Luke 11:24-26 is a perplexing passage. We have unclean spirits, waterless places, and a swept house occupied by demons. What does this mean and why is it included in Scripture? Before we look at the verse, let’s establish the context.
Jesus had cast out a demon that was mute (Luke 11:14) and had been accused of casting out demons by demonic power (i.e., the prince of demons) (Luke 11:15). Jesus knew that those accusing Him of demonic power were simply trying to discredit Him, therefore He pointed out the absurdity of a kingdom/house divided against itself (Luke 11:17). Jesus also turned the tables by asking, “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out?” (Luke 11:19). In other words, if it takes demonic activity to expel demonic activity then you just condemned your friends who cast out demons. Jesus concludes this section by pointing out that whoever is not with Him is against Him. Therefore we must be careful to gather with Jesus, lest we scatter His work.
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)
What is Going on?
Based on its context, this passage can be accurately understood as Jesus challenging His audience to understand the difference between good and bad methods of heart cleansing.
The Ineffectiveness of Self-Cleansing
In speaking of the cleansing of the house in our passage, Jesus refers to the self-cleansing of one’s heart. Jesus, in His example, shows the ineffectiveness of self-cleansing because it does not affect the ownership of the heart and it does not have the power to maintain itself.
First, it is ineffective because it does not address the ownership of the heart. Notice the demon said, “I will return to my house” (24). The demon still considers the person’s heart to belong to it.
Second, it is ineffective because it lacks the necessary power to maintain itself. While the demon had been removed, the house swept, and put in order; the demon was able to reenter through the force of seven demons more evil than itself.
Jesus clearly articulates that self-cleansing is ineffectual and will bring people to ruin and laments those who seek this ineffectual self-cleansing by saying, “the last state of that person is worse than the first” (26).
The Effectiveness of External-Cleansing
What is unspoken in our passage but obviously implied through the broader context is the need for a cleansing by an external source: Jesus. Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection accomplished salvation and redemption and thus can provide the effectual cleansing needed.
First, it is effective because it does address the ownership of the heart. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” If a demon has gone out of a person and the person has been converted to Christ, the unclean spirit cannot say, “I will return to my house” because it now belongs to Christ.
Second, it is effective because it has the necessary power to maintain itself. Romans 8:34 tells us “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” Hebrews 7:25 promises us that Jesus’ salvation is effective when it says, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”
Scripture is clear that while self-cleansing is ineffectual, Jesus’ cleansing is effectual. While self-cleansing is temporary, Jesus’ cleansing is eternal. While self-cleansing causes “the last state [to be] worse than the first”, Jesus’ cleansing causes the last state to be far greater than the first!
Self-cleansing is easy but ineffective. Whether it is trying harder or doing better, it allows us to think we have control. The problem is that we cannot keep control.
Christian, do not fall into the trap of seeking to clean yourself up. Confess your sins to God, He is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:4). Seek to work harder, not in your own power, but in “all [God’s] energy that He powerfully works within [you]” (Col 1:29). Trust God.
Non-Christian, you may think going to church more will help. You may think that being nicer will help. You may try to will yourself off of addictions, but you must come to discover that what you need is a clean heart and only Christ can cleanse your heart. Come to Him in faith and repentance.
Questions for Reflection:
- What is significant about the unclean spirit saying “I will return to my house”?
- How did the sweeping and putting into order fail to keep the unclean spirit away? How does this relate to question #2?
- Why does Jesus say that the “last state of that person is worse than the first”?
- What is the point of this passage? How can we learn from this and grow as disciples?