What if you think a teenager might be possessed? I had to wrestle with that real-life issue recently. By request, I was teaching about spiritual warfare. My students had a growing interest in exploring who the devil is, how he works, and what he’s capable of doing—and not capable of doing—in our lives.
I always approach that topic a bit cautiously. On one hand, there’s a reason God’s enemy doesn’t have his own book in the Bible. He’s not worth focusing on, especially when we have Jesus to fix our eyes on. However, God does tell us to be aware of the devil and his schemes. I like what Rick Lawrence says in the Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus Podcast: “If we have a relationship with Jesus, then we also have a relationship with his enemy and should understand how that relationship is going. This is especially true when God has given us authority in an age of opinion.”
So our student ministry committed to five weeks of studying Jesus in the landscape of how the devil works. One night, three unexpected guests arrived, at the invitation of a regular attendee. The teenagers all had black clothes, leather wristbands, and silver hair. Appearances aren’t everything, of course, but they obviously get your attention. I prayed I would see each teenager for who they were and overlook their distracting attire. (Sometimes to hear from Jesus you need to ask him to help you quiet yourself.)
Each guest seemed genuinely interested in the topic, but I sensed that their teachable hearts were colliding with something else inside them. Throughout the night, I felt prompted to pray with specific authority that “in the name of Jesus” we would hear only from him and not his enemy. I texted a few people to join in this prayer.
When I began speaking more specifically about who God’s enemy is and how he works, one guest stood up, held her heart, and paced around while saying, “Ouch! It hurts! Ouch! Ouch! It hurts!”
I wondered the same thing you might: Was it a natural or supernatural moment? Was it an assault on her body, an assault on her identity, or an assault on our group? Or was it (literally) just the Taco Bell she’d eaten earlier?
Between a debrief with adult leaders afterward and a conversation with some teenagers on the ride home, it became clear that everyone wondered what their place or authority was in that moment. Different denominations spin this differently, but it’s important to know what Scripture says about our identity in Christ as we stand against the devil’s schemes.
I find great confidence in these basics:
- God is real and is for us. He is the Father, Son, and Spirit who gives us life, hope, forgiveness, holiness, and grace. God doesn’t aim to shame us down but to raise us up. In Jesus we have a Savior who wants intimacy, and has come to give us “a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10b).
- Satan is real and is against us. Jesus speaks about, and interacts with, Lucifer/demonic forces quite frequently. You’d have to edit a large portion of the New Testament if you wanted to excise Satan from it. He’s a sore loser who is already defeated but wants to take us out on his way down—it’s the most efficient and profound way he can hurt God. So although Satan does have power, by no means is he an equal to Jesus. (If Satan’s power is a gumball, Jesus’ power is a universe of Willy Wonka factories.) In the devil we have a personal enemy who comes to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10a).
- This world is broken and confuses us. We can pursue some seemingly not-so-bad things in life (success, happiness, pleasure) that take our eyes off Jesus. These pursuits appear to be neutral, but we don’t realize this means they can neutralize us. “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world” (1 John 2:16).
- Jesus is unique and empowers us. Notice I mentioned Jesus in the first bullet point but also am giving him his own bullet point. That’s because through Christ alone do we have authority—not to be sassy against Satan but to be confident in the Lord. When Jesus gives his disciples authority to tread all the power of the enemy, he adds, “But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
So what do we do when a teenager expresses doubts or something more supernatural plays out? Consider this metaphor: Good police officers don’t drive around looking to pull out their guns and shoot at things. Instead, they know their role is to protect and serve. That’s vital for understanding the proper motivation of officers making appearances at schools to build relationships or showing up to address not-so-good crime happening in your neighborhood. And when those officers make a demand, they do so not in their own power but “in the name of the law.” The difference is we claim our authority through a holy grace-giver, “in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Teenagers will walk into our youth groups and lives with clothing, sass, and drama that distract us. We’ll also battle the spiritual realm as kids feel neutralized by life or come under enemy fire in a way that makes them cry, “Ouch! It hurts!” In those moments, let’s pray that we see young people for who they are so we can help them see Jesus for who he is.
To dive deeper into this topic, check out resources such as Group’s 17-lesson LIVE: Apologetics and 36-lesson LIVE: Journey to Freedom curriculum series, and materials from Freedom in Christ Ministries.