There is a fascinating story in Acts 19 about some traveling Jewish exorcists who marveled at the miraculous things Paul was doing through the name of Jesus Christ. Such was their envy of his power that they decided to use Paul’s Lord to help them in their own ministry. To those who were harassed by an evil spirit, these Seven Sons of Sceva commanded them to come out “by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims” (Acts 19:11-17).
For so long I said the same thing to my own demons! For decades I trusted in the power of the Gospel that others believed in but never the one I knew for myself. For years I preached about a Jesus who could save the world from sin….just not my own. I would tell people as a pastor, “be healed in the name of Jesus” when in reality I was thinking, “I hope Paul’s Jesus is listening.”
Faith envy is easy to succumb to, isn’t it? I think it’s because it is far easier to trust in the faith of another than it is to take the leap ourselves. Unlike Peter who at least jumped out of the boat chasing after Jesus we opt instead to stay inside, where we think it’s safe. We marvel at the faith-filled Peter’s around us, wishing we could be like that, even as we assure ourselves that it’s better this way because Peter did sink after all, right?
Thankfully there are examples out there of victory – of walk-on-water- moments – who caused me to confront my own lack of belief. There are few things as a Christian more troubling than knowing we should be free from the chains of our habitual sins yet having little to no experience of that in our own lives. Seeing it happening for others gave space for the Holy Spirit to convict me that my relationship with Jesus had little to do with he and I and more to do with my riding the coat-tails of others, in the same way the Sons of Sceva rode the coat-tails of Paul.
When you try to confront the demons in your life by conjuring up the faith of others you get the response these seven sons received:
Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?
Who are you? The devils rightly know Jesus and Paul because they are storming the gates of hell. But who are you? Why should the demons be concerned with you? There came a point in my defeated Christian existence that I realized I was not even in the battle which Paul describes in Ephesians 6:10ff, but a mere spectator. I was an unknown player in both heaven and hell. I was still sitting in the boat, believing the lie that being around Jesus was good enough. I was not truly “struggling” against sin in my life, as much as I might try to convince myself or others that I was. In reality, I was mastered by it.
When these seven sons tried to attack the demons before them through a power that was not their own they were “mastered” by these spirits, scripture tells us, and fled the scene “naked and wounded.” When we try to defeat the sin in our lives by trying to appropriate the faith of someone else, or by calling upon the power of some program or technique, or through doubling-down on our efforts to be more religious (I’ll do, do, do, more, more, more!), then we are facing the enemy naked and alone. Our sin will man-handle us again and again. We will remain defeated…and unknown by either heaven, or hell.