In some Charismatic circles most preachers cannot preach without referring to demonic activity. In some churches people hear more about the devil and his cohorts roving around at will and wreaking havoc in all spheres of life than they do about Christ and his angels. It is a mark of spirituality for preachers or exorcists to spot demons at every turn and to have the ability to exorcise them using secret codes bequeathed to them through mystical and superstitious means. The Bible’s prescriptions often have little or no place in their camp.

Scripture is clear that demons are real and that they interfere in human affairs (Matt. 12:43, Mk. 1:26, Acts 8:7). Demons were very much at work in Bible times, and there is no reason to assume that demons are inactive now (1 Pet. 5:8). However, among those who do believe demons are at work today, there are a variety of perspectives. Some tend to over-emphasise the work of Satan, giving him more attention than he deserves. Our focus should be on the glory of God and his righteousness (Matt. 6:33), since “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). Satan and God are not equals or balanced opposites, in a yin-yang way. Satan is a created finite being who possesses only the power that God allows him to have (Job 1:9–10). In this article, we will define demon possession from a biblical perspective, identify the targets of demon possession, offer some counsel about how one can avoid demon possession, and respond to dissenting positions held by good men on the matter of demon possession.

 

The biblical definition of demon possession

 

The first point we need to address is the definition of demon possession. What is it? Demons are fallen angels that apostatised with Satan when he was cast down from heaven (Isa. 14:12–14; Jude 6–7; 2 Pet. 2:4). They rebelled with Lucifer and were cast to earth where Satan is the ruler of the air (Eph. 2:1–4).

These demons are of different types, including the extremely hostile and harmful on the one hand and the religious and seemingly gentle on the other. One of the things demons do here on earth is inhabit human beings. A single demon or even a legion of them can inhabit one individual (e.g. Mk. 1:23; 9:17; Acts 8:7, etc.). They take control of their subjects and lead them to do what is not pleasing to God. The possessed manifest all manner of effects, including the following:

  • Unusual and unexplained strength or ability beyond normal capacity for a person of their stature.
  • A serious discomfort, aversion to, and irritation when the word of God is being talked about or preached.
  • A serious opposition to anything of a purely Christian nature. A preference for syncretic or animistic experiences.
  • Afflicting the objects, often exposing them to danger, harm, and even death (including suicide at times).

Once a person is possessed (i.e. taken over and entirely trapped and controlled), they cannot free themselves and at times may not even know or be aware of it. If they do know, they come across as helpless, powerless and unable to liberate themselves. (Dickason 162; Mk. 8:16; Lk. 10:17, 20).

The question that begs answering at this stage is: “Is demon possession a reality today?” Naturalists are wont to answer this question in the negative because as physical monists they believe that only the material world exists. The spirit world is a non-entity to them. Spirits are usually wished away or explained in scientific and medical terms.

Biblically speaking, the answer to the question is that even in our day demon possession does occur. It looks different from place to place, as Dave Hunt has highlighted in his book, The seduction of Christianity. Here in Africa this is a phenomenon a lot of people observe ever so often. Elsewhere in the world (including the West) this is also true, even though it may present itself in a different form.

 

 

The objects of demon possession

A further question that begs our answer is one of targets of demon possession. Again, opinions vary on this point. There are those who believe that Christians can be possessed by demons and those that believe that they cannot. There are those that argue that when Christians expose themselves to demonic influences such as witchdoctors, evil books, and an unholy life, they can succumb to demonic possession. Those who are not prepared to stretch it too far accommodate a middle position. They claim that a Christian cannot be demon possessed in the same sense as the unbeliever but may be oppressed, i.e. demons influencing them from outside their bodies. If not, they can be temporarily possessed, even though they may with renewed obedience free themselves from this oppression—unlike an unbeliever.

This view is based on the “clinical experience” of missionaries on the fields of animistic societies who claim to have experienced first-hand cases of “demonised saints” (Dickason 189; Brown 106-107) who needed to be exorcised to get well again. But experience is not to regulate our view of demonic activity. Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) must remain our guide.

Our view is that Christians cannot be demon possessed at all. A careful reading of Scripture shows that once a person believes in Christ they are not only declared righteous but also adopted into the family of God. They become children of God—a people belonging to God (1 Pet. 2:9). As a mark of God’s ownership on them, God gives them the Spirit of sonship (Rom. 8:15–16) by whom they were regenerated in the first place and also by whom he continues to form them into the image of Christ. When a person is thus transformed, divine light occupies the soul, effectively dislodging the deeds of darkness (1 Cor. 6:19–20; 2 Cor. 6:14–18). Although there might be pockets of opposition brought about by remaining sin (Rom. 7:21), the saint now has the power and muscle to overcome the world (1 Jn. 5:1–2), reject sin, and evil practices (Tit. 2:11ff). He has changed his allegiance from the devil to Christ, having been delivered from the dominion of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13).

According to 1 John 5:18, one so born of God cannot be touched by the devil. If the Son of God sets one free, they are free indeed and need not fear demons, generational curses, or any other thing that may be arrayed against them (Jn. 8:36; Rom. 8:35ff).

Does that mean a Christian cannot be affected or harassed by Satan or his demons? Not quite! The Christian may be affected, disturbed, and even occasionally harassed by Satan, but never possessed. Evil may afflict the saint but only to the extent that God permits. The experience of Job illustrates this well (Job 1). There are saints who are brought to the brink of self-destruction, such as William Cowper who nearly took his life due to mental affliction. He is a clear witness to such demonic attacks and temptation but could nonetheless not be said to have been demon possessed.

Unbelievers are the primary targets of demon possession because they do not have any form of protection against it.

The Gospels speak about a house that is exposed and how that wondering demons come to make such an empty house (or soul) their domain (Lk. 11:24–26). Once exorcised, they go away only to return later to the unoccupied house, i.e. a soul without the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9). When they do so, they bring along a legion of other evil spirits. The latter end is far worse than the first scenario. Such is the state of the unbeliever. They are exposed to demon possession. Even if the demons are exorcised from them, they are not necessarily safe from further domination if they do not yield to the lordship of the Spirit of Christ.

 

The counsel on how to be set free from demons

 

Demon possession is an ever-present danger to people all over the world. There is only one solution to setting one free from such bondage: The gospel is the power of God for all who believe (Rom. 1:16). The person who becomes converted to Christ is set free from bondage to sin, Satan, and demons. This means that the gospel and prayer are key to deliverance from demons. “Devils fear and fly” (to borrow Charles Wesley’s phrase) where the word of God is preached and there is prayer and fasting for the people. Bob Deeway recounts how he spent many years in deep spiritual warfare, hunting down and decoding demons. He says it was tiring and the relieved people often relapsed and became dependent on the specialist. His conclusion was that preaching Christ, knowing the truth about Christ, and living for him is what sets one free (Jn. 8:32).

 

Conclusion

We have seen that demons are “alive and well” today. However, because Satan is bound (Rev. 20:3), he cannot prevent the free reign of the gospel among the nations. As Christians, we should see to it that we release the power of God (the gospel) to free people from sin and Satan. Anything short of this is cosmetic and bound to fail in bringing true deliverance. Let us stick to the sure word of the gospel as well as prayer and fasting.

 

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Cogan, J. 2005. A Hand Book for Demon Possession. Disk Books Publishing.

Brown, R. 1992. Prepare for War. Whitaker House.

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Detroit Baptist Seminary