Can a believer have a demon?

Can demons affect Christians?  Can a believer have a demon?  Can a Christian be possessed by a demon?

These questions come up very often when I teach on spiritual warfare and casting out demons.  They are good questions.  The answer, in my mind, mainly comes down to the definition of words.  In this post I hope to explain this in a way that makes it very simple and obvious to understand.

Let us begin with one of the Apostle Paul’s most famous passages related spiritual warfare:

Ephesians 6:10-12

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 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.

In this passage, Paul informs us that there is a wrestling match going on.  He chose an interesting word to describe the battle…the Greek word pálēThis word describes a violent hand-to-hand combat that involves trying to throw your opponent, choke him, pin him to the ground, etc.  For more on this, read the Wikipedia entry here.

Since this passage is written to Christians, we know that we Christians are in a violent wrestling match.  However, our opponents are not people.  We are not wrestling against “flesh and blood.”  We are not in a battle against physical human enemies.  Rather, we are in a wrestling match against some other kind of enemy.  That enemy is a not physical enemy, it is a spiritual enemy., i.e. demons.

We are in a battle against demons, and we have been given armor and weapons to use in this battle.  If demons are not able to affect Christians, then the instructions in Ephesians 6 would be needless and irrelevant.  But the Letter to the Ephesians was written to born-again Christians who were involved in conflict with demons, and therefore it should be obvious that it is possible for demons to affect Christians.  Otherwise, what is the point of saying that we are in a wrestling match, and then giving us instructions on how to win?  So to answer the first question…can demons affect Christians…the answer from the Bible is yes.

Possessed?

At this point I want to be very clear.  There is a huge difference between being affected by a demon, and being possessed by a demon.  I am not saying that a Christian can be possessed by a demon.  I am saying that a Christian can be affected by a demon.  Let me explain.

The word “possess” implies ownership.  If I possess something, then it is mine.   My car is my possession.  It belongs to me.  I possess my car.  I own it.  It is possessed by me.  The Greek equivalent to this word is “ktaomai.”  That word means ownership.  It means “to possess something.”

If you are a Christian, then you belong to God.  Jesus purchased you (Rev 5:9).  You are his possession.  You are possessed by Jesus.  Therefore, a Christian can never be possessed by a demon.  A demon can never own a Christian.

And so it should not come as a surprise that this Greek word for “possess” is not used when describing the activities of demons.  In the Greek, demons are not said to “possess” people.  The word “ktaomai” is not used in this regard.  Rather, another word is used.

Demonized

There is one Greek word that is used over and over again in the Bible to describe the activity of demons in relation to humans.  That word is “daimonizomai.”  It means “to be demonized” or “to be under the influence of a demon” or “to be under the power of a demon.”  Daimonizomai does not imply ownership.  It implies influence.   This a huge key in understanding the activity of our spiritual enemy.

(Note:  It is very unfortunate that the King James translators chose the word “possessed” rather than “demonized” when they were translating this word daimonizomai.  This has led to so much confusion, as some other translations continued this practice for some reason.)

Ownership is not what the Bible is talking about when it comes to demons.  It is talking about influence.  Demons work to get influence over people, with the end goal of having some measure of control.  This gives the demons an avenue to to express themselves in some way.  Remember, demons do not have physical bodies.  If they want to have any kind of effect on our physical world, they have to find a person to influence.  If a demon can gain influence or control of a person in some area, then that demon can get the person to behave according to the influence or control of the demon to some degree.

Degrees of Influence

Demonic influence can occur in degrees ranging from very minor to nearly total control.  Demons influence people by tempting them to think or act in ways that are contrary to the will and character of God.  Whenever a person thinks or acts according to a demon temptation, then that person has just been influenced by a demon…i.e. demonized.  (Note:  Not all temptations are demonic in origin – see James 1:14-15 for example)

Here is a quick rundown of how this process works.  (The next few paragraphs are adapted in part from an excellent book by Dr. Ed Murphy titled “The Handbook for Spiritual Warfare.“)

A demon will bring a tempting thought, imagination or sensation to a person. The person chooses to either agree and receive it, or disagree and resist or reject it.  If the person chooses to agree and receive the temptation, then often some form of action, thought process, or emotion will be the result.  And when that happens, that person has just acted out under the influence of a demon, even if it is to a very small degree.  And to that same degree, that person by definition has been demonized.

This will often be repeated as the demon continues to attempt to gain influence.  If it goes on long enough, it turns into a habit.  It will be a habitual thought process or mindset, or some kind of emotional response, or even some kind of action that is ungodly to some degree.

If the habit continues long enough, the person will start to accept it as part of their character and begin to think that this is just how they are.  They will feel stuck with it.  They may blame it on their past, on their family, on their genes, or something else.  However, in this type of case, the real culprit is a demon that is manipulating someone.

Eventually, if this goes on long enough, it can turn into bondage where the demon can have almost total control over some area of the person’s life.

At any point in this story, from the first agreement with temptation, all the way to the bondage and control, the person is under the influence of a demon to some degree, and is therefore considered demonized to that same degree.

Somehow, during the process, it appears that the demon finds some way to “inhabit” (Mat 12:43-44) an area in the person’s mind (2 Cor 4:4), will (Mark 1:23-25), emotions (2 Tim 1:7), or body (Luke 13:11).   This doesn’t mean that the demon inhabits the spirit of that person, however.  And it doesn’t mean the person is possessed or owned by the demon.  The Bible says nothing about the demon owning the person.  But it does say the person is being influenced or controlled by a demon to some degree.

The solution is for a child of God to operate in his or her God-given authority and expel the demon, to cast it out or drive it out from whatever territory that his being affected or influenced.  (See Mark 1:25, Mark 5:8, Mat 17:18, Acts 8:6-7, Acts 16:18, Mark 16:17, etc).  If someone is demonized, then we are to dive the demon out of them using our authority.  That is the way it works in the Bible, and that is the way it works now.  It has not changed.

The Big Question

So now I want to summarize and address the main questions and the main purpose of this article.

Can a Christian be possessed by a demon?  No.  As I said earlier, a Christian cannot be possessed or owned by a demon, because the Christian already belongs to God…is owned or possessed by God.  Possession is dealing with ownership.

Can a Christian be affected by a demon?  Yes.  Demons can and do affect Christians.  That is why the Bible provides instructions to Christians on how to resist the effect and attacks of demons (Eph 6:10-18, James 4:7-8).

Can a Christian be influenced by a demon?  Yes.  If a Christian does not resist when a demon is attempting to gain influence (James 4:7-8), and if that Christian chooses to go along with the temptation and participate in thought, emotion, or action, then that Christian has been influenced by a demon.

Can a Christian be demonized?  Yes.  If a Christian continues to participate or go along with a demonic influence or temptation over and over, then that Christian is under the influence of a demon, and is under that demon’s control to a certain degree.

Is it Biblical to cast a demon out of a Christian?  Consider these two facts, and come up with your own answer

  1. It is possible for any human, Christian or not, to be demonized, or under the influence of a demon.
  2. The Biblical method for freeing someone from demonization is to cast the demon of out them.

4 Responses

  1. Thank you Neal. That clears up a lot of confusion. Especially when we are aware that the enemy is operating through someone who believes in Jesus. I need to read this one a couple of times and memorize your references. The true statement that believers cannot be possessed, but they can be under the influence of a demon is very important. Too many people dismiss the demonic in a believer’s life because of a misunderstanding of the definition of the words.

  2. Neal, I have a question that has come up a few times in recent months. If we have a family member like a spouse or a child who we know to be demonized on some level, maybe even seriously, is there any way to cast a demon off of them without actually laying hands on them or having them be in your presence? In other words, can it be done from a distance or even if they are just not home. They may be lukewarm christians or even a nonbeliever so would not be open to having hands laid on them or being prayed over. I have seen examples of healing happening this way, especially in group prayer sessions, so I am curious as to whether deliverance can be done this way, and if so how?

    1. Hi Debbie. Using Jesus as our example, the answer to your question I believe is yes. In the story of the Syrophenecian woman, Jesus drove a demon out of her daughter while not being physically present where the daughter was. That story is in Mark 7:24-30. That tells me that what you are asking is both possible and available.

  3. Thank you for the quick reply! I did not remember that story in the bible so it was very helpful and gives me hope for a few people I love! Thanks Neal!

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