“When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, it goes through dry places seeking rest. Finding none, it says, ‘I will return to my house, from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it swept and furnished. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that man is worse than the first.” Luke 11:24-26
What happens when we, by our own resolve and efforts, clean up our lives and rid ourselves of some vice which had dominated or controlled us? What happens when we determine to kick the habit and end a bad behavior or addiction which in many ways controlled our thoughts and lives?
Jesus tells us the answer: “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, it goes through dry places seeking rest. Finding none, it says, ‘I will return to my house, from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it swept and furnished. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that man is worse than the first.”
And so it is with self-help religion — when people, out of fear of consequences, whether civil punishments or other detrimental effects, determine to quit an evil behavior or addiction. They cast out the demon and seek to clean up their lives, but their hearts still long after evil. They may quit drinking or taking drugs, they may quit viewing pornography or halt an adulterous relationship, they may stop going to wild parties and quit participating in sexual immorality; but their hearts still long after the feelings, the high, the sexual excitement, the pleasures.
And what happens? The old demon is missed and comes back. He is even welcomed back! And, finding the house empty and swept, he brings with him seven more evil spirits (or vices) more wicked than himself and takes up residence in the person’s heart, making that person’s last state worse than the first.
Haven’t we seen it happen before? People clean up their lives and appear to do well for a time, but then they fall off the wagon, so to speak; they give in to the longings of their sinful hearts and their last state is worse than the first. They become totally dominated and controlled by their evil longings.
What’s the answer? If we are incapable of truly cleaning up our own lives by resolutions, lifestyle changes, or following the 12 steps, what can free us from the evil spirits which so easily control and possess us — which are so often welcomed into our lives by our old sinful flesh?
The answer lies in the regenerating work which only the Holy Spirit can work in us through His Word and Sacraments.
Through the Law of God, the Holy Spirit reveals to us our sinfulness and the utter sinful condition of our hearts. He reveals to us that our self-help methods are not enough, that we stand condemned by the Word of God which tells us that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4, 20; cf. Rom. 3:9-20).
And through the Gospel, the Holy Spirit reveals to us the grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus, God the Son in human flesh. It reveals to us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16); that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4); that “in Him we have redemption through His blood and the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7); and, in Jesus’ words: “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has eternal life and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).
The Holy Spirit, working through God’s Word of Law and Gospel, convicts us of our sin and brings us to trust in Christ and His sacrifice on the cross for forgiveness and life. And the Holy Spirit, through the waters of Baptism, joins us to Christ in His death and resurrection and regenerates us and gives us new life and a new nature which loves God and gladly seeks to walk according to God’s will (cf. John 3:3-6; Tit. 3:3-7; Col. 2:11-15; Acts 22:16). In the Lord’s Supper, He assures us as we partake of Christ’s sacrifice that the blessings Christ won for us when He gave His body into death for us and shed His blood on the cross to pay for our sins are our own (Matt. 26:26-28).
Does that mean the old sinful desires are gone forever, that we will not also have longings and desires which are of the devil? No, as long as we are in this world, the devil is still at work to lead us back into sin and bind us in His kingdom (cf. 1 Pet. 5:8-9). We still live in the world which lies under the sway and control of the evil one (cf. 1 John 5:19), and we still have our old sinful flesh which has been corrupted by sin and evil and longs to gratify its own selfish and sinful desires (cf. Gal. 5:16ff.).
The point is that it is fruitless to just attempt to drive out the darkness. The only way to overcome the darkness is to turn on the light and let it shine into our hearts — revealing sin as sin and the cause of death, and revealing Christ as our only hope and the bringer of forgiveness and life! As the Apostle John says in his first epistle, to walk in the light is not to pretend we have no sin, but it is to agree with God and confess our sins and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ Jesus, who atoned for our sins and the sins of all by His innocent sufferings and death upon the cross (1 John 1:5 — 2:2).
When we walk in the light of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit carries out His gracious and regenerating working in us, instead of having a house empty and swept and open to the devil and all his evil spirits, we have the Spirit of God dwelling in us, who is working to make our lives more and more like our Lord Jesus.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, seeing the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, as in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:17-18; cf. Rom. 8:23,29).
So, don’t just clean your house! Let God clean your house by letting the light of His Word shine into your hearts, revealing sin as sin and Christ as Your only Savior from sin! Let God’s Spirit do His life-giving work by cleansing your hearts in the blood of Christ and renewing them through God’s Word and Sacraments!
O gracious and merciful God, I am a sinner and unable to free myself from the bondage of sin. Forgive my sins for Jesus’ sake and cleanse my heart by the gracious working of Your Spirit through the Word. Amen.
[Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]