Demonic spiritual attacks and the Holy Spirit’s conviction can sometimes be mistaken for one another, so here’s how to tell the difference.
Demonic spiritual attacks and the Holy Spirit’s conviction can sometimes be mistaken for one another, so here’s how to tell the difference. One is meant to discipline us and keep us from sinning; the other is trying to keep us sinning and feel hopelessly condemned when we do sin (and we all do!). First of all, demonic influences will tell you, “Its okay…other Christians are doing it,” however ask yourself this; “Does it glorify God?” If not, then it may be wrong, no matter who does it. Make no mistake, the Holy Spirit will clearly tell you that it’s wrong. The demonic spirit will tell you “It’s fine because you’re saved, right? You can justify doing this because other professing Christians are doing it.” That’s not the Spirit of God but a spirit of evil because we can’t use other humans as our standard for what’s right and what’s wrong.
Convicting of Sin
When the Spirit convicts us of sin (John 16:8), we feel spiritually sick at our stomachs when we sin. Even better, it sometimes makes us flee from the temptations, but when (not if) we sin (1 John 1:8, 10), He drive us to repent of them so we can be cleansed and have a good conscience (1 John 1:9). A demonic spirit will try to make you feel like a fake Christian and there’s no way you are a child of God. The enemy will try to rationalize it away, saying, “Everyone’s doing it,” but after they do it, they feel utterly ashamed and in danger of hell fire, and the enemy will shout that in their ear! He is the accuser (Rev 12:10).
Dangers of Success
I’ve heard so many testimonies about spiritual attacks and many (not all) of these believers had one thing in common: their spiritual attacks came right after overcoming a major sin or immediately after some significant event in their life. When people share the gospel more, the more the demons will oppose them, and being evangelistic could bring on more demonic attacks, but remember; Satan doesn’t bother with those who are making no difference. It’s good to be in the battle for good. Sometimes when a ministry grows and grows and their outreach and church media is having great success, something can blindside them. They might become too self-reliant or they might become too prideful, thinking they built this up, and this robs God of glory, because what do we really have that we didn’t receive from God (1 Cor 4:7)? We must remain humble, realizing that none of us are worthy (Rom 3:10-12, 23), but my response to these satanic attacks is when the Devil reminds me of me past, I remind him of his future (Rev 20:10).
Famine of the Word
When we’re under spiritual attack we will tend to avoid studying or reading the Bible; the very thing we need the most! Sinning tends to keep us out of the Bible, but the Bible tends to keep us out of sin. There is a “washing of the water of the Word” (Eph 5:26) that takes place in the reader, so the time you least feel like reading the Bible is the very time you need it most. There is power in God’s Word; power to overcome, power to be sanctified, and power to be comforted and strengthened. If there is sin, confess it. Come to Him with a clean slate and conscience and you’ll be better equipped for spiritual attacks when they come. Letting unconfessed sin linger will not only keep you out of the Word of God, but it might keep you from praying to God; and that’s a double hit to our spiritual system.
Condemnation or Conviction?
If we ever reach a point that we feel we’re worthless to God, that’s the enemy. It is not of God. A conviction of sin comes from the Spirit of God but a heavy-laden guilt load is from the enemy, especially when they feel they’ve done too much to ever be forgiven. We might feel that we are not a Christian because we see how far we fall short of God’s holiness. The Word of God can help us discern the source of our feelings, at least sometimes it can. Utter condemnation is never from God; conviction and forgiveness of sins is. Feeling utterly condemned? Run to the Word and find solace there, particularly in Romans eight or Ephesians one. The Apostle Paul encourages us by saying, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:37-39). Still feeling condemned? I hope not. That doesn’t sound like a condemned man writing that! Don’t believe your feelings….do believe what God’s Word says.
We know that Satan is the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2) and that he would love nothing more than to make our life hard. Job is a pretty good example where God allowed Satan to take just about everything away but his life. I believe there’s good reason Jesus said “fear not.” He knows our tendency to do just that. Interestingly, we find around 360 mentions of “fear not” or something very similar to it in the Gospels. That leaves just about one “fear not” for every day of the year, and fear can come in many forms. They might fear they’re not really saved and just a false convert. The only fear that is beneficial for us is a healthy fear of the Lord. That’s the very beginning of wisdom and you can find such wisdom in the Bible. If you’re fighting these kinds of fears, you might be under spiritual attack. The way to thwart these finery darts is to get into the Word of God and fall on your knees. It’s time to believe God’s Word and not what you “feel.” Human feelings are just about the most unreliable things of all, but God’s Word is always true; even if you have the flu! I believe this is why Jesus repeatedly said “fear not.” Fear is not from God; it is from Satan, because Jesus tells us not to fear. The enemy would have us live in fear.
Sheep that stray from the herd and away from the shepherd endanger their lives because there are a lot of predators out there. Humanly speaking, Satan is a predator, Many that I counsel feel that God has let them down and then they fall away from church and their brothers and sisters in Christ. They might even stop reading their Bible. In time, they pull away from their Christian friends, but that is exactly what Satan wants. That’s where Satan is most dangerous. He would love nothing more than to try and isolate you from the flock. Satan is described as a roaring lion, roaming about, seeking whom he might devour (1 Pet 5:8). Most of us have seen where a lion attacks the straggler, his first choice because it’s the easiest choice. It’s separated from the protection of the herd and the shepherd, and once separated, they’re easy prey. If you feel like separating from other believers, take warning. That’s when you’re more vulnerable because in the New Testament, the Christian life was never a solo act. There truly is safety in numbers.
If you feel hopelessly condemned and that it’s too late for you to be saved, God has good news for you. As long as you’re drawing breath, there is time to believe (2 Cor 6:2) and be saved and receive eternal life (John 3:16-17). Have you trusted Christ yet? If so, you can expect spiritual attacks from the enemy, and even more so if you are actively sharing Christ, but that’s okay. It’s good to be in the battle and even better to know Whose side your own.
Here is some related reading for you: 7 Signs You Are Dealing With a Spiritual Attack 
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.