Demon Possession Can A Christian Be Demon Possessed?
Summary: In the 1970s there were conferences where Christians were encouraged to vomit up demons into paper bags. In some meetings believers were having chocolate demons, tobacco demons, and the like supposedly cast out of them. These excesses came and went fairly quickly, thank the Lord. But they brought up a major doctrinal question: can a born-again Christian be possessed by demons — that is, have demons within that need to be cast out? I take the position biblically that a Christian cannot be indwelt by a demon that needs to be cast out. Let’s look to the Scriptures for clarity on that issue.
When the incidents above occurred in the 1970s, many leading ministers took a strong stand against the teaching that Christians could need exorcism. I was gratified to see the Assemblies of God take a written stand against it, too. Unfortunately, some Christians — saints, ministers, and churches as a whole — have accepted this teaching and have chosen to “major” in a ministry of allegedly casting demons out of Christians.
Let me state strongly right at the outset — Satan and his demons can have a strong, negative influence on Christian believers. Otherwise, it would have been meaningless for Paul to write to the Ephesian believers: “Do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27), if there were not at least some Christians doing exactly that. The devil is our enemy (1 Peter 5:8). Look at just a partial sampling of his evil activities against Christians:
• Satan tempts Christians (1 Corinthians 7:5).
• He tries to outwit us (2 Corinthians 2:11).
• He masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).
• A messenger of Satan “tormented” Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7).
• Satan “hindered” Paul from going to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:18).
• Satan “leads the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9).
• He does counterfeit signs and wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9).
• Demons bring false doctrines (1 Timothy 4:1).
The question, then, is not whether demons can attempt to defeat Christians in many ways, for the Bible clearly shows demons attempting this. No, our question, rather, is this: can a born-again Christian have a demon inside himself — that is, within his body (where the soul and spirit are) — thus losing to that demon some control over his life? To that I answer a strong “No!” and will attempt to show from Scripture the Christian’s immunity to being indwelt by a demon.
The Greek word daimonizomai occurs 13 times in the New Testament, all in the four Gospels and all before the Cross of Christ. One of those 13 (John 10:21) was a blasphemous accusation that Jesus was demon-possessed! The other 12 occurrences spoke of people in the pre-Christian era (before the Cross) who were possessed by demons. Apostle Dick Benjamin of Anchorage, Alaska, has written about this Greek word daimonizomai in his paper entitled “Can a Demon Have a Christian?” He states:
“Some modern teachers have transliterated the Greek word daimonizomai into the English word demonized. They thus have a new word that they can expand and apply extensively beyond the original intent of the word. These teachers state that this word is better translated in a broader sense of ‘demon influence.’ In the Scriptures above [quoting the 13 verses using daimonizomai], I have listed every use of the word in the New Testament. It is obvious to deduce that the word means demon possessed. The NAS and the NIV are faithful to translate the word this way.
“By defining the word in a broader sense of ‘demon influence,’ they have opened the door for Christians to be ‘demonized’ because Christians are influenced by Satan. It is my earnest opinion that to be demon-possessed and to be demon-influenced are vastly different and cannot be adequately covered by one word. In the use of this Greek word [daimonizomai] in the scriptures shown above, none apply to Christians.”
Apostle Benjamin goes on to discuss another Greek verb, echo, which (like daimonizomai) has been used by some to allegedly prove that Christians could have demons within needing to be cast out. After listing the 17 scriptures that use this verb echo in the context of demons, apostle Benjamin wrote further:
“Another Greek word that comes into consideration is echo. In the KJV, this word is translated hath, had, hast, have and possessed. The word is used many times in other settings in the New Testament…
“The KJV translates the word echo twice as possessed. The NAS translates this word three times as possessed. The NIV translates this word 11 times as possessed. Please note the extensive use of the word out [as in gone out, come out, went out, came out]. This indicates that the demon was in. The weight of evidence is that this word [like daimonizomai] also means “demon-possessed.” The only probable exception would be the sick woman of Luke 13:11. None of the above [seventeen] scriptures apply to blood-bought, Christ-redeemed Christians. However, in several instances, they did accuse Christ of having a demon or being demon-possessed.
“There were no Christians before the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is grievously erroneous to equate the “children of Abraham” who lived prior to the cross of Christ with those persons redeemed by the blood of the sacrificed Lamb of God. Prior to the great victory of Christ over Satan, it is evident that occasionally Israelites were, indeed, possessed by the devil. At the last Passover, Christ identified his blood as the blood of the New Testament. The true new covenant began with the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The effects of the new covenant began at the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is a New Testament study; hence, it is a study of our standing under the terms of the new covenant.”
I appreciate brother Benjamin’s biblical expertise and his detailed examination of this topic. Now let’s look at some more Scriptures dealing with being “possessed” and/or “having a demon.”
Mark 5:2-8, 15, NASB When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones. Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” …  They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened.
• This man was completely out of control of himself (vss. 3-5). He had been “possessed [daimonizomai] with the devil” (vs. 15, KJV). Before Jesus freed him, he “had had” [echo] a legion of demons.
• The possessed man who “had” a legion of demons needed something — he needed them to come out of him, which is precisely what Jesus (vs. 8] commanded the demons to do, thereby gloriously freeing the man.
Mark 9:17-20, 25-26a, NASB And one of the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.” And He answered them and said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!” They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth…  When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.” After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out…
• The boy was “possessed [echo - KJV: hath a dumb spirit]” (17), which had to “come out” (25-26).
Luke 4:33-35, NASB In the synagogue there was a man possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are — the Holy One of God!” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in the midst of the people, he came out of him without doing him any harm.
• The KJV says the man “had [echo] a spirit of an unclean devil.” The NASB and the NIV translate that as “possessed” by that demon.
• Once again, the “possessed” person who “had” the demon needed the demon to come out! Jesus commanded that demon to come out, and the man was fully delivered.
Some conclusions to date:
1) To “have a demon” is to be “possessed” by a demon.
2) That demon is within the person and needs to be cast out.
3) The demon(s) within have a great deal of control over the person.
A key point: No born-again Christian is ever spoken of in the New Testament as having a demon within needing to come out.
• Mark 3:22, 28-30, NASB The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He [Jesus] is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons” …  “Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” — because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
• It is a very dangerous thing to suggest that the spirit within a child of God is an evil spirit!
Christians have strong reasons to be confident in the victory Jesus has secured for us over the devil. Consider the following Scriptures.
Colossians 2:15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
• Jesus triumphed over Satan by His Cross.
Colossians 1:13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.
• Through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, we have been rescued [KJV: delivered] from Satan’s dominion of darkness. Notice that God “has rescued us” from the devil’s dominion. Even more [NASB], God has “transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” For a Christian, these blessings are already done — He “has” rescued us; He “has…brought us” into Christ’s kingdom and kingship.
2 Timothy 2:25-26 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
• Repentance and the knowledge of the truth will enable any former opponent of the Gospel to “escape from the trap of the devil.” The former resister of the Gospel, now repentant and walking in God’s truth, escapes the devil’s traps and schemes.
Acts 26:17-18 [Jesus to Saul/Paul] I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God…
• In Jesus we have been turned “from the power of Satan to God.” By our salvation in Christ, something happened to our former relationship with the devil:
1) We are rescued from his dominion (Colossians 1:13).
2) We have escaped the devil’s trap (2 Timothy 2:26).
3) We have turned from Satan’s power to God (Acts 26:18).
1 John 5:18-19, RSV We know that any one born of God does not sin, but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one.
CEV translation: (18) We are sure that God’s children do not keep on sinning. God’s own Son protects them, and the devil cannot harm them.
• The unsaved world is under the devil’s control (19).
• But the evil one “cannot harm … does not touch” born-again Christians. Why? Because “God’s own Son protects them” (18).
Now let’s look at a few objections sometimes posed to the position I have taken above:
1) In Luke 13:11-16 Jesus healed a Jewish woman in the synagogue. She had been “crippled by a spirit for eighteen years” (11). Those maintaining that Christians can “have” demons often refer to these verses as alleged proof, because Jesus called her “a daughter of Abraham” (16). But the answer to this is simple: the woman was not a born-again Christian. This occurrence was before the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ provided the great, blood-bought victory over Satan. It is biblically erroneous to equate this woman with a born-again Christian. As stated earlier, all thirteen New Testament occurrences of daimonizomai, as well as the seventeen instances of the related word Greek echo in the context of "having" a demon occur before the Cross of Christ. After the Cross, the term is never used in Scripture to describe a Christian believer having a demon.
2) Acts 5:1-5 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.
• Some have used this scenario to suggest that believers can have a demon within. However, on two counts this argument fails in this instance.
a) If Ananias and Sapphira were unsaved, then the discussion is irrelevant. Unsaved people can be subject to all levels of demonic activity. Our Bible study is addressing only the immunity of Christians to demonic possession.
b) If Ananias and Sapphira were indeed saved, then note this: the biblical account says that Satan had filled their hearts to lie, not that Satan had filled them with himself. Further, the apostle Peter did not perceive this as a situation for casting out demons, but as one of personal accountability for sin.
3) Oftentimes, experiences are brought forth as alleged proof of Christians being inhabited by demons. For example:
• One person wrote of a “Christian” writhing on the floor, hissing like a snake.
• Another says, “I cast demons out of a brother/sister, and he/she was cured.”
• Or someone might point to a dramatic personality change for the worse by a fellow Christian.
Many other similar personal experiences are put forth as supposed “evidence” that Christians can have demons. There are simple explanations for these things that do not require the anti-biblical assumption that they were possessed by demons.
• Not everyone attending a Christian church is a Christian. Millions of churchgoers have never had a personal conversion experience of repenting of sin and accepting Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation. (I personally attended church for 25 years before having a genuine faith encounter with Jesus as my Lord and Savior.) Without that born-again experience, and therefore lacking the presence of the Holy Spirit within them, they are subject to a vast array of demonic attacks.
• 2 Peter 2:20-21 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Some who have known the Lord depart from their faith and end up “worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.”
• Even genuine Christians sometimes act in ridiculous ways. I remember one pastor’s wife in a small Alaskan church. She wailed aloud in a very distracting way throughout much of the church service. Another Alaskan pastor told me how he was trying to pray for a lady after the service, and every time he would lay hands on her to pray, she would jerk around violently. Finally he said to her, “Ma’am, you’re going to have to hold still so I can pray for you!”
• Sometimes strange, even bizarre behavior, is caused by a medical condition and has nothing to do with demonic activity. I recall one sincere Christian lady in a church in another state. For years she demonstrated serious mental problems, to the point that well-intentioned Christians sometimes tried to cast demons out of her, always without any success or cure. Well, long story short, she was made well again when her husband took steps to get her back on the medications that she had stopped taking! Many had concluded that she had demons, and the many were wrong! She simply had a chemical imbalance that was easily remedied by medicine.
• Many misinformed Christians fighting some sin or bondage have some alleged demon cast out, then they walk in a time of victory, of which they testify loudly. Then, sometimes, they fall back into the same sin or bondage (they rarely testify of this!), because they haven’t dealt with the real issue by repenting so as to be forgiven by God and to escape from the devil’s hostile efforts to defeat them. Blaming the problem on demonic activity allowed them to do an end run around the real need, which was to repent before the Lord and to crucify the flesh.
• That’s enough examples. The point is this: experience proves nothing! The Bible proves everything! Historically, “experience” has led the saints into much error, including this erroneous teaching of Christians being daimonizomai and “having” demons. The Bible, not experience, always leads us into God’s liberating truths.
In sum, can Satan and his demons exert negative influences upon Christians? Certainly. We saw earlier that the devil tempts, deceives, masquerades, outwits, torments, hinders, and leads astray Christians, just to give a partial list. But what occurs ZERO times in Scripture is a born-again Christian having a demon within that needs to be cast out. It is simply not there. For the believer, Jesus disarmed demonic powers by the Cross (Colossians 2:15). The apostle Paul tells the born-again believer that God “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son” (Colossians 1:13, KJV).
When the devil tries to tempt you, hinder you, defeat you, lie to you, or whatever, follow James 4:7, KJV — “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Walk in the deliverance that Jesus Christ provided for you, and be free!