Can a true believer be possessed by a demon? What does the Bible teach?
In the last issue of “Focus,” Mr. David Boyd Long of Toronto, who spent many years as a missionary in Angola, considered the various New Testament references to the subject of “demons” and concluded that the New Testament does not refer once to any believer being possessed by demons. Mr. Long continues his study of this subject.
From a positive viewpoint, we would like to offer the following for careful consideration:
1. Colossians 1:13 tells us that the believer is “delivered from the power (authority or rule) of the darkness, has been translated (or transferred) into the kingdom (or rule) of God’s beloved Son.” The meaning of this seems clear, that, when we recognize and put ourselves by faith under the authority of Christ, He removes us from under the authority of the darkness (note the article: it is not just darkness in general but a specific kingdom of darkness to which other Scriptures refer), and also from under the power of the prince of that darkness. The word here rendered “power” is used in three other verses in Colossians, one of them at least referring expressly to the same enemies conquered by our liberating Lord and now, by Him, put to an open shame (Colossians 2:5). Will Christ permit His once-for-all liberated people to be again enslaved?
2. The believer, as well as being liberated and transferred, has also been “redeemed,” “bought with a price” and, by this act and his acceptance of it, he is now no longer even his own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). He has been “redeemed to God” (that is, bought for God’s possession, Revelation 5:9), Who now owns him and exercises all control and authority over him as divine “kurios” or Lord. Is it to be supposed that, having repossessed through redemption His creatures once alienated by sin and dominated by Satan, He will allow them to be taken back under that power again?
3. Upon believing, the Christian is “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Sealing means, among other things, security. It is the mark of a finished work, a transaction closed, and the property marked for ever as “the peculiar treasure of God.” It would be a poor security indeed which left me under the threat of being repossessed by my old master! Even the young man pardoned and saved, and liberated by king David, knew better than that when he asked for a royal pledge that he would not only be spared but “that he would not be delivered into the hands of his (old) master.” Read 1 Samuel 30:11-15.
4. But the Holy Spirit is more than a seal. He is one of the eternally equal persons of the Triune Godhead Who, upon the salvation of the believer, takes up permanent residence within the believer (John 14:16-17). By habitually and eternally possessing and inhabiting the Christian’s body and personality, He makes the Christian into “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19) and “a habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). While Christ was on earth, demons could not tolerate even His presence but called it “torment before the time.” It seems hard to believe that the Holy Spirit would allow His temple to be possessed or taken over by evil spirits, much less that He would share His dwelling with them.
The dread implications of the word “possessed” may not be set aside even in cases where the actual word is not used. Even those said to be “oppressed” were totally taken over, inhabited, dominated and controlled. They were “cast out” so they must have been indwelling, and they pleaded, in the case of the man of Gadara, not to be sent away out of the country but to be given another habitation — even in the pigs.
What the believer must be aware of is that the “principalities and powers and spiritual wickednesses in heavenly places” referred to in Ephesians 6 are undoubtedly demons or evil spirits, and the believer is said to in a state of war with them. We are no longer in their kingdom so they, like sin, have no longer dominion, or right to rule, over us, but they can and will attack and fight us. The Christian must learn to stand against the onslaught of these spiritual foes, covered with the whole armour of God. He must be alert and vigilant, knowing that the prince of the demons goes about as a roaring lion looking for those he may devour.
Attack, these demons do; influence the mind, the moods, the emotions, they will; destroy or mar, they may, through lack of care on the Christian’s part; but take over as a habitation to be indwelt, possessed, or dominated, we believe — never. We have been delivered from their rule and power; their only way with us is to attempt to lure and influence from the outside. Of their leader, we are told, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
If the writer may be pardoned for a personal observation, it would be to say that, having lived most of his life in Central Africa where demonism is common, and having known and studied many people demon-possessed, he has never personally known of a case where a genuine believer, once delivered from demons through conversion, has ever been repossessed. Some have, through backsliding and meddling in such things, been tripped up, and even seriously marred spiritually, but never possessed or controlled.
The following are some of the commands of the Lord to His people in the Old and New Testaments regarding evil spirits and their relations with them:
1. Anyone engaging directly in the practice of spirit contacts was to be summarily executed (Leviticus 20:27).
2. Such spirit mediums or sorcerers were not to be “regarded” or “sought after,” since this would bring defilement (Leviticus 19:31).
3. Anyone going after such things would find God “turning against him” and “cutting him off” (Leviticus 20: 6).
4. Such dabblers in the occult were to be put away from among God’s people (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).
5. For disobeying these orders, Mannasseh, king of Judah, was punished by God, with all who followed him in it (2 Kings 21).
6. For disobeying God in this matter, king Saul “died for his transgression” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
7. The believer is to be sober and vigilant in the face of such threats (1 Peter 5:8).
8. He must also cover himself with “the whole armour of God” if he is to survive such attacks (Ephesians 6).
We express our gratitude to Mr. Long for this excellent, thorough and Biblical study of this subject. Comments and questions on this and other topics will be welcomed by the Editor of this page, Dr. J.T. Naismith, 1121 Hilltop St., Peterborough, Ontario, K9J 5S6