Can Christians be demon-possessed?

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015

[For extended analysis of what the Bible teaches about Satan and demons go to these studies. ]

In case you do not have time to read it all, here is a paragraph from later in this article:

The believer is a person who has been saved, rescued, delivered, redeemed – set free from Satan, and therefore also from all lesser Satanic powers, and from bondage and enslavement to them. The believer does not belong to them any more; they neither own nor possess the believer. The believer is God’s possession, not Satan’s, not demons’.

Before you read any further, please note the wording of the question:

‘Can’ – is it possible for -

‘Christians’ – those born again by the Holy Spirit, indwelt by the Holy Spirit and in the process of being transformed by the Holy Spirit [John 3:7; Ephesians 1:13,14; 2Corinthians 3:18] –

‘be demon possessed’ – to have demons, otherwise called ‘devils’ or ‘evil spirits’ or ‘unclean spirits’, living in them and to some extent or other directing their thoughts, words, attitudes and actions from within them.

Please also note what this question is not asking. It is not asking:

Can Satan tempt Christians?
Can Satan try to deceive Christians with false miracles and false teaching?
Can Satan harm Christians?
Can Satan accuse Christians?
Can Satan or evil spirits oppress Christians?

The witness of the New Testament

[1] The absence of any New Testament evidence affirming demonic possession of believers
In the New Testament

[1] there is no evidence that any of the people from whom Jesus and the apostles ‘cast out’ demons were believers at the time.

[2] there are no instructions about how to deal with Christians indwelt by demons.

[3] there are no instructions about how Christians can prevent themselves being indwelt by demons.

[4] there is no evidence of any identifiable demons or spirits being associated with individual Christians.

[5] there is no expectation that Christians will be indwelt by demons.

It is simply not possible to prove or to demonstrate from the New Testament that Christians can be possessed by demons.  

This absence of any evidence does not prove that Christians cannot be indwelt by demons. It is an argument from silence. The silence is however rather deafening, because it is a very broad silence, covering all five issues listed above.

[2] The presence of evidence to the contrary

While the New Testament nowhere makes an exact statement that Christians cannot be indwelt by demons, it does teach a number of truths that very strongly indicate that such an indwelling is not possible.

The victory of Jesus Christ
The New Testament teaches that the death of Christ was a decisive and public victory over Satan and all powers associated with him [Colossians 2:15].

The New Testament teaches that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ affirms the utter superiority of Jesus Christ over Satan and all demonic powers [Ephesians 1:19-21; Philippians 2:9]. Christ is ‘head over every power and authority’ [Colossians 2:10].

We are not waiting for the ‘end of the world’ for Satan and his demons to be defeated; they have already been soundly defeated. Christ is already the victorious Conqueror. Christ is already ‘far above’ all evil powers.

The impact of this victory for those who believe in Christ
The victory of Christ over Satan and his demons has a clearly defined result for those who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and God: that those who thus receive him are permanently removed from Satan’s authority and jurisdiction.

God ‘has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves’ [Colossians 1:13]. [Both verbs here are in the Aorist Tense, indicating a decisive, once-for-all, past action. There is no need for repeat deliverances.]

The Christian is no longer entrapped by Satan, nor captive to Satan, nor belonging to Satan. God has rescued believers from him, and placed them in the kingdom of Jesus – under the authority and the protection of Jesus.  In the words of Jesus, he, the stronger one, has robbed Satan, the strong one. We, the believers, are the ‘spoils’ that Jesus takes from Satan [Luke 11:21,22]. In context, the issue is the ability of Jesus to ‘cast out demons’. Rather than Jesus doing this ‘by Beelzebub, the prince of demons’, as some were suggesting, the fact that Jesus cast out demons was because he was stronger than Satan. It is his superiority over Satan that automatically gives him power over demons.

To conquer Satan is to conquer demons. This is evident in several of the references above, where Jesus’ victory over Satan by the cross clearly indicates a victory over all lesser powers associated with Satan. The defeat of demons is included in the defeat of Satan. So true is this that Revelation does not even mention the ‘end’ of demons when it describes the final judgment. Various other enemies are mentioned as being hurled into the ‘lake of fire’, but demons are so insignificant that they do not even get a mention.

Demons are, however, mentioned in Revelation in relation to the decisive impact of Christ’s death. The victory of Jesus Christ is symbolically depicted in Revelation 12:7-9, then explained in theological language in Revelation 12:10-11. It is clear from verse 9 that the defeat of Satan included the defeat of demons (‘his angels’). It is clear from verses 10 and 11 that by Christ’s death Satan, and therefore his demons, are ‘hurled down’ by Christ, and overcome by both Christ and those who believe in him – those who are redeemed, covered and protected by his blood. By Christ’s defeat of Satan ‘the power and the kingdom of God, and the authority of his Christ’ have been established [verse 10] – they ‘have come’. Neither Satan nor his demons have any power, kingdom or authority over those whom Christ has saved by his victory, by his blood.

The truth of redemption
Redemption is freedom resulting from the payment of a price. In New Testament terms, the ‘price’ paid, the ransom, for spiritual redemption is the death of Christ [1Peter 1:18,19; Ephesians 1:7; Romans 3:24,25; Mark 10:45].

The redemption thus accomplished by the death of Christ is multi-faceted: it is freedom from the penalty of sin [Ephesians 1:7], it is liberation from condemnation [Romans 8:1], it is liberation from death [Hebrews 2:14,15], and it is liberation from Satan [Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 2:14], and from those powers associated with Satan [Colossians 2:15; Ephesians 1:23 – note ‘for the church’].

The believer is a person who has been saved, rescued, delivered, redeemed – set free from Satan, and therefore also from all lesser Satanic powers, and from bondage and enslavement to them. The believer does not belong to them any more; they neither own nor possess the believer. The believer is God’s possession, not Satan’s, not demons’.

The indwelling Holy Spirit
The New Testament teaches that all believers, when they first believed in Jesus Christ, were ‘marked’ with God’s seal of ownership, the seal of God’s purchased possession – the Holy Spirit. This living, divine ‘mark’ of ownership/possession is defined as both the deposit and the guarantee of all that God promised and achieved through the death of his Son [Ephesians 1:13,14; 2Corinthians 1:22; 5:5].

When Jesus Christ promised his followers that this would happen he spoke in terms of the Spirit coming to live within the believer [John 14:15-31; 15:26-16:16]. In John 14:23 he equated this indwelling with himself and his Father coming and making their home in the believer. From these verses in John it is clear that each believer is the dwelling place of the holy and triune God – Father, Son and Spirit, not the dwelling place of evil spirits. This dwelling of God within the believer individually and believers corporately is further attested in Ephesians 2:21,22 and 1Corinthians 3:16,17 and 6:19,20.

Jesus taught that on that day – when the Spirit came to dwell in them – they would realize ‘you are in me and I in you’ [John 14:20].

The New Testament commands require deliberate personal obedience
The New Testament addresses moral issues by giving us commands to obey. It does not address moral issues by attributing our sinful actions and attitudes to evil spirits and by detailing how we are to get rid of ‘a spirit of lust’ or ‘a spirit of falsehood’, for example, in the sense of an indwelling spirit of lust or of falsehood. Rather it identifies these things as our own personal actions and attitudes for which we are personally responsible, and commands us to stop doing things that are inappropriate for God’s holy children – to put them off, to put them to death, to get rid of them [see, as examples, Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 4:1-3, 20-31; 5:1-21; Colossians 3:5-17].

What should we conclude?

The basis on which some Christians argue that believers can be demon-possessed is not the New Testament, because the New Testament does not teach such a thing. The basis for this belief is human ‘experience’ – the personal narratives/stories of those who believe they have observed either [1] Christians possessed by demons, or [2] exorcisms in which demons have been cast out of Christians. Any argument or belief based on human experience is non-definitive; it is a subjective human interpretation of what was observed, or thought to be observed.  

Personal experience should never determine or define truth. Rather God’s revealed truth, recorded in his written Word, the Bible, should interpret and define personal experience.

Eliphaz, one of Job’s three friends, based all that he said to Job on personal experience – what he had personally observed [Job 4:8], and what he had dreamed [4:12]. But God told Eliphaz he was wrong – that what he had spoken about God and his ways was not ‘right’ [42:7]. Indeed, Eliphaz was so wrong that it was necessary for a sacrifice to be offered for this sin of misrepresenting God [42:8].

Similarly, some Christians assume that believers can be demon-possessed because that is what ‘the church’ or ‘their church’ teaches. In this case, church tradition determines and defines belief, rather than the written Word of God determining and defining belief.

Bildad, another of Job’s three friends, based his understanding on ‘tradition’. ‘Ask the former generations’ he advised [Job  8:8], and pummelled Job with the questions ‘… is the earth to be abandoned for your sake? Or must the rocks be moved to from their place?’ [18:4]. But he, along with Eliphaz attracted God’s verdict ‘You have not spoken of me what is right’ [42:7].

Our question in trying to learn the truth should never be ‘What does personal experience teach?’ not even when it is multiplied personal experience. Nor should it be ‘What does tradition teach?’ Nor should it be, like Zophar in Job, that it is not possible to know. Our question should always be ‘What does the Bible teach?’

As indicated above: the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has, by this blood shed on the cross, achieved a decisive and definitive victory over Satan, and therefore, over all beings aligned with Satan. By this decisive victory Satan and his demons are disempowered, and those who believe in Christ are redeemed (purchased at great cost) by God as his own possession and removed from Satan’s legal jurisdiction and from his authority. They are now marked and indwelt by God’s seal of ownership, the Holy Spirit, by whom they are indwelt, and whose presence within them is also the presence of the Father and the presence of the Son.

All of this is a massive event. It is a colossal victory. It is an exceedingly costly redemption. It took the incarnation to accomplish it. It took the death of the beloved Son to accomplish it. It took God’s mighty power to accomplish it. In Ephesians Paul prays that his readers will be able to understand just how great is the power of God that accomplished this incredible salvation for them [1:18-2:10; 3:18-21].

According to the New Testament:

Believers have already been rescued from Satan, his dominion and his authority [Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 2:14].

Believers have already been delivered from Satan’s accusations; although he continues to accuse he has no legal right to do so [Romans 8:31-35].

Believers are protected against Satan and his schemes by the gospel of salvation [Ephesians 6:10-17].

Believers are equipped with the Word of God to defend themselves against Satan’s deceptions and accusations [Ephesians 6:17].

Believers are under God’s protection, which limits the pressures Satan is permitted to use against them [1Corinthians 10:13; 1Peter 5:8-10].

[For additional information go here.]

When we look at the reaction of demons to the incarnate Christ we can have no doubts about their fear in his presence and their recognition of who he was. They were terrified of him. They did not want to be around when he was there. Beside him they were puny, extremely puny. Even the thousands who indwelt the Gadarene demoniac were together fearful in Christ’s presence [Mark 5:1-10]. This same Jesus indwells every believer, by his Spirit. Jesus, the Holy One. Jesus, the Almighty God. Jesus, the King of kings, the Lord of lords – living in the believer, living there with all of that incredible love and power that motivated and enabled our salvation.

Are we to conclude, (putting the Scriptural testimony about Jesus and salvation aside and basing our theology on human experience), that any demon - defeated, powerless, evil, unholy, hating Jesus – could live, where Jesus, the Conqueror, the Victor, the Lord Almighty lives? No.

Are we to conclude, (putting the Scriptural testimony about Jesus and salvation aside and basing our theology on human experience), that Jesus, who purchased us with his own blood, would permit a demon to remain in possession of us? No.

Jesus, the Lord of glory, has come to us. He has defeated and disempowered the evil one to whom we belonged, but to whom we belong no more. We now belong to Jesus. We are his blood-bought possession.

His. His alone.