[jesus speaking] “when the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘i will return to my house from which i came.’ and when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. and the last state of that person is worse than the first.” luke 11:24-26
|photo credit: "sweeping house" by fotobird1 on flickr|
one of the important lessons from this passage is that evil cannot simply be removed, it must be replaced with good.
one example of how this plays out is in the christian's thought life. many women (myself included) struggle with their thought lives. my thoughts often revolve around worry about the future, fear of the unknown or double-thinking. in my attempt to battle thoughts that don't honor God, this passage is helpful in reminding me that i cant just remove the untrue/dishonorable thoughts ("stop thinking about bad things!"). they instead must be replaced with good, true, christ-centered thoughts. paul teaches on this, putting it this way:
"rejoice in the Lord always; again i will say, rejoice. let your reasonableness be known to everyone. the Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." philippians 4:4-8
it is not happenstance that these verses stand next to one another in paul's letter. it is clear that paul sees a link between rejoicing, defeating anxiety, prayer and God-centered thoughts. it is important to note too, that we don't bring about the peace that paul teaches of: it is the gift of God, which is why we seek God for it; it is not something we bring about ourselves.
this principle of good replacing evil also plays out in a person's decision to follow Christ.
this passage is one of the few places that the new testament speaks of partial conversion. one of the saddest things for me to see as a christian is people who seem to become christians embrace the gospel, the bible and God's people enthusiastically for a time, then fall away and cease to follow jesus.
partial conversion happens when a person comes to have a positive view of or experience with christianity and christ, but they never repent of their sin and the Holy Spirit does not come to live in them and they do not experience the necessary rebirth from death to life (see john 3). their outward life starts to look very "christian" but inwardly they have not been cleansed and changed by God.
this is very common in our country since christians teachings are looked at in a positive light by many people who are not christians. as a result, many people decide to start living a "christian" life, but this is not a life empowered by the Holy Spirit. so, they may get rid of the evil and metaphorically sweep out their house, but since the Holy Spirit has not replaced the evil that was in their life, they leave themselves open to being overpowered by evil once again.
there is a temptation that i see among christians to preach morality instead of christ. we want our friends who dont know jesus to stop sleeping with their boyfriends, to stop lying, to stop being depressed, to stop getting drunk every weekend. even if we are successful in getting them to change their lives (which is unlikely anyways), we are making them "twice the sons of hell" (matthew 23:25) if this is accomplished without jesus. the gospel, the good news that jesus saves sinners and changes lives, must be at the center of what we preach.
but how can we make sure that conversion is true and that the Holy Spirit lives in those who seem to become christians? the truth is that it is by God's grace (gift) that the Holy Spirit dwells in anyone. we cannot force His hand.
but he does give us the gift of prayer: we can and should pray for those who seem to be exploring christianity (or have seemed to come to know jesus). furthermore, if you are a christian, examine your heart to make sure that you have truly repented and trusted Christ fully with your life (in line with hebrews 6).
[thanks to d.a. carson's "for the love of God" for sparking and molding my thoughts on this passage]