Jesus said, “When an evil spirit comes out of a person, it travels through dry places looking for a place to rest, but it finds none. So, it says, ‘I will go back to the home I left.’ When it comes back, it finds that home still empty. It is all neat and clean. Then the evil spirit goes out and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself. They all go and live there, and that person has even more trouble than before. It is the same way with the evil people who live today.” (ERV)
Nature abhors a vacuum. A tilled plot of soil will be overtaken with weeds if nothing is planted and nurtured in the turned-over dirt. The pecking order of a brood of chickens cannot handle the death of the top hen without filling the position almost immediately. And, in the spiritual realm, the exorcising of a demon will not simply leave a person empty of evil – his/her life will be filled with something in its place.
Today’s Gospel story, told by Jesus, about the man who is delivered from an unclean spirit, is a powerful and simple narrative on the necessity of true repentance. Genuine freedom is more than getting rid of something bad and destructive; the evil must be replaced with something good and useful. That is, biblical repentance is both a turning away from ungodliness and an embrace of righteousness.
We are delivered from evil so that we can start living into the righteousness and peace intended for us.
For example, the Apostle Paul exhorted the Ephesian believers to not only stop stealing but also to get a job and start sharing with others. They were not only to stop lying and using their tongues for gossip and slander and start using their words to speak truth that builds up others. (Ephesians 4:25-32)
The spiritual principle is the same as the nature principle: A empty vacuum will always be filled. The man who did not fill his life with God ended up having a problem with evil seven times greater than when he started.
If anything, or anyone, is emptied of its unhealthy elements and practices, it is imperative that the hole be immediately filled with healthy disciplines for life.
Whether dealing with addictions, bad habits, or any kind of evil influence, a two-pronged approach is needed for its eradication. We expel the evil by replacing it with godliness. The man struggling with pornography or adultery must not only stop the behavior but take up the mantle of being a champion for women’s issues. The woman who has no healthy boundaries and allows herself to be used and abused must not only separate from the problem or person but adopt her identity in Christ as a precious child of God and enforce righteous limitations.
None of these examples are meant to be simplistic answers to complex situations. Rather, they illustrate why so many people do not experience freedom and continue to have even greater enslavement to their passions and sufferings.
Freedom is realized through replacing old practices with new disciplines that directly attack the old.
We all have needs. How we get those needs met is often a mixed bag of both legitimate and illegitimate ways. In a perfect world, everyone would be aware of their needs and be able to express them to one another without shame, anxiety, or anger. Since we live on a blemished fallen planet, we end up trying to meet our needs indirectly through hustling for love, hoarding resources, and controlling others – all harmful ways which destroys souls and relationships.
So, unless we focus on positively meeting our needs, we must go a step beyond dropping a toxic relationship, cutting up a credit card, or saying “no” to another responsibility. We often get into our mess to begin with because we are out of touch with ourselves and our needs. We need affection and encouragement, and there is no shame in needing this. We need security and safety, and there is no problem in acquiring this. There are some things we need to control, and that is okay.
If we fail to address our needs, we might do the necessary work of deliverance, then turn right around and become worse off than before by filling the empty place of our lives with:
- Being all things to all people, as if we were the Messiah.
- Being successful so that we stay ahead of being needy.
- Pulling inside ourselves and trusting nobody.
- Distancing from our needs and pretending they are not there.
- Being continually vigilant so that we are never hurt that way again.
- Keeping a positive spin on everything, as if there is no negative stuff in the world.
- Challenging other’s opinions and behaviors to keep the focus off our needs.
- Becoming a wallflower so that we can never be the brunt of someone else’s vitriol or evil.
Instead, we can let Jesus fill the emptiness with love, purpose, peace, joy, attention, and grace. Christ is the Savior who delivers us from evil, and the Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier who carefully applies the work of salvation to our lives.
When our hearts and minds are full of God, there is no place for the demons to get in.
True repentance equally forsakes evil and embraces righteousness; replaces the unhealthy with the healthy; jettisons the illegitimate and seeks the legitimate; and puts away unnecessary suffering and pursues peace and joy in the Spirit.
O God, I no longer want to live with saying I’m sorry and going right back to the old pig slop of sin. I cannot change on my own. I need Jesus to both take away the sin and give me a new life of living for him. Lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil Help me to make choices that put to death the old way of life, and the courage to live into my forgiveness in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.