The relationship between believers and the demons is quite a controversial issue in some circles in our day. At one end of the spectrum are those who say it is absolutely impossible for a believer to be "possessed by a demon." At the other end are those who will minister to none but believers -- on the ground that an unbeliever has no defense against a demon's re-entry. I have known and read a number who are at each extreme. But the controversy is not incapable of solution if we look closely at the Scriptures. And what do we see there about demonic affliction?

Demonic affliction in the New Testament

For one thing, we see that the term "possessed by a demon" does not even occur in the Scriptures (in the Greek). The most common expression is "to have a demon." The next most common is, literally, to be "demonized."1 Neither of these terms is as provocative as the term "possessed by a demon." This latter term admits only of total control, while the two Biblical terms mentioned above allow for any range or degree of affliction.

And "demonization" is indeed an affliction of body; it is always -- without exception, as far as the Biblical evidence -- manifested through physical affliction or bizarre behavior with one's body. Read the New Testament very carefully and you will never see such a thing as a "spirit of jealousy" (or gluttony, or lust, or anger, etc.) being cast out of anyone: yet, strangely enough, these kind of"spirits" seem to be the most popularly encountered in the deliverance ministries current today. True "demonization" was, in New Testament times, detectable by its bizarre physical manifestations: people would periodically lose control of their bodies (e.g., Mark 9:14-29), appear as insane (e.g., Mark 5:1-20), or be physically afflicted (e.g., Luke 11:14, 13:10-16).2 To have a demon cast out is a form of healing (Matthew 4.24); therefore one should not be considered a particularly "evil" person (i.e., no worse a sinner than the rest of us) to have become afflicted by a demon, any more than is a cancer-stricken patient, for example. The only Biblical example that does not seem to show demonization as a condition of physical affliction is that of the young slave girl who had a spirit of "divination" (Acts 16:16-18).3 But even in that instance, the girl manifested quite bizarre and compulsive behavior.

Thus, we see that to have a demon, or to be demonized, in the New Testament sense -- the only authorized sense -- means to carry about within your body one or more of the citizens of Satan's fallen spiritual army. All the world's citizens have Satan working within them (Ephesians 2:2), seducing them into sin and bondage. Such a condition is more properly considered true "possession" than what we are considering -- for in that former situation he owns your heart, your goals, your loyalties and your destiny. The demons involved in such "possession" and in temptation are not at all subject to exorcism, from Biblical testimony. Feeling strong urges to turn into a pornography shop or to steal does not mean that you are demonized and must seek exorcism. It means that you are especially vulnerable to satanic temptation in that area -- you are feeling the fire of his "fiery darts" (Ephesians 6:16). You need, in that situation, not the ministry of exorcism, but the shield of faith with which to quench the fiery darts of the enemy. According to the New Testament, you are demonized when you have come into a condition in which you have lost control of your body or of your mind (in varying degrees and durations) -- or in which you have developed sickness of body.

Not all sickness of body is demonization, nor is all loss of body function: but, from biblical example, we must conclude that some of what this world's medicine attributes to purely physical malady is actually a symptom of demonic presence.4 Just because we see signs of infection, of viral activity or bone deformation does not mean that the affliction is purely physical in its cause. The god of this world knows our physical systems far more thoroughly than the best anatomist. If a man can disrupt an organ's function through chemical or physical means, and cause a body to develop or function improperly, or to become prone to certain diseases, then so can a demon. A condition that the world considers to be a physical cause may actually be the physical effect -- a spirit's presence being the actual cause. To cast it out of the body will also remove the cause of the physical or mental malady that it had created.

Can a believer have a demon?

Before we undertake to resolve this controversial question let us first make sure that we know exactly what we are asking. Can a believer be physically controlled by Satan so that he or she cannot know the difference between God's revelation and Satan's lies? Of course not; for that is the very thing that distinguishes a believer from an unbeliever. Well then, can a believer be subject to demonic temptation, continually succumb in that area, and thus be in bondage to Satan in that area of his life?: of course he can -- Satan has incredibly "fiery" darts, and even has doctrines and prophecies for believers to yield to (1 Timothy 4:1; 1 John 4:1). But, as has just been pointed out above, this is not "demonization," in the Biblical sense. Thus, this is the question that remains: can a believer in our day enter into a condition (or remain in a condition, after believing) in which, through demonic presence, he manifests the symptoms of "having a demon" that we mentioned above: loss of bodily or mental function, bodily affliction or supernatural manifestations of demonic knowledge and power?5

Personal testimony, unfortunately, is of little help in resolving this. My personal contact with those who claim to have received deliverance continues to leave me skeptical about most claims. The average believer is very unconscious about his own inner life -- about what underlies his feelings and motivations -- and has not learned to recognize his more subtle manifestations of flesh. Consequently, he can be too easily led to confuse a disturbance or excitement of flesh for a manifestation of a demon, in order for his personal testimony to be received by the cautious. The same reasoning applies to the value of the manifestations we might see taking place during a deliverance session: the fact that you hear voices or see people writhing on the floor and vomiting does not mean that a demon is causing it. In therapy it has been observed that patients of Jungian analysts tend to develop Jungian type symbolism in their dreams, while patients of Freudian analysts tend to develop Freudian symbolism in theirs: in other words, there is something in our fleshly constitution that inclines us to manifest the behavior that is expected of us by those we consider in authority; and if we are not cautious we shall do just that -- even in a deliverance session. Thus, we must thoroughly sift personal testimony before admitting it as evidence.

Furthermore, the attempts to prove from the Scriptures that the deliverance of Christians is Scriptural are utterly unconvincing.6 There is not one clear example in the Scriptures of a demon being cast out of a Christian; nor do the many pastoral directives in the Epistles ever even hint that any of their readers might need to have a demon cast out. Resistance, not exorcism is the only advice given to Christians regarding Satan (e.g., James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9; Ephesians 4:27, 6:11).

But this does not end the argument. Remember, the Scriptures were written to Christians who had received a gospel ministry of apostolic depth, apostolic thoroughness and apostolic anointing -- which is hardly ever the case in our day. Therefore, all you can conclude from Scriptural testimony is that a person who received the gospel through the ministry of Paul or Peter had his demon problems taken care of before baptism, through exorcism, and would not therefore need any such ministry after baptism. But in our day, when the anointing and the gospel content are ordinarily so weak by contrast, if a man is not delivered from his demonic affliction before his acceptance of such a gospel, it hardly seems likely that his problem would simply disappear. Paul, who preached a complete gospel under powerful anointing, would have in addition spent time exposing and expelling the demon from a man.7 Can we safely assume that the man who responds to a truncated gospel ministered in little or no anointing of the Spirit, and who receives no exorcism ministry at all, is going to be somehow automatically released by Satan's demon? It does not seem a safe conclusion to draw at all.

What is the natural conclusion to draw is that if you accept a man who believes in Christ into your fellowship without first casting out his demons then his demons will continue to afflict him after he enters the fellowship. It is not belief or baptism, but exorcism that was designed for dealing with demons. But please remember: this in no way means that an average Christian in our day needs to have demons cast out of him. We have already examined the symptoms of demonization and know how easily demons are usually discerned.8 It is certainly true that one of the most important ministries to be restored to Christian communities is that of discerning and casting out demons. But the whole deliverance ministry will suffer increasing disrepute if those involved in it do not learn proper diagnosis.



1 Greek: "daimonizomai" <back>

2 This is not to say that demons might not seduce us into the bondages of jealousy, gluttony, anger, etc. It is to say, however, that such demonic activity is not subject to the ministry of exorcism -- not with Scriptural authority, at any rate. Some demons are to be resisted, some cast out (e.g., James 4:7). <back>

3 That is, a form of prophesying that is not of God. This example shows the great dangers of the occult -- of opening up your inner being to permit ungodly powers to speak or act through you (as with Ouija boards and in seances). <back>

4 One of the functions of the gift of the discerning of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10) would be to sense when a physical condition is actually a manifestation of a demon. <back>

5 With regard to the latter we must distinguish between someone who receives a "spiritual" revelation and someone who assents to it and uses it; the latter person is without doubt sinning against God, but the former one is not. <back>

6 For example, see Don Basham's, Can a Christian Have a Demon? (Monroeville: Whitaker Books, 1971). This is perhaps the most popular work that expresses such a viewpoint. <back>

7 There is abundant evidence that in the early Church it was the normal practice for exorcism to be ministered prior to the administering of baptism whenever it was discerned to be necessary. See, for example, Hippolytus' Apostolic Tradition, xvi. 8 and xx. 3-4, for instruction to the Roman Christians in the year 200 A.D. (London: S.P.C.K., 1968; Gregory Dix, ed.). <back>

8 Consider the deliverance ministry of Jesus and the apostles. The great majority of those who were demonized were brought to Jesus and the apostles by those who knew the victims and who were themselves unregenerate. One does not have to be regenerate or baptized in the Spirit (which those people in Jesus' day were certainly not) in order to know that someone has a demon that must be cast out, at least in most cases (one might need special discernment, for example, with the woman in Luke 13:10f). <back>