Scripture Reference: Deuteronomy 18
Judging Neo-PaganismDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | February 3, 2002
Selected highlights from this sermon
Why don’t we fear the devil and his practices? Perhaps it’s because we don’t realize that we’re participating in occult practices. Or we treat the occult as mere fantasy, assuming that it won’t affect us. We think we’ll be able to recognize when Satan actually shows up—but that’s not necessarily true.
God says we must abstain and abhor every practice that seeks hidden power and knowledge. And though something, like astrology, might seem harmless, we need to realize that the devil never plays by the rules.
My topic today is judging Neo-Paganism. When does fantasy become reality? Would you bow with me one more time in prayer?
Father, I ask in the name of Jesus that You will give ears to all who hear. I pray that You might grant me wisdom as we speak about the occult. I pray that people shall be delivered from it, and from its snares. And I pray that You shall grant, oh God, a revelation of Your power that would remind us that You are stronger than our enemy, but oh how he seeks to destroy us. Help us, Father. We bind ourselves to You today and to Your promises in Jesus’ name, Amen.
It’s been my experience that, for the most part, Christians today do not fear the devil. There was a time when people believed that the devil existed and that he could not be trusted to abide by the rules. Christians today think that he’s a gentleman and that he won’t show up unless he is specifically invited. And so they don’t fear horoscopes, tarot cards, hypnotism, witches, ghosts and the like.
Why is it that Christians aren’t afraid of these things in our generation? I think that there are a number of reasons and I’d very quickly like to give you five reasons why the fear is no longer there.
First of all, there’s the belief that if the occult is accepted as fantasy then it’s not dangerous. As long as you don’t really believe that a Ouija board can be a point of contact with the devil, then there’s nothing to fear. It’s a game. And if you read horoscopes for fun there is nothing wrong with it, and if you believe that Harry Potter’s world is just a fantasy world anyway, it can’t be dangerous. And if you play Dungeons and Dragons and other occult games and realize that it’s just a game, why then, indeed, there is nothing to fear. But I need to begin by saying that we have to realize that fantasy is often the bridge that leads to reality, and there is a spirit world out there.
Let me give you a second reason. It’s because many Christians think that if the devil does show up they would know it. As long as things don’t get bounced around the room and glasses break, and as long as the levitation isn’t successful, Satan did not show up, they think. They don’t realize that he uses lures, and he wants to be hidden as long as he possibly can be. And many people who are in contact with the devil simply do not know it.
There’s a third reason, and that is that if we know someone who has not been hurt by involvement, then it must not be dangerous, so I’ve heard people say, “Well, I know someone who went to a fortune teller and they weren’t hurt. I mean it didn’t hurt them. It’s just a game.”
There are people who say, “Well, you know, I know somebody who saw the movie The Exorcist and they are okay. In fact, they are Christians and they weren’t bothered by it.” And perhaps they weren’t, though I personally know someone who saw the movie The Exorcist and later on needed an exorcism because of a demon that was picked up in the theater.
And so there are those who say, “Well (and here’s one), I know a Christian who does hypnosis. Well, if a Christian does hypnosis, then obviously it must be okay.” In the Bible hypnosis is called enchantments. But the problem is that there are many people who don’t realize that what Satan really wants from us is an inability to read the Bible, an inability to latch on to the promises of God, and so, just because there are some people who aren’t hurt by certain aspects of the occult, that does not mean that it is not dangerous.
Now, if you ask the question, “Well, why is it that some people have a demonic affliction when they are involved, and others don’t?” I can’t answer. It’s like asking, “Why is it that some people eat in the same restaurant, maybe even from the same menu, and some get food poisoning and others don’t?” I don’t know. I don’t have an explanation for it.
Then there are Christians who say, “Well, you know, we have special protection because we are in Christ.” Well, that protection is there, thank God, but it’s there when we walk in paths of righteousness, and we’d better not presume protection if we begin to dabble in what God has condemned.
And then, here’s another one. If they seem to have some immediate good (a particular practice or an activity), they think that it might be okay. You know, I have met people who have said, “Well, you know you’re against hypnotism, but it helped me quit smoking, or lose weight, or whatever.” Or, “When I visited a psychic my life was turned around and miracles started to happen.” And speaking of miracles, that happens to be my topic next week when we are going to talk about the miracles that Satan is able to do, and our need to be able to distinguish the works of the devil from the works of God. Incredibly important!
I want you to know today, though, that Satan does not play by the rules. He’s not a gentleman. He doesn’t say, “Well, you know, I don’t come to the party unless I’m invited.” No, he’s there. He shows up uninvited.
It’s very interesting that in the thirteenth chapter of John’s Gospel we discover that Satan entered into Judas while Judas was sitting next to Jesus at the table. I’ve read that many times, but this week as I reread it, I was impressed with that, that he showed up and he wasn’t invited. Judas didn’t say, “Now Satan, I want you to enter me.” All that Judas was doing was contemplating some sin, a great sin to be sure, but he had not yet even done the sin, and Satan entered into him, uninvited, but he was there. Wow!
Folks, I hope you are with me so far, and this is going to be a strong message on the occult, but you know, my responsibility as your shepherd is to warn you. And I don’t want to stand in God’s presence some day and have God say, “You know, you preached all those nice truths but you never warned the people of their culture and what was happening,” so I want you to listen carefully. I hope you agree with me. If you disagree, come up later and confess your sins. (laughter) Just joking! And during the next 20 or 25 minutes we’re going to talk very plainly. I don’t want anyone leaving and saying, “What did he believe?” I don’t want to be like a politician who left a political rally in Chicago recently and whispered to one of his aids, “I hope that in the excitement I didn’t happen to make myself clear about anything.”
Let’s take our Bibles and find out what God has to say about the occult. The passage of Scripture is Deuteronomy, chapter 18 where God has some things to say. Now this is just one passage among many. There are at least twenty different occultic practices that are condemned in the Bible, and here we have maybe five or six.
Verse 9 of chapter 18: “When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those other nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead, for whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable things, the Lord, your God, will drive them out before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord, your God.”
A divination! That’s the ability to see into the future just by inspiration, the ability to look into a person’s eyes and even before you meet them to tell them what sickness they already have.
Sorcery means magic with the aid of evil spirits. Omens—where an object (an event) is a portent or a prediction regarding good or evil in the future. Witchcraft—the ability and the power to have influence and strength through the spirit world. Spells—another word for spells might be curses. You say, “Are there curses?” Yes, there are.
This week I spoke to a woman from another church and from another area who definitely, it seems to me, has been cursed by a member of her family who is deeply involved in the occult, and the demonic activity cannot be explained in any other way so far as I know. It is a curse. And then you have mediums that contact the dead, and spiritists.
Why does God hate these things? Why are they so detestable? Well, just look at the list. First of all, they involve hidden knowledge that God has not revealed. That’s why God hates astrology, as we shall see, particularly, because what you are trying to do is to get into areas that God has not revealed, and what you are saying is, “I want that hidden knowledge at any cost, even if it comes from the devil.”
Secondly, hidden power! Look at the list. Omens, spells, sorcery, magic that has a demonic base! What people want to do is to manipulate and to control the destiny of their own lives, and the occult is out there to reach into the deepest part of us because we are spiritual beings, and we want to connect with a power that is greater than we are, and if that power is not God, we will find another power that’s out there. And I do need to tell you that the occult is basically a form of self-government and self-empowerment when we turn from God to ourselves.
Listen to the words of a Satanist. This is very important. He says, “We do not worship Satan. We worship ourselves, but when we worship ourselves, Satan turns up.” All that you need to do is to worship yourself.
Now, what are some of the doorways of the occult, and here I am going to list them very quickly, because what I really want to get to is five principles that are going to help us. As you know, this is a series of messages on discernment, and today we’re talking about Neo-Paganism.
What are some of the ways of the occult and the doorways? First of all, New Age healing! The health industry is full of it, full of the occult. That is where you have the practice of thinking that an object has the power to heal, or a practice that does not have a basis in science that has the ability to heal, such as crystals, psychic therapies, healing guides, eastern notions of spirituality, books like Awakening the Healer Within, and The Therapeutic Touch—Psycho Immunity and the Healing Process. You have prayers for those who are sick. Well, doesn’t prayer work? Yeah, but it doesn’t matter what name you pray it in, what God you are praying to. Just pray! And so what you have in the healthcare industry is a lot of this attempt to unify mind and body, and there is some truth to that (Isn’t there?) because your mind does have a tremendous amount of power over the body. But this is combined with pantheistic notions about health and our spirituality, and our basic goodness. And you find many writers and many books that purport that, oftentimes some good, some bad, because the occult is mixed up with the scientific part.
Secondly, you have psychedelic drugs and transcendental meditation. Well, what’s wrong with meditation? We’re supposed to meditate. Yes, we’re to meditate in the Law of the Lord during the night and during the day. That means we are to have content in our minds, but in transcendental meditation you are supposed to empty your mind, something that is very dangerous for you to do. The same thing happens in psychedelic drugs. That’s why when Marilyn Ferguson wrote her book, The Aquarian Conspiracy, she said that drugs and transcendental meditation are the ways into “the transformation of consciousness.”
You see, the devil has a counterpart for everything that God has. God has the new birth. We are to be born again of the Spirit, and that’s our opportunity to be in contact with God. He also has the new birth. This is his most dazzling deception. It is the ritual that brings about the transformation of consciousness that is found in almost all non-Christian religions. People are in touch with the higher powers and emptying the mind becomes the way to bring that about.
Oh yes, there may be some good to Yoga physically, but combined with religious notions of emptying the mind can be very dangerous. In fact, when I was at the Parliament of World Religions I just remembered I said that I was talking to those who were into transcendental meditation. And I said, “You know, of course, that demons sometimes appear,” and they said, “Oh yes, we know that.” And surprisingly they did not argue that, but they said, “That’s why you need a good guru to take you through those tunnels of evil so that you come out on the other side.”
Number three, television programs, movies! We think… This is, by the way, the greatest recruitment tool of the occult that one could possibly imagine. Programs like Buffy the Vampire, Charmed or Practical Magic emphasize witchcraft, pantheistic notions, power of levitation, prognostication. Powers are used to (quote) even the score. I could go into more detail, but that’s enough.
What about ghosts? Do ghosts exist? You see, what happens is this. When a person lives with demonic spirits… It may be that these spirits have inhabited him, or controlled him to some extent. The Bible calls these spirits familiar spirits. And the reason they are familiar spirits is because they are familiar with the person to whom they have followed and attached themselves. The person dies. What’s going to happen to this spirit? It so happens that in my Bible reading I read the fifth chapter of Mark this morning where Jesus cast out some spirits. And they said, “Let us go into the pigs.” And Jesus accommodated them because if they don’t have a body to inhabit they sometimes become listless and aimlessly wander around, and we call those ghosts.
A number of years ago I was in Calgary in a wonderful, beautiful hotel there, and when I was there the Calgary Herald ran a story that this hotel, in which I was staying, was haunted, that certain rooms were haunted. During that period of time (This was a Baptist group that we were together with), some of us accepted the opportunity to get a tour of the hotel by a young woman, perhaps 21 or 22 years old. And when we were in the basement she said, “You notice that there are these potted plants on these marble stairs.” And she said, “No one is allowed to go up the stairs because,” she said, “a spirit lives on these stairs. A young woman, when the hotel was first built, on her wedding day, tripped down the stairs, hit her head, and died at the base of the stairs, and now she keeps showing up,” said this young lady. And she said, “You can ask the people who work in the kitchen. They see her.” And this is in addition to the two other rooms that are haunted.
I didn’t know whether or not I should do this. You know, I did it with a smile on my face because you don’t want to just hurt people, but I said to her, “Would you like me to give a biblical interpretation of ghosts?” And she said, “Sure.” I said, “I want you to know that the person who shows up in this kitchen is not the young lady. Her soul has gone to wherever, but it’s not her. But it’s a demon that knew her who takes her characteristics.” And that’s what we’re really up against. And this young lady smiled back and she said, “Well, I like the word ghost better than the word demon.” She said, “Remember Casper, the Friendly Ghost.”
Yeah, there are these spirits. There are haunted houses. There are haunted buildings. The same characteristics as demons! They run in family lines and the whole bit, and what we need to understand is that all these ghost stories, you know, that make you scared… But isn’t it wonderful that they don’t really exist? They do exist! There is a spirit world out there.
What about astrology! Psychic hotline! You know, “Just call once and we’ll tell you your future.” Oh, I tell you, God hates astrology. Listen to what He says: “‘But evil will come upon you which you will not know how to charm away, and disaster will fall on you for which you cannot atone, and destruction about which you do not know will come upon you suddenly. Stand fast now in your spells and in your many sorceries with which you have labored with from your youth. Perhaps you will be able to profit. (Yeah, there may be some value in them.) Perhaps you may cause trembling. You are weary with your many councils. Let now your astrologers, those who prophesy by the stars, those who predict by the new moon, stand up and save you from what is going to come upon you. Behold, they will become like stubble. Fire burns them. They cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame. There will be no coal to warm by nor fire to sit before, but disaster is going to come upon you,’ God says.” Yet we have Christians who say, “Oh, you know, I read the horoscopes, but I kind of read it for fun, and sometimes they are right.”
Well, after all that, what are we going to do with Harry Potter? I have to tread very carefully here. In a couple of weeks, I’m going to be at a conference on spiritual warfare, and one of the sessions is on Harry Potter, and it is entitled, “Should we Harry? To Harry, or not to Harry, that is the question.” I guess they didn’t want to call it “To Potter, or not to Potter, that is the question.”
I have to tell you that I have not read much about Harry Potter, so I’m going to tread very, very carefully at this point. I read some of the fourth book, which seems to me to be very dark and violent, but because there are such good Christians who disagree with me… There have been some who have begun to read Harry Potter with the intention of debunking him as a cult, and then they’ve decided, “No, it’s possible to use occult terms and occult forms to communicate truth.” And so many people, I think, including Charles Colson, for example, who says, “Parents should be involved in the process,” believe these books are a good read. I don’t want to misquote him, but I think that, at least early on, that’s what he said.
So because of the fact that I haven’t read much of Harry Potter (You could just say that I’ve dabbled in Harry Potter.) (chuckles) I’m going to let you make up your own mind. But I do want to ask you some questions, those of you who have read the books, those of you who are into Harry Potter and his sorcery and his wizardry. Here are some questions, and I think that these questions also will help us distinguish that from say C.S. Lewis or Tolkien.
Do these books teach absolutes, or do they have relativistic notions of good and evil? That’s just a question. I can’t answer this. I mean, you’re the ones who are the experts. You’ve read it. Secondly, is evil in these books used to produce good? That to me is huge, whether or not evil is used to produce good. Here’s another question. Is it possible to break the rules and still be a hero in these books? And could the Harry Potter books be an imaginative bridge to the occult? This past week I read a quote from a witch who thinks so. She thinks it’s a wonderful entry door into what she’s doing. And the question is, and I don’t want to prejudice it here, but could it be occultism with a very friendly face?
Now, I do need to say that if you are a parent here and your children have read the books, or if they are absolutely insisting that they read them, and if you don’t read them with them they are going to read them in school anyway, then I suggest that you be very careful, and read them with your children and process them with your children, and help them both to interpret the books as well as to give the appropriate warnings regarding witchcraft. I think that within good homes where you have that, the children will not be necessarily lured into the occult. But I can see that some child reading this to himself could say, “I want the power of Harry. I want to attend that school of (What is it?) Hogwarts (or something like that).” So I personally want you to be strongly cautioned, but at the end of the day it’s your decision.
Let’s get to some principles of discernment very quickly.
Principles of discernment! Number one, there are only two sources of spiritual power, folks. Only two! There is God and good angels, and there is Satan and evil angels. There is no neutral power of nature. Many years ago I was on television with a hook-up here in Chicago with a witch in Los Angeles. And she kept insisting that “We witches, we who belong to the wiccan community (based on the word wisdom) have nothing to do with the devil. We worship ourselves and nature.” And to be fair, most witches don’t worship the devil directly. They do worship themselves and nature.
But my dear friend, we’ve already learned that it’s possible to worship the devil even if he is not named. Remember worship yourself and he’ll show up. There are only two sources. There’s no somehow “earth power” that you tap into. It’s either God, Christ, the Bible, or some other supernatural power that comes from the other side of the world, that is the spirit world.
Third, even small steps in the wrong direction can lead us into Satan’s camp. Even small steps in the wrong direction! And this is why I just throw out every caution I possibly can about the occult.
There is a story about an organization that was hiring truck drivers, and they asked a couple of drivers, “How close can you get to the edge of the cliff if you were driving a truck? How close would you be able to get?” And one guy said, “Well, I could get within six inches.” And the other guy said, “You know, I think I could do better than that. I think I could do four inches.” And the other guy said, “Hey, look, I’m out of this. I can’t play this game. If I were driving a truck, I would stay as far away from the edge of a cliff as I possibly could.” And he ended up with the job.
I just want you to know, folks, that the issue is not how close can we come to the occult without being afflicted by Satan? That is not the question. The real question should be, “How far can we stay away and have nothing to do with what God says is detestable?” And He said, “because of that I am driving out those nations,” and God will judge us because of the occultism which we find. And by the way, don’t ever think that I’ve covered all of the bases. There are as many ways to lure people into the occult as there are interests among Americans.
Number three, Satan will give you what you want. Listen to this carefully. He’ll give you what you want as long as you eventually get what he wants. I know that that takes a little bit of writing, doesn’t it? Satan will give you what you want as long as you eventually get what he wants. Will he heal you? The answer is yes, as we will see next week. Of course, he’ll heal your body if he can. I mean that’s a small price to pay for your allegiance to wrong doctrine. Will he bless your business because you take a course in miracles? Will he help you lose weight, or help you to do this or help you to do that? And the answer is yes as long as, in return, he gets this. He gets us to belong to him (I coined this phrase yesterday evening and I kind of like it. Is it okay if occasionally I like something I’m saying?) as long as we are bound to him with addictive allegiance. Addictive allegiance! It’s not that necessarily you are going to be possessed or, you know, this evil… No, no, no! All that he wants you to do is… Listen, if you watch on television occultism—the shows that I’ve mentioned just a moment ago, or something, just try afterwards to read your Bible and pray. Just try it and see if you can do it. There are many Christians who can’t. And that’s all that he wants. I mean he doesn’t have to possess you, though in some instances he might, but that’s not… Just as long as you’re kept from God, as long as you’re not in fellowship with God, as long as you can’t pray effectively because your life is so filled with the occult and sin that has accumulated, that’s all that he needs to neutralize Christians.
Number four, ignorance is no excuse. You say, “Well, I didn’t know that I shouldn’t be playing with these tarot cards or with a Ouija board. I didn’t know that. Well, you do now.
Let’s suppose, for example, that you’re an Israeli soldier. One Sunday afternoon you are taking a walk in the beautiful sunshine and you go across the Syrian border, but you don’t know it because it’s not marked, and you get across the Syrian border and some Syrian soldiers capture you. And you say, “Well, I didn’t know that I crossed that border. I mean, I was just taking a walk on a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon.” I don’t care whether you know it or not. You’re in deep trouble, deep trouble, and you may not even get back. Satan doesn’t say, “Well, you know, I’m going to give him a pass. He didn’t know it.” He’s not a gentleman. He’s not like that. There are no rules with the devil.
Number five, Christ has triumphed over all the powers of the occult. This message has been more of warning so I’ve not stressed the triumph of Christ, but I have to here. Remember that Satan has no more power than God lets him have. Not one wit more than God lets him have. He is not the final power and authority in the universe. It is Christ! King of kings, Lord of lords, God of all gods! And when Jesus died on the cross, He took that serpent, and as it were, He took His foot and He crushed the head of the serpent into the pavement. I think we ought to clap there (Don’t you think?) for Jesus! (applause)
I like to think of that chess game that was painted entitled The Chess Game Between a Young Man and Satan. And the painter painted it in such a way that there was consternation on the face of the young man, because the agreement was that whoever lost would become the servant of the winner. And the devil had just moved his queen and declared checkmate in two moves. But some of you know Paul Morphy. At least you’ve heard of him. He was one of the most famous chess players in the world. He visited the painting, which hung in one of America’s art galleries. And as he looked at it he kept saying, “Now, let’s see, if you move this, move this, move this…” And he stood there, and suddenly he shouted, “Young man, there’s a move you can make.” The painter had overlooked a move that the young man could make.
And I say to those of you today who have occult backgrounds, even some of you who received occult backgrounds because of your family lineage and because of what your parents did… I say to those of you who have been in it either in ignorance or knowingly, there is a move you can make. Christ has triumphed!
Now, I wish that today we could give an invitation and have a room where we could just get on our knees, all those of you who struggle with occultism, and we could all just repent of our sins. But we can’t do that because we do have communion and we do have Sunday school classes, so here’s what I’m going to ask you to do. What I want you to do is to go home and get on your knees. Block out about two hours, preferably in a place where you are very much alone and you’re not going to be disturbed. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you all areas of the occult in which you have been involved, either voluntarily or involuntarily. And confess each one and renounce them in the presence of God and get rid of their power to the triumph of Jesus and be free.
Sometimes freedom can’t come without other people praying with you, without other people interceding, but God wants to deliver His people. I’ve been praying that as this message was preached that people would be delivered. That’s how much confidence I have in God’s most Holy Word, and the triumph of Jesus. But we live in a thoroughly occultic age, and it’s not going to get any better. It’s going to get worse. And God says, “These things are detestable in my sight.” Let’s not give Satan an inch, because for every inch he comes back wanting a foot and a yard and a mile. He is not going to play by the rules.
Let’s pray together.
Our Father, today we ask in the name of Jesus that You shall bring deliverance to Your people, to all who hear this message, whether in this sanctuary, whether on the radio, or by cassette tape. We receive dozens and dozens of letters from people struggling with Satan because of the occult. Oh Father, grant deliverance, we pray. And we ask that You might give to Your people the total confidence that Jesus has triumphed, and bring deliverance we ask in all areas of involvement. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.