The human body and personality are the avenue through which both God and Satan can express themselves. Manifestations are normally considered the human body’s outward visible (and sometimes audible) response to the presence of something such as a spiritual entity within or because of an external stimulus. However, it must be understood when people are in an environment that stirs and excites the emotions or touches the spiritual dimension what may be manifest can be a person’s confusion and inner turmoil – even stemming back to childhood events – that is lurking just below the surface in their personality waiting an opportunity to break out. A trigger releases an emotional reaction in vulnerable people to do what is out of character. This can range from a loss of control over their body through involuntary activity to deliberate exhibitionism. So we are not deceived we need discernment to know the true source of all manifestations, and then respond appropriately – whatever is of God should be accepted but whatever originates with Satan is to be resisted (Act 7:51; Jas 4:7; 1 Jn 4:1).

As humans we are but containers with a mixture of the nature of God and also Satan's characteristics which are the complete opposite in every regard. Everyone, even those with saintly personalities, have a continual battle within – to choose the higher path of

We decide which nature dominates

resisting the demands of the unregenerate body or giving in to its urges. God clearly indicated to Cain that sin was desiring to gain control yet he was to take control and master it. He was given the option and it was his responsibility determining what route he took. 

When situations challenge our plans and test our temperament what is my response? What does my reaction indicate about the level of change I have allowed Christ to work in my life? What is the focus/who gets the attention with any expression? Is it the ungodly flesh being glorified or is it God? What is the fruit? Whatever we do as Christians has elements of the old nature that are evident. We must be discerning as to the source and the objective – analyse our thoughts, words and actions.

1/. Divine expressions of God’s person and presence

In the early church God’s interaction with people was primarily evident in life-transforming encounters, with believers having great boldness to share Christ, physical healings, people being released of evil spirits and the operation of the gifts of the Spirit (Act 2:4,14, 3:6,7, 4:29-31, 5:15,16,42; 8:6,7; 1 Cor 12:7-12).

God still wants ongoing interaction with His people and we should be aware of His presence in our daily lives. We are to develop the fruit of the Spirit given for the purpose of glorifying Christ through our Godly character with thanksgiving and obedience to God (Gal 5:22,23). Similarly, the Bible is clear we should desire and use the gifts of His Spirit, but not pursue or focus on any visible physical manifestations. God can and does move supernaturally on people at various times and ways, yet these acts are not as important as He is. We must always seek and take pleasure in God’s presence more than any particular evidence or manifestation of that presence.

However, a tendency of humanity is to give more attention to the visible physical phenomenon than the unseen spiritual dimension. Looking for enticing physical signs as evidence of God at work makes us vulnerable to deception or trying to replicate them by our own efforts, resulting in manipulation and even faking the anticipated results to gain attention and human recognition. Thus our focus must remain firmly fixed on Jesus, not what supposedly originates or is prompted by the Holy Spirit, as the devil can bring counterfeit expressions to discredit the real sovereign working of God.

When God creatively pours out His Spirit on a person in a way not recorded in Scripture, it is not intended to be a common experience for either the individual or church in general. However, in some groupings of believers, these seemingly rare episodes are in danger of being manufactured. For example, it may be an expected or established procedure to

In my activity, who gets the attention – God or me?

shake and maybe fall down (termed being slain in the Spirit) or exhibit some other outward sign when ministered to by the preacher. Similarly, true dancing in the Spirit occurs when the worshipper has become so enraptured with God’s presence that, in jubilant freedom, they express this through physical motion, not as an orchestrated display or exhibition but an edifying, spontaneous, beautiful manifestation of the Spirit.

Although it is good and right to reach out, desiring to be touched by God, we must guard against trying to produce this outward evidence ourselves. Our Christian life should be characterised by the increasing elimination (death) of the old sinful self, with the liberating life of Jesus shining forth through His new creation (Mt 5:13-16; 2 Cor 5:17). Our focus should be on Christ and what we allow Him to do in our hearts, which will be evident to others just as it was to the NT critics who saw and realised that the disciples had been with Jesus because of the change in their lives (Act 4:13).

Our salvation is not dependent on our experiencing any visible phenomena nor are such displays guaranteed to produce Kingdom growth or indicative of a person’s spirituality. Rather they are reflective of one’s personality. Do not exaggerate your experience of God to impress others or consider anyone a second-class believer if they have a lesser outward display than you have. We humans consider the outward but God judges by the all-important heart attitude (1 Sam 16:7). However we should not reject every unusual activity (unless clearly against Bible principles) but keep an open mind, for when such happenings occur they may be valid, even if expressed through a flawed personality, “If it is of human origin, it will fail. But if is from God…you will be opposing Him” (Act 5:38,39).

We must be cautious of our inherently sinful response to the conscious realisation of God’s presence, and handle it in an honourable way without trying to make it our doing, taking control or out-rightly rejecting it. We should welcome His desire to be involved in our lives, and so be open and allow Him to touch our hearts, for He is able to do amazing things in and through those who are committed to Him (2 Chr 16:9). A genuine Spirit-prompted and controlled manifestation will bring glory to Jesus and edify the church, through a humility that exalts Jesus, with the believer becoming more like Him, the fruit of the Spirit increasing, and their testimony drawing others to Christ. Such precious and memorable times of meeting with God through the inner work of the Holy Spirit often result in a call to greater service. No one can be the same after such life-transforming encounters with the creator and sustainer of life.
God is not necessarily in the spectacular, but rather in the heart realisation that results in change (1 Kgs 19:11,12; Ps 46:10; Rom 12:2). Thus groans, tears and screams of fear at eternal damnation seem appropriate if they are sincere expressions leading to conversion. Similarly a believer’s spiritual experience may be accompanied by emotion yet the proof is in becoming more Christ-like. Isaiah’s initial reaction to being touched by the presence of God was a confession of his sinfulness; this was soon followed by a divine assignment (Isa 6:5,9-13). God initially works in us but with the goal to work through us, with our love for Him outworked as obedience (Jn 14:15). Any encounter with God should result in a fuller surrender to Him and the outworking of the fruit of the Spirit including love and godly character, a passion for God and sharing the gospel.

See also: characteristics, discernment, emotions, exhibitionism, fruit (of the Spirit), Holy Spirit, manifest, presence of God, responsible/responsibility, spiritual gifts, tongues.

2/. Satanic displays as symptoms of evil

Jesus attributed sickness and various problems to Satan and his involvement in and through humanity because of sin – not always specifically of the person involved but as a result of Adam's and Eve's (Gen 3:16,17; Lk 13:16; Rom 5:19). Evil spirits revel in producing ungodly outward actions and all sorts of sinful behaviour (Mk 7:20; Gal 5:19-21).  The Bible also states Satan can appear as an angel of light to deceive people by duplicating many of the valid God-originated expressions to gain glory for himself, yet he can’t bring the desirable fruit of godliness and a life reflecting the qualities of God (2 Cor 11:14).

Undisciplined people dabbling in occult practices, taking destructive substances and with ungodly lifestyles open themselves up to be channels for evil activities to be expressed through them. Curses also are a means by which Satan gains access to operate. Satan capitalises on the weaknesses in our character and lifestyle, working through the parts of us that are not surrendered to Jesus. When evil spirits manifest through people, either by action or verbally, bind them in Jesus name and drive them out (Mk 1:34, 16:15,16; Lk 4:41).

Satan likes to capitalize on what God is doing. What starts out pure and 'of God' can deteriorate and end up far from the ideal. Satan attacks at the vulnerable points, hence the warning, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Pet 5:8).

See also: binding and loosing, counterfeit, curse, deception, deliverance, evil spirits, flesh, lifestyle, occult,  spirit oppression/possession, spirit realm.