It pains me when Christians squabble. It surely pains us all. Nevertheless, I choose to think well even of those who sadden me by fighting much harder than I would prefer. Rarely do Christians clash swords because they love to score points; much less because they have the slightest desire to hurt anyone. They are passionate because they truly believe God’s honor and people’s well-being is at stake. And on the issue of whether Christians can have demons, passions could hardly be higher.
Shepherds are appointed by God because he has filled them with devotion to the sheep and gifted them to see dangers that others cannot see. Driven by love and awareness of the danger, they become so fiercely protective that they would rather die than see their beloved hurt. In the words of Jesus, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Ironically, the more loving a true shepherd is, the fiercer he becomes in his efforts to protect – and the more unloving he could be mistaken as being, especially by those who cannot perceive the danger. In the same way, many manifestations of divine compassion in Scripture are often mistaken for harshness.
So I long to give the benefit of the doubt to those who appall me by the ruthless way they attack truths I cherish and maul people I treasure. Throbbing in the hearts of these attackers might be more love than I can imagine.
None of this means, of course, that shepherds can never be mistaken. So conscious am I of my own susceptibility to error, that most of my webpages link to a page emphasizing my fallibility and the need for readers to prayerfully consider, not passively accept, anything I say. This is so crucial to me that I provocatively title the link My Shame in the hope of attracting even more visitors to that sober warning. It is undeniable that many who would disagree with me are superior to me spiritually, intellectually and in every way; as are many who happen to share my views.
Most teaching can have unexpected implications in the lives of sensitive people. Suppose I taught that the Holy Spirit and unclean thoughts cannot dwell in the same body. Someone suffering temptation in the form of unbidden, unwanted, unclean thoughts flashing through his mind could decide that the attack proves he is not a Christian. He could slump into devastating despair; even to the point of believing he is no longer a Christian and then acting according to that belief.
What seem inconsequential doctrines often end up having horrific implications in the lives of some Christians. Imagine, for instance, if on the basis of such Scriptures as “by his stripes you were healed” someone teaches that the Holy Spirit and sickness cannot dwell in the same body. No matter how sincere, loving and godly this person is, his teaching could blind people to the possibility of a lump or mole being cancerous. It could keep them from seeking life-saving medical treatment before it is too late. Likewise, people’s belief about whether the Holy Spirit and demons can or cannot dwell in the same body could have dire consequences. Depending on what the truth about demons really is, mistaken beliefs could cause people to continue to suffer – even possibly die through seizures or suicide – or it could cause people to be needlessly alarmed, produce nothing but crushing disappointment and divert Christians from their real source of hope.
“How can you fight an enemy you don’t believe in?” worry those who think demons could remain in Christians unless dealt with. “How can we win if we are distracted by fighting a non-existent enemy?” ask others. One side of the debate asks, “What’s the harm in playing safe and having yourself checked out by someone experienced with demons? If you have no demons nothing can happen. It’s safer than crossing the street. At the very least, like discovering a mole is not cancerous, you gain peace of mind and at the most Christ’s victory is enforced and you will enjoy new freedom.” The rest of us see it so differently, fearing that Christ will be defamed and Christians confused and distracted from the truth that will set them free.
Many of us feel it is an insult to Christ to suggest that a demon and the Holy Spirit could dwell in the same body. Others believe it an insult to Christ, and a denial of our calling, not to end suffering and enforce Jesus’ blood-brought victory by driving demons from any Christians who have them. Still others consider it is insulting the Holy Spirit to imply he would find the imperfection that is within each of us to be less repulsive than if a demon were within us. That would mean his holiness and standards fall below perfection – that if we are a bit better than a demon then as far as he is concerned, that’s near enough. So some Christians ask, how could the miracle of grace that allows the Holy One to dwell in us despite our filthy imperfection, be any less staggering than if he were to dwell in us despite us having a demon?
What a tangle of conflicting views! What red-blooded Christian wouldn’t get fired up when believing God’s honor and people’s welfare hang in the balance?
Nevertheless, my longing is not only to find answers but to take some of the ferocity out of this dispute. As much as my imperfect heart allows, I hurt for every person wounded by this fight. Regardless of whether someone is right or mistaken; as vicious as a shark or as gentle as a rabbit; is a big name or an unknown; if a Christian is hurting, I need no other reason to long to bathe that person’s wounds. I pray I will be gentle. I don’t pretend to have any skills, but maybe I can warm some water.
While facing tough issues, we’ll keep discovering powerful truths intimately connected with this topic that unite Christians on both sides. More than a feel-good exercise, rediscovering what we have in common is vital because we can so easily misunderstand each other and not realize that we all agree on these critical issues. Far from being the boring basics, however, these are our best clues. When solving a jigsaw puzzle, careful examination of pieces whose positions are not in dispute is the key to discovering where the disputed pieces lock in. For a while we may seem to be skirting around the key issues but we will actually be familiarizing ourselves with the spiritual principles by which the spirit world operates. Focusing on the undisputed parts will increase our confidence as to what we can expect in the disputed parts of the puzzle, since the same divine designer created it all.
But before plunging in I’d like to pray. I’d be honored if you joined me.
Our desperate need is not for human cleverness but to hear from you. Our longing is not debate or intellectual stimulation but to glorify you by reaching our full potential in Christ and to help others do likewise. We need you to expose to us everything in our lives and understanding that is keeping us from your best. Grant us your grace and courage to let go of any pride, misconception or half-truth that could be holding us back or lowering our effectiveness in helping others.
We rejoice that your truth is good and pure and liberating, and if ever it doesn’t seem that way to us, it is simply because we have yet to see as perfectly as you see. We praise you for your promise that your Spirit would guide us into all truth. Since this is the longing of your heart, may we not disappoint you by harboring any attitude within us that hinders us from receiving your revelation.
May no reader be persuaded by any fanciful or mistaken thought in this webpage. As I proceed, I open myself up to you to speak to me however you wish; either by affirming truths or exposing error in this webpage, as you see fit. My longing and great need is to hear from you alone.
The title of this webpage refers to demon possession because this is the way many of us pose the question. Wording it this way, however, is a little unfair. As explained more fully in a previous webpage, the Bible in its original Greek contains no such expression as “demon possessed.” Instead, it uses a word that is much more literally translated “demonized.”
The term “demon possessed” unnecessarily turns up the heat because even if “possessed” doesn’t strictly imply ownership, it has those overtones in many people’s minds. We must not let this confusion rob us of the awareness that Christians stand shoulder to shoulder in the certainty that we have been purchased for God by the priceless blood of our Lord and Savior (Scriptures). As bond slaves of Christ we can have only one owner/master. We belong to Christ alone. We are united in our conviction that no Christian is owned by, nor the possession of, anything evil. On the other hand, every non-Christian belongs to the devil, irrespective of whether they have a demon.
It would be naïve, however, to think the only issue is ownership. Since our spiritual enemy is the Deceiver, we can expect him to do his utmost to con Christians. If squatters moved into your home, it would be their house, not in the sense that they own it or have any right to remain there or even that they are the only ones living there; it would be their house solely in the sense that it is the only place in which they live. The Enemy of our souls is by nature an incurable thief and a liar. The Bible reveals to us our rights, precisely because there are times when God expects us to enforce our blood-bought rights rather than just assume that our current situation is as good as it gets.
So for neither side of this debate is ownership the issue.
It is commonly said that Christians can be demonically oppressed, but not possessed. That’s a clever rhyme but, in the King James Bible at least, the distinction is blurred. “ . . . healing all that were oppressed of the devil” (Acts 10:38) seems a summary of Jesus’ entire healing/deliverance ministry, a significant portion of which involved setting free those whom the King James Bible calls “possessed” (eg Mark 1:32-34). In other words, the King James Bible seems to use “oppressed” to include those that the same version says were “possessed.”
In the next couple of paragraphs I am talking hypothetically. I stress that I am not implying that porn addiction is necessarily demonic nor am I addressing whether Christians can have a demon. If, however, it were possible for a Christian to have a demon there would be similarities to porn addiction.
Christians, even pastors, write to me confessing that they are acting like slaves to porn. This is despite the reality that Christ died to set them free from all sin and that resident within each Christian is all the power over sin that we’ll ever need. Some Christians act like porn slaves because they have failed to recognize (or perhaps simply refused to admit to themselves) that porn is wrong. Others act like slaves because they don’t realize that, through Christ, resident within them is the power to be free.
Non-Christians with demons have close to no choice in the matter. If, however, it were possible for a Christian to have demons, it could not be because they have no choice. It would simply be that, like Christian porn addicts, they have not exercised their right to liberty. This would either be because they do not realize they have a demon or because they do not realize (at least in practical terms) the authority over demons bestowed on them by Christ and the power over demons resident within them through the Holy Spirit.
A Christian is a new creation. All Christians would therefore agree that if it were possible for Christians to have demons, they would be vastly different persons to non-Christians with demons. In theory, this huge difference might account for some of the controversy surrounding this subject. It could possibly be that some people on both sides of the debate are failing to adequately consider that even if some Christians had demons like some non-Christians, they would be very different to non-Christians with demons. The difference might possibly account for the distinction some would wish to make between “oppressed” and “possessed”. I am not saying whether this is true, but it is a possibility we need to consider.
Another problem with using the term “possessed” is that in most people’s minds it suggests a person who is crazed and/or depraved. Such a picture does not seem to fit many of those whom Scripture says had demons cast out of them. Often, for instance, only physical symptoms such as blindness, deafness, back problems, or seizures are mentioned. It is staggering how rarely moral or spiritual issues are mentioned in biblical references to demons. Even more staggering is how we who consider it our Christian duty to be non-judgmental toward those stricken with physical or even mental illness, fill with shameful, slanderous thoughts toward anyone with a demon. We suppose ourselves to be so sophisticated and rational but the sad truth is that today’s average western Christian probably sinks into more superstition and bigotry than people in Jesus’ day had toward anyone who has had a demon. In fact, first century Jews apparently believed having a demon “did not defile the sufferers either morally or spiritually, since they were not specifically excluded from the synagogue or the Temple precincts” (Source).
Many of us would be horrified to discover the extent to which we let unbridled prejudice against anyone with demons sweep us far from Bible truth and rational thought. This is demonstrated by our shameful treatment of Mary Magdalene. Even though we are so far removed in time that we know little about her, the mere fact that she once had seven demons is enough to set modern Christian tongues wagging scandalously. Contrast common Christian slander with this quote from a respected five volume Bible Dictionary about Mary Magdalene:
Seven demons went out of her (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). This obviously meant she was a healed invalid, not a rescued social derelict. There is no evidence that she was promiscuous, much less a harlot for hire. That she was a person of means is evident from her ability to support Jesus from her means. Her obvious leadership among the women hardly reflects a scarlet past. There is certainly no ground for identifying her with the anonymous sinful woman of Luke 7:37. (Source and supporting comments from other scholars)
With so much gossip, confusion and emotion packed into this subject, if avoiding the term “demon possessed” could reduce the temperature by a mere half a degree, we would surely be better off not using the term.
Although we are freed by Christ, Christians agree that there are certain things – and only certain things – that can be forced upon Christians against their will. This is not to say it is ideal but we agree that it happens. Whether it be martyrdom or sickness, some Christians can physically suffer against their will. Likewise, Christians can suffer emotionally – such as mourning the loss of a loved one – despite wishing they could be free from this pain. Fear is another emotion that touches many Christians against their will. We need not be slaves to fear, but we can still be hit by the emotion. Christians are also tempted against their will. We’d love to stop every temptation but, as Jesus said, “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come . . .” (Luke 17:1). It is even possible for Christians to unwillingly lose their minds. I can’t imagine anyone saying that Christians who are schizophrenic consciously choose that affliction.
We agree that there are many things we can avoid once we learn how to draw upon the grace and power of our victorious Lord. Before considering this, however, we must mention another thing that unites us. Most of us agree that we each suffer temptation from an evil spiritual power. As we progress we’ll see how relevant this is to our topic. If you have difficulty believing the devil is a literal being, see Are Demons Real?
The Spirit of God drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1; Mark 1:12-14). Interestingly, in the original Greek, Mark chose the word regularly used for driving out demons, to indicate the compulsion with which Jesus was driven into this ugly, distasteful confrontation with evil. It was an unavoidable, divinely authorized, spiritual battle between Jesus, our hero and example, and the Prince of demons. As the book of Hebrews emphasizes, the One who is “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens” was “tempted in every way, just as we are” (Hebrews 7:26; 4:15).
So none of us – not even the pure and perfect Son of God – can avoid suffering accusations, bribes and enticements to do wrong from a cunning, evil intelligence who is quite distinct from ourselves.
Hunger fades in a lengthy fast but I’m told that when hunger returns – as it did for Jesus in the wilderness – things are serious. All reserves of body fat have been exhausted and there is no alternative but for the body to begin consuming itself. The severity of Jesus’ temptation when battling the craving to turn into bread stones that resembled middle eastern loaves, and the pressure when in Gethsemane his sweat was like blood, affirms that there is no soft option for holy people of God who want deliverance from temptation. So although some claim exorcism as deliverance from avoidable torment, neither side of this debate sees exorcism as an end to all agonizing battles with the flesh.
None of us supposes exorcism to be the answer for all – or even most – Christian problems, but how certain can we be that for no Christian is exorcism even a part of the answer?
Both Eve and Jesus were surely such key people in the eyes of the Prince of demons that they received his personal attention. The rest of us suffer similarly, but more likely from the devil’s underlings, rather than directly from the Master Deceiver himself.
The devil, of course, is not divine. One of the many godlike powers he lacks is the ability to be in more than one place at the same time. This renders it highly unlikely that you or I have ever been personally tempted by the devil. Instead, his henchmen have done his dirty work for him.
Like most Christians, I often speak of the devil or Satan (same person) as a shorthand way of referring to one or more evil spirits working for their master, the devil. Similarly, we often speak of the president of a corporation or nation doing something when we don’t mean he did the hands-on work but merely that he instigated or authorized it.
The Bible uses this same figure of speech. In fact, although it is common in the secular, when applying it to the spiritual realm it is probably a habit most of us have unconsciously picked up from Scripture. Biblical instances abound. It was not to demon-possessed madmen that the apostle Paul wrote, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12) . Clearly, Paul was referring to evil spiritual entities in addition to – but presumably subordinate to – Satan. Not only was Paul writing to ordinary Christians, he included himself by saying “our struggle.” So personal battles with demons are normal for Christians.
All of us are influenced by the spirit world (God and his angels, and Satan and his angels/demons) and it happens far more frequently in our lives than most of us realize. Since Satan tried his hardest to seduce and corrupt the Holy Son of God, not even the most saintly people can avoid confrontations with evil spiritual beings. In fact, the more godly the person, the more we might expect that person to be a target.
So, regardless of whether a demon can live inside us, Bible believers stand united in agreeing that Christians can be troubled by demons. In fact, suffering a degree of demonic attack is both normal and unavoidable in this life.
This does not, however, mean that we are helpless victims. Being tempted, for example, does not mean we must yield to it. Upon reflection, most of us would agree that it is inconceivable that the strongest demon could force the weakest blood-bought child of God into sin. A demon might possibly pile on the temptation and pressure until it seems unbearable, but no Christian prepared to pay the price – willing to take up his cross and follow his crucified Lord – will find resistance impossible.
Even the many of us who say demons cannot live inside Christians, agree that there can be two levels of demonic harassment. Consider this parable:
Suppose you have a particularly nasty mother-in-law. She is forever nagging you, criticizing you, accusing you and eating into your self-confidence. Worse still, for economic reasons you live with her! She doesn’t live inside you, of course, nor can she control your every action but she makes life a misery.
Seeing your distress, your brother offers you money so that you can move away from her. You’d be a fool not to accept! Wherever you move, your spouse will forward your contact details to this “mother-in-law from hell.” So you’ll still find her phoning, e-mailing and occasionally knocking on your door, but never again do you have to live with her.
So it is with demonic harassment. There are two levels of annoyance. The lowest level of annoyance is so unavoidable that even the holy Son of God had to endure the Prince of demons speaking to him and trying to entice him to do evil. Till our dying day, demons will mock us, criticize us and try to seduce us to do wrong. The good news, however, is that the highest level of annoyance is preventable.
I’m not smart enough to say exactly what is avoidable and what isn’t. It might even differ from situation to situation. Consider Job: God put limits on what Satan could do to him (not touch his body – Job 1:12) and later moved the boundary but still maintained limits (not kill him – Job 2:6). My point simply is that most of us on both sides of the debate acknowledge that there are some attacks we don’t have to put up with. Obviously, it would be foolish to continue suffering that sort of attack just because we’re too proud to approach the problem from that angle. There are no prizes for making the spiritual life unnecessarily hard for ourselves.
Rather than getting too focused on whether a Christian can have a demon, we should ensure we get down to practicalities. Whether the opponent is within or without is not nearly so significant as the reality that, as Paul says, we all wrestle with spiritual foes. Moreover, through Jesus, all Christians have spiritual authority that we must learn how to exercise.
To suggest that a devout Christian has a demon sounds offensive. In the interest of unity, however, it is only fair to acknowledge that offense is far from the intentions of people sincerely making such suggestions. They regard having a demon as no more disconcerting than having a curable physical ailment. Certainly in the biblical record, having a demon is not usually linked to moral or spiritual issues. If those troubled by demons were pressured to steal, lust, or lie – and I don’t deny that possibility – it certainly isn’t mentioned in the biblical accounts.
To be frank, I’d be over the moon if someone could prove that just one of my problems could end as simply as commanding a demon to leave. I’d be kicking myself if I were to later discover I had missed out on being freed from a problem just because I’d let myself feel offended or had let pride or a know-it-all attitude get in the way. Even Naaman came to his senses and humbled himself by submitting to what seemed a silly ritual of dipping seven times in the muddy Jordan (2 Kings 5:10-14).
A renowned Bible teacher who believed he was delivered from a demon put it this way: “I’d rather discover my filthy temper is an invasion from outside of me, than have to accept it is the real me.” Upon hearing that, we flip the other way and worry that this teaching lowers people’s sense of responsibility. Nevertheless, both sides agree that Christians retain moral choice.
While I was in Asia on a year’s missionary service, I helped lead to Jesus someone who had previously been a Filipino faith healer. He had lost his powers long before becoming a Christian, so it throws no direct light on whether Christians can have demons. His experience, however, gives a fascinating insight into how demons function. His significant occult powers had been associated with charms that, one by one, had miraculously appeared in his pocket. The Stone of the Rat was the name of one of these charms. It was particularly powerful but it had the unpleasant side effect of causing the healer to itch violently. It would give him no relief until he stole something. What he stole was of no consequence, as long as he stole. He estimated that it kept him stealing about once a week.
The demon put this poor man under enormous pressure, but it was still his choice as to whether he continued to endure the torturous itching or whether he stole. If it were possible for a demon to attack a Christian morally, this is how I would expect it to act. Of course, the pressure might not come from itching, but whatever the nature of the torment and no matter how severe, our crucified Lord has bestowed upon everyone he has redeemed the power to choose what is right.
Not only do we not have to surrender when attacked, many attacks could be completely avoided by exercising our spiritual authority. Most of us probably tolerate far more unpleasantness than we need to.
We should note that although attacks may be spiritual in origin, the effect will not always be purely spiritual, such as temptation or condemnation. Demonic attacks might have a far more physical effect, such as sickness. For example, we read in Acts 10:38 of Jesus “healing all that were oppressed of the devil” (KJV) . In other words, spiritual attack was the root cause of their physical illnesses. We have already noted that even when Jesus performed exorcisms, often only physical symptoms are mentioned. Scripture also cites Job’s financial reversals and the death of his children as attacks from the devil.
Yet another place where we stand united is in the conviction that the Lord of glory is fearsomely holy. He is “a consuming fire, a jealous God,” (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29) “set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26; Ephesians 4:10). The terrifying reality is that “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 John 3:8). No Christian lives a perfectly sin-free life and yet perfection is God’s minimum standard. “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature,” wrote Paul (Romans 7:18).
The God who dwells in us struck down Uzzah for merely touching the ark, even though Uzzah had the loftiest motivation of wanting to protect the ark from being damaged (2 Samuel 6:6). In a special way, the ark housed God’s presence, as do also our own bodies. The Holy One killed Ananias and Sapphira for a minor deceit in the midst of them displaying great generosity (Acts 5:1-11). Even if we were without sin, we would still have temptation in the form of unwanted impure images and thoughts invading our very minds. How can the Holy Spirit dwell in any of us? It seems impossible, but we all agree that it happens. We all benefit from this incomprehensible miracle of grace flowing from Christ swapping places with us on the cross.
The fact that the Holy Spirit dwells in us highlights not our sinless purity but the astounding grace of God. Of course, we dare not “continue in sin, that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1, KJV). Our failure to perpetually display Christlike perfection blackens God’s name. Nevertheless, it reveals the staggering magnitude of his grace.
We know by blessed experience the grace that causes the Holy Spirit to dwell in the body of someone who sometimes acts like the devil by falling into pride (Ezekiel 28:2-19; Matthew 4: 9; 1 Timothy 3:6), lying (John 8:44) or committing other sins (1 John 3:8). The issue we must wrestle with is whether this same grace could empower the Holy Spirit to endure sharing the same body as a demon (as indeed he shares the same planet with the devil) just so that he could be close to someone Christ died to make worthy.
Some try to get around the problem of a demon and the Holy Spirit dwelling together by theorizing that the Holy Spirit dwells in the human spirit whereas demons dwell in the soul. We might dismiss that as unprovable, but equally unknowable is how far apart demons and the Holy Spirit must remain. In fact, it would seem that the distance must be spiritual, not physical. For instance, how many Christians must at some time have shaken hands with a demonized person?
Obviously, the Holy Spirit and a demon could never be spiritually one. They are so different that they could not be further apart, spiritually. A demon’s physical location, relative to the Holy Spirit (who is omnipresent anyhow) could never change the infinite spiritual distance between the Holy Spirit and a demon. It would be a mistake to confuse spiritual distance with physical distance and a temporary situation with an eternal one.
Many of us feel the Holy Spirit will always instantly blast demons out of God’s beloved children the moment they are saved. Others think there is something of immense value to be gained by the Almighty surrendering Christ-bought authority to each believer and waiting for the believer to take action. Is it that the only way for God to grant us genuine authority over demons is to entrust us not only with the power to drive out demons but with the power to let them remain? We know it is impossible to do something genuinely praiseworthy unless we are granted the option of doing something that isn’t praiseworthy. Is this how our Lord dignifies us with true authority, or does the Almighty deliver Christians without seeking their conscious cooperation in expelling demons?
We wouldn’t expect God to forgive people without them exercising their God-given faith in Jesus’ forgiveness. Nor to we expect God to cause us never to sin without us ever resisting temptation. Should we expect our Lord to act differently with demons by automatically delivering all Christians regardless of whether they play any conscious role in the deliverance?
These are the issues we must grapple with.
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Not to be sold. © Copyright, Grantley Morris, 2005. For much more by the same author, see www.net-burst.net These writings may be freely copied provided they are not placed in a webpage, nor in anything that is sold and provided this entire paragraph is included. For use outside these limits, written permission is required. Freely you have received, freely give.