“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and finding none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation” (Matthew 12, 43-45).
1. CONVERSION TO CHRIST – A TREMENDOUS CHANGE
2. NOT EVERY CONVERSION IS GENUINE
3. SIGNS OF GENUINE CONVERSION TO CHRIST
Here we have words spoken by our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. You could say that these words are a parable – at least, they are an illustration. Our Lord is talking about the way the devil can go out of a man and, for a time, he leaves him alone. Then He says the devil can come back to a man and when he discovers that the house in which he lived before (meaning, of course, the human heart) is cleaned up, beautified and decorated, he says to himself, “I shall bring with me seven other devils worse than myself.” So, he comes and he enters this heart where he used to live and from which he was cast away bringing these other demons with him. “And,” says Christ, “the last state of that man is worse than the first” (text).
We are all familiar with these words I’m sure, and yet possibly they are words that we have read and have not stopped to think about. I don’t know how many sermons you have heard on this text but I suspect, as in my case, not many. I don’t know how many times you have had a Bible Study on words like this. Again, I suppose it’s not very often. Let’s look at our text together tonight as a Bible Study and try to find out what it is that our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, is talking about when He gives us this wonderful, amazing and yet, rather frightening illustration.
You have got the picture. The human heart He says is like a house. The devil is cast out of this house and he wanders about in “dry places” (text). I don’t think we should waste time trying to explain what is meant by the “dry places.” I think it is enough to know that the devil is not content, except when he is doing as much mischief as possible. When he is cast out of the human heart, he can’t do as much mischief as when he is in it. Therefore, he returns to this house – the human heart of course is what is meant, or the human life – and when he looks around he says, “This old house of mine is in a better state than ever it was. Look at the wallpaper and the decorations: all painted, and nice things hanging on the wall – “swept and garnished” (text) – there is a new carpet in the room. He gathers some of his friends and so, brings seven other demons or devils worse than he himself is. Again, our Lord says, “the last state of that man is worse than the first” (text). Our concern is to find out what our Lord is referring to. What does all this mean?
1. CONVERSION TO CHRIST – A TREMENDOUS CHANGE
The first thing I want to draw your attention to is that to be converted to Christ is a tremendous change. My friends, do you all realise that conversion to Christ is the greatest change possible to a person in this life. There is no change in a person’s life which in any way resembles the greatness and magnitude of religious conversion to faith in Jesus Christ. I want to make that point very clear from the start. Some people think that conversion is something that you can do easily. They imagine that becoming a Christian is something they can do at any time in their lives. They suppose that they can believe in Christ just when they want to. They suppose it to be a very easy thing to believe in Christ. They say they will start going to church and listen to the preacher and become religious; they think that that is conversion but, of course, it is not real conversion. No, no, a real conversion is when a person has the devil cast out of their lives – that is what our Lord is saying.
It is a tremendous change to have Satan cast out of your life. I will explain what that means in a moment. It is illustrated right here. The devil has an influence in the life of every person who is not a Christian, indeed, for that matter, he has an influence upon the lives of Christians too – but not in the same way. The devil has a power over your life if you are not converted. He is able to guide your life. I know you are not aware of it, you may be perfectly blind to the fact, you may not understand it but the devil has the power to control your life in many ways that you don’t realise and to move you in his direction. I admit that people don’t think like that. People think that they are in control of their own lives but that is not the way God tells us these things in the Bible. If we are not Christians then the devil is already, very much, at work in our hearts, lives and characters. From time-to-time we get evidence of that.
Let me point you to something that we have at verse twenty-two, looking back a little in this chapter. This was where we began the reading. “Then was brought unto him one (a person) possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he (Jesus) healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw” (verse 22). Here was a miracle and this was how this sermon and conversation began. Our Lord was teaching in a certain place and this person could not see, he was blind and he could not speak, he was dumb. It wasn’t just that he had some physical disability – there was a terrible thing in this man’s life; we call it devil-possession. We don’t see very much of it in this country today because the Christian faith has been in this country for many centuries.
The effect of a Christian faith is that in many ways the devil has been restrained, especially until the last fifty years. He was kept away. However, if you go to foreign mission fields in other countries, missionaries tell us that you still come across cases of this sort of devil-possession. This man couldn’t see because the devil had done something to prevent him from seeing – in his very body, evidently. He couldn’t speak for the same reason; his tongue was, as it were, paralysed by the power of Satan. When the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ came along, He cast out this devil and immediately the man could see and speak. It was a great work of God. That is what gave rise to this discussion.
My point in telling you that is to show you the terrible power of the devil. Even if he isn’t in control of your body, the devil can be in control of your thoughts and feelings. He can manipulate you. He can so work in your heart and mind as to lead you in the wrong direction. Indeed, he is certainly doing that in the life of every single person who is not a converted Christian; the devil is at work in their lives. Christ is showing us here what is wrong with us all. This is what is wrong with men, women and children, not just that they haven’t had enough education or schooling – that is not the real problem. It is not just that they have been socially deprived and haven’t had enough of the good things in life; that is where people are going wrong today. The problem with human beings is not that they have not had enough psychology or social works done to put them right. No, the real problem with mankind is the devil has a power working in men’s lives. He is influencing people on the inside.
Of course, you can’t see the devil; that is to his tremendous advantage – he is a spirit: he hasn’t got a body so you can’t see him physically but he is there nonetheless. He has many helpers who are spirits like himself – they are fallen angels. They were once angels in heaven but they sinned against God in the very beginning of history. God cast them out and they are now what we call demons or devils – evil spirits in other words. Their great delight and desire is to spoil the human being by evil thoughts and by dragging them under their influence and leading them astray. It is not just that people, therefore, have some ignorance of God – that is not the problem – the real problem is that the devil is at work in the lives of people.
If you are Christians, you know this, you understand and believe it. If you are not Christians, I’m afraid this may come as a shock to you. You may never have thought like this. It may never have occurred to you that the real problem of your life is not just that you have a bad temper or say things you ought not to say. It may come as a shock when I tell you it is the devil who is working in you: in your heart and in your life – seducing you away from the right path. That is what the Bible certainly teaches.
You say, “Well, how do I know that to be true?” I will give you the reasons why I am certain that this is the teaching of the Bible. Let me mention parts of the Bible where this teaching is to be found. Take these words first of all, where the apostle Paul says, “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5, 8). The word ‘darkness’ there refers to the influence of the devil. He says before you were converted to faith in Jesus Christ, you were darkness; that is to say, you were under the power and influence of Satan. Now, however, you are light in the Lord; it is the Lord Jesus Christ who is dwelling in your heart. You see the great difference. He is not saying it is merely a question of education, social improvement, longer holidays, more money, a better environment or new housing. No, no, it is not these things that are the real problem with us all. The problem is we are all of us born in darkness under the power of the devil. We can only escape from the power of the devil and his influence by coming to Christ – that is what is taught here and everywhere.
Let me give you another verse from the Bible. The apostle Paul again, speaking about the Gospel says, that this is why the Gospel is preached: “To turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God” (Acts 26, 18). Nothing could be clearer than that – that we need to be turned from the power of Satan unto God and that is what religious conversion is. By nature, we are under the power and influence of the devil. When we are converted, we are delivered from his terrible power; that is not to say that Christians are not tempted – of course, they are – but that is a different subject and not the one we are addressing here. The unconverted man is under the control of the devil, which, thank God, no Christian is in anything like that sense.
How especially then, does the devil influence people’s lives? This clearly is the next question we are to address. What is meant by being under the influence of the devil. How does he influence us? He does it by turning our thoughts as far as possible away from God. He endeavours to show us and delude us in to thinking that the things of God are not important for us – that we can live happily without them. That is what many men and women try to do; they try to find happiness in things of this life: drugs, alcohol, unsuitable television programmes and other entertainment. The devil’s great argument is that religion is very harmful for you: if you become religious, you will become morose and hypocritical. He uses such arguments to try to prejudice you away from God and he is very successful in doing this. He does it with the great generality of mankind, and it is his influencing the minds of people.
You come across this word – ‘Victorian’, and whenever people talk about the Victorians these days, they always go on to say that the they were terrible hypocrites. That is a perfect lie. There were far fewer hypocrites in Victorian times, I assure you, than there are today. In Victorian times, when Britain ruled over a great empire, the churches of this nation were filled; they weren’t all Christians, of course – there were some hypocrites there: false and pretending Christians, but there were also many thousands of real and genuine Christians who were no hypocrites at all. That is the way the devil has got into the mouths of people today. He influences people into thinking that religion is harmful and bad for you. His message is to keep away from God and from extremism. “Don’t take matters too far,” says Satan, “Not too much emphasis on sin and forgiveness,” and, “They will make you gloomy.” That is the way the devil works and it is very clever. He is much more intelligent than any of us, even than all of us put together: a brilliant spirit. He has tremendous intellect and immense powers of reasoning. He can argue and bring his powers to bear upon men’s minds. That is what our Lord is talking about.
He speaks about the devil being cast out and that is what conversion is: when God comes and casts the devil out of a person’s life; not in the sense of being bodily possessed but in the sense of having the devil’s influence in our hearts. That is no exaggeration because when Paul writes to the Ephesian church, he says something very astonishing: he says that the devil is “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 5, 6). That is the devil; he is working in them all the time. That is not true of the Christian but it is true of the unbeliever; that, of course, is why the world is the place it is.
I had to visit a nearby hospital yesterday evening and the television was on in this little room and I did my best not to see it, but even the little glimpses I could not avoid were simply shocking, absolutely shocking, disgraceful, shameless, shameful. That is the way things are in this world – the devil is feeding people with unclean ideas in case they come to God.
Let’s, before we go on, face this subject. Have you realised, dear friends, that if ever you are to become a real Christian, you have to have God take the devil out of your heart? It is as serious as that.
2. NOT EVERY CONVERSION IS GENUINE
Lets’ move on then to the second thing I have to say from this passage of Scripture, which is this: not every conversion, sadly, is a genuine conversion to Christ. Not every conversion is a real one. Where do you get that from? Well, you get it here in verses forty-four and forty-five – Christ quotes what the devil is saying. “Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself” (text). So, Jesus is giving us this picture now. The devil has been, as it were, cast out for a time from somebody’s life but then you notice he says, “I will return” (text) – isn’t that terrible! This is the devil speaking, “I will return into my house” – he is referring again to the life of a person. He used to be there in the life. He used to be there in the heart. He used to be there influencing but then, God, for a time, as it were, put him out; he was put out of the house. However, he comes back and he comes back with a vengeance.
What, then, is meant by this? What is the teaching here? What is the Lord Jesus Christ explaining? He is telling us what happens in the case of people who appear to become Christians for a while. I give you an illustration which is not meant to make you laugh but there is a humorous side to it. The very great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a very wonderful and great man of God, was one day walking along the street – I think it was in London where he preached. As he walked along, a very drunken man came up to him. Being drunken, he began to use inappropriate language; he saw Spurgeon and recognised him. “Ah,” said he, “is that you Mr. Spurgeon?” “It is,” said Mr. Spurgeon, “That is my name. What do you want?” “Oh,” said the man, mocking, “I am one of your converts.” What had happened is that this man had started for a while to go to the church where the great Spurgeon preached and the power of the Gospel had, for a time, influenced his life. He had stopped his drunkenness and become a sober man for a while but he had never been really converted at all. He had gone back to his drunkenness. He said to Spurgeon, “I am one of your converts” – as much as to say, “So much for your religion. It did nothing for me.” Spurgeon’s answer was very clever. “Yes,” he said, “I am sure you are one of my converts. The Lord would have made a better job of it.” That was a wise answer.
That is the case of a person who has had a temporary religious conversion and there are many such people. They go to church for a little while and their lives change for the better. I have met such people. It has been my experience to confront such people. They come to church possibly, because they have heard of a conversion in their family – their wife, husband or friend – and they think it amazing and decide to see for themselves. They go to church for a while and then come under some sort of religious impression. They stop their bad habits – they don’t swear or drink as they used to do. Their lives are cleaned up and swept and garnished as our text tells us right here (text). It is as though the heart of a person is decorated; out come the cobwebs and filthiness and it is all swept, cleaned and polished. In come the nice decorative things in the house: pictures on the wall, wallpaper, paint, new carpets; in the heart, as it were, using the illustration of Christ, but there is no real spiritual change.
What happens to these poor people? Listen to what the devil says here: “I will return unto my house.” In a moment I am going to explain why that is, how he can do that. Notice that that is something that does happen. Jesus tells us there are people whose lives, for a time, are cleaned and smartened up but the devil comes back – “I will return unto my house.” This is something which is in the Bible. If it were not written down in the Bible we would not be able to say these things. It would go too far to say such things but no less a One than our great and glorious Jesus Christ, our holy Saviour, the Son of God, who knows everything about man, who reads the hearts of men, who knows the devils by name, and sees it happening in real life – He tells us all of this.
How do we understand it? Why does our Lord tell us this? Well, let’s move back to the New Testament period in which He was living so I can explain in perspective. This very thing was what had happened to the Jews. He was referring to them and talking about them like this. The great sin of the Jewish nation had been idolatry. For centuries, they had built their idols, copied the heathen, worshipped their images of stone and wood. You can read all about it in the Old Testament. They did this right up until the time God sent a judgement on them. What was that, you say? They were sent into Babylonian captivity for seventy years. When they came back, they never again made any more idols. They were cured of idolatry, at least in that gross form. There was no more idolatry amongst the Jews. They hated idols after that; they never built them; but they did something worse. They became proud and Pharisaical; they became self-righteous, so that when Jesus, the great Messiah came into the world and preached to these Jews, they rejected Him. That is what our Lord means. You see it here in verse forty-five at the end, “The last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation” (text).
There is something worse than idolatry; what is that? The answer is – self-righteousness. The devil of idolatry, if you like, had left the house at the period of their Babylonian captivity but he now discovered the nation to be swept and cleaned: there were no Baals; there were no Molochs standing on the market square. There were synagogues now. The whole place had been tidied up, cleaned out and swept. Then the devil came back in a different form, bringing other devils with him: self-righteousness.
This, for instance, is one reason why we must be very careful how we heal people’s problems. There are very well-meaning organisations that try to help you to deal with alcohol and drugs and other problems that people have, and I am sure that they do good work, up to a point – maybe very good work in some cases; we can’t generalise. The danger is we simply heal people’s moral problem and leave them there. What happens is that they become proud and self-righteous. They think they have no need of God or Christ or the Bible or anything else. You can understand how that happens. It is very easy for a man, who has perhaps had a problem with alcohol, to be able to say that he has been to a course of rehabilitation and got rid of his habit – and that’s a good thing – but he says he did it himself through an act of sheer willpower. “I don’t need any help from God or anyone else to do it. My life now is under my own control.” See the danger? That was the trouble with these Jews.
My friends, I think it has an application to Great Britain today, doesn’t it? When was our nation in such a poor way as it is today? We have had our sins in the past but then after World War ? we became very proud. We had won two World Wars; we were going to enjoy life now; our children were going to have a good time. So, good education, good jobs, long holidays; it was going to be a sort of Utopia. Fifty years on, look where we are – in the gutter as a nation. We have the most terrible reputation internationally for so many things – the worst rates of drug and alcohol abuse and other things which you know I am referring to but won’t mention in my present position in the pulpit. How did we get into this low state – because the devil had been cast out, as it were, but he came in again with seven other devils? It is a warning to every one of us that it is very possible to have some sort of religious experience but not the saving power of Christ in our lives. This is the very thing that our Lord is warning about.
I want to give another illustration from somebody I knew personally. It is a very sad case but worth mentioning because it shows, I think, exactly the problem that Christ is referring to. There was a certain young woman that we knew years ago and she was a perfect stranger to the Bible and the Christian faith. She knew nothing about these things – she had come from a non-Christian home. Then she met Christians from the Highlands – eminent, excellent Christians: spiritual people. She was amazed at what she heard from their lips: Christ, the Bible, heaven, hell. All of this was new talk to her. She took an interest in these things and for a time she appeared to come under conviction of sin and felt her need of God and of Christ. Then the devil came in and he managed to get her to meet some Jehovah’s Witnesses. They pounced on her and filled her with their non-Christian teaching. In next to no time she thought she knew all the answers. Whenever the Gospel was put to her, she would answer it; she didn’t need this religious conversion now – she had Jehovah, she thought. She could answer a lot of questions and she knew enough to be able to parry the thrust of the Gospel. She was now as hard as nails and the Gospel made no impression at all upon her. See! Her first condition was worldliness and that was, as it were, cast out. The devil came back seven fold and now self-righteousness and pride through a sense of knowledge – when really she had none – ruined her life. “I will return unto my house” (text).
These words are awful and sinister but they do tell us, friends, that there is such a thing as a mere temporary conversion to Christ. This should fill us with alarm and concern to make sure that what you and I have is nothing less than Christ Himself dwelling in our hearts. It was a lesson for the Jews; it’s a lesson for our society; it’s a lesson for every individual. Nothing less than Christ dwelling in the heart by faith will do.
I come to what already I have hinted at and it is this – a false Christian is worse off than a non-Christian. How does it all work? Well, a person who is a non-Christian usually knows that they are not Christian. Usually people have some idea that they are not really spiritual – they are not really different. They don’t claim to be holy. When people like that come under some Gospel influence, if it doesn’t lead to a genuine conversion, what can happen is it leads to a sort of moral reformation so that they are, for a time, better than they were, outwardly – but there is no inward change. Then what happens is they become self-righteous, proud and they know the answers to parry the Gospel and to ward off the truth. So you have that point clear enough now.
What then, positively, is the secret? What is the thing we must avoid? What is the thing we must have if we are not to come into this terrible condition of being worse off at the end of our religious encounter than we were to begin with? The answer is this – the Christian Gospel brings both a negative and a positive influence upon our lives. Not simply a negative one but a positive one. What do I mean? When a person is converted, the devil is cast out – that is the negative side – he is cast out. Then there is the positive side. The house of our heart doesn’t remain like a vacuum – nature, we say, abhors a vacuum. When a person is converted, someone else comes in to the house: God the Holy Spirit; He comes down and dwells in the soul. That is what a real conversion is: Satan is cast out and in comes another guest.
It is rather like a house that has been put up for sale. The house is a mess: the windows are dirty, the house is unpainted, the garden is a wilderness, the gates are falling off their hinges – there are many houses sold in a condition like that. The condition is so dreadful that it is not really a saleable house but then someone says they will buy it and do it up. They pay so many thousands of pounds and occupy the house. Now it has a new occupant, a new inhabitant. In next to no time the whole house is looking different. The gates are properly put on their hinges, the pavement is cleaned, the garden is subdued, the house is painted, the roof is attended to, windows cleaned – everything is put in order – then the decoration. That is what happens in a true conversion. The Holy Spirit comes to occupy all the rooms of our heart. He dwells within the house and within the heart. When He comes, He brings wonderful blessings with Him. He brings assurance of God’s love; He convinces us that we are children of God; He makes us to know that we are heirs of heaven and that we belong to Christ – that Christ is ours and we are His – that we don’t belong any more to the world. All of these things are the work of the Holy Spirit as He dwells in the heart.
3. SIGNS OF GENUINE CONVERSION TO CHRIST
You must know, surely, how the New Testament puts this. It says, “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have from God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6, 19-20). That is the real Christian. You see somebody is living in the house. It is not vacant like a house for sale. It is not just that the old occupants have been thrown out. No, no, they have gone and there are new persons dwelling in the home: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit – dwelling in the heart. What a change. No change could be greater. You can see it at once in people’s lives. How do you know it? You can tell because now they have turned their back upon sin and they hate their old lives. Now they are determined to live for God – come wind, come weather. They are not ashamed of the Gospel any more. They are not ashamed to suffer for Christ any more. Here is one of the great tests of being a Christian – you soon find yourself suffering for Christ.
I don’t know if you have read the story and life of the apostle Paul and his conversion recently but we did in the family worship the other day and it struck me again, more than ever before – hardly had the apostle Paul been converted than he had to suffer. Do you notice that in Acts 9? He had only just been converted a few days when he goes in to the synagogue and preaches Christ and in next to no time they are forming a conspiracy to murder him. That went on all through his life – the Jews were for ever conspiring to murder him. They had done it to Christ, they had done it to Stephen now they wanted to do it to Paul and yet he had been the most ferocious of all the Pharisees. He had been the deepest dyed-in-the-wool Pharisee they had ever had. He was a very bigoted Jew, vigorously opposed to Christ. Yet, as soon as Paul comes to Christ, his past life is forgotten and out come the long knives – they wanted his blood. There is the proof of a genuine conversion.
My friends, you know that you are a Christian when you start to suffer for Christ. When you start to suffer people’s hatred and criticism and unkindness and when you feel separated from their company, then you know that you belong to Christ. However, you don’t care because you have this inward comfort. You might ask if it is a painful thing to suffer people’s unkindness. Yes, of course it is! But you have a compensation which more than outweighs the suffering, and the compensation is that you know the love of God towards yourself: you are certain you are one of His children; you are sure you are on the way to heaven. You know that in just a few short years at best and at most, you will be out of this world and into paradise – no more suffering there. Already in this life, you know the forgiveness of sin: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Romans 5, 1). What a thought! God listens to our prayers. God makes all things work together for our good (Romans 8,28).
Let me conclude. There are two ways especially whereby a genuine conversion can always be identified. I have spoken about false conversions but we can’t leave it there. The genuine conversion, the real conversion, the true Christian, can always be identified like this. How? – because he loves all other Christians. He doesn’t simply love the Christians that belong to his denomination. He doesn’t simply love the Christians that belong to his party. He doesn’t rejoice in their company because they are part of a clique or a gathering – he loves them because they are Christ’s people, whoever they are. Whether they come from one place or another, one country or another, whether they are Baptist or Brethren or Pentecostal or whatever they are – if they are the Lord’s people he loves them because they are Christ’s people and we are going to spend eternity together. We “salute every saint in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4, 21). That was not the case with these Jews, was it? They were very narrow-minded and they only loved those of their own group. That is no evidence of grace; we can all love those of our own group. Even those who go to public houses and betting offices love their own group. The evidence of being a Christian is that you love all other Christians.
The second evidence is that you hate the sin which God defines to be sin – not that which men define to be sin. This again comes out in the case of the New Testament Gospel. You remember Jesus Christ and His apostles – they were criticised by the Pharisees because Jesus sat down to eat food without first of all ceremonially washing His hands, which was a human tradition made up by these Jews. They criticised our Lord. They made mention of the fact that He hadn’t washed His hands. But Christ challenged them on this very point. He showed them that it is only what God defines to be sin that is sinful. Human and ecclesiastical definitions of sin are worthless. We are not to allow our conscience to be troubled by man-made definitions of sin. Christ challenged the Pharisees precisely on this point. This is something that we must apply in our own lives. The true Christian must disregard human traditions. But he must be most careful to keep the laws of God. Thank God, we are liberated from subservience to all merely human traditions. At the same time, we are, as Christians, to show our love to God by a careful obedience to all that He requires.