Can a Christian Be Demon-Possessed?
A follower of Jesus commanded in Jesus’ name that the evil spirit leave the boy. Immediately the boy thrashed around on the floor and then suddenly went still and silent. In a few minutes he was sitting up in his right mind.
This incident occurred not in first century Palestine but in suburban Melbourne in 1980. The boy was a senior high school student who had become involved in witchcraft and Satan worship. The man who cast out the demon was a pastor I knew.
The boy had met some Christian students and seeing the contrast between their life and his, had gone to the pastor for help. The pastor had never encountered anything like this before in his ministry. But, given the boy’s background, it seemed that demon possession was a reasonable, biblical explanation.
Most Christians in Australia today do not encounter such tangible manifestations of evil. We are used to thinking of the work of Satan in terms of inner attacks such as temptation, doubt, and accusing thoughts, but not in outward manifestations such as demon possession.
However there has arisen within the church in recent times a growing interest in the work of evil spirits. This has been popularised by Christian novels such as Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness. Whole strategies of spiritual warfare, to combat these evil spirits, have been developed by people such as Neil Anderson and Peter Wagner.
Along with this renewed interest in spiritual warfare has come a number of vexing questions. One is whether a Christian’s behaviour, speech or thoughts can be directly controlled by an evil spirit. This possibility may be described in a variety of ways such as, demon possession, demonisation, attachment, control, indwelling, etc. But the effect claimed is basically the same: that an evil spirit has gained an influence over some aspect of a believer’s life. This influence, it is said, can only be stopped by having the evil spirit cast out.
While such a possibility is quite frightening, there is also something attractive about it. If a demon of anger or a spirit of lust is controlling my behaviour, then I am no longer responsible for these particular sins. Complete and instant freedom from these sins seems possible, if I can get someone to cast out the demon that is causing me to behave in this way. However we must ask, is this understanding of the work of demons and their influence on believers in accord with the truth that God has revealed in his word?
That it is possible for an individual to be possessed and controlled by an evil spirit is evident from the cases reported in the Gospels and Acts. However when we examine all the cases in the New Testament, there is not one that we could say is the case of a Christian whose life is controlled in some way by an evil spirit. We also find no warnings by the New Testament writers that such a thing would be possible. In fact there are no passages that could be construed to be commands or instructions for believers to cast demons out of fellow believers, not even in Paul’s most detailed passage on spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-20).
But we must look further than just the few references to demon possession. Of particular importance are passages that speak of the nature and extent of the salvation that Christ has won for us.
Paul writes to the Colossians that God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col. 1:13). To say that we have been “rescued from the dominion of darkness” means that the powers of darkness can no longer exercise authority over us. Paul goes on to say that through the cross Christ “forgave us all our sins” and “disarmed the powers and authorities” (Col. 2:13, 15). Christ has not only defeated the power of sin, he has also defeated the power of Satan and his demons.
It is true that we are still involved in a spiritual battle with the powers of evil, just as we are still involved in a battle with sin (Eph. 6:10-20, 1 Pet. 5: 8, 9). But our enemy is a defeated enemy. He may tempt, he may frustrate, he may accuse, but he is no longer able to exercise control over our behaviour. We are responsible for our own sin. The way to deal with sin in the life of a believer is to confess it, repent of it and claim the forgiveness found in Christ (1 Jn. 1:9).
Along with providing forgiveness of sin and victory over the powers of darkness, Christ has also joined us to himself. Paul can say “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). If Christ is living in us, how could an evil spirit also occupy some part of a believer’s life?
Further to that, our bodies have become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). The Holy Spirit does not sub-let his dwelling place to evil spirits! As Paul asked the Corinthians “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.” (2 Cor. 6:15, 16).
The scriptures make it clear that a radical change takes place when a person becomes a Christian. There is a transfer of authority. There is a change of ownership.
The boy at the beginning of this article did not experience such a change. Even though he found some immediate relief from his suffering, he refused to submit to the Lord Jesus. The allure of the witchcraft and Satan worship was too strong. He soon went back to them and was worse than before.
However for the person who has submitted to the Lordship of Christ and accepted the salvation he offers, the change is complete. The believer belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ who has defeated the powers of evil. It is impossible then that evil spirits could take some sort of control over a believer’s life.