In a recent tweet my friend Matt Chandler made this comment about the acquittal of a police officer in the shooting death of Philando Castile:
“This brokenness requires radical steps but it’s deeply demonic. Praying for Holy Spirit breakthrough and the binding of this spirit.”
In response, following a brief attempt to explain Matthew 12:28-29 and 16:19, the author of a particular blogpost (both of which will remain unnamed) concludes with the following statement:
“It is clear that the modern-day practice of “binding and loosing” spirits is not a practice that can be substantiated from Scripture. God has given us the keys to the kingdom and this is by preaching the gospel to every nation. If the Holy Spirit decides to restrict demonic activity or other evil from this world, it would not be through some utterance of some magic words commanding this restriction. This practice is fraudulent and does not reflect the will of God.”
What are we to make of this? Is Chandler wrong in saying what he said? Is it unbiblical in any sense for a Christian to “bind” the demonic activity that may be energizing some of the violence and sin we see in our society?
The following is adapted from my book Practicing the Power (Zondervan), for which Matt Chandler wrote the Foreword.
Is the verbal “rebuking” and “binding” of demonic spirits a legitimate biblical expression of our authority over the enemy? Those who answer “no” are often heard to say: “Why not just pray, ‘O God, please resist, rebuke, and bind this evil spirit for me’?” In other words, they insist that we should always defer to God.
But consider Ephesians 6:10-20 where we are called on to take an active role in standing firm and struggling against the enemy. We must be responsible to avail ourselves of the power and weaponry secured for us by Christ’s victory. Let us not forget that, as we’ve just seen in Luke 10, God has delegated his authority to us. It is not God’s desire to settle all our spiritual disputes. He desires for us to utilize the authority he has invested in us. One reason may be that God wants us to share in and to enjoy the thrill of victory (Jesus is obviously pleased with the response of the 72 in Luke 10).
Finally, God is pleased to utilize means, namely, us, in the pursuit of his ends. In other words, God wants to involve us in the work of the kingdom. We are his representatives, spokesmen, ambassadors in evangelism, ministry, and so too in spiritual warfare. No one would ever think of saying: “O God, preach the gospel to the lost,” or “O God, teach the truth to your people,” or “Lord, would you please visit the sick today as I’m simply too busy.” Rather, God desires to use us in proclaiming the gospel and in teaching the principles of Scripture and in ministering in mercy to those who are hurting. We have been entrusted with his authority, his power, and his gifts to minister to his people in his name and to participate in expanding his kingdom.
O.K., you say, but “is it biblical to bind the enemy?” The only texts where the terminology of “binding” is used are in Matthew 12:29; 16:19; and 18:18. In the first of these it is Jesus who “bound” the devil, most likely a reference to his victory over him in the wilderness. Whereas Jesus is nowhere recorded as saying, “I bind you”, he did, in point of fact, “bind” or restrict or inhibit the ability of the enemy to keep people in bondage. Does this text give us grounds for verbally “binding” Satan or demons? More in a moment.
In Matthew 16:19 we read of the “keys” (see Luke 11:52) granted to the leadership of the Church. These are likely a reference to the power to know, understand, and proclaim the terms on the basis of which entrance into or exclusion from the kingdom of God is granted. Whatever we “bind” (prohibit) or “loose” (allow) through the proclamation of the gospel will prove to be an earthly application or confirmation of what heaven has already decreed. We have been given authority to pronounce forgiveness or judgment depending on a person’s response to the truth (cf. John 20:23).
The context of Matthew 18:18 is church discipline and the decision of the church in adjudicating a dispute between two people. To “bind” is to declare someone guilty. Conversely, to “loose” is to declare them innocent. The decision of the church on earth reflects the decision already made in heaven. That is to say, when we conform to biblical guidelines and accurately declare the terms on which membership and fellowship in the church are possible, our decisions will be an earthly expression of heaven’s prior decree.
It would appear that nothing in these three texts gives explicit endorsement to the practice of saying, “Satan, I bind you in Jesus’ name.” However, before we dismiss this as unbiblical, we need to observe other explicit commands.
Is it biblical to resist the enemy? In Ephesians 6 we are told to “stand” (v. 11) against the schemes of the devil. We have also been equipped with this spiritual armor that we might “withstand” in the evil day (v. 13). More explicit still is the statement by James that should “resist the devil,” together with the assurance that if we do “he will flee from” us (James 4:7). Likewise, Peter says, “Resist him” [that is, our “adversary the devil”] (1 Peter 5:9). To “resist” means to stand against or to oppose, to set oneself against someone or something. To resist Satan or his demons thus means to employ the authority and power given us by God to restrict his/their activities, to restrain his/their efforts, to thwart his/their plans. What does this mean, if not to “bind”? To “bind” means to inhibit or to restrain someone from an action or activity.
Therefore, on the one hand, it is true that neither Jesus nor anyone else in the NT ever says: “Satan (demon), I bind you.” On the other hand, both Jesus and Christians do, in terms of practical and experiential impact, “bind” him/them. This is done primarily by the truth of God’s word spoken (Matt. 4:1-11) and moral resistance (Eph. 6:10-20). Thus, I conclude that whereas we should not appeal to any of the three texts cited above in Matthew’s gospel to support our practice, it is theologically permissible to use the terminology of “binding” when we “resist” the enemy.
So, is it biblical to rebuke the enemy? The term “rebuke” (epitimao) is used frequently by Jesus in his encounters with demonic spirits (Matt. 17:18; Mark 1:25; 3:12; 9:25; Luke 4:35,41; 9:42). The term functions as a word of command by which evil forces are brought into submission. Thus “it combines the idea of moral censure expressed by the word rebuke with the notion of the subjugation of demonic powers. Thus, epitimao shows that Jesus has authority over the evil spirits and that they are powerless to resist his control” (Sydney Page, Powers of Evil, 143).
In summary, consider Paul’s deliverance of the slave girl in Acts 16:18 – “And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.” The apostle didn’t say, “Evil spirit, I bind you,” or “I rebuke you.” But he did, in effect, both bind and rebuke the spirit when he said, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” Paul’s words were a rebuke which, in experiential fact, bound (restricted or restrained) the evil spirit’s activity as it pertained to the slave-girl. And my contention . . . is that the same power and authority here exercised by Paul has been given to all Christians by the risen Lord.
My conclusion is that there is nothing biblically impermissible or theologically wrong in Matt’s tweet.