by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
Not long ago, I was talking to my coworker “Tim,” who is a Christian. “Tim” began talking about his ex-wife and how she had been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. The doctor began explaining about imbalances in brain chemistry and other similar factors but “Tim” had his own explanation. His ex-wife was possessed. By a demon. “She wasn’t ‘bi-polar,’” he told me, “she was bi-spiritual.” She didn’t need medical or psychiatric help, in “Tim’s” opinion; she needed an exorcism.
We don’t hear much about demons these days but they appear numerous times in the New Testament, especially in the gospels: “. . . and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.” (Matt. 4:24b ESV). One interpretation is that these “demons” actually existed and “possessed” unfortunate individuals. Another is that someone who had a mental disorder or any otherwise unexplainable condition was said to have a “demon” because no better explanation was available. Personally, I have no idea but I prefer to err on the side of reason. That said, I believe most—if not all—of the accounts of “demons” were simply conditions that medical practitioners of the day were unable to diagnose.
For example, the man known as “‘Legion, for we are many’” (Mark 5:9b) may have suffered from what we know today as Multiple Personality Disorder. He would not only have been “bi-spiritual” but multi-spiritual. I think Paul could probably have sympathized with the man. He wrote to the Romans, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Rom. 7:15 ESV). But Paul knew it doesn’t take demons to make us act as if we’re possessed. He didn’t explain his behavior by invoking demons. Instead, he talked about plain old sinful human nature. “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Rom. 7:20 ESV).
Paul was not alone in his predicament. James is well known for his comments about the character of
“. . . adouble-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8 ESV). Clearly, James had known people like this. But the idea wasn’t his. Centuries earlier, the psalmist wrote “I hate the double-minded, / but I love your law.” (Psa. 119:113 ESV). Similarly, Paul exhorted the Philippians to be “. . . withone mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” (Phil. 1:27b ESV) at about the same time James wrote his own epistle. And he wrote to his young friend Timothy, “Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double- tongued, . . .”(1 Tim. 3:8a ESV) about five years later. It’s not certain whether Paul was familiar with James’ letter but we know that they knew each other (Acts 21:17-18; Gal. 1:19, 2:9) so it’s certainly possible.
As we’ve seen, it doesn’t take a “demon” in order for us to be “bi-spiritual.” The “double minded man” James described was one who believed one minute and doubted the next. I confess that I suffer from this condition sometimes myself. And like Paul, I don’t need demons to make me act that way; all I need is plain old fashioned sin. Fortunately for me and others like me, there is a cure. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. . . . Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:7a, 8 ESV). There is the prescription, for them and for us: Submit ourselves to God, draw near to God, cleanse our hands, and purify our hearts. This can be accomplished by regular spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible reading, study, and devotion. I’ll also confess that I’m nowhere near as diligent about these disciplines as I should be. But our spiritual foundation affects our witness. If people see us behaving as if we had two minds, they’ll wonder which is the “real” mind. But if we act with one mind, they’ll see that as well and know that the faith we profess and the relationship we have with Christ are real.
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.” (Phil. 1:27-28 ESV.)