Can a Christian be Possessed by a Demon?

Discussions about devils and evil spirits generally draw a variety of responses from people. In Western societies, many people’s knowledge of evil spirits is limited to what they have seen in horror movies or what they have heard about in stories involving ghosts and haunted houses. Some people are fascinated with angelic beings, but fearful with the idea that demons are fallen angels who terrorize and do evil. Some Christians even dismiss the idea that demons exist by explaining away the Gospel records of evil spirits, saying the records are by people who did not understand sickness such as epilepsy or mental illness like schizophrenia, and called them “demons.” Nevertheless, we believe that the Bible is God’s Word and as such that it provides instruction in all matters that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), which would certainly include the existence and methods of demonic spirits.

Many Christians tend to become uncomfortable with discussions involving demonic powers, especially those involving questions concerning “possession.” Often, the sparse information people have about evil spirits produces just speculation and falsehood. This is not a surprise given that most of what people learn about dark angels comes through folklore, hearsay, movies, and the media. When it comes to the topic of “possession,” movies such as “The Exorcist,” “The Three Faces of Eve,” and others, have left many with deep false impressions about the demonic, what it is, how it happens, and how to guard against it.

Relying on the world as our source for spiritual truth is very problematic, especially when we recognize that this very world is under the control of “the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Looking to the world for accurate information on the demonic is somewhat like asking the fox the best way to protect the hen house. Our primary source for learning about the spiritual realm must come from the Bible. God’s Word is truth, and it will make us wise in the ways of the spiritual world. Not only can we learn much about the kingdom of the enemy through the numerous biblical accounts, we must also recognize that the hidden nature of the spiritual realm also requires that wisdom be gleaned from experience.

Proverbs 4:5-7
(5) Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them.
(6) Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.
(7) Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

Demons go to great lengths to deceive, as well as to operate in a covert and hidden manner. Because of this we must always be careful when it comes to people’s experiences with demonic powers. Despite their clandestine nature, people’s collective experiences with these spirit beings over the centuries has provided a very comprehensive picture of their powers and how they operate.

What is Demonic Possession?
Nowadays, most theologians recognize that the word translated “possessed” in the Bible is not accurate. The term “possessed” was first used in the King James Version of the Bible and is also found in other translations, including the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the New International Version (NIV). The actual Greek word that is translated “possessed” is daimonizomai, and means “demonized.” For most Christians the word “possessed” implies that an evil spirit is in a person and controlling them, whereas to be “demonized” provides a much broader picture of the demon’s activities. A demonized person can be someone who is under the control of a spirit or has a spirit in them, but it can also be someone who is merely oppressed or afflicted by demons. Consider the different sense conveyed by these two different translations of the same verse.

Matthew 9:32 NIV
While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus.

Matthew 9:32 ESV
As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him.

To be possessed suggests that a person is held fast in the death grip of a demon. However, if you are under the direct attack of evil spirits, if you are afflicted or oppressed by evil spirits then you are, biblically speaking, demonized. Christianity’s failure to grasp this simple truth has greatly hindered its ability to wage war against the wiles of the Devil.

The mistranslation of diamonizomai has caused a number of doctrinal and practical errors. For far too long people who have been under demonic attack have failed to receive the freedom Christ has made available because of the stigma that accompanies “possession.” I once heard a man correctly say, “If you have a demon in you, on you, around or behind you, then you need deliverance.” [1] You need deliverance because you are being oppressed by evil spirits. At the opening of Jesus’ public ministry he called for the scroll of Isaiah and read the following description of his ministry.

Luke 4:18 and 19
(18) “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,
(19) to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

There are numerous records that tell of him freeing those oppressed by demons, and he has given his followers the authority to do the same.

Luke 10:19 ESV
Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.

The news abounds of stories of people who dive into the waters to help a person drowning. And the one drowning would never consider not calling for help because of a stigma about being in the water “over their head.” In the same way, we must work to remove the stigma that is improperly associated with those “oppressed” by the Devil. Christ desires that they be set free and he has given the Body of Christ the authority and power to do it.

Experience versus Theology
Through the years I have heard a variety of opinions expressed by Christians concerning whether or not a Christian can be demonized. There are two main lines of reasoning when it comes to the topic of Christian demonization. Simply put, on the one hand, there are people who believe they can be demonized, and then, on the other hand, there are people who do not believe they can. And then, there are a large number of people in the middle who really have no idea one way or the other. If in fact a Christian cannot be demonized, even if we erroneously believe they can, then no real problem exists. However if they can be demonized, despite us believing that they cannot, a very real problem persists because we end up denying demonically oppressed people the spiritual help and deliverance they so rightly deserve.

The Bible must always be our rule for faith and practice. Unfortunately, there are times when the Word of God is not clear on a subject, as happens to be the case in this matter. Concerning scriptural support of either position, Peter Horrobin states the following in his book, Healing Through Deliverance:

“This whole issue cannot be discussed at the level of finding proof texts to justify one’s viewpoint. For, try as you may, and others before me have looked very hard, you cannot come up with any text which uncompromisingly wins the point for either side of the discussion!” [2]

Whenever experience runs contrary to our understanding of Scripture, we must stop and do our best to examine both. If we are honest we will acknowledge that either we are deceived by our experiences or have a wrong understanding of Scripture.

It must give us pause when we consider that there are numerous experiences from countless individuals over many decades that seem to indicate that a Christian can be demonized. To uncover the truth on this subject we first need to uncover the rationale for our positions, as well as any assumptions that we are relying on.

Why Some People Believe Christians Cannot be Possessed by a Demon

There are two common reasons why some conclude that a Christian cannot be demonized. We believe both beliefs are the result of drawing false conclusions from erroneous assumptions.

We are God’s property and cannot be owned by the Devil
Some people assert that every Christian has become God’s property, or possession, and therefore cannot be “possessed,” i.e., “owned,” by a demon. The problem with this reasoning is that it is built upon a mistranslation of the Greek word diamonizomai, and has therefore resulted in people drawing wrong conclusions. The proper translation of diamonizomai is not “possessed” or “owned,” but “demonized,” which simply means to be under the influence or control of a demon. Since every person who is born of God’s spirit was purchase by Christ’s sacrifice, people rightly assert that they are God’s property.

1 Corinthians 6:19b and 20a
(19b) You are not your own;
(20a) you were bought at a price.

While it is true that a Christian can never be “owned” (possessed) by a demon, it is false to say that they cannot be influenced or controlled by one. Had the translators of the Bible never used the word “possessed” as a translation of diamonizomai, but instead used demonized, or even “oppressed by a demon,” this argument that a Christian cannot be “possessed” by a demon may have never existed in the first place.

God has given mankind free-will, but it is our personal responsibility to retain it and not turn it over to another. My owning a car does not prevent a thief from illegally stealing and operating it. Despite being God’s property, a Christian may also come under the influence or control of a demonic spirit. Christianity abounds with examples of men, women, and children who are being oppressed and afflicted by God’s enemy. Certainly the degree of influence and control varies, depending on a number of factors, but nevertheless when this occurs, from a biblical standpoint, they are demonized.

We are the temple of God and unclean spirits cannot be in the temple
A second popular reason that some people believe a Christian cannot be demonized is based on the scriptures that indicate that they are the “temple of God” because of the presence of “the holy spirit.” These people assert that since demons are unholy spirit beings, they cannot be in the presence of “the holy spirit.” We agree that the Word of God clearly teaches that all Christians collectively make up the temple of God because of the presence of “the holy spirit” (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). However, when speaking of individuals we do not believe the Scriptures support this thinking.

It is true that Moses established some very strict Tabernacle rules concerning the priests’ and the people’s behavior. The High Priest was the only one permitted to enter the Holy of Holies, and then only once a year after making sacrifice for his own sins and the sins of the people. Nevertheless, there are numerous examples that demonstrate that men violated these regulations, even going so far as setting up false idols in the Temple and tearing down God’s altar. The following is a record of God telling Ezekiel about what the Israelites were doing to God’s Temple.

Ezekiel 8:5b and 6
(5b) So I looked, and in the entrance north of the gate of the altar I saw this idol of jealousy.
(6) And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing—the utterly detestable things the house of Israel is doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.”

Many people have the impression that God jealously protected the borders of His Temple, making the Holy of Holies off limits and killing anyone who violated His regulations. The record of the Old Testament actually reveals quite a different story. What is clear is that when men bring abominations and idolatry into the Temple, God departs, as we can even see in the above record from Ezekiel. There is also the record of the Israelites improperly taking the Ark of the Covenant into battle against the Philistines and the Philistines capturing it and putting it into the Temple of their idol god. The Ark was to be placed in the Holy of Holies and it was not to be used as some type of magical box to bring about military victory (1 Sam. 4:3).

Something else that we must consider is that nowhere in the Scriptures does it ever say that a demon cannot be in the presence of “the Holy Spirit.” To the contrary, we must take note of the record of Job where even Satan himself comes and presents himself to God.

Job 1:6-9
(6) One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them.
(7) The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”
(8) Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
(9) “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied.

Not only did Satan come and present himself to God, the record indicates they had a discussion about Job. This seems to contradict the assumption that demons cannot be in the presence of “the Holy Spirit,” after all, God is the Holiest of all spirits and Satan is the most unholy. It seems we can conclude that evil spirits can indeed be in the presence of “the Holy Spirit.” A final point to consider is that nowhere does the Bible ever indicate that the Christian is impervious to the influence or control of demons. On the contrary, God clearly warns us that the Devil “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). The Scriptures also provide numerous warnings, as well as encouragements to be vigilant in keeping up our defenses against him.

Ephesians 6:12
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

James 4:7
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Not Ignorant of His Devices
God’s archenemy, the Devil, seeks to harm God’s children any way he can. God warns us that Satan’s very nature is to steal, to kill, and to destroy (John 10:10). With an enemy out there always seeking to harm us, God assures us that He does not want us ignorant of the Adversary’s schemes. Our failure to be properly educated about these attacks will most likely result in the enemy gaining a foothold into our lives, which is something God does not want for us (Eph. 4:27). Many people who are ignorant of Satan’s schemes are ensnared and held captive, and some even naively do his bidding. This is why God warns us not to be “ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11).

The Devil is a master of deception and two fundamental tactics he employs are convincing people that he does not exist, and persuading them that he is more powerful than he actually is. When it comes to the idea of demonization, the view that a Christian cannot be demonized is merely a version of the “He Does Not Exist” tactic. From Satan’s perspective, this is a highly effective strategy. Most military experts would agree that it is very hard to fight an enemy that you do not believe exists. In fact, operating in a covert manner and using the surprise attack is one of the most effective tactics an army can employ. When Christians deny the possibility of demonization, they act like pawns on a chessboard subject to the moves of a hidden enemy as he works to take advantage of them.

On the other hand, the Devil has also worked aggressively to condition people to believe that “possession” is something much more drastic than it usually is. The image of a crazed and wild man of the tombs described in the Gospels, or someone who is totally out of control and destructive, such as the girl in the movie, The Exorcist, dominates people’s image of what it means to be demonized. A wild-eyed naked man covered in gashes with the strength to break chains and living among the tombs is a frightening picture.

Mark 5:2-5
(2) When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him.
(3) This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain.
(4) For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.
(5) Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

The Devil’s promotion of the word “possessed” instead of the proper translation, demonization, has led many to believe that when people are under the control of dark spirits they lose their ability to control themselves. This is a version of the “More Powerful Than He Actually Is” scheme, and while there are certainly times when demonization can happen like that, this is the extreme exception and far from the rule. Fear is a powerful force. It is a great immobilizer, sapping the strength of the prey that is frozen in its tracks by the tremendous roar of the lion before it pounces and devours. We never want to lose sight of the fact that the Adversary is a very powerful and formidable foe, but he is not as powerful as he would like us to believe.

Set the Captives Free
Jesus opened his public ministry in the synagogue of his home town Nazareth. He read aloud the following Scripture from Isaiah for everyone to hear:

Luke 4:18
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,

Jesus came to release the oppressed and set people free. In contrast, the Devil always enslaves and always oppresses. The Gospels give us numerous examples of Jesus setting the captives free as he cast out spiritual vermin.

Acts 10:38
“…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”

It is now our task to help those who are oppressed and held captive by the forces of darkness. Denying that Christians can be demonized only promotes an environment for unclean spirits to operate without resistance. On the other hand, seeing a devil behind every wrongful behavior or every bad thing that happens in life is not beneficial either, and only serves to glorify God’s enemy. We must stand fast on the accuracy of God’s Word, submitting ourselves to God, resisting the Devil, and then he will flee from us (James 4:7).

Endnotes

[1] Deliverance Ministry is the term used to describe the ministry of freeing those oppressed by the Devil.
[2] Peter Horrobin, Healing Through Deliverance: 1.The Biblical Basis, (Renew Books/Gospel Light, Ventura, CA 1994), p.295.

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1 comment

  1. Great article and explanation on this subject! Thank you for taking the time to break it down.

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