Our passage in Luke 11 concerns demon possession. Demon possession is when a demon or demons come to reside in a person and take control of that person’s mind and body.
In the Bible, we see demons causing disease-like symptoms as with the boy with epilepsy or the man who was mute. We see others make a person insane, as with the man who lived in the tombs. Not every case of medical problems is demon possession, of course—many are due to the curse of sin that causes our bodies to break down.
We don’t know how many people are inhabited by demons. Perhaps there are many who have demons, but the demons work quietly behind the scenes in that person.
But, and this is important for our passage here, the only people who will never have a demon possess them is a Christian—for the simple reason that a true Christian has the Holy Spirit dwelling in them—
9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Romans 8:9; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19)
The Holy Spirit and a demonic spirit would not coexist in a person. With that principle in mind, let’s look at the passage in Luke:
24 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. 25 And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. 26 Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. (Luke 11:24–26)
While we learn something of demon possession in this passage, that is not the main thrust of the teaching. The main thing that Jesus is teaching us is the danger of moral reform without truly being saved.
THE DEMON LEAVES HOME
Luke 11:24 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out.
An “unclean spirit” is another name for a demon. It’s a common term that emphasizes the impure nature of demons. For instance, it’s used three times in the story of the demon-possessed man who lived in the tombs (an unclean place). When the unclean spirits were cast out by Jesus, they went into a herd of pigs (an unclean animal). (Mark 5:1-13).
It is not told us why the “unclean spirit” had “gone out of a man.” The suggestions range from being cast out by Jesus to leaving of it’s own accord for some reason.
In any case, the demon finds itself in “dry places, seeking rest; and finding none.” This is figurative language, as demons would have no problem being in an actual desert. It’s meant to tell us that the demon was in a place in the spirit realm where it was useless. It seems that, for a demon to be useful, it needs to have possession of a human body.
Apparently, this demon was unable to find a suitable human host—and decided to return to the previous host.
Luke 11:25 And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished [put in order].
Why is it swept and put in order? Because the man has had some sort of moral reform in his life. He has turned over a new leaf. This is key to understand why Jesus told this story about a wandering demon. Our focus is not to be on the demon, but on what happened to the human host.
If we step outside the story Jesus is telling for a moment, we could imagine that the man heard a preacher telling him that he needed to clean up his life. Stop drinking, smoking, and going to dances—something along those lines.
Well, perhaps this guy just wandered in from a miserable life on the street—he had hit rock bottom. The preacher is at full volume, “Clean up your life and come to Jesus! He’ll make your life better! No more cardboard boxes for a home!””
So the man thinks, “Hey, that sounds good. Alright, I’ll reform. I’ll clean up my act.” But there’s no spiritual regeneration of his heart—he is not born again. He might look good on the outside, but his heart is a spiritual void.
A modern illustration of this is the computer hard drive. Did you know that when you delete something on your computer, or even when you erase the hard drive, that it’s not really gone? Even when you empty the trashcan or format the drive…your data is still there.
That’s because all the computer does is disconnect the link to your data so that you cannot see it. The data is still on the drive. It’s out of sight and out of mind. But someone who knows what they are doing—a computer hacker—can find it.
To really get rid of it, you have to write over the data with something else. If you sell your computer, you want to have it write zeroes on every place on your hard drive (billions of zeroes!) so that all your data is written over.
That’s what is going on here. This man did a moral reform. He threw the bad stuff in his life in the trashcan. He deleted his bad habits. He said, “I’ll quit this and that…,” but the underlying sinful data was still there. A demon hacker could come in and restore the sin!
THE DEMON COMES HOME WITH FRIENDS
Luke 11:26 Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
The demon sees the void in the man’s heart and goes back. But he takes “seven other spirits more wicked than himself.” The number seven is being used here to indicate a great increase, similar to when Jesus told Peter to forgive his enemy “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).
The point is that the man’s moral reform without regeneration is going to make matters worse. Peter says something similar in 2 Peter—
20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. (2 Peter 2:20)
That should make us think twice before we say of someone, “Well, maybe they didn’t get saved, but at least they cleaned up their life.” We can see why moral reform without salvation is not good, but why does moral reform lead to a worse condition than before?
One obvious reason is that they are deceived into thinking that they are saved, when they are not. Billy Sunday used to say, “An alcoholic can quit drinking, but unless he invites Jesus to come into his life and forgive his sins, it just means that he’ll go to hell sober” (David O. Dykes).
J.C. Ryle commented that sometimes the person who had a taste of religion but no real conversion becomes the worst of sinners. He writes:
The tendency of a backslider, or a man who has at one time professed religion, but afterwards turned back to the world, to become worse than he ever was before, is a painful fact, but a notorious one.—The possession of clear knowledge of the Gospel, combined with deliberate choice of sin and the world, seems the parent of the most hardened state of soul to which mortal man can attain. (J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke, vol. 2 [New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1879], 30)
Maybe you know of someone who grew up in a Christian home, only go as far away as possible from Christianity when they left. They ended up sinning more than most unbelievers!
It’s not enough to have a moral reform in your life. You need to have regeneration and transformation by the Spirit’s power.
When you become a Christian, the Spirit comes to live in you. He begins the work of cleaning up your life. In many cases, it’s going to look like the moral reformation an unbeliever can do. You might quit swearing, for instance. But the change goes deeper and it comes from a different place.
You change not so you can please God, you change because of a love for God and the forgiveness He has given you in Jesus Christ. Listen to what Jesus says and doesn’t say in John 14:15—“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Did you catch it? He didn’t say, “If you obey Me, I will love you.” He said our obedience will come out of a love for Him.
Suddenly, we leave off the story of the demon because a certain woman interrupts and shouts out a blessing:
THE WOMAN’S BLESSING AND A GREATER BLESSING
Luke 11:27 And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.
As Jesus is speaking, a woman in the crowd shouts out a blessing about Jesus’s mother. It’s like the woman was fulfilling Mary’s prediction after discovering she was to be the mother of the Messiah—
48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: For, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. (Luke 1:48)
Every mother feels blessed to have children; can you imagine how blessed Mary felt having the Savior as her child?
While the woman’s statement was technically correct, it wasn’t the most important thing, and that’s what Jesus points out:
Luke 11:28 But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.
Jesus was saying, “My mother Mary was blessed because she gave birth to Me, but a greater blessing is for all those who hear God’s Word and obey it.” In fact, the reason that Mary was so blessed was because she heard God’s word and she obeyed it.
38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38)
The greatest blessing is for those who hear God’s word and obey it. And what does God’s Word tell us to do? What’s the most important thing? It’s to believe in Jesus so that you can be saved from the penalty of your sins:
9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Romans 10:9)
Being saved will make you a new creature in Christ:
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
And becoming a new creature—having a new nature—gives you the ability become morally reformed; not by self-discipline, but by the transformation of your mind:
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2)
Real change—the type that does not leave a void in a person’s heart that a demon can fill—comes from being transformed by God, not reformed by self-discipline.
Those who try to reform themselves without truly trusting in Jesus will come to nothing, because, “they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).
What does this mean for us? On a cultural level, we need to realize that our hope cannot be in politicians or politics. Yes, there are some things that we can achieve politically that might act as a temporary band-aid, but our prime hope needs to lie in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our mission is not to reform culture, it’s to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
If the culture reforms, it needs to be because of people becoming Christians, not because of Christians making laws. The passage of the Prohibition amendment in 1920 Is a good example of the failure of moral reform without Christ, and how moral reform can actually make things worse in the end.
Throughout much of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th, there were temperance movements crusading to ban the sale of alcohol. Finally, they succeeded in passing an amendment to the United States constitution that banned the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors in the United States. It was called Prohibition.
Many Christians thought that, because of Prohibition, social problems like crime and homelessness would drop dramatically. They looked forward to a bright new social future. Sadly, even though their intentions and hopes were noble, the opposite happened.
1) Speakeasies, illegal places for people to drink alcohol, sprang up everywhere (an estimated 32,000 in New York City alone, thousands more than the legal drinking establishments that exist today in New York). Since they were illegal, there were no regulations on them, and so all sorts of illegal activity, like prostitution and gambling, happened there.
2) With alcohol being illegal, it didn’t diminish crime, it created more crime. Organized crime jumped 700% during the Prohibition era. Did you know that Al Capone made $60 million dollars a year (about 1 billion in today’s money) selling illegal alcohol? And since it was illegal revenue, it was tax-free!
3) Other crimes also increased. For example, if you look at the statistics for murders, you will notice a continual rise in murders in the Prohibition era (1920 to 1933). Then, after Prohibition, you’ll see a steep decline in murders. (https://www.alcoholproblemsandsolutions.org/effects-of-prohibition/)
What happened? It was a classic case of moral reform without the transformation of hearts. The demon left and came back with seven more! Sorry to be so depressing. And don’t get me wrong, I would love it if alcohol were illegal. But I would want it to be illegal because the hearts of the people had been turned to Christ. Christians, we need to keep in the front of our minds what our real mission is: to share the gospel of Christ.
13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:13–14)
So much for the cultural level, what does Jesus’s teaching about the danger of moral reform without being born again mean for us as individuals?
It means that, in our witnessing, in our relations with unbelievers, we need to be less concerned about their moral behavior and more concerned with sharing the gospel.
Most of our unbelieving neighbors think that religion is about moral reform. They think that our mission is to make them shape up, to wreck their fun and so on. That’s not the good news we preach!
To make them see that Christianity is not about cleaning up their life so they can be acceptable to God, we have to preach the gospel loud and clear like Paul did: “by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16). We need to be loud and clear that we want them to love Jesus Christ first and foremost.
I like what Ron Hutchcraft says about this:
The problem with the lost people you know is not their profanity or their dishonesty or their immorality – they’re lost and they’re living like it! Their real problem is they need a Savior! Yes, they must repent, but that’s part of being rescued by Jesus from their sin! Don’t make their lifestyle the issue. Make Jesus the issue… (https://hutchcraft.com/a-word-with-you/your-mission/catching-fish-cleaning-fish-6200)