By Brannon Howse
The Scripture: Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
The Twist: The Word of Faith and New Apostolic Reformation, in particular, as well as some well-meaning but misinformed Christians, use this verse to teach the idea of “binding Satan.” They take Matthew 18:18 to say, “Well, we need to have prayer meeting. We need to pray to bind Satan and bind demons.”
I address this twist at length in my book Religious Trojan Horse because there is so much abuse of Matthew 18:18. Someone has jokingly—but correctly—asked, “If Satan’s bound, who keeps letting him loose?”
We don’t bind Satan. Nowhere in the Scripture do we see that we are to bind Satan or demons. Satan is under God’s control. The devil is on a leash, if you will. Scripture makes this clear.
In the book of Job, we see that Satan must ask God for permission to do certain things to Job, don’t we? And so, Satan really is God’s servant. While that may come as a surprise to you, Satan is God’s servant in that he can only do what God allows him to do, and ultimately much of what Satan does and is doing will fulfill the prophecies of Scripture.
Some things that happen to us are not very pleasant, are they? We just discussed that the apostle Paul was persecuted, but our hardships, like his, can work out for the furtherance of the Gospel. The things God allows Satan and his demons to do actually accomplish God’s goals and purposes. So God is the one that has control of Satan—not us.
Satan is not bound until Revelation 20, and when he is bound, he is bound by God. Afterward, Satan is set loose for a period of time by God and then bound for all eternity. Nowhere in God’s Word are we called to bind Satan or his demons. Yet those who teach this binding concept often quote Matthew 18:18.
Do you know what this verse is really about? It has nothing to do with Satan or demons but with church discipline. For reference, look at Matthew 16:19, which speaks of the same idea. Matthew 16:19 reads:
and I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
In this passage, Jesus Christ is talking to Peter, but He reflects the same theme as in Matthew 18:18.
When we examine Matthew 18:15-20, the true context and meaning become plain. These verses instruct the Church that, if someone is caught in sin, you go to him or her. And if the person doesn’t listen, then you take two or three people with you, so there can be witnesses to establish what is said. And if the person in question doesn’t repent, then you bring him or her before the church. Matthew 18:18 completes the instructions for the process of discipline by promising, “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
In other words, if the person is confronted with a private sin or a sin issue that starts out private and then becomes public, and he or she repents, then the person is loosed from that sin. If the person repents and turns from that sin, then the person is no longer bound by that sin; he or she is loosed or released. Jesus says that heaven agrees because heaven agrees with God’s Word. On the other hand, if the person refuses to repent, he or she is still bound—bound in that sin. The person is enslaved to that sin, and heaven also agrees with that acknowledgment, that declaration, that proclamation of being bound in the sin because the person refuses to repent. Thus the binding and loosening in these verses are about church discipline or church accountability and have nothing to do with binding Satan.
Sadly, even the National Day of Prayer organization, led by Shirley Dobson since 1991, seems to have been influenced by Word of Faith and the New Apostolic Reformation false teaching on binding Satan. Under the heading “Why Pray?” the National Day of Prayer website notes:
Warfare: (Psalm 149:6-9). This is prayer directed against the powers of darkness. Our praises to God are also a weapon directed against the powers of darkness (demons, fallen angels who are at work in the affairs of the world and the church). We pronounce against them the written judgment by reading the Scriptures of judgment against them (Psalm 149:9), we command them to be bound or to leave their positions of influence or authority in the name of Jesus. (Matthew 16:19; Mark 16:17). (Emphasis mine.)
We are not to rail at demons and Satan. In fact, we see a remarkable incident recounted in Jude 9:
Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him
a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”
Think about that. Michael the archangel would not get into a shouting match with Satan. He didn’t say, “I bind you Satan.” He simply said, “The Lord rebuke you.”
Another collection of verses that are used out of context to teach this bad theology of binding demons and Satan is found in Luke 11:21-22:
When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils.
This verse is too often construed to mean that we need to bind Satan because Satan is the “strong man,” and we are the “stronger man” because “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength, and greater is He that is in me than he who’s in the world. Thus, I can bind that strong man because I’m the stronger man in Christ.” But no, that’s not what these verses say. The strong man is Satan, but the stronger man is Jesus Christ. Christ has defeated death, the grave, and Satan through His death, burial, and resurrection. We don’t do this. Jesus Christ does it.
Hebrews 2:14-15 repeats the same theme:
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
Jesus Christ won the victory over Satan, sin, and the curse of spiritual death.
It’s instructive to see, though, what the Bible also says about the people who run around railing against demons and railing against Satan. For instance, 2 Peter 2:9-13a:
the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord.
The Bible calls these people “presumptuous.” They are self-willed, not afraid to speak evil against dignitaries. “Dignitaries,” in this passage, refers to these fallen angels, these demons. The people proclaim their ability to bring accusations against the demons, but 2 Peter tells us this is something that even the angels, who are greater in power, will not do. Peter continues:
But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption.
The Bible says people who run around railing against Satan and demons are foolish. They’re doing things even the angels will not do.
So what is the correct biblical response in spiritual warfare? You can see part of it in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
Real spiritual warfare is proclaiming truth. Real spiritual warfare is setting people free from the lies of Satan. Real spiritual warfare is proclaiming truth and battling for the hearts and minds of individuals with biblical truth.
Another response to spiritual attacks is found in James 4:7: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” A more accurate rendering of the words “therefore submit to God” would be “line up under,” as in “line up under God” or “line up behind God.” God is our authority; He is our protection. And when we’re walking in obedience, when we’re walking in the light of God’s Word, when we’re walking in righteousness and right living, we are under God’s authority. We are under God’s protection.
“Resist the devil,” means to take our stand. Where? We take our stand lined up behind God. When do we take our stand? We take our stand only when we’re lined up behind God, walking in obedience, walking in the truth of God’s Word.
When you’re living an obedient life, lined up under God, then you can take your stand. True spiritual warfare means battling for the hearts and minds of people with biblical truth and the proclamation of the gospel. Railing at demons or Satan is not real spiritual warfare. It’s just plain foolish.
Copyright 2014 ©Brannon Howse. This content is for Situation Room members and is not to be duplicated in any form or uploaded to other websites without the express written permission of Brannon Howse or his legally authorized representative.