Christian Living

#STRask: April 25, 2016

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Published on 04/25/2016

Greg answers questions about how to tell if someone is truly demon possessed, if a rational argument for determinism necessarily self destructs, if it follows that Jesus is God because he rose from the dead, and if we are to forgive and reconcile with those who are not repentant.


  • How do you tell if someone who may appear to be demonized is truly possessed, acting out, or mentally ill?
  • Does a rational argument for determinism necessarily self destruct? Can’t I say my dominoes just happen to be influencing yours?
  • Does it follow that because Jesus rose from the dead he is God? Could he have been a really good magician like the ones in Ex.7&8?
  • Are we to forgive and reconcile with others when they are not repentant?


Melinda: This is Stand to Reason, and Greg is still talking. This is STRask, #STRask. This is Melinda the Enforcer with Greg Koukl, who doesn’t realize the music means we’re starting a podcast.

Greg: That’s what I get paid for, for talking.

Melinda: You can pause once in a while. Take a breath.

Greg: Well, what I was asking is, I know we’re doing double-up on these, so we’ll have two of these a week.

Melinda: Oh, you remember, huh?

Greg: I’m wondering if people who are receiving the first one will automatically receive the second one.

Melinda: Yeah, if they’ve already subscribed to the feed, the two episodes will be in the feed.

Greg: Okay. I got you.

Melinda: If people actually go retrieve it on our website or something else...

Greg: They’ll have to go twice. The best thing for people who want to listen to this on a regular basis is to sign up for the feed?

Melinda: Sign up for the feed or listen to it in our app, because it automatically feeds to our app. This one and the long podcast, the long-winded podcast.

Greg: What’s an app?

Melinda: Everyone else knows. This week, folks, we’re starting two episodes, 20 minutes, Greg’s still on the timer for four minutes. Ready to go?

Greg: Yeah, but last time it was like 30 minutes.

Melinda: I know, but when we discussed doing two episodes a week, two 30 minute episodes just seemed a bit much. Part of our goal is to give people who don’t have a lot of time a podcast they can listen to. The consensus, discussing it with the staff, is that 20 minutes is the average amount of time somebody’s taking a walk, or they’re in the car, or something like that, and they can get it done.

Greg: Except for when we spend like 15 minutes jabbering before we get going. Then that kind of messes things up, doesn’t it?

Melinda: Yeah, so we’re going to tighten things up.

Greg: Well, I’m ready to go.

Melinda: Well, I’m trying to start. Okay, you ready? Here we go. First question. By the way, you submit your questions on Twitter using #STRask.

First questions comes from dlharmon01. How do you tell if someone who may appear to be demonized is truly possessed, acting out, or mentally ill?

Greg: Well, if they start speaking in a language that they don’t know, or their head starts doing 360s with projectile vomiting, and they start tossing people across the room, that’s probably an indicator that they’re actually demon possessed.

When I say demon possessed, I mean that a demon has taken very aggressive control of them. I know a lot of times, discussion about demon possession is whether the demon is in you or outside of you, or how that works. Well, demons are spiritual. They don’t have spacial location. They’re illocal. They have an illocal presence. They can make themselves... They can have an impact in a locality, even though their immaterial selves aren’t in the room like the pea is in the pod. When we say a person is demon possessed, we think about the demon being in him, and it is true that Jesus said, “Come out of him,” when people were demon possessed, but I think that was just a way of talking. That demon was in charge, so I think that’s kind of the point of it. I don’t always know where to draw the line. I have never encountered a demon possessed person, or anything like that, would manifest all these things, but I know that Christians can be certainly demonized, which I think is the Greek word that is translated “possessed.” That is, demons can cause us trouble, and some people make a distinction between demon possessed and oppressed, and that might be sometimes helpful.

The antidote for all of that is the same thing. When you have a radical manifestation, then you address the demon in the power of the Spirit, in the name of Christ. That isn’t just reciting the name Jesus like it’s an abracadabra, but you are going in the authority of Jesus, since you have his authority, being a Christian, and you are telling that demon to be silent and get out. We see examples of how that played out in the book of Acts, and in the gospels. If it’s not that kind of a manifestation, it... Some people are just odd, you know? I have come from a little bit of a charismatic background in my church background. I remember, and you remember sometimes people got a little bit superstitious about those kinds of things.

Probably the best thing to do, and I did this once, is go through the gospels and the book of Acts and look at every occasion where the scripture identifies demon possession and see what were the characteristics that were there. Self-mutilatory behaviors, supernatural strength, speaking with other voices, and things like that. If those kinds of things aren’t in play, and the person is just odd, weird, maybe that’s all that it is. They’re just odd or weird. It could also be that they’re mentally ill. I don’t have a litmus test for mental illness versus demon possession. I suspect if you are... There are probably people that are demon possessed that are just considered mentally ill because the medical profession doesn’t consider the possibility of demon possession. I think there are other people, maybe some Christians, have a disposition to say they’re demon possessed when in fact they’re just weird or possibly mentally ill. I think it’s just a matter of discretion. If a person really thinks someone is demon possessed, I’d say get to praying. That’s the only thing that’s going to deal with it.

Melinda: Next question comes from andrewminok. Does a rational argument for determinism necessarily self-destruct? Can’t I say my dominoes just happen to be influencing yours?

Greg: An argument for determinism does self-destruct.

Melinda: Necessarily so?

Greg: Yes. I would say necessarily. The reason is because if determinism is true, and here I mean strict determinism. Different people use the words in different ways. That the universe is just... Everything about the universe, every human being, every human emotion, every apparent act of will is really just a matter of sophisticated combination of dominoes falling. That’s all it is. It’s one thing pushing another. That’s called event causation. One event causes another event causes another event, and it of necessity causes the other event. The necessary and sufficient conditions are in place for that even to take place. That would mean none of your thinking, none of my thinking, if determinism is true, is a result of deliberation, like we are working through something, and we are thinking, and then we consider this reason, or that reason, and this counter-reason, and we weigh them all together, and in that deliberation we come to a conclusion as to which view is right. That’s rationality argument. That all requires freedom.

If it turns out that determinism is true, you could never know it, because knowledge requires justification, and justification can’t be accomplished in a deterministic world. It may be that determinism is true, but you never can argue for it in a meaningful way, because your argument would be just something that comes out of your mouth because you’re determined to do that, just as the argument against determinism would be coming out of the mouth of the non-determinist because he’s been determined to do it. That’s why I say it does necessarily self-destruct. If determinism is true, rationality has no room to move. This is why Sam Harris, for example, the atheist, is a determinist, but he thinks it... It doesn’t seem to bother him, and he makes his case for God. He thinks you can do morality, even though you’re a determinist. I don’t get that.

Melinda: Let’s take a moment. I just wanted to mention if you can get information about where our speakers are going to be teaching, they get invited by churches and campus groups, and other places, to go teach, you can find that information at, or in the top menu when you go to the home page. There’s training, then on that menu there’s events. Coming up on April 22-24th... That’s going to be over by the time this posts. Coming up on the 30th, you’ve got the Shape conference on New Market, Ontario, Canada. On May 4th, Greg’s going to be at Center Point Church in Roseville, California. May 26th he’s going to Norway for the weekend to teach.

Greg: It’s a little longer than that. I think it’s longer. Isn’t it almost six days?

Melinda: You leave on Wednesday. You teach in Oslo on Thursday. You go to Stavanger to teach at the men’s retreat, and you come home Monday.

Greg: All right.

Melinda: It’s a long weekend, because it takes a while to get there.

Greg: Usually because I’m going the other direction, plus travel time, plus the time zones, how can I leave on Wednesday and teach on Thursday, unless I leave really early in the morning.

Melinda: Maybe you’re leaving that Tuesday night. I know you’re not missing the program. I would not let that happen. You already miss it enough this summer when you dare to take time off.

Greg: Anyway, I’ll be there for that weekend for sure, whenever it is that I come back.

Melinda: Then June 19, he’s teaching in Woodruff, Wisconsin while he’s on vacation, so you can find his schedule, Brett, and Alan, and Tim’s, at Back to the program. Next question. Does it follow that because Jesus rose from the dead, he is God? Could he have been a really good magician like the ones in Exodus 7 and 8?

Greg: It doesn’t follow that because Jesus rose from the dead, he is God because Lazarus rose from the dead, and he’s not God. I mean, if you just are looking at the fact of the resurrection, that by itself I don’t think accomplishes it. Remember that the word used for miracles in the New Testament is... I’ve got to go way back, about 35 years, to my Greek. I think it’s pronounced… and it means attesting miracles, that is a miracle that bears testimony or witnesses to something else, and so Jesus makes claims about himself, and then does these things that bear testimony to the legitimacy of the claim. John says the many other works, attesting miracles, Jesus did that were not written in this book, though he performed them. Pardon me, but these in the book of John he has included in order that you would believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in believing have life in his name. That miracles are done for the groundings of the belief of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God.

I think that’s the best way of thinking about the resurrection. Paul says in Romans 1, that Jesus was declared with power to be the Son of God through the resurrection. I don’t think you can isolate the resurrection from the claims of Jesus regarding himself that were secured in his miracles, and finally in his resurrection. I think we need to think of those things together. If somebody else rose from the dead, that wouldn’t make them God. If somebody else did the kinds of things that Jesus did persistently, and claimed the things that he’s claimed persistently, then the capstone event of his claims and his works was a resurrection, and taken as a whole, then I think I agree with Paul, that he was declared with power to be the Son of God.

Melinda: I wonder with the Jews, who witnessed the resurrected Jesus, there’s something in the three days that he was dead. A lot of the other resurrections we see recorded in the New Testament were done very shortly after death. The Jews believe the soul departed the body, or departed the area of the body in three days, so the Jews who witnessed the resurrected Jesus believed he was really, really dead.

Greg: That’s right. He was also packed with 100 pounds of chemicals, and embalmed before he was put in a... Laid down on a stone slab and sealed in a cold crypt. This guy was gone. This wasn’t a three minutes out and then he’s back, or a three hours out, then he comes back. It’s very different. You’re right. I think the three days is important because it was appealing to the mindset of the people there, not just to the biological factors. He was dead long enough so that everybody knew that there was no coming back, apart from something absolutely miraculous.

Melinda: I was just thinking Lazarus was also dead to the extent that he was stinking. How long was he in the grave?

Greg: Three. He was also in three days, as I recall, and what Martha said was, “If he comes out now, he’s at the stage where he would stink.” He’d be rotting, but of course when he was resurrected, I don’t think that was the problem. He didn’t smell bad. He still had to be unwrapped.

Melinda: I mean, they expected him to stink.

Greg: I think your underlying point is correct. This guy was stone cold dead for three days. Keep in mind, in the case of Lazarus, Jesus raised him.

Melinda: Yeah, you have Jesus calling him out of the tomb.

Greg: In the case of Jesus, Jesus raised himself. This is a very, very different dynamic, is the thing that I could have mentioned, and I think this sets Jesus’s resurrection apart from everybody else’s.

Melinda: One last question for this episode. Are we to forgive and reconcile with others when they are not repentant?

Greg: You know, this is a real hard question for me to answer. I have worked on this myself, because it’s a practical problem. Everybody has people in their lives that have sinned against them, and so we have to address this question of repentance. Unless you will forgive, you will not be forgiven. “Forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” Jesus taught us to pray. There’s another passage where there’s a parable given about forgiveness. We are to forgive as God has forgiven us. Of course, that’s the catch. God doesn’t forgive us blanketly, but he forgives us in virtue of confession and repentance. Now, I’m not saying confession and repentance for each individual sin, but there is a... If you don’t remember the sin, then you’re not going to be... You don’t confess it, you’re going to lose your salvation. That’s not my point. The point is that God’s model is that we come to him and confess being a sinner, and that then is what initiates the grace for forgiveness. If that’s the way God forgives, then we need to forgive that way too.

I think a case could be made, and actually one of our mentors, Doug Ivett, writes about this kind of forgiveness. There are wounded parties, wounded by those who do not repent, and those are not deserving of forgiveness, at least of a certain kind. It seems to me, though, there are a couple of aspects to forgiveness because, let’s say... We’re not obliged to forgive that person because they haven’t come and asked for forgiveness. When Jesus talks about... Or when Peter asks how many times we forgive, if he comes back and repents, 70 times 7. What if there is no repentance. There’s not even acknowledgement of our sin. Now you’re in a circumstance where your heart is hard towards a person, and that hardness and unforgiveness of heart is damaging to our soul. I think there’s another aspect of forgiveness that has to do with us releasing a harm against us that isn’t really forgiving the other person in the same sense that I was just talking about, but there’s a sense of kind of letting it go that is going to help the soul.

Melinda: I was going to suggest this, and I think that’s where we say vengeance is God’s. In the end, it’s God who is going to bring justice to this person, not me, so we release... Like you said, it’s not quite forgiveness, but I think there’s a releasing of my right to hold this against the person, and put it in God’s hands.

Greg: Proverbs 19... I just read this the other day. It’s one I memorized, because I had my daughter memorize it, because she needed to use it with regards to her younger sister. I’m not naming any names here...

Melinda: Let’s guess which one that is.

Greg: The verse... for me too. The proverb says, “A man’s integrity makes him slow to anger.” I struggle with that a lot, because I want to think you’re a man of integrity, but how come you get angry so quickly? If you’re really integrity, you’d manage that better. Anyway, “A man’s integrity makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.” It is his glory to overlook a transgression. I think what’s going on there is it’s a virtue sometimes just to let something slide. You don’t make a big deal about it, you don’t fuss about it, you don’t demand an apology, you don’t demand repentance. I mean, you’re probably not going to get it in a lot of ways anyway, so it’s just virtuous to let it slide.

Melinda: Very good counsel from Proverbs.

Greg: Perfect timing too. Let me ask you, didn’t our friend JT, Justin Taylor, with Crossway, and what is his blog?

Melinda: Between Two Worlds.

Greg: Between Two Worlds.

Melinda: It’s on the Gospel Coalition now.

Greg: Right. I seem to recall him working through this particular issue.

Melinda: He didn’t confide in me. Glad you shared it with everybody. I don’t recall this at all.

Greg: It was something he wrote.

Melinda: Maybe. I don’t remember.

Greg: Yeah, it’s either him or it may be Kevin DeYoung. I suggest anybody interested in this further checking out...

Melinda: They’re both on the Gospel Coalition blogs.

Greg: You can Google search that. I thought it was...

Melinda: Even not on issue, both are excellent bloggers. Good to read.

Greg: Yes, I highly recommend it.

Melinda: Okay, that’s it for this week folks. The first of two episodes. You can send us your questions on Twitter, using #STRask, the name of the podcast. It’s posted Mondays and Thursdays. The long podcast is posted Wednesdays and Fridays. Four out of five business days of the week, you get fresh STR programming, to the extent that we’re able to. I’m Melinda the Enforcer, with Greg Koukl, for STR.