Can a Christian come under the influence of a demon? I get this question quite frequently, so I thought a short post on the subject might be beneficial. The simple answer is yes, Christians can struggle with varying degrees of demonic influence.
There are two common objections to my view.
- Objection One: A Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit cannot co-exist with demonic spirits.
- Answer: If this is true, then demonic spirits cannot exist at all. God is omnipresent. He is fully present in every place. If demons exist at all, then God co-exists with them. He really doesn’t seem too threatened.
- Objection Two: A Christian is possessed by God and therefore cannot be possessed by the devil.
- Answer: Possession is a matter of ownership, not influence. The language of demonic possession exists nowhere in the Greek within the New Testament. “Possessed by a Demon” is the English translation of a single Greek word which basically means “demonized”. It has no connotation of ownership or possession, only of presence and influence. It is therefore not contradictory at all to speak of a Christian belonging to God yet being under the influence of a demonic spirit.
Is there a biblical case that believers can be oppressed by demons? I believe there is.
1. Paul was harassed by a demonic spirit.
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” (2 Corinthians 12:7, ESV)
2. Paul warns believers that if they don’t respond to their own anger in healthy ways, they will open up a door in their lives to the enemy.
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26–27, ESV)
3. Peter recognized that Ananias, a believer, was operating under the influence of the devil.
“But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?” (Acts 5:3, ESV)
4. James gives specific instructions to believers regarding how they can resist demonic oppression.
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7, ESV)
5. Peter warns believers to guard their thought life because the enemy is looking for opportunities to harass.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, ESV)
6. Paul affirms the importance of forgiveness in ensuring that we are not outwitted by the enemy. The word outwitted means “to have more”, and speaks of having influence.
“Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” (2 Corinthians 2:10–11, ESV)
7. Paul instructs believers in regards to spiritual warfare, using the metaphor of wrestling. He thus likens our spiritual battle with demonic forces to hand to hand combat. The implication is that if we don’t engage in battle in the right ways, we won’t stand against him. Instead of us pinning the enemy down, he will exercise dominion over us.
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:11–12, ESV)
8. Israel’s entrance into and possession of the Promised Land serves for us as a type and shadow. Though the land was theirs by inheritance, it was nevertheless still occupied by their enemies. Crossing the Jordan did not result in immediate expulsion of their enemies. Israel had to, by faith and obedience, take possession of their inheritance through a process over time.
“The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you.” (Deuteronomy 7:22, ESV)
“I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you.” (Exodus 23:29, ESV)
Spiritual warfare is a very real thing. Christians need to be aware of the battle and actively engage in the battle for the enemy is always looking for an opportunity to gain influence in our lives. But maintaining a posture of surrender toward God, staying alert regarding the enemy’s schemes, and exercising the authority we have in Jesus’ name, we can be assured of victory.