Can Believers Be Demon Possessed?
By Neil T. Anderson
The simple answer to the question as asked is "no." But the relationship of believers to the demonic is not that simple.
In the original language, "demon possession" is only one word. Some have suggested that it would have been better to have transliterated it as "demonized." If we did, then a demonized person could be defined as "one who is under the influence of one or more demons." All the passages where this word is used are in the Gospels. The word never occurs after the Cross. Consequently, we will forever lack theological precision in determining if the word "demonization" can be applied to a New Testament believer. To say the concept couldn't apply because the word doesn't occur is, at best, an argument from silence and not a definitive answer.
The answer also hinges on how you define "possessed." We have a tendency to think that if we possess something, we own it (as in "possession is nine-tenths of the law"). With that understanding of the word, the question becomes "Can a Christian be owned by the evil one?" The answer: Absolutely not! Every Christian has been bought by the blood of the Lamb (1 Peter 1:18,19). We belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, and He will never leave us. Paul writes, "You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance" (Ephesians 1:13,14).
Despite what some of our critics charge, I (Neil) have never taught that believers can be "demon possessed." The first cornerstone of our message is that believers are eternally secure in their identity as children of God. We teach that no believer is in such deep bondage that they cannot exercise their responsibility to "submit therefore to God. Resist the devil" (James 4:7). Our approach is to encourage believers to exercise their authority and responsibility as children of God to repent of sin, win the battle for their minds, present their bodies to God and resist the devil.
Even though Christ has secured our victory over our spiritual enemies (see Colossians 2:15), please don't conclude that Christians can't have spiritual problems. Some believers seem to think they are immune to spiritual attack, but the Bible clearly teaches that Satan's primary attack has always been on God's people, hoping to thwart God's plan. The Bible clearly teaches that temptation, accusation and deception are constant possibilities for believers. (The following passages describe the possible impact of evil forces on believers: Genesis 3; 1 Samuel 16:14; 1 Chronicles 21:1; Job; Zechariah 3; Matthew 16:23; Acts 5:3; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 7:5; 2 Corinthians 11:1ff; 12:7; Ephesians 4:27; 6:10ff; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 1 Timothy 1:20; 3:6; 4:1; 5:15; 2 Timothy 2:26; James 3:15; 4:4; 1 Peter 5:7,8; Revelation 2:10; 12:17.)
A true Biblical worldview presents all of creation locked in spiritual conflict that extends from Genesis to Revelation. As believers, we are aligned with God against the "god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4). We have been transferred from the "domain of darkness" to the "kingdom of His beloved Son" (Colossians 1:13). In this battle for the heavenly places, the Church is God's method for extending His kingdom and as such is Satan's prime target (see Ephesians 1:3,20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12). The entire book of Ephesians teaches that as believers we already have everything we need to experience spiritual resources through faith and obedience in the power of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual defeat is still a real possibility for believers who still live like unbelievers (see Ephesians 4:17-32).
We are clearly told that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). Therefore, Paul teaches it is our responsibility to put on the armor of God, to stand firm and to resist the powers of evil (see Ephesians 6:10-18). Peter calls the devil "your adversary" and warns believers of his intention to devour them (see 1 Peter 5:7,8). The word used for "devour" is a strong term that means "to drink down, swallow down, to eat up, or to devour." (Fritz Rienecker and Cleon Rogers, The Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1976, 1982 edition). For example the Egyptians were "swallowed up" by the Red Sea (see Hebrews 11:29). (See also 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:20). We are told to submit to God and resist the devil and that he will flee from us (see James 4:7). What happens to believers if they don't obey God's Word and choose to resist the devil? All these passages imply dire consequences for believers who ignore Satan, pretend he doesn't exist or fail to stand firm in their faith. If Satan can get you to believe a lie, he can control your life. We have been clearly warned: "The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Timothy 4:1).
By focusing the discussion of Satan's influence on believers on the issue of the location of the demons--whether they are internal or external--some have needlessly polarized the Church. Conservative Christians have disagreed for years about what demons can do to believers and whether this control can extend to what we normally think of as internal functions such as thinking, feeling and motor activities. We could quote authors, cite references and debate the passages, but we don't believe deciding the location is the critical issue. Furthermore, we believe you could use our discipleship-counseling model regardless of your view on the location issue. Let us explain.
First, the issue of internal versus external is hard to apply in the spiritual realm. As believers, is our "skin," the armor of God repelling demons and their activities? Or is the battle for our minds fought in a spiritual realm where spatial concepts are not the key issues? The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is primarily a "relational issue" and not a "spatial" issue because of the doctrine of the omnipresence of God. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit does not automatically keep sin and evil out of our mortal bodies (study Romans 6-8). The Corinthian believers were warned about receiving other spirits besides the Holy Spirit (see 2 Corinthians 11:3,4) even though Paul calls them temples of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19). As the temple of God was violated in the Old Testament, Paul teaches that sin can reign in the mortal bodies of those who use their bodies as instruments of unrighteousness (see Romans 6:12-16). That is why he urges us to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice (see Romans 12:1) as the necessary prerequisite to the renewing of our minds (see Romans 12:2). The whole question of "internal versus external influence" is difficult because we just don't know exactly how the material world of the brain, body and nervous system interfaces with the spiritual realm of the mind, flesh and spirit.
Second, virtually all who carefully study this issue agree that believers can be greatly impacted by evil spirits. Authors who advocate an external-influence-only view conclude this: "The Bible itself does not give us a full description of everything demons are capable of. Because of this lack of accurate information, plus the satanic ability to deceive, plus our own shortcomings in the area of discernment, it is likely that certain activities such as vocal chord control or even a demon throwing someone on the ground, may be caused by a demon without requiring internal habitation. (Thomas Ice and Robert Dean, Overrun by Demons, Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House, 1990, pp. 127-128.) What if these authors are correct and all control is external? You could still have a believer rolling on the ground, speaking in demonic voices, in desperate need of help.
We believe the critical issue is how to help this person. To find freedom from the spiritual bondage, however you want to describe it, the believer must assume personal responsibility to believe the truth of his or her identity in Christ, submit to God by repenting of sin, put on the spiritual armor and resist the devil. Regardless of where the demons are located, it is trusting God's truth and His truth alone that sets people free (see John 8:31,32). We have never cast demons out of anybody as some kind of "outside authority agent," and we don't teach others to do it. We simply encourage believers to exercise their responsibility to "submit therefore to God. Resist the devil" (James 4:7) using the kind, compassionate model described by Paul in 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
Through the years, we have had the privilege of helping thousands find their freedom in Christ, freedom from Satan's lies and freedom from their pasts. Many were in bondage to their past, others had deep sexual problems, eating disorders and other seemingly unmanageable behaviors. Few of these people knew who they were as children of God, and all struggled in their thought lives. I (Neil) have personally counseled hundreds of people who heard voices, and nearly every situation involved a spiritual battle for their minds. You may want to read Released from Bondage. It contains testimonies of Christians who were in bondage and their accounts of how they got out of it. You will read about the strong spiritual component in every single person's problems. How you choose to label the conflict is almost irrelevant to us. The fact that Christ was their answer and truth set them free is the real issue. And we, the Church, are the only hope these dear people have because the secular world does not believe they could possibly be having demonic problems.
Freedom in Christ © 1998
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If you are going to work with ritual abuse survivors, you must also get educated if you want to be effective. And you must learn to be humble. Trauma survivors do not need to be around ignorant, modern-day Pharisees. Survivors in pain need people who will connect with them on an emotional level, get right down in there where they are, and listen. --Kathleen Sullivan