Several years ago, some church youth returned home from summer camp, excited, yet apprehensive. Some were even terrified. Youth camps have historically been a reservoir for renewal and revival. So, there was great concern at the attitudes of these young believers. What caused such alarm? The campers had been taught that a Christian could be possessed by demons. They are not alone in this dilemma.
One popular Christian magazine in the recent past released an article about this very subject. It was surprising to read its final conclusion. Basically, it related that it did not matter if a person could be possessed or not, but just get them delivered. While that sounds noble and somewhat spiritual on the surface, it opens the door for instruction that can undermine the foundation of a believer’s assurance of salvation. It can bring Christians into a state of confusion, bondage, defeat, and intense psychological trauma. Deliverance is imperative, but sound instruction from the Word could also prevent future deception and defeat.
This subject is not new, as Christians have been going through prayer lines to have demons “cast out” for decades. Many exhibitions, including Christians carrying garbage cans around with them as they would vomit out demons, still take place. It is a lamentable thing to see Christians live in a state of fear and torment, seeking minister after minister to cast out and gain dominance over a particular spirit they believe is in their lives. These things are unscriptural. These people live without the abundant life and joy that Jesus has provided for all believers.
Let us look at the account of demon activity in Matthew 8:28-34, Luke 8:26-39, and Mark 5:1-20 in the country of the Gadarenes, and what basic lessons we can learn from this.
Clinton Arnold, of the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, states these lessons:
- Many demons can inhabit a person simultaneously. A Roman legion normally consisted of 6,000 men.
- Demons can manifest their presence by speaking through a person and, at times, taking control of a person’s body. They can even increase a person’s normal physical strength.
- Demons can inflict self-injury and injury to others.
- Demons can be transferred from one host to another. They can enter animals and control their bodily movements.
- Demons resist leaving their host. They may plead for their own well-being.
Arnold also gives us some important lessons of how Jesus responded to the demonized man:
- Jesus speaks directly to the evil spirit and asks the demon its name. We can pray and ask God to deliver someone from evil, but it may be necessary to directly address a spirit in the manner that Jesus did.
- The spirits resisted Jesus before they departed. It should come as no surprise if demons resist our commands.
- Jesus issued a command, “Come out of the man,” based on His own authority. No elaborate rituals were necessary. Based on our union with Jesus Christ, being filled with the same Spirit by which He cast out devils, and our right to exercise authority in His name over this realm, we can issue a firm and direct command to an intruding spirit with the expectation that it will leave.
With those basic principles of controlling demonic activity in a person, we now must understand if this type of activity is possible in a Christian. Before we go any further, let this be manifestly clear; a Christian cannot be possessed by a demon. It is neither scripturally nor theologically possible for a Christian to be demon possessed. With this foundation to build upon, there are fundamental reasons for Christians to have confidence in their freedom from demon possession.
Most scholars will agree the concept that possession denotes ownership. So, as children of God, we have been “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20), and therefore, cannot be owned by the evil one.
The scriptural concept that “no man can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24) is evidence that God will not co-habit with the devil. Other scriptures validate this. Matthew 12:25–30 relates that, “He that is not with me is against me”. In 2 Corinthians 6:15-17 we are given the doctrine that we are God’s temple and there is no room for anyone but Him, “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What agreement is here between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.’”
If a believer can be demon possessed at any point of their walk with God, when can they ever claim freedom in Christ? John 8:36 explains the believer’s confidence in Christ, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
Teaching that a Christian can be demon possessed leads to an eternal dilemma. If you are a Christian and simultaneously demon possessed when you die, where will you spend eternity? Heaven is for the righteous and surrendered to Christ. The answer in Revelation 21:27 seems obvious when it comes to heaven’s occupants, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
In Mark 3:14, 15, Christ sent the disciples forth to preach, heal the sick and cast out devils with no mention of the possibility of them being possessed. There was no fear and no need for Jesus to mention this as they were ambassadors of Christ. We are likewise commissioned the same in Mark 16:17, so believers today have the same security and authority through Jesus Christ.
This is an old-fashioned, yet timeless, reason – Satan cannot cross the blood-line of Christ. Exodus 12:13 states, “And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you…” One well-known book promoting deliverance of possession for believers seems to weaken the power of the blood of Christ. The author has a prescription for self-deliverance. He says every morning when he awakens, he exhales (blows deep breaths) to expel any spirits that had gained lodging in him during the night. If this is necessary for a believer to practice daily, then the question begs to be asked, “Can the blood of Jesus keep us clean and holy, not only as we sleep, but at any time?” Of course, the answer is a definite, yes! The blood of Jesus cleanses us and keeps us without ceasing! The efficacy of the blood of Jesus is all powerful.
This next statement is essential to understand. There are absolutely NO scriptures indicating any believer was demon possessed. In every instance of demonic possession given in the Word of God, all involve non-believers. To imply that Christians can be demon possessed would be outside the realm of Holy Scripture. Some people cite personal experiences of Christians being delivered from demons. There is only one answer to that dilemma. If a person’s experience is not validated by the Word of God, then the experience must be considered false. When we build a doctrine around experience instead of the Word, we open ourselves up to error, or pride, arrogance, and confusion….which are works of the flesh. Galatians 1:8 says, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” Personal experiences cannot supersede the Scriptures, no matter how charismatic or demonstrative they seem.
There seems to be two sources of rationale that leads people to believe that a Christian can be demon possessed. The first problem lies in people misunderstanding the difference between demon possession and demon influence. To make things even more difficult to discern, at times demon possession may be accompanied with mental disorders, physical sickness, or sinful habits. But it is crucial to understand that not all mental disorders, physical sicknesses, nor sinful habits are due to demonic possession. Differentiation and discerning between demonic influence and demon possession is more than semantics.
Scriptures tell of being oppressed and vexed by the devil, which are different than being possessed by a devil. The two New Testament words for oppression are katadunesteuo, which means to exercise power over, and kataponeo, which means to tire with toil. The word vexed, ochieo, means to trouble, torment, or disturb. None of these words signify possession or ownership rights. Conversely, the word for demon possession is daimonizomenos, and could be translated “demonized,” and again recall that this word does represent ownership. There is no question that oppression and vexation are works of evil spirits and they do attack believers. Yet, a reminder must be made that these activities come from outside of the believer. So, not only is the terminology different, but the source of control is diverse.
Believers are given instruction for the defeat of evil spirits attacking their lives. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7); “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11); “Neither give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27) are some of the examples of the victorious Scriptures available to the believer when he exercises his authority through the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit. Furthermore, believers are to crucify the flesh, mortify the deeds of the body, walk in the Spirit, among other instructions, and these reveal the believer’s responsibility for himself. Constantly depending on deliverance by others can easily become an escape for one’s own lack of discipline and commitment.
The second reason that has confused people into thinking that Christians can be demon possessed is rather distinctive and connected to another erroneous teaching. One writer who advocates Christians being demon possessed stated, “If a Christian is living in sin . . . there’s no way he can escape demons.” To some, this contradiction in theology is obvious. This seems to promote a theology that I call, “Calvinistic Demonization” for the believer. Please understand, if a person is LIVING in sin (practicing sin), he is no longer a Christian, no longer protected by the blood of Christ, and therefore is open to demonic attack. It seems the doctrine of eternal security has filtered over into this realm of Pentecostal/Charismatic life. It is this writer’s personal experience that people who promote this demonized-Christian teaching are those who have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and come from organizations that teach Calvinism. This doctrine of eternal security is opposed to the Arminian and Wesleyan doctrines that we believe the Scriptures teach. Following the Calvinistic idea, if a person can be saved and continue to sin, never falling out of “sonship” as they like to teach, then it is not a stretch of the imagination for a person to have a demon and still be saved.
To illustrate, one popular evangelist/teacher said, “A person who confessed to be a Christian had a demon cast out.” How did this happen? This person who was delivered said they went to an X-rated movie theater, and it happened there. The evangelist replied, “If you go into Satan’s territory, you pay the price. You leave God’s protection.” So it is for an individual, his relationship with Christ, and his protection from demons. Not everyone who confesses to be a Christian is a Christian. And when you leave the protection of God, and cease to be a Christian, you are open game for the devil.
With all of this said, let us go forward in the power of the Spirit with boldness, fulfilling the command of Jesus in Matthew 10:8, “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils.” A world of captive sinners and people in need of deliverance are calling. Let fear be cast aside, building your faith as a blood-covered child of God on the promises of the Word. We are encouraged to remember in 1 John 5:18, “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.”