CAN CHRISTIANS BE INDWELT BY DEMONS?
By Keith Malcomson
To be able to answer the question ‘Can Christians be indwelt by Demons?’ it is vital that we first clearly understand the meaning of the words which are used in reference to demons indwelling people in the New Testament. We must understand what they mean within their correct Biblical context rather than how they are used today by Christians who redefine doctrine and define their convictions by their own personal experiences. Secondly, we must look at Christ’s doctrine on this subject and the best Biblical examples of His deliverance ministry. Then thirdly we can draw a few conclusions from this clear Biblical teaching which has been given to us authoritatively by the Holy Spirit. It is by God’s Word alone that we can test every experiential theory, testimony and man-made teaching.
To Have a Demon: The Greek term echo daimonion is used in the New Testament in connection to a demon’s influence upon a person. The word echo means ‘to hold’ in the sense of ‘wearing like a garment’ or ‘owning.’ It can mean ‘to be closely joined to’, or to either ‘cling to’ or to ‘direct.’ In the context of demons it basically means ‘to have a demon indwelling you, clinging to you, holding you or directing you.’ This very same Greek word is used when speaking of Mary being found with child in her womb. In connection with demons (daimonion), echo is used 8 times in Matthew, Mark and John.
This term is used seven times in connection with the accusation that John the Baptist and Jesus Christ both “had a devil” (Mt.11:18; Lk.7:33; 8:27; Jn.7:20; 8:48-49, 52; 10:20). Only once is it used of a specific case and that is the Demonic of Gadara (Lk.8:27). So seven out of eight times it is a false accusation and only once is it used correctly to define an actual person who truly ‘had a demon.’
The point of interest here is that no actual individual person is spoken of as actually ‘having a demon’ apart from the Demonic of Gadara and who would deny that this was an extreme case of possession? This shows that this man is the only God-given example of what someone is like who actually ‘has a demon.’ We are also told three times that he was ‘demon-possessed’ (daimonizomai, Mk.5:15, 16, 18) and once that he was a “man with an unclean spirit” (Mk.5:2). This reveals that these three terms are synonymous in describing the state and condition of this particular man. But let us take a closer look at the word daimonizoma.
To be Demon-Possessed: The Greek term daimonizomai is used 13 times in the New Testament and all 13 instances are in the Gospels. It will be seen that in our English version it is translated as “possession” 11 times, and as “vexed” and “hath”, one time each. I would suggest that you make a personal study of each of these scriptures but in summary we will learn from them that people were brought unto Christ with diverse diseases, torments, the lunatics and the paralyzed as well as those “possessed of devils” to be healed. We also learn of the symptoms of the possessed person among which were those who were dumb as well as blind and those who were exceedingly fierce and grievously vexed. We also see that in 6 out of 13 of these cases it is used of the Demonic of Gadara who had a legion of demons (Mt.4:24; 8:16; 8:28, 33; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22; Mk.1:32; 5:15, 16, 18; Lk.8:36; Jn.10:21). This is the Holy Spirit’s description of demon-possessed men and woman and they are the only authoritative or authorized examples of such. In none of these cases of daimonizomai do we have any evidence that a demon was indwelling a Christian.
Those who teach that Christians can have demons indwelling them usually prefer to translate this Greek word as ‘demonized.’ They make much of this saying that the translation ‘demon possessed’ is not correct. Some are willing to say that Christians cannot be possessed by demons in the sense of being owned by demons, but they do go on to teach that Christians can be demonized, meaning indwelt or outwardly oppressed by demons. They sometimes teach that what is normally called ‘demon-possession’ is rare and confined to unbelievers but that demonization is frequent and common to all believers. They claim that those Christians, who reject the teaching concerning the demonization of genuine Christians, are one of three things: i) ignorant because of lack of proper Biblical teaching, ii) confused because of wrong teaching, iii) or deceived by the Devil himself. Many of them say that confusion is also due to an incorrect translation of this word in our English Bible. They make it a broad term making it a common experience amongst Christians in the Church. They also make it a term of degrees, meaning that it can range from extreme possession to mild oppression and can be used of those who are unsaved as well as those who are saved.
However, when we study each reference to daimonizomai in the Gospels, we find that each person was severely afflicted either in mind or body. There were no mild cases of demonization. To have a demon indwelling meant severe torment. A demon only resides with the purpose or goal of destruction, ruin or severe torment. We have no example of demon-possession or demonization in connection with a Christian.
But whilst things such as fear, confusion, deception, oppression, temptation, buffeting, siftings and particular sins are connected to Christians, none of these things are connected to daimonizomai. When we study this word there is no evidence that this is an affliction commonly experienced amongst Christians. In fact we have no reason at all to think that all sinners are ‘demonized’ never mind most believers.
2. Christ’s teaching on Indwelling Demons
We read in Matthew 12, of Christ healing one who came to Him who was “possessed with a devil” (daimonizomai, v22). When the Pharisees heard of this they accused Him of casting the demon out by the power of “Beelzebub the prince of the devils.” As Christ responded to this accusation He explained that one cannot “enter into a strong man’s house” unless he “first bind him.” Please note that this is in the context of demon possession. The “house” is a person and the “strong man” is a demon. The condition referred to of the strongman in the house is that of demon possession. The term “strong man” means: ‘mighty, powerful, forcible or boisterous one.’ Christ explained that before He could enter the house—that is the person—He must, “first bind the strong man.” Only then can He spoil his goods (Mt.12:22-29). The word “bind” means to place in bonds or to tie up.
Here is one demon ‘possessing’ (indwelling; inhabiting) one person. Christ had to “first” bind the demon, which meant the act of casting the demon out (v28). To “cast out” means: to eject, expel, or drive out. Only then could He spoil (seize) the property and indwell it. The “strong man” cannot possess, inhabit or seize the house at the same time as Christ. It is one or the other. Christ is clearly asking a question in this teaching: “how can one enter into a strong man's house…except he first bind the strong man?” Christ of course is mightier than any demon and will not tolerate sharing a dwelling, but it reveals that He will not come to indwell until He has dealt with the demon. Some teach that at the very same time as the Holy Spirit indwells the spirit of a person a demon may indwell his body. However, the Bible clearly teaches that the body of a believer has been purchased by Blood and is now the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Cor.3:16; 6:19-20; II Cor.6:16).
In Luke 11:22 Christ says that He: i) attacks the strongman, ii) “overcomes” him–which means that He subdues or conquers him, iii) and takes away his armour in which he trusted and which enabled him to rule the house—only by this action does Christ come to indwell the house. Nowhere in Scripture do we have a teaching that a demon (strong man) can dwell in a person (house) at the same time as Christ or the Holy Spirit. Christ only takes up residence after evicting the demon. In other words, a truly born-again Christian cannot have demons indwelling him.
In Mt.12:43-44, Christ speaks once more about an individual being indwelt by a demon and uses the example of the house again: “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.”
Here is a demon that once indwelt an individual. We are told that he had “gone out” of that person—a term used in connection with “casting out” a demon. This would seem to infer that the demon was previously cast out by someone at a particular time. This same demon returns to the same person (house) in order to inhabit it once more. He finds the house i) empty—that is, vacant, ii) swept—which means cleaned out, iii) and garnished which means set in order; decorated.
These are like those of whom Peter spoke, whom he likened unto pigs that had been washed, but who had not experienced a changed nature (II Pet.2:18-22). They were changed but not converted; cleaned up and cleaned out but not indwelt by the person of Christ. This house was temporarily free of its demons. It was swept out and even made to look orderly with decorations but Christ was not allowed to come in, to dwell and to live His life in them and through them (Gal.2:20). It was an empty house.
Now when this demon returns with seven other wicked spirits, there is no one living there who can stop them re-entering and indwelling the person once again. Now this person is in a worse state than previously. If Christ had been living in that house, if He had been dwelling in the house, this could not have happened. The only cure to indwelling demons is an indwelling Christ.
During Christ’s ministry He cast demons out of a great many people. The following two examples of Christ’s ministry of deliverance are given to us by the Holy Spirit and these are examples of what should be normal now through the church.
The Demoniac of Gadara: In three of the Gospels we read that Christ and His disciples came to Gadara by boat and there met a man who is described as ‘having demons’ as well as ‘being possessed of them’ (Mt.8; Mk.5; Lk.8). This man is given as the foremost example of someone indwelt by demons. He lived in a state of nakedness, crying and cutting himself day and night. He was so, “exceeding fierce” that none of the local people could pass by there. “But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him” (Mk.5:6). What a marvelous thing! A legion of demons could not keep this man from Christ. The very demons of Hell acknowledge the supremacy and sovereignty of Christ.
When Jesus asked them what their name was they answered: “My name is Legion: for we are many.” They then requested that they be cast into a herd of “about two thousand” (Mk.5:13) swine which were nearby. Once He allowed them to go they “entered into” the pigs causing them to run “violently” down a steep embankment and into the sea drowning them all. The herders ran to the city and as soon as they told the people what had happened, almost the entire population of the city and countryside went out to see. “Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid” (Lk.8:35).
Here is one man who was indwelt by a legion of demons which could have been around 6,000 demons which was the size of the old Roman (military) legions. This man was no follower of Christ when possessed. But when Christ cast the demons out in one act, in one moment of time all of them left and not one remained. The man was immediately set free from all demonic power, control and dominion. When the people came to see the man he was sitting at the feet of Jesus in his right mind. He was now a genuine follower and disciple of Christ and showed it by being clothed correctly and in his right mind.
The man wanted to stay with Christ but Christ told him to go home to his friends and to “shew how great things God hath done” unto him in having compassion upon him. The man returned home and began to “publish” (which means to herald like a town crier) to the whole city “how great things Jesus had done unto him.” Although just a new convert who had only just been set free from 6,000 demons there was nothing delicate or fragile about his salvation. Christ could send this lone witness back into his city to proclaim the goodness of God. He needed no rehab, follow up ministry, Christian counseling or further deliverance.
It did not take weeks, months or years to expel the demons. Once the demons were expelled the man was translated into the kingdom of God and was a shining testimony of freedom in Christ (Col.1:13). This man was delivered from his demons before conversion not afterwards. Only after his deliverance did he follow and proclaim Christ.
Mary Magdalene: In Lk.8:2 we read of “Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils.” And a little later we read in Mk.16:9 concerning her “out of whom [Christ] had cast seven devils.” These seven demons were literally dwelling within her. Who can imagine what affliction and torment these seven devils caused her.
Mary Magdalene’s deliverance from demon powers which Christ “cast out” of her was a well known testimony in the early church in Judea and Galilee. Please note that during those first years of her salvation her testimony does not change. It was always the “seven devils.” Note too that this number did not grow as she grew in Christ over the next two or three years. Christ cast seven demons out and no more. This was not progressive ministry over a few years. Mary Magdalene’s account is not an example of a Christian who had demons cast out of her after her salvation. Christ had to bind and cast out these strongmen before claiming her as His own. When she first appears on the scene of time this is her testimony. From the time of her deliverance until the death, burial and resurrection of Christ her testimony is held forth as a witness to His mighty delivering ministry. All that we read of her after her conversion is concerning her utter devotion to Christ.
What hope and joy her testimony and witness must have brought to many oppressed souls. There is no talk of her still having demons or receiving deliverance ministry while travelling with the apostolic band. No, she testified of a past deliverance which was never repeated.
If we study each reference where these terms are used we are able to then clearly define and summarize the biblical teaching of demon possession or demonization as revealed by the Spirit of God in the written Word.
1. A person who is ‘demonized’ or who ‘has a demon’ is one who has one or more demons dwelling inside of them, in their body. Demons literally make this person their house. This is not an outside influence but an internal influence. These terms are never used in connection with oppression, temptation or other attacks which come from the outside. The tense of daimonizomai means it was something that happened at an actual point in time in the past. There was some event or point in time when the demons actually entered the person.
2. When demons indwell an individual they exert an abnormal, unnatural, control and dominating influence upon the person physically or mentally. This may be manifest through dumbness (Mt.9:32), blindness (Mt.12:22-29), insanity (Mt.17:15), as well as in cutting oneself and nakedness (Mk.5:5, 15). It would seem that the demons also have the ability to speak and act freely without restraint from the individual (Mk.5:7-9). The personality of the demons may literally be manifest to such an extent as to utterly hide the personality of the man or woman they indwell. It is a serious dominating influence not a mild influence or natural fear. Demonization manifests in mental and physical torment rather than any particular dominant sin.
3. The only cure is that the demon or demons be cast out through the power and authority of Jesus Christ. Every time Christ encountered such a person we read of Him casting the demon out. As soon as a demon or demons left a person a dramatic change was brought about physically, mentally and spiritually that was immediately noticeable to all and experienced by the individual. We never read of demons being cast out of people over a period of weeks, months or years.
4. These terms never refer to a born-again believer. Not once is there any sign in any of the 13 uses of daimonizomai that one single believer was referred to as demonized. Not one. I would encourage you to simply read through these verses listed above in order to confirm this for yourself. Again the 8 times that echō daimonion is used it always refers to a false accusation against Christ and John the Baptist apart from once. The one time it is used differently is when it refers to the Demonic of Gadara.
The only explicit example of someone ‘having a demon’ is in extreme demon possession but Christ evicts any demons before He comes to indwell a vessel at the point of salvation. Any time we do identify a believer who had experienced demon possession it always ended at the initial meeting with Christ which then began their experience as a disciple.