Demon Possession and the Christian

Throughout history there have been various accounts of humans behaving strangely. In an attempt to explain these phenomena, one idea always seems to come up. That is the idea of demon possession. Demon possession in this day and age has largely been dismissed with a rise in understanding of human psychology, attributing the works of demons to mental disorders and repressed human emotions. This paper will look into what the Bible has to say about demon possession and ultimately draw a conclusion on whether or not a Christian believer can be affected by this activity of demons.

I. The Concept of Demon Possession

In the New Testament, the Greek word daimonidzomai literally means “demonized” or “controlled by a demon” and has come to be interpreted as meaning “demon possession.”[1] This isn’t the only word used to describe it though. Throughout the New Testament will be found such phrases as “with an unclean spirit” (Mark 1.23-26), “having” a spirit that leads to harmful circumstances (Mark 9.16), and people who are “afflicted with unclean spirits” (Acts 5.16).[2]

What can be gathered from these words and phrases is that demon possession is when a demon exerts control over a person who is unable to resist. So, to be demonized or possessed by a demon means “completely controlled, victimized and indwelt by one or more demons.”[3] Charles Ryrie defines demon possession as “the direct control by demon(s) of an individual by residing in him.”[4]

II. The Characteristics of Demon Possession[5]

When a person is under the influence of demons, their behavior and characteristics can noticeably change, sometimes to the point of alarm. The Bible gives numerous examples of people under the influence of demons. The characteristics these demonized persons demonstrate will be given here.

A. Frequently, a person in the Bible was affected by more than one spirit. In Mark 5.9 Jesus cast out a demon that referred to itself as “Legion” in order to show that there was more than one demon present. Luke 8.2 reveals that Mary Magdalene had seven demons cast out from her. In Matthew 12.43-45 Jesus talks about a demon who has been cast out and eventually returns to the host and this time brings with it seven more demons.

B. Sometimes a person who is possessed by a demon possesses incredible physical strength. Mark 5.4 tells of a man who could rip apart chains and shackles and could not be subdued by any number of men.

C. Demons can cause mental or physical disorders. Note that in Mark 5.15 that after Jesus cast out the demon the man was found “in his right mind.” Other effects include: muteness (Mark 9.32), moral impurity (Mark 5.2), and one instance of what appears to be epilepsy (Matt. 17.14-18).

III. The Christian and Demon Possession

The question always arises of whether or not Christians can be possessed by demons like the unsaved. With books out there like Demons in the World Today by Merrill Unger many will think so. In one of his previous works, Unger stated that “only unbelievers are exposed” to the threat of demon possession.[6] However, he says this view is only inferred by Scripture and later changed his view to say that “it is possible for a believer to experience severe demonic influence and obsession” and that in places where the gospel has not been present or had a strong influence (such as India or China), new converts are routinely subjected to demonic possession.[7] Unger’s mistake is that he makes this choice based solely on experiential information instead of the objective information given in the Bible.

The orthodox view of Christians and demon possession is that Christians cannot be possessed. McCune lists four reasons as to why Christians cannot be possessed.

A. The first is that “the believer has new life in Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”[8] The verse that is most oft quoted concerning this topic is 1 John 4.4 which says “You are from God and have overcome them, for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” In the context of this verse, John is telling the addressees to test spirits who are not from God.

B. The second reason is that “the believer also has the guarding protection and preservation of the Son of God.”[9] This idea is demonstrated in 1 John 5.18, “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of god protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” The Christian can allow themselves to wander into sin, and they can tempted to sin by demonic forces. However, this verse shows that the Christian cannot be overpowered by Satan and his angels.

C. Third, “Satan has been defeated through the cross work of Jesus Christ.”[10] By His death on the cross, Jesus judged Satan and the powers of this world (John 12:31). This idea is echoed throughout the New Testament. Paul says that Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Col. 2.15). Likewise, Hebrews tells us that through His death Jesus “might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (2.14). But how does this idea relate to the Christian? Since the believer is positionally in Christ, Satan cannot get through to overcome the Christian (cf. Eph. 1.1;  2.6).

D. Fourth, demon possession and influence cannot take place without at least the original consent of the human will. There are several instances in the New Testament of individuals allowing their failure to become a doorway for demonic activity. In the garden Peter was told to pray so that he would not fall into temptation (Luke 22.31, 40). Luke tells us in Acts that Ananias was in control when he lied and kept back some of his money. Yet it is also implied that Ananias was still in control of himself when he did this deed (Acts 4.1-4). Note also the story of the wondering demon in Matthew 12.43. He is said to be “seeking rest,” almost as if he is searching for someone willing to allow him in. A true Christian will not make the choice of allowing themselves to be put in such a dangerous situation.

IV. Demon possession in the New Testament Epistles and Today

Without a doubt there were many instances of demon possession in the gospels. There were also several, albeit fewer, mentions of demon possession and exorcism in Acts. However, when searching the epistles, one finds that they contain no mention of demon possession anywhere. There are certainly many things to be said about defending oneself against demonic attack (cf. the armor of God passage in Eph. 6), but there is no instruction concerning demonic possession. It is interesting to note that Paul’s ministry in Ephesus (a place full of magic and demon activity) contained many exorcisms (Acts 19.11-22), yet he never mentions that activity in his Ephesian letter.

There is little information in the Epistles that reveal the extent of demon activity today. However, Christians are told to guard themselves from and resist demonic attack and influence (James 4.7; 1 Peter 5.8,9).

So in conclusion, demon possession is a very real thing. It was something present in the days of Jesus, the days of the apostles, and still occurs today. Though the influence of demons can be felt all around us, Christians need not fear being possessed by them, for they are protected by a much more powerful God.

[1] McCune, Rolland. “Systematic Theology Vol. 1” p. 390

[2] Ibid. p. 391

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ryrie, Charles. “Basic Theology” p. 189

[5] McCune “Systematic Theology”

[6] Unger, Merrill. “Biblical Demonology” p. 100

[7] Unger “Demons in the World Today.” p. 117

[8] McCune, p. 395

[9] Ibid. pl 396

[10] Ibid. p. 397

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s