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Question #230

What about ghosts? And are some sins worse than others?

A friend of mine went to church some as a child with her grandmother. Then she married a Catholic and the only time they ever go to church is maybe on Easter. So, she knows nothing about the Bible. The other day she told me she believes in ghosts and watches the John Edwards shows. She asked me what I believe in and all I knew to tell her was angels and demons. I have read a few verses about ghosts. It does not say whether they are real or not, just seems that some did believe in them in Biblical times. Would appreciate any help on this subject you can give me. I always try to give her correct answers when she asks a question.

Once before she asked me if some sins were worse that others. She believes murder, and the Catholic priests that molest children are worse than say lying, stealing, etc. At first I told her the Baptist believe sin is sin. (That is what I think I have learned the past 10 years of going to the Baptist church.) Then two years later our preacher said something in a sermon and I came home and called her to tell her what he said about sin. I have since forgotten what it was.

The Answer:

The first question relates to “ghosts” in scripture. This answer will assume that the inquiry really relates to demons that are spoken of in the New Testament. While the term “ghost” is used in the New Testament, its use most often refers to those who died, which in the King James translation is descried as “giving up the ghost.” The word translated “ghost” comes from a Greek word meaning “to expire, to give up one’s life.” It is also used in the American Standard Version to describe Jesus’ appearance to the disciples while walking on the water. Matthew 14:26; Mark 6:49. The Greek word used, however, is different; it comes from a word meaning “an appearance, an apparition, specter.” The King James translates the word as “spirit.”

The word “demon(s)” appears some 77 times in the American Standard Version of the New Testament. The King James generally translates the term as “devil(s).” What were they and do they still possess human beings? All indications are that demons were wicked spirits under the direction of Satan and opposed to God. They inflicted great misery on men when they possessed them. (Matthew 8:28-34; 12:24.) Demon possession exhibited itself in dumbness (Matthew 9:32-33), blindness (Matthew 12:22), and insanity (Luke 8: 26-36). Demons acknowledged the deity of Jesus, acknowledged their wicked state, recognized coming judgment and trembled in anticipation of it (Matthew 8:29; Luke 4:41; James 2:19).

Various efforts have been made to “explain away” what the New Testament says about demons. “Demon possession” has been called a popular superstition, an accommodation that Jesus made to the view of his day, an ancient description of insanity or illness, fallen angels, and the offspring from angels and wicked women. Each of these is either obviously false, conflicts with the goodness and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, or both.

Reviewing passages that speak of demons, one may conclude that they were intelligent being (Mark 1:24; 5:7-8), they were wicked and ultimately faced judgment (Revelation 9:11), and they came from the “abyss.” From these conclusions some have reasoned that the demons were the disembodied spirits of wicked men. Alexander Campbell presents a well-reasoned support of this position in his Popular Lectures and Addresses, XVII. In it he wrote: “We conclude that there is neither reason nor fact – there is no canon or criticism, no law of interpretation – there is nothing in antiquity, sacred or profane – that in our judgment weighs against the evidence already adduced in support of the position that the demons of Pagans, Jews and Christians were the ghosts of dead men, and, as such have taken possession of men’s living bodies, and have moved, influenced and impelled them to certain courses of action.” This was the view of the Jewish historians Josephus and Philo. Josephus wrote, “Demons are the spirits of wicked men, who enter into living men and destroy them, unless they are so happy as to meet with speedy relief.” Philo wrote, “The souls of dead men are called demons.” Early Christian writers, such as Justin Martyr, Iranaeus, Origen, and many others, may be cited to the same effect. Lardner, an English theologian, after a detailed examination of these ancient writers on this subject, concluded, “The notion of demons, or the souls of dead men, having power over living men, was universally prevalent among the heathen of those time, and believed by many Christians.” J.W. McGarvey, perhaps the greatest scholar of the Restoration Movement and of his day, wrote in his commentary on Matthew and Mark, “In the Jewish usage of the term it is applied exclusively to the departed spirits of wicked men. This usage was adopted by Jesus and the Apostles, and consequently all that is said of demons in the New Testament agrees with it.”

Are people today afflicted by demon possession? The clear answer is “No.” Demon possession was a phenomenon of the day of Christ. It highlighted the conflict between Christ and Satan. Christ met Satan on his home field, triumphed over him, and cast him into the abyss. Rev. 20:3. A good commentary on this aspect of demon possession in Matthew 12:5-29. Satan remains in the abyss where he is “chained” by the Gospel of Christ. Satan’s power over man today is limited to deceit and temptation, both of which may be resisted by the help of God and the Word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit (Matthew 4:1-13; 1 Cor. 10:13; Eph. 6:17). James advises that if we resist Satan he will flee from us (James 4:7). Satan truly fears the weapon that is sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12).

The second question inquires concerning whether some sins are worse than others. The question is vague because it does defines neither the context to which the answer applies nor does it identify the one who makes the determination. For example, why are murder and child molestation considered “worse” than lying and stealing? Is it not because man is the judge and he is, for the most part, judging others who commit a type of sin that he does not commit. On the other hand, if the conclusion is reached from viewpoint of God, does murder separate a man farther from God than lying. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23. It does us no good to condemn a type of sin that we do not commit while we excuse the type that we do commit. James tells us that the person who keeps the whole law, but stumbles in one point, is guilty of all (James 2:10). Both unforgiven lying and murder will send the sinner to eternal torment, so there is no difference in the end result. Instead of seeking to justify ourselves by bragging that our sins are not like those of other men, we should “give the more earnest heed” to be certain that our sins of whatever nature are covered by the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)