The Christian and Demonization

This article was written by the Rev. Dr. David M. Oliver. You can learn more about his ministry at his website (http://livingh2oministries.com/).

Over forty-five years of being a Christian, almost forty of which I have been active in full-time ministry, I have heard some leaders teach that no Christian can be demonized. The purpose of this paper is to offer Scriptural evidence that Christians can be demonization.

Definition of Demonization

At the heart of this debate of whether a Christian can be demonized is the Greek word daimonizomai which has sometimes been mistranslated as demon possession. The more accurate translation is ‘demonization.’ To be demonized means that there is some measure of inner, at least partial, direct influence (or control) being exercised by the demonic realm.

I affirm that no Christian can literally be demon possessed. However, Christians can be and are demonized.

Just because a Christian believer is being born again and filled with the Holy Spirit does not end all struggles with temptation, sin, doubt, fear, unbelief, etc. There are no perfect Christians. Wherever sin exists, the demonic realm also exists and is at work to negatively influence. The demonic realm exploits every opportunity to steal, kill and destroy the work of God in and through a Christian believer (John 10:10). This is done in an effort by the demonic realm to try to limit or negate the powerful effects of the person’s gifts and faith in Christ.

The demonic assaulted Jesus in the wilderness after he was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4). We who are followers of Jesus may also experience similar assaults. Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33). The early church testified, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). We are called to do battle with and to overcome all sin and tribulation by the blood of the Lamb (the Lord Jesus Christ) (Revelation 7:14; 12:11).

The point I am arguing is not new or unusual. Other authors hold to the same view. The perspective I am suggesting is both biblical and reasonable.

“…daimonizomenos (a derivation of daimonizomai) does not mean owned by a demon, but simply ‘demonized.’ This basically describes the condition of a person who is inhabited by a demon or demons and is in various degrees under control with various effects. The idea of (demonic) ownership is foreign to the New Testament word and its usage. Satan and demons own nothing. …They are creatures of God. He is in control of them and determines their limitations and their destiny. They are judged by the cross of Christ, defeated, and bankrupt.” (C. Fred Dickason. Demon Possession and the Christian. Chicago: Moody, 1987, 130. Emphasis added.) [1]

[1] From the jacket cover: In Demon Possession and the Christian, Dr. Dickason presents compelling evidence–from the Bible, theology, and counseling experiences–showing that Christians can indeed be affected by demon activity. He discusses demons, salvation, the authority of Christ, and the relationship of demons and believers. Through his The Christian and Demonization, 2

“It must be stressed that demons cannot indwell a Christian in the same sense the Holy Spirit indwells. God’s spirit enters a believer at salvation, permanently, never to leave (John 14:16). A demon, by contrast, enters as a squatter and an intruder and is subject to momentary eviction. A demon never rightfully or permanently indwells a saint, as the Holy Spirit does, and no demon can ever have any influence over any part of a Christian’s life that is (fully) yielded to the Holy Spirit.” (Merrill Unger. What Demons Can Do to Saints. Chicago: Moody, 1977, 61. Emphasis added.)

“I believe without a shadow of a doubt that Christians can have demons indwelling them and tormenting them in various areas of their lives. We believe this both from our study of Scripture and from our experiences with hundreds of counselees. …The word ‘possessed’ gives a wrong impression. Greek scholars tell us that the Greek word (daimonizomai) would be better translated ‘demonized’ or ‘had a demon.’ A Christian is always God’s possession. He has been born of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit dwells in his spirit. The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16). But man is a trichotomy: spirit, soul, and body. There may be areas which have not been surrendered to God.” (George A. Birch. The Deliverance Ministry. Publisher unknown. 1993, 89-90. Emphasis added.)

Biblical Examples of Faithful People Dealing with Demons

Let’s turn now to explore more closely examples of Christians and other faithful people being demonized.

  1. Matthew 10:8 – Heal sick, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.

    Jesus recognized the spiritual battle that human beings face. He equipped and continues to equip his followers to deal with the realities of life in a fallen, imperfect world, a world that includes warfare against the demonic realm.In my work as a pastor, I have prayed to cast out evil spirits from Christians who were struggling with lust or pornography. I have prayed for people trying to get control over various kinds of sexual impurity. I have prayed to break the ties of occult practices. I have prayed to deliver people from alcoholism, addictive behaviors, and phobias. All these issues can have demonic roots. Sometimes these persons have done things, or had things done to them, which have been very traumatic and caused a weakness or vulnerability in their spiritual defenses. For these persons to become fully healed, prayer for deliverance as well as formational/inner healing prayer must be offered. The demonization associated with the problems people are experiencing must be severed, removed and destroyed. This prepares the way for the effective healing of the wounds, lies, emotional upheaval, dysfunctional behaviors and life situations that trigger and are related to the wounded, fractured parts of their inner being.

  2. Luke 13:10-16 – A devout woman had evil spirits.

    Jesus heals a crippled woman who was demonized. “10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. 14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” 15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

  3. The Apostle Peter experienced demonization

    In Matthew 16, we read the following: 13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

    Of the twelve disciples, Peter is the only one here who gave the strong affirmation of Jesus being the Messiah, the Christ, Son of the living God. He was in tune with the Spirit and with Jesus as he made this powerful confession of truth.

    However, his powerful affirmation of Jesus’ identity was quickly twisted by the demonic. This reinforces the definition of demonization…some measure of inner, partial, direct influence or control by the demonic realm. The demonic sought to work through Peter in an attempt to keep Jesus from God’s chosen path.

    In Matthew 16:20 we read, “20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. 21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

    Peter’s correct identification of Jesus as Messiah became twisted in its meaning. This faulty thinking was recognized by Jesus for what is was, demonization at work in Peter trying to lead Jesus away from his call and the cross. This shows that despite powerful encounters, positive experiences and strong, faithful declarations of who Jesus is does not exempt believers from experiencing some level of demonization.

    We must keep listening to the Holy Spirit and to the Word of God so that we walk in truth with humility. Past spiritual performance is no certain predictor of future accuracy.

  4. Judas Iscariot was demonized

    In John 13, Jesus and his disciples were gathered for the Passover meal in the Upper Room. In verse 2 it says, “The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.” After Jesus fed Judas Iscariot some food as a sign to John of who was to betray him, “Satan entered into him” (John 13:27).

    The demonic had not been successful in direct attacks against Jesus so he used an indirect strategy against Jesus’ disciples…all of whom betrayed, denied or abandoned him in his time of greatest testing and need.

    Today, we also see and experience the demonic realm seeking to undermine the effectiveness of Jesus’ ongoing work by attacking believers and seeking to discredit our witness for Christ.

  5. The followers of Jesus in the early church experienced demonization

    In Acts 5:3, Peter addressed one of the Christian believers named Ananias. Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, had sold some property and claimed that they were donating the entire proceeds to the church. In fact, they were holding a portion back. They lied because they wanted to appear more generous and committed than they were. Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land?” These and other issues of the heart continue to be manifest in the church among believers today.

  6. 2 Corinthians 11:2-4 – The Apostle Paul chastised the Corinthian Christians for receiving another spirit than the true spirit of Jesus Christ which he preached.

    In this passage, Paul is referring to false prophet spirits working to undermine both individuals and the church. Matthew 24:24 says, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (ESV).

    The influence of these false Christs and false prophets is most often evidenced in the lives of those believers in Christ with prophetic gifts. Ninety percent of what these people say can be true but the demonic realm will distort ten percent of the things they say in order to discredit them and/or to lead the listener into error. This is evidence of evil working in gifted believers to bring about a measure of inner, partial, direct demonic influence.

    When we uphold the false understanding that no Christian can be demonized, we position the church for error, distorted teaching, unbelief, discouragement, and disunity. The only one who benefits is our devoted enemy.

  7. 1 Peter 5:8-9 – We are warned to guard against demonic invasion.

    Peter writes, “8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”

    If you are faithful to Christ, you will experience warfare with the demonic realm. This can come via demonization (internal attack) and demonic oppression (external attack). When Christians struggle against the demonic realm it’s not a sign of how bad or sinful they are but rather of how dangerous they are to evil. You and I are a threat to our enemy. Therefore, we will come under attack. Take heart and be of good courage. Jesus Christ has died and been raised from the dead and is praying for you 24/7 (Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 7:25). If you are in Christ, you too have died and been raised with him and you share in his victory both now and in eternity (Romans 6:8; Colossians 2:20; Revelation 2:10.

  8. Colossians 2:20-23 – “20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their selfimposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

    This passage reveals that even though a person becomes a Christian and dies with Christ ‘to the elemental spiritual forces of this world,’ they can still struggle with ‘sensual indulgence’ which is a very significant and successful way in which the demonic realm has sought to entrap and diminish the effectiveness of many Christian’s faith and witness.

  9. The Apostle Paul struggled with demonization.

    The Apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthian Church, “2 I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. 3 And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. 5 On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. 6 But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, 7 even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. 8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

    The Chief Apostle here openly admits to struggling with demonization, inner, at least partial, direct influence by the demonic realm. He also testifies to this in the book of Romans.

    In Romans chapter 7, Paul writes, “14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

    In Ephesians 6, Paul admonishes believers to arm themselves because they face a battle against demonic forces. He writes, “11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

    The Chief Apostle of the church and author of most of the New Testament speaks openly and honestly about the inward and outward struggles that believers in Christ will have with the demonic realm. If we are to be biblical Christians we must bring our thinking and our practice into alignment with the reality of demonization.

For those desiring an exhaustive treatment of biblical texts and arguments used for and against the demonization of Christians, I suggest Dr. Sam Storms article, “Can a Christian Be Demonized?”[2]

[2] Sam Storms. “Can a Christian Be Demonized.” http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/can-a-christian-bedemonized. Accessed June 17, 2017.

I trust that given the Scriptural weight of evidence, readers will at least begin to consider before God ways in which he or she may be demonized. Scripture, church history, human reason and personal experience confirm that Christians can be demonized.

Since there are no perfect Christians, the demonic realm seeks to use our imperfection to steal from us, try to kill or destroy us, and in various ways exploit whatever they can to hinder the call and purposes of God on our lives.

John Wesley’s theology is helpful on this issue. In teaching about justifying grace, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said that once we are justified (saved) by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, “sin remains but no longer reigns.” Being justified by grace does not remove all sin or the propensity to sin from our lives. Justification, and the subsequent process of sanctification gives us the ability to resist the power of sin and to choose Christ-like love. It does not remove our sin nature immediately or completely. Hence, the demonic will negatively use this sin to demonize the believer.

The image God gave me in explaining the demonization of believers as well as non-believers in Christ is that of a demonic three-fold cord. One cord goes back all the way to humanity’s original parents, Adam and Eve. A second cord goes back to our birth parents. A third cord connects to the sins we have committed. Each of these cords of inherited sin, generational sin and willful sin is made larger depending on the power of the curses, ties and spells connected to them and what we have done to reinforce these cords.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 says that a three-fold cord is not quickly broken. This verse gives a positive image and pertains to marriage and relationships which make us stronger and assure victory over adversity. The demonic realm mimics and mocks the heavenly realm. The demonic realm functions with a negative three-fold cord giving strength to bondage.

Dr. Ed Murphy, missionary and evangelist, gives the following continuum of sin in his book, Overseas Crusades. The demonic can be involved at all points along the way, but it becomes more of a certainty the further one gets to the right side.

The following diagram from Ken and Sylvia Thornberg’s Victory Over Spiritual Conflict seminar helps to illustrate this point quite effectively:

The Continuum of Sin diagram from Dr. Ed Murphy's Oversees Crusades

God has called his children to salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. The Greek word for salvation is Sozo which means total wholeness, complete salvation. We have been limited by our traditions, doctrines and understanding. We need to live by power of God who desires to heal us, set His children free and make us whole. Holding to the errant doctrine that a Christian cannot be demonized only serves the enemy of Christians rather than the cause of Christ. No matter how strong or mature a Christian may be, he or she also can be demonized because of inherited sin, generational sin and willful sin. God’s invitation is for all Christians to seek deliverance from any demonization which has inhibited their faith and effectiveness and to become truly free!