Can a Believer Ever be Demon Possessed?
Many evangelicals—perhaps most—believe that a Christian cannot be demon possessed for the simple reason that all believers are indwelt with the Holy Spirit, thus the idea that a demon could occupy the same space as the blessed Holy Spirit is unthinkable. However, we might be better served to consider it more carefully.
First, we must consider that the Scriptures never speak of a demon “possessing” anything. While many translations provide such language in numerous texts (e.g. Matthew 8:28), the original text does not convey any idea of possession or ownership. In reference to the human body, demons are squatters and usurpers. Generally speaking, most evangelical demonologists argue that the best way to convey the intention of the Scriptures is “demonization” or “demonized.”
The biblical material mentions one instance where a believer may have been demonized. In Acts 5:1-5, we observe the first corruption of the early church. While others were giving generously, Ananias and Sapphira were giving deceitfully. When Ananias was confronted, Peter states that Satan (an evil spirit) had filled his heart. Theologically speaking, this is no small statement, for the original Greek word “filled” is the same word used to describe the filling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). If we maintain that demonization does not mean ownership, then it is possible that Satan had an internal foothold in Ananias’ life.
Paul also candidly warns us “not to give the devil an opportunity.” The word translated “opportunity” is a form of the Greek word topos, which is found in the origin of our English word “topography.” Topos indicates the idea of place. Many translations clarify by translating the phrase with the word “foothold” or “place.” So what is Paul warning us (believers) about? If we willingly remain in sin, we can grant the devil a place in our life.
Finally, numerous counselors around the world contend that they have encountered genuine believers who have granted a place to the enemy. We at The Moody Church have discovered that there can be demonic control in a believer’s life (however that be defined) especially in instances where (1) there was occultism in the family or possibly in the believer’s past, and (2) where there has been a possible transfer of spirits in cases such as rape and abuse. We, of course, grant that there is a great deal of mystery we must accept as we deal with the unseen world.
In answer to the question of how an evil spirit can gain some sort of entry into the life/body of a believer in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, we can only reply that the Holy Spirit resides in us even though we still have indwelling sin (the flesh) which often can be much like a demon! Perhaps in the unseen world the categories of space that we are acquainted with simply are not the same.
While an internal foothold is an infrequent situation, it can be resolved by the reclamation of these places, affirming the authority of Christ over all evil spirits. The triumph of Christ is more than enough for every battle. The enemy is defeated, and our Savior reigns victorious through His sinless life, sacrificial death, and miraculous resurrection! If we walk in obedience, we have no reason to fear the works of the enemy, even though his attacks may be numerous and persistent.
We encourage you to approach this topic carefully and prayerfully. Contentiousness and divisiveness often arise from these doctrines, and needless argumentation only serves the enemy’s purposes. If demonic activity is suspected, your first recourse should be your local Christian leadership. With compassionate hearts and discerning minds, we must stand together as the body of Christ as we navigate these troubling waters.