Part 2 of
Can a Christian be Demon Possessed?
Start at: Part 1
Imagine your nation is at war and you stumble across evidence that in your very war cabinet is a spy sealing your nation’s defeat by leaking critical secrets to the enemy. The thought would be almost too painful to contemplate, but if it turned out there really were a spy, refusing to face the possibility would be disastrous. On the other hand, if it proved to be a hoax, letting suspicion spread needlessly would undermine morale and threaten the war effort. This is like the distressing dilemma we face in deciding whether to think it possible that a Christian could have a demon. |
Many of us find the possibility so horrifying that we view even the theory that Christians could have demons as close to blasphemous. Our very disgust at the thought of the Holy Spirit and demons dwelling together, however, highlights how critical it is that we not be mistaken. Like refusing to acknowledge that a lump could be cancerous, dismissing as impossible any suggestion that a Christian could have a demon, is something we’d better get right. Otherwise we could be closing ourselves off from much-needed ministry and be perpetuating the unthinkable in our very own lives or in Christians we minister to.
Both sides of the debate agree that, spiritually, we are at war with a deadly, deceptive enemy who fights dirty and lusts after our destruction.
As vitally important as this matter is, highly knowledgeable, intelligent, devout, Bible-based men and women of God disagree on it. This means that regardless of who is correct, many who in every way outclass you and me have got it wrong. Nothing could make us more conscious of our utter dependence upon the Holy Spirit to illumine us. We are left fearfully aware that pride, presumption, or self-confidence could so easily cause us to mishear the Spirit’s whispers on this critical issue.
In Part 1 (which needs to be read before proceeding) we discovered how, even on this hot topic, there are so many vital things on which we as Christians all agree. Sadly, in our passion to prove ourselves right, we can so easily lose sight of what we have in common and begin to act as if only our own side has the wisdom to believe these things. Even if such an attitude did not push us towards conceit, it would rob us of fellowship we should be enjoying.
What, above everything, moved us to explore Christian certainties, however, was not a quest for warm fuzzies but the belief that the most reliable way of discovering the nature of new truths is to thoroughly explore the known. Whether it be a crossword or a jigsaw, the certain parts are our best clues. The surest way to solve a puzzle is, while keeping the uncertain parts in mind, to carefully examine all the parts we are sure about. Spend long enough with the certainties, with just an occasional glance at the parts we are unsure of, and the doubtful parts will eventually fall into place.
We seek to walk ever so softly; conscious that God guides the meek (Psalm 25:9), not those who think they couldn’t possibly get it wrong. In reverent humility we have been meticulously examining every Bible clue that Christians are united on and that comes near the part we are unsure of – the question of whether a Christian can have an evil spirit.
Another way of explaining our approach is to describe it as similar to how people become experts in detecting counterfeit currency. It is said they hone their skill by becoming highly familiar with the genuine and having as little as possible to do with counterfeits. That way the smallest deviation from standard strikes them as odd. That is our method in this quest for answers. We are reverently exploring things we know are genuine. We are certain of them, not merely because we have convinced ourselves but because among all Christians there is close to universal agreement on them. We are familiarizing ourselves with these certainties, in the belief that the more we do this, the more error will stand out as peculiarly different.
We agree that all Christians are subject to demonic attack from outside of us and that we might even have demonic temptations placed in our minds and suffer demonically-initiated emotions such as false guilt feelings (condemnation). With demons playing on the most private, internal parts of us, it could feel as if they are inside us even if they do not actually reside there.
Moreover, we are as one in our conviction that all Christians can be freed from having demons resident within them. Our uncertainty is whether this glorious fact means that, without exception, every demon automatically leaves every person at the moment of salvation, even when there is not the slightest conscious effort to specifically enforce Christ’s victory over demons.
We know that because of Christ, no one need sin, but we don’t always exercise our full liberty, especially if we are too young in the Lord to have received teaching on the subject. Is it different with demons? Do they always exit, even without either the person or supporting Christians doing anything to enforce their expulsion?
Christ’s victory over Satan means that our precious Savior has purchased every Christian from being enslaved to evil. The devil is no longer the Christian’s master. And yet there are Christians who believe they are slaves to gluttony, lust, chemicals or some other besetting sin, and they act as much like slaves as any non-Christian. Who of us has not as some point in our Christian life found ourselves in such a bind? Should we bury our heads in the sand and claim such things don’t happen, or must we rise up and exert the authority than Christ has given us?
Galatians 5:1 Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and don’t be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
Is Scripture just teasing us or can we who have been freed by Christ actually find ourselves enslaved to sin unless we enforce our Christ-bought authority? Is this any less out of character or inexplicable than a Christian having a demon?
This Scripture is astounding. It cites exercising authority over demons as a primary reason for Jesus raising up the apostles. How significant is it that in both this Scripture and in the inspired accounts of how Jesus ministered, driving out demons and preaching the gospel are portrayed as quite distinct activities, just as physical healing is distinct from salvation?
Jesus repeatedly commissioned his disciples not only to preach but to cast out demons (Mark 3:14-15; Mark 6:7, 12-13; Mark 16:17) and the early church clearly engaged in both activities (Acts 5:16; 8:7; 16:18; 19:12).
Can we ignore this divine pattern and directive; assured that driving out demons is a superfluous command because demons will instantly leave at the moment of salvation, regardless of what is done?
We all agree that some people might have demons leave them at the moment of salvation, even without deliberate exorcism, just as some people are instantly and effortlessly delivered from all cravings associated with alcoholism or heroin addition or perversion, the instant they are born again. The issue is whether in every case all demons automatically leave all Christians at the moment of salvation or whether, just as some Christians wrestle besetting sins after being genuinely saved, occasionally Christ’s victory over demons takes time to be outworked in the lives of some Christians.
In the time of Joshua, the Lord could have caused all God’s enemies to flee; instantly vacating the entire Promised Land the moment God gave it to his people. Instead, even though the land was God’s supernatural gift to his people, it took them great faith, prayer, effort and time to free each part of the Promised Land from the domination of God’s enemies. Is this the divine pattern that best fits what happens when the Spirit of God enters a new believer? Or was the way God directed the Israelites back then a one-off, with little to teach us about the principles of spiritual warfare in the Christian era?
Just as demons were terrified whenever they encountered Jesus, so we can expect them to be terrified of every Christian who spies them and who knows his/her authority in Christ. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). The issue is whether demons will flee from Christians who – either because the demons remain hidden from them or because they do not in practical terms know their blood-bought authority in Christ – don’t resist them in Jesus’ name.
We saw in an earlier webpage that although it seems from biblical evidence that demons might sometimes be hard to detect, it is a different story once their cover is blown. Usually, at the point of exorcism, demons created a significant commotion, despite Jesus taking pains to silence them. For example:
Mark 1:25-26 Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” The unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. (Emphasis mine.)
Other examples include rolling on the ground, foaming at the mouth and alarming observers by acting as if dead (Scriptures). The Bible cites so many such instances that one is left wondering if any demonic exit under the ministry of Jesus and his apostles were orderly. Since we do not have detailed descriptions of every exorcism performed in Bible times, we cannot say with certainty that an undetectable exit is impossible, but a Scripture summarizing many exorcisms strongly suggests that a commotion was the norm: “For unclean spirits came out of many of those who had them. They came out, crying with a loud voice . . .” (Acts 8:7).
If it is impossible for demons to remain resident within any Christian, spontaneous exorcisms must regularly occur at the moment of salvation. If these spontaneous exorcisms are not common or obvious, there would seem to be only three possibilities.
1. Demons took a sudden dislike of this planet and left in droves when the last First Century apostle died. (Actually, early church history indicates that exorcism continued past the apostolic era.)
2. Demons have learned good manners since the First Century and now thoughtfully slip out without their former hosts detecting the slightest sound, movement or feeling.
3. When no specific action is taken to remove them, demons can remain in people after they receive salvation.
2. Demons have learned good manners since the First Century and now thoughtfully slip out without their former hosts detecting the slightest sound, movement or feeling.
3. When no specific action is taken to remove them, demons can remain in people after they receive salvation.
Or is there a fourth possibility? We must keep prayerfully investigating, taking nothing for granted. Those who seek, find; not those who reach hasty presumptions and stop seeking. A surprise could turn up at any moment.
A Search for Realism
There is little point in inventing a ridiculous scenario that almost no one believes and then shooting it down in flames. That would be neither fair, nor a challenge. Rather than make of mockery of those who believe Christians can have demons, let’s paint a realistic picture of what – if such a person existed – a Christian with a demon would possibly look like. Then we can consider how unlikely and unscriptural such a scenario seems.
As detailed in Where Have All the Demons Gone? there are many Scriptural hints that having a single, minor demon might be a surprisingly mild experience and difficult to detect as being demonic. So the more realistic and challenging question isn’t whether Christians could be demented, depraved, uncontrollable and irresponsible freaks. The issue we need to battle is whether it is possible for some Christians to function well most of the time but have in their lives something spiritual and not of God that in some way – quite possibly physically – keeps them from reaching their full potential in God.
Our first goal is simply to conjure a view that might not be true but, at least on the surface, seems sufficiently feasible to be worthy of prayerful examination. We’ll do the examining later. With this first goal in mind, let’s consider this analogy:
It is not only non-Christians who need to be wary of physical parasites, such as tapeworm or hookworm. They will infest anyone exposed to them. It is quite possible to have them for a long while without realizing what it is that is keeping us slightly below optimum health. No one could be said to be “possessed” by worms. Someone with worms can do almost anything without parasitic interference. The person has full control, except for a tiny aspect of his life – nutrition – and even in this he retains considerable control. He decides what he eats and when he eats, but while the worms remain he cannot prevent them from robbing him of some of his nutrition.
Parasitic worms are so repulsive that we naturally recoil from the thought of having them. The worse thing we could do, however, is to live in denial, because then they would continue to afflict us. Someone with parasites has foreign invaders in his life that have no right to be there. The only smart reaction is to face the possibility head-on, with a view to eradicating anything that could be afflicting us.
Could this be what it is like with a demon inside a person – is the person not in optimum “health” but still largely in control? “Legion” had a vast number of demons. Does Scripture tell us about him to reveal the power of Jesus, rather than to show us what it would be like to have a minor demon?
Let’s try a parable:
Suppose someone who loves you lets you live rent-free in a house he built and owns. One day, you hatch a scheme. Through forged documents you falsely claim the house to be your own and illegally sell it. Your plan is to spend most of the cash and retain just enough with which to rent the house from the new “owner.”
By the time you discover that your new landlord is a beast of a man, you have squandered too much of the money to have any option other than suffer the unpleasant situation.
Unknown to you a rat moves into the house.
Before long all your money has gone and things turn ugly. To avoid eviction you find yourself having to prostitute yourself to the landlord, who soon becomes your pimp.
Finally, you grow so desperate that you turn to the real owner of the house for help. You confess the shameful way you sold his property, then beg him not to involve the authorities in any way, lest your crime of illegally selling the house be uncovered and you be thrown in prison. Moved by compassion, the real owner promises to quietly buy back his own house and let you continue to live in it rent-free. He approaches your pimp. This monster, knowing that by losing the house he would lose his power over you, demands an exorbitant price. You look to the real owner in dismay. To your stunned delight, he agrees to the price.
Now you are free from this “landlord from hell.” All the wonderful things that have transpired, however, do not mean the rat has left. You could even be unaware that it is there. Relative to the critical issue of who owns the house and has power over you, it is a minor matter.
Not knowing about the rat is particularly likely if you had supposed that once you have a good landlord, pests miraculously disappear. Supposing that having a good landlord automatically rids the house of pests does not adequately consider that a good landlord would not barge into your home and tyrannically meddle with your personal effects. A good landlord would give you dignity by waiting until he is asked.
A rat might spread disease and eat some of your food, but it does not control you. Neither does it belong to you, nor to the owner of the house. It is simply a trespasser that will exploit your ignorance until you become aware of it and take action by seeking your landlord’s help in ridding it from your house.
How Valuable Are Testimonies?
Those who believe that a Christian can have a demon have the luxury of a vast number of testimonies from which to draw. They can tell of people who, after giving every indication of being true Christians, experienced what appeared to be genuine exorcisms and thereafter reported a significant and permanent improvement in their lives.
Whatever our views about Christians having demons, most of us admit that it is unlikely that anyone has truly infallible discernment of evil spirits. So even the most experienced and gifted people have probably sometimes “cast out” non-existent demons. Few of us would deny that when people are expected to “manifest,” they could feel under such psychological pressure to do so that some might end up wrongly convincing themselves and observers that their psychological reaction was a genuine exorcism. Our dilemma, however, is whether it is fair to use this line of argument to trash each of the thousands of reported cases.
Almost thirty years ago, Don Basham wrote what was to prove an entertaining and popular book, “Deliver us from Evil.” Even today it is still in print and influencing many.
Basham, a charismatic senior pastor, had had considerable success praying for people with physical ailments and counseling people with emotional problems. Occasionally, however, he would strike cases that no amount of prayer or counseling would help. Starting from the belief that the devil and demons were not real – just metaphors for our evil nature, or some such thing – Basham crawled with agonizing reluctance to the point of accepting that demons are real. Intensive Bible study and personal observation of people he was ministering to seemed to leave him no other option. Eventually, he commenced what he believed to be casting demons out of Christians. Whatever was happening, there was no denying that many people acted as if demons were inside them and physically came out of their bodies. Suddenly, Basham was having success with people whose healing had proved resistant to his every other approach. Some of the supposed deliverances were surprisingly dramatic and the new freedom the people enjoyed seemed to last.
After involvement in this activity for a long while, traveling the nation casting out vast numbers of what Basham and many around him believed to be demons, he slowly concluded that a peculiar feeling/anxiety that had troubled him on and off since childhood was a demon. He “cast it out” of himself and thereafter found himself free from this oppressive feeling.
Of course, there are thousands of other claims by Christians around the globe, which I won’t attempt to bore you with. I will mention just one other closely related type of testimony. There have been people heavily involved in satanic or occultic practices who gave their lives to the Lord and were slowly delivered from demons, not on the same day as they were saved, but one or two demons at a time in several separate deliverance sessions spread over several weeks.
What About the Bible?
No matter what we make of such testimonies, every Christian agrees that, instead of producing an emphatic, unambiguous Scripture, reliance upon experience to prove one’s case is, to say the least, less than ideal. So our pages will stay focused on the Bible. Even this, however, is strewn with spiritual danger. At all costs, we must avoid a suicidal date with delusion, which is exploring Scripture not so much to find the mind of God as to find proof texts of what we have already decided to be the answer. Even if we miss that folly, we desperately need the grace of God to avoid reading his Word through the filter of our expectations, or pride in our ability to interpret Scripture. It is essential that we maintain a humble dependence upon the Holy Spirit’s illumination. We must delve not just into God’s writings, but into God’s heart. The Lord himself – not our interpretation of experience, nor our human interpretation of Scripture – must be our authority.
A key issue, however, is whether the biblical record increases or decreases our confidence in testimonies of Christians with demons.
Luke and John both say that that Satan himself (though such an expression might possibly be used if Satan had entered via an underling) entered into Judas Iscariot (Luke 22:3; John 13:27). The problem, of course, is that Christians could spend ages squabbling over whether this chosen apostle, privy to all of Jesus’ personal teaching was ever a genuine believer. So let’s move on.
In a commentary on Luke 13:10-17, about the woman bent over for eighteen years because of an evil spirit, G. Campbell Morgan writes:
There is no suggestion in this story that there was anything of immorality in this woman’s life. She was the victim of demon activity. . . . There is no hint of this mastery having produced an immoral effect in her life. As a matter of fact, here she was in the synagogue. She had found her way to the place of worship, and when Jesus presently called her a daughter of Abraham, He did not merely mean that she was a Jewess: that was patent. He was using the term in its full spiritual significance as revealing her faith in God. Here, then, was a case of physical suffering that was directly produced by the power of evil. I am not attempting to explain this. . . . There are other things we have not fathomed yet in life concerning the mystery of suffering, and the power of evil. . . . We take the facts as revealed . . .
For brief, additional views of scholars, click here.
I don’t know that Campbell Morgan (1863-1945) had any particular axe to grind in this debate. He certainly was no friend of early day Pentecostals and opposed any who claimed to be continuing Christ’s ministry by healing the sick. Neither is Morgan by any means alone among Bible scholars in considering this woman to be godly.
In the New Testament, to be called a child of Abraham is either of so little consequence as to be hardly worth mentioning (when it is used in the physical sense) or if it is worth mentioning it is a lofty, spiritually-charged title, referring not to having Abraham’s physical likeness, but having his spiritual likeness.
To be a daughter of Abraham is, of course, also to be a daughter of Abraham’s wife, Sarah, and to Peter that is a most honorable title. Note that Peter was addressing woman who were already Christians:
1 Peter 3:6 . . . Sarah . . . whose children you now are, if you do well, and are not put in fear by any terror.
Paul was referring to saving faith when he wrote:
Galatians 3:7 Know therefore that those who are of faith, the same are children of Abraham.
Galatians 3:29 If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring and heirs according to promise.
Galatians 3:29 If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring and heirs according to promise.
And to the Romans Paul wrote that not all who are physically Abraham’s descendents are his spiritual descendents (Romans 9:6-9; note also Romans 4:16). Jesus told a crowd of Jews that their failure to believe in him proved they were not children of Abraham (John 8:38-47). If, in the sense that Jesus used the term, Abraham were their father, they would be so spiritually alive and in tune with God that they would have recognized Jesus as being of God and believed in him. Instead, Jesus said that the devil was their father.
In stark contrast to that crowd of Jews, Jesus honored this woman as a daughter of Abraham.
So to summarize: Jesus – and one could include the entire New Testament in this – referred to being a descendent of Abraham in two vastly different ways. To be descended from Abraham in the physical sense was pooh-poohed as being of virtually no spiritual value. To paraphrase Jesus, you might as well come from a stone as come from Abraham, if it is merely in the physical sense that you are his child (Luke 3:8). When used in the spiritual sense, however, it meant one was truly in a right relationship with God.
Jesus spoke so disparagingly of the physical sense and yet he was obviously using it as a term of honor when applying it to this woman. The strong implication is that he was using it in the spiritual sense of being a woman of God. Moreover, he indicated that this spiritual status applied to her while she was still physically bound by that evil spirit:
Luke 13:16 Ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan had bound eighteen long years, be freed from this bondage on the Sabbath day?
Nevertheless, even if this woman were as godly as many believe, this was before the Spirit’s outpouring “on all flesh” (Acts 2:16-17). She was unlikely to be among the relative few who were Spirit-filled prior to Jesus ascending to heaven. So does Scripture give us anything more certain?
Although God was displeased that the Israelites had asked for a king, Scripture stresses that the Lord, not the people, handpicked their first king. From all of God’s people, the Lord chose Saul and used several means to prove beyond doubt that Saul was God’s chosen one. Moreover, God not only personally selected Saul, he anointed him for the task. Though symbolized by the use of holy anointing oil, this was no ritual, but something of profound spiritual significance that only a privileged few ever experienced prior to Pentecost. And beyond even this, the Almighty gave Saul what is arguably the most powerful encounters with the Holy Spirit ever recorded in the Bible.
1 Samuel 10:6 Then the Lord’s Spirit will come mightily on you, and you will prophesy with them, and will be turned into another man.
I’m not at all saying the experience was unique to Saul, but the description itself is unique in Scripture. It reads like the most powerful conversion and manifestation of the character-changing power of the Holy Spirit. And in addition, this man of God prophesied under the unction of the Holy Spirit.
And this man, while still continuing to function as king of God’s people, ended up with a demon (1 Samuel 16:14-23).
If anyone understood Saul’s spiritual affliction, it was his harpist, David, whose task was to calm the evil spirit and who more than once had to dodge a spear during such sessions. David himself was anointed and prophetic and yet this man specially gifted with spiritual insight kept referring to Saul as God’s anointed, regardless of Saul having an evil spirit ( 1 Samuel 24:6,10; 26:9,11,16,23; 2 Samuel 1:14,16).
Despite his powerful conversion experience and being Spirit-filled, Saul lived before Christ’s sacrifice. Scripture teaches that “from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been killed” died for all those who lived before his sacrifice as much as for us living after his sacrifice (Hebrews 9:24-28). It insists that like all Christians, Abraham and all the other Old Testament saints were justified by faith, not works (Hebrews 11; Romans 4; Galatians 4:6,10,11). Nevertheless, Saul was under the Old Covenant. Technically, he was not a Christian.
This line of argument is beginning to sound suspiciously convenient. It is as if we have invented a theory concerning all believers and as soon as we find an apparent hole in the theory – so far, Judas, the woman with back problems and now Saul – we immediately define them as not being true believers. Be that as it may, there is a shadow of uncertainty over what Saul’s experience tells us about what can happen to believers under the New Covenant.
So, conveniently or otherwise, we have now trashed well over eighty percent of the Bible – everything up until Acts – as unreliable when it comes to disproving our theory.
Someone might object to this entire search by asking what are we expecting to find in the Bible – a biblical precedence for spiritual leaders deliberately leaving demons in Christians? Exorcism was so frequently practiced by early Christians that an ancient document has been discovered in which a pagan exorcist used the name of Jesus. The practice of non-Christians adopting the name of Jesus for exorcism is also mentioned by the third century church father, Origen (Source). Like other non-Christians mentioned in Acts 19:3 (and even in Mark 9:38), they were obviously hoping to emulate the success that Christians were having in expelling demons.
The apostles were conscious that a prime reason Christ chose them was to exercise authority over demons (Mark 3:14-15) and their ministry training featured exorcism (Luke 9:1-2; 10:17) . Could we expect them to neglect this ministry? What apostle do we expect to lead someone to the Lord and be unaware that the person has a demon? Or what apostle do we expect would knowingly let a demon remain in a new convert for days, weeks or months until he eventually thinks of removing the demon? If we don’t expect these things, where are we going to find biblical examples of New Testament Christians with demons? Exorcism might have been neglected in many other eras, but we would not expect such oversight in the early church. And even if such spiritual neglect of Christians had been common back then, where do we expect their existence to be recorded in Scripture? No true Christians are mentioned before Acts and everything after that book is letters and Revelation, not Christian biographies. Even Acts – less than three percent of the Bible – could not be called a collection of Christian testimonies. So what chance have we of finding accounts of Christians in New Testament times with spiritually ignorant leaders who let them continue to suffer from demons? And beyond even that, how can we be trusted to judge who in the Bible is godly (a true Christian), when we do what we did to Mary Magdalene’s reputation?
Despite all that, we now come to Ananias and Sapphira. They generously gave the church such a huge portion of the proceeds of the sale of their land that they thought no one would know they had kept back a little of what was, in any case, their own money. Yes, they wanted the glory of having given it all, but the Lord’s reaction seems more related to the fact that the church was in revival than that their sin was any worse that yours or mine. Nevertheless, we read:
Acts 5:3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land? . . .”
Wow! “ . . . Satan filled your heart . . .”
Was Ananias a true Christian or do we also dump him because he doesn’t fit our theory? Or do we argue that Satan filling his heart is somehow less serious than having an underling of Satan – a demon – in his heart?
For me, Ananias being a Christian helps explain the severity of his judgment. Jesus taught that the person to whom much is given, much is required. Greater accountability can be expected of someone who sins despite being blessed and empowered by the Spirit’s infilling, than if the person were a non-Christian. Moreover, it reduces the severity of the punishment of being struck dead without opportunity to repent if he were a Christian assured of eternal life, than if he were a non-Christian being rocketed to eternal damnation.
Whether or not we be accused of trying to squirm out of the obvious implications of these Scriptures, the fact remains that it is possible to find them less than conclusive proof that Christian can have a demon.
Just a Theory?
Unfortunately, those of us who feel sure a Christian cannot have a demon also fail in the hunt for conclusive scriptural proof for our views. Moreover, we face the frustrating fact of logic that since we lack the infinite knowledge of God, it is always easier to prove experimentally that something exists in some of millions of people than to prove that something doesn’t exist in a single one of them. Whereas it would take just one perfect case to prove a Christian can have a demon, to prove that no Christian has a demon would involve the humanly impossible task of testing every Christian that has ever existed. Should we test millions – even 99% of all Christians – not only would we have to prove our test were infallible, how could we prove that the one percent not tested were free from demons?
We are therefore forced to resort to a theory: it seems impossible for a Christian to have a demon, therefore it’s a good guess that no Christian has a demon.
Let’s look at some other spiritual things that seem impossible and see if it boosts our confidence in such a theory.
James 3:11-12 Does a spring send out from the same opening fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, yield olives, or a vine figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh water.
Surely James is saying that what he is referring to is impossible. The context, however, indicates otherwise. The verses immediately before this read:
James 3:8-11 But nobody can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the image of God. Out of the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send out from the same opening fresh and bitter water? (emphasis mine).
Yes, as James declared, it “ought not to be”. Nevertheless, he wisely recognized the disturbing discrepancy between what ought be impossible for Christians and what actually happens in the lives of some Christians.
Although Scripture does not specifically state that it is impossible for a Christian to have a demon, there is something that it does seem to say is impossible: Jesus stated emphatically that, “It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into God’s Kingdom” (Mark 10:25). A camel was the largest animal commonly found in Palestine and the eye of a needle was the tiniest easily describable hole. It is an impossibility carefully worded to ram that point home. As Jesus said on another occasion, a man cannot serve two masters – God and riches (Matthew 6:24).
If the disciples had not questioned Jesus about this, we might have built an entire doctrine on this one statement. Thankfully, in this instance, the disciples sought more information, and what followed is so astounding that it seems almost a complete back flip. In expounding on his former statement, Jesus goes from saying that it cannot happen to saying that it can, in fact, happen. “With men it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27).
So again we see in the spiritual realm a vast discrepancy between what is theoretically impossible and what can actually happen.
Ponder the implications of this Scripture:
Matthew 16:23 But he [Jesus] turned, and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! . . .”
Few would argue that Peter had a demon, but this incident shocks us and sends some preconceptions reeling. Here is someone chosen by God who had just a few verses before been praised for receiving special revelation from God. He had an ever-so-close relationship with Jesus and was a leader among those who cast out demons and healed the sick when sent two by two. And yet here he is being used as tool of Satan to tempt Christ. Most of us would have dismissed such a mixing of the satanic and the divine in the same person as impossible, but clearly it isn’t.
On another occasion Jesus said, in effect, that anyone causing temptation would be better off wearing a large cement collar next time he goes swimming ( Matthew 18:6-7). And yet here was Peter being used of Satan to tempt the holy Son of God to abandon the way of the cross – our only means of salvation! In Peter we see a man devoted to Jesus being involuntarily used of Satan at the very time when Peter was feeling genuine love and concern for his Lord and dearly wanted to protect him from pain. Peter had not suddenly turned his back on his Lord; Satan spoke through him while he supposed he was expressing loving concern for Jesus’ welfare. As impossible as it might seem for the Evil One to use a godly, Christ-loving person in such circumstances, it happened.
In theory, Christians could never be one flesh with non-Christians. As Paul stressed, “ . . . for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What agreement has Christ with Belial? Or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever? What agreement has a temple of God with idols? For you are a temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). And yet we know that some Christians do in fact end up one flesh with non-Christians, and Paul acknowledges it in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. Moreover, many of those Paul was addressing in that passage were no doubt converts who found themselves married to idolatrous pagans, who, as Paul notes in that same letter, offer sacrifices to demons (1 Corinthians 10:20). If anyone has demons, it would surely be some of these pagans and yet Scripture emphasizes that they are one flesh with their Christian partners.
It is Scripture, not some romantic fiction, that says:
1 Corinthians 6:15-20 Don’t you know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or don’t you know that he who is joined to a prostitute is one body? For, “The two”, he says, “will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit. Flee sexual immorality! “Every sin that a man does is outside the body,” but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (Emphasis mine.)
Paul then went on to speak of those who found themselves married to non-Christians, at least some of whom must have had demons in them. God himself declares that each couple is one flesh – and in part of that flesh the Holy Spirit resides and in the other part a demon resides.
“What agreement has a temple of God with idols?” asked Paul, and yet he acknowledged that the temple of God (the body of a Christian) can be one with a temple of demons (the body of a demonized marriage partner).
Or is this so unthinkable that we should assume that demons must leave the bodies of unbelievers when the Spirit of God enters their partners? After all, Paul said that unbelievers are sanctified because of their believing partner (1 Corinthians 7:14). But observation fails to produce droves of evil, violent, crazed people remaining unbelievers but suddenly turning calm and peaceful the moment their partners are born again. Nor have I heard of other evidence of demons leaving unsaved partners. If such miraculous transformations occurred even occasionally, it would be the talk of the church. Armed with a powerful evangelistic tool, we’d be seeking out people with beasts of partners, saying, “Become a Christian and your spouse will instantly change.”
No, the Holy Spirit enshrines himself in the bodies of Christians, including those who God declares are one flesh with non-Christian partners, even though some of those partners must surely have demons. Should this happen? No. Does it seem impossible? Yes. And yet, despite it boggling the mind, it happens.
Amazing Bible Insights into the Holy One and Evil
Zechariah 3:1-2 He showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Lord’s angel, and Satan standing at his right hand to be his adversary. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! . . .”
Satan and the Lord standing right next to each other is difficult enough to grasp but the book of Job takes it still further. It speaks of Satan on two different occasions actually joining the sons of God in entering right into the presence of the Holy Lord. And each time, the Evil One and the Holy One chatted together (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7). If this were not already in Scripture, most of us would have considered it not only impossible but blasphemous. How easy it is to too hastily pronounce things to be spiritually impossible!
To think of the Holy Spirit as a pious snob who considers himself too pure to interact with evil might reveal a facet of his holiness but it insults the mind-blowing love, compassion and humility of the Exalted One. Like no one else in the universe, each member of the Holy Trinity has every right to recoil from us in disgust and vaporize each of us as filthy vermin. Nevertheless, Jesus revealed the very heart of God when he shocked the religious world by being the friend of sinners and hugging the unclean. The Holy One cried, he walked on filthy roads, he wrote in the dirt, he let himself be ridiculed, he partied with people dismissed as crooks, sluts and lowlife. He bled.
Seen in this light, it is not so staggering that in the book of Job the Lord of Heaven spoke with the devil. Nor is it so staggering that the Son of God was sent by the Spirit to converse with the Evil One in the desert.
If the Holy Spirit acted like some self-righteous bigot quarantining himself from wickedness or instantly repelling everything that is evil, he would have every right to do so, but I would be doomed. Oh, how I love him for not being like this, because I, like every human, was once evil and belonged to the devil as much as any demon does. My sin tortured to death the pure and innocent Lord of glory! Could any demon be more wicked? When I was as much of the devil as any being that has ever existed, the Holy Spirit dared work in my heart and open my spiritual eyes.
The One who inhabits eternity humbled himself not only to tolerate our wickedness but to relate to pre-Christian you and me while we wallowed in our moral filth. As Jesus said of the Holy Spirit:
John 16:8-9 When he has come, he will convict the world about sin, about righteousness, and about judgment; about sin, because they don’t believe in me
Not only does the blessed Holy Spirit indwell Christians, he works in the hearts of unbelievers, convicting God’s enemies of their need of forgiveness and wooing them to the Lamb who was slain for their sins. Were it not for this, we would all be eternally lost.
“He who sins is of the devil” (1 John 3:8) and yet those who are of the devil are the very people into whose lives the Holy Spirit is sent to work. People – demonized or not – become Christians only because the Holy Spirit has been intimately working in their thoughts, attitudes and feelings, drawing them to the Savoir while they still belonged to the kingdom of darkness. In the words of Jesus:
John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him . . .
Christians might differ in their understanding of whether believers can have a demon, but we stand united in our conviction that demonized unbelievers can to transformed into Spirit-filled believers and that this miracle of grace is possible only because the Holy Spirit works deeply in the hearts of demonized people – often over a long period of time – convicting them of their need of Jesus’ salvation.
Have I defamed the terrifying holiness of the Exalted One by portraying him as being willing to endure interaction with those who are of the devil? Or have I displayed his highest glory that eclipses his other mind-numbing perfections – the glory of his selfless love that drives him to interact with filth, in the hope that we would respond and let Jesus cleanse us?
The pinnacle of holiness is not seen in standoffishness or in striking enemies dead. True holiness is moral perfection and this is seen in the staggering extremes of divine love. Yes, God’s Spirit will not always strive with humanity (Genesis 6:3), but I bow in awe at the grace of God that crosses over into the impossible and dares step into the depths of human depravity to rescue moral slime like me.
If anyone is likely to have been demonically driven, we might expect it to be the spiritual leader who arranged Jesus’ murder. If Scripture twice emphasizes that Satan himself entered Judas to become Jesus’ betrayer (Luke 22:3; John 13:27) and says, “woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for that man if he had not been born” (Mark 14:21), what must Satan have done to the person he used to instigate the entire plot? And yet, what could be more intimate and controlling than a spirit speaking through someone? This is what the Holy Spirit did through Caiaphas. In the middle of planning the Messiah’s murder the Holy One spoke through him in a Spirit-inspired prophecy (John 11:49-52).
Thorn of Contention?
I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was a demon. Whatever it was, however, it was “a messenger [the word is elsewhere used for ‘angel’] of Satan” and it was in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7). God allowed this “angel from Satan” not just to torment him from outside his body but actually to reside in him – that same blood-bought body in which the Holy Spirit resided. Don’t ask me to explain how the Holy One and a satanic tormentor could coexist in the same body, but it happened.
We have already commented on Acts 10:38, which speaks of Jesus “healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him” (KJV). From this we learn that the sicknesses that Jesus healed – whether they be organic or demonic – were due to the devil and his horde damaging people’s bodies. Shouldn’t this be impossible when someone’s body is made, redeemed and indwelt by the God of Perfection? How could the Holy One and satanically-inspired physical corruption dwell in the same body? Nevertheless, Christians get sick.
We are so used to hearing the word “oppressed” contrasted in a dubious way with “possessed” that we often fail to grasp how strong is the underlying Greek in this verse. It actually means that all those Jesus healed were, to cite different authorities, “under the power of the devil,” or “under the control of the devil,” or “under the devil’s domination,” or “tyrannized” by him (Sources).
We immediately want to object that this cannot happen to Christians. Either no Christian suffers the type of afflictions that Jesus healed, or some Christians are indeed dominated by the devil. Jesus’ healings proved there is no need for this domination but nevertheless the reality is that it occurs in some Christians’ lives.
Part of the explanation as to why this could happen is that whether the cause was a disease or a demon, most of those Jesus healed were not controlled by the devil in their entire lives but only in that part of their lives in which they were afflicted. It would seem that Christians can belong to Christ and yet in some area of their lives – perhaps a besetting sin or a sickness – be needlessly dominated by the devil through ignorance or lack of faith.
We have discovered many things we might have thought impossible and yet Scripture states that it happens. We should not, however, expect Scripture to keep mentioning every conceivable aberration from the norm or ideal. When Scripture makes general statements it would be ridiculous to suppose that it always laboriously tries to cover every imaginable possibility. When, for example, Scripture says, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4), it is saying that God dwells in you and he is stronger than every anti-God power on the entire planet. John does not get sidetracked from declaring this glorious truth by feeling obligated to turn this into an exhaustive list of everything, besides God, that could possibly exist within a Christian. He doesn’t even bother to mention the possibility of a Christian’s own mind, personality or spirit residing within him or her. Nor can we assume that “have overcome them” means the full implications of this fact is currently worked out in every Christian’s life.
If it were possible for a Christian to have a demon would you expect Scripture to say “the one who is in you is greater than any demons in you?” Of course not! If it did, Bible readers would be in danger of assuming that every Christian has demons. Or should, instead of one verse, Scripture get sidetracked into a book-length dissertation about demons, when it is simply seeking to build our faith in the power of the God resident in us?
Scripture would be a hopeless tangle if it were written in boring legalese out of fear of someone exploiting a loophole or reading into it more than was intended. So let’s not twist Scripture by expecting it to continually detail every possible scenario.
Don’t Miss the Final Page!
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.
Bible Versions Used
King James Version
King James Version