different. We don’t explain phenomena in demonic terms. A person born blind today or suffering depression is not seen as demon possessed but as a physically or mentally challenged person in need of our love, care and support. That is not to say that demons do not exist but it is not the way we understand our world today.
We must be careful not to import the first century worldview to 21st century without any course correction. The gospel transcends all time and geography but not the worldviews. Deceptive Deliverance rides on a fear you have to sell you a solution to a problem you don’t really have at a price you can barely afford and does not eventually deliver (pun intended) on its promise.
The Deceptive Nature of Contemporary Deliverance Teaching
- Deceptive Deliverance points to another problem. Whereas the Bible shows us the real problem in our lives is sin and its effects in the world, those who hawk deliverance present another problem: the ill-motives of another rather than your own laziness, your ancestors rather than your own sin, the jealousy of your competitors (who are seen as enemies) rather than your own greed, demons rather than lust. The problem dear saint is not life circumstances but actually sin. The Bibles shows us that our real problem is sin in our hearts. Deliverance understates sin, emphasises the effects of sin and overstates its own solution. It is often an attempt to deal with a symptom and not the actual cause.
Application: Dear saint – sin is your biggest problem and the cause of all other problems – not childlessness, joblessness, joylessness or any other expression you might have in mind. This is not to minimize the other problems, but to show you what the big issue really is. Believers are grow in overcoming sin daily (sanctification) by feeding on the word, respond in trust and obedience. This will be a continuing work until the Lord returns.
- Deceptive Deliverance presents another solution and not the gospel. Having misdiagnosed the problem, it is not any wonder this kind of teaching also misses the solution. Instead of the gospel, people are pointed to a man of God, to certain books, to a certain processes or certain prayers. Special rites are carried out in order to deal with the demons. In the Acts passage that I quoted earlier, the apostles are pre-occupied with one thing – teaching that Jesus is Lord and saviour. They are calling people to repentance and forgiveness of sins. They are not pointing anyone to themselves or their ministry but rather pointing to Christ. There is indeed no other solution God’s people for there is only one name by which people may be saved – the name of Jesus. I sometimes get people wanting to see me for special prayers or for mentoring but when we start looking at the gospel they lose interest because they wanted a quick fix. They wanted some magic wand to be waved before them on some incantations, words or phrases to be said. True ministers of the word have nothing to give but the gospel.
Application: Jesus is your saviour – He has already saved you. Colossians 1:13. To a church that was clearly battling false teaching, Paul pointed them to the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus. There is nothing else we need dear saints beyond Christ in us – the hope of glory.
- Deceptive Deliverance undermines the scripture. In at least two ways the kind of deliverance ministry peddled today misses the timing of rescue and devalues sanctification as taught in the scriptures. The Bible teaches us that our big rescue is in the past – we have already been delivered from the kingdom of darkness. Look again with me in Colossians 1: 11-14. Paul speaks of deliverance as a done deal – the work of our redemption is complete. It is indeed finished and nothing else can or should be added to it. Deceptive deliverance implies that the work is incomplete and needs optional extras – prayers or special sessions. The bible teaches us we are to continually grow in Christlikeness and grace, to grow in overcoming sin, the world and the devil. Deceptive deliverance presents an instant solution to ongoing battles that Christians face. Instead of feeding on the word in order to grow, fellowshipping with other believers, walking in obedience, Deceptive deliverance creates its own problem and presents its own solution. No wonder it does not work and can only rely on subjective testimonies rather than the objective truth of scripture.
Application: The world is broken by sin (Genesis 3: 14 19) – we live between two worlds: the now and not yet. Sicknesses are here with us, accidents and all sorts of brokenness until the end of time. We are to continually apply the gospel and to look at the world around us with the lens of scripture. We can do this in scripture reflection, in mentoring, biblical counseling, one-anothering, prayer etc. That is why we can boldly pray as the Lord taught us in Matthew 6 for his daily deliverance because it is fitting for children to ask their loving father for his daily rescue from the evil one.