What Does It Mean to “Cast Out Devils?”

Twenty-four times in the New Testament we read about devils being “cast out” of people. All of these passages appear in the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The gospel of Mark even ends with the Savior promising that those who believe in Him will have power to cast out devils (Mark 16:17).

The Book of Mormon also speaks of this type of miracle. Six hundred years before the coming of Christ, the prophet Nephi foresaw that the Savior would heal people who are afflicted with a variety of ailments:

I beheld multitudes of people who were sick, and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with devils and unclean spirits…. And they were healed by the power of the Lamb of God; and the devils and the unclean spirits were cast out (1 Nephi 11:31).

Nearly five hundred years later, an angel described the healing miracles of Jesus to King Benjamin in similar terms:

[He] shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases.
And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men (Mosiah 3:5-6).

In the years leading up to the Savior’s appearance, another prophet named Nephi cast “devils and unclean spirits” out of people. Those people then testified openly that they had been healed by the power of God (3 Nephi 7:19, 22). The Savior clearly taught that others would cast out devils, as He had done. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, He prophesied that, at the Final Judgment, many people would argue that they had cast out devils, as evidence that they should be saved (Matthew 7:22, 3 Nephi 14:22).

Additionally, as we read above, at the end of the Savior’s life, He promised His apostles that those who believed in Him would have power to cast out devils. On the American continent, He gave that same promise, as recorded by Moroni:

And these signs shall follow them that believe — in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover (Mormon 9:24).

What does all this mean? Who are these devils, and why must they be “cast out?”

I can’t fully answer these questions, but I have reviewed today some truths that the Book of Mormon teaches on the topic.

1. There is more than one devil.

For simplicity, the scriptures often refer to “the devil” or “the evil spirit” as a single being, but in reality, we face an army of adversaries. Jacob referred to the leader of this army as “the devil of all devils” (2 Nephi 9:37). And both Jacob and Alma called them “the devil and his angels” (2 Nephi 9:16, Mosiah 26:27). One Book of Mormon prophet—Samuel the Lamanite—refers to them as “demons,” a word which doesn’t appear in the King James Version of the Bible (Helaman 13:37).

After the destruction which coincided with the death of Jesus Christ, the people heard His voice lamenting: “The devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice, because of the slain of the fair sons and daughters of my people” (3 Nephi 9:2).

The main point is that there isn’t just one evil spirit trying to tempt us, make us miserable, and ultimately destroy us. There are many.

2. When we give in to temptation, we become subject to the devil.

Lehi urged his sons to choose “liberty and eternal life” by following the Savior, not “captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil” (2 Nephi 2:27-29). Alma taught that if we persistently harden our hearts against God, then we will be “taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction” (Alma 12:11). And the Savior counseled the people to “watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him” (3 Nephi 18:15).

I wrote earlier this week that the devil has no power over us unless we give it to him by succumbing to his temptations. But when we willingly do that, it becomes easier for him to tempt us the next time until, as Nephi warned, he “grasps [us] with his awful chains” (2 Nephi 28:22).

Korihor became entrapped that way. As he taught the words the devil told him to say over and over, eventually he came to believe the things he was teaching. Alma referred to Korihor’s state as being under the power of the devil: “Thou art possessed with a lying spirit,” he said (Alma 30:42).

Which makes me wonder: Does it really matter where an evil spirit is if you consistently follow its temptations? Does it matter whether the devil is physically inside of you or merely influencing you? Either way, you are in bondage.

3. God has power over the devil.

The great truth is that deliverance is available, even for those who have willingly placed themselves in captivity by repeatedly succumbing to the enticements of the devil. The Savior is called the Savior because He has the power to save us—all of us, everyone who truly wants to be saved. As Enos learned in the wilderness, as Alma the Younger learned after being rebuked by an angel, and as Zeezrom later learned in the city of Mulek, God can rescue us from the captivity caused by our sins.

Perhaps the miracle of casting out devils serves a symbolic purpose: to demonstrate that God’s power is greater than the power of the devil. We never need despair. If we turn our hearts to Him, He will heal us physically, mentally, and emotionally, including “[casting] out the evil spirits which dwell in [our] hearts” (Mosiah 3:5-6).

Conclusion

Today, I will be grateful for a Savior who casts out devils. I will remember that every discouragement I face and every infirmity I may experience—of body, of mind, and even of the heart—can be overcome by His grace.

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