This post covers Satan and his attack on people—even you at times. And so can Christians ‘have’ a demon or be demon-possessed or demonized?
As noted in other posts, certain modern interpreters of the Bible seem to be embarrassed about Scriptures that talk about Satan and demons. They try to “demythologize” the verses. That is, they try to strip them away or explain them away, to suit modern tastes. They have drunk too deeply of the anti-supernatural biases of the Enlightenment (1600-1800+).
However, Renewalists believe the Bible is infallible and authoritative in these matters. Many of them have had run-ins with the devil that cannot be explained in any other way than what Scripture says.
The Question and Answer format is designed for clarity and conciseness.
1.. Who is Satan?
He is an evil spirit being, and the Scriptures hints that he was a former archangel that fell before man’s fall.
2.. What are demons?
Most scholars conclude that they too are fallen angels, and apparently they fell with Satan (Jude 6). Scripture indicates that Satan took one-third of the angels with him when he fell (Rev. 12:4). Jesus said that Satan is the “ruler” of demons (Matt. 12:24), and Jesus said, “The devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Demons are those angels.
3.. Does the word demon appear in the New Testament?
The first Greek noun is daimonion (pronounced dy-moh-nee-on), and it appears 63 times from Matthew to Revelation, but mostly in the four Gospels and from there mostly in the three synoptic Gospels.
The other Greek noun is daimōn (pronounced dy-moan), and it appears once (Matt. 8:31).
We actually get our word demon from both of those Greek words.
So the English noun demon does indeed appear in the English NT, and so do the Greek nouns.
4.. Can an unbeliever be demon possessed?
People can “have” a demon (Matt. 11:18; Luke 7:33; Luke 8:27; John 7:20; John 8:48-49; John 8:52; John 10:20). But the problem is that people have some measure of free will, so total possession does not seem possible. However, the Gerasene demoniac seemed unable to control himself (Mark 5:1-20). He seems to have lost a large measure of his free will, though it is difficult to know where to draw the line in the interface between his mind and demonic influence and control.
In addition to the verb “have” a demon, the verb daimonizomai (pronounced dy-moh-nee-zoh-my) is used, which can be translated as “demonized” (Matt. 4:24; 8:16; 8:33; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22; John 8:36). (In Greek a noun can be turned into a verb by adding the izo suffix, like our modern to modernize.) This verb seems to mean “harassed” or “attacked” by a demon, though translators often have “demon possessed.”
Therefore, I don’t believe we can measure in precise terms the interface between the human mind, body, and demonic influence over them. But I would not want to deny categorically that a man cannot be totally possessed. It is difficult to know where to draw the line between have a demon and demonized and possessed. But the answer is the same: Jesus and the believer’s authority in him.
5.. Can Satan read the unbeliever’s mind?
Jesus could read any thoughts, believers or unbelievers (Matt. 9:4l 12:15; Mark 2:8; Luke 6:8; 11:17). And God certainly knows all people’s thoughts at all times (Gen. 6:5; Ps. 139:2, Ps. 139:4, Ps. 139:23; Is. 66:18).
Therefore, some theologians teach that if Satan could read thoughts, he would be omniscient. But that’s not true. It would just mean that he could read human thoughts. Rather, omniscience means that God knows everything about every knowable thing in one simultaneous act, past, present, future. Only God can do that.
See my post Do I Really Know God? He Is Omniscient
So I say that at times Satan can read human thoughts at least in part and in some contexts, like the following one.
When Satan’s demons possessed the man from Gerasene (Matt. 8:28-34 // Mark 5:1-17 // Luke 8:26-37), the demons surely had access to his thoughts on some level; otherwise, where does the control come in? How can demons control the body and not the brain, which is an organ in the body, and where thoughts reside? But this is perhaps a rare example of total control.
Clairvoyants and fortunetellers and witch doctors can seem to read our thoughts, but it is probable that demons are simply reporting to them what they saw the client do or say in the recent or distant past. It is difficult to measure exactly and precisely how a spirit being (demon) interacts and interfaces with the human mind and body who have no saving knowledge of God or an experience with the Spirit.
So let’s say that as a practical matter, demons cannot read human thoughts, except in rare cases of total possession. Once again, it is difficult to know where to draw the line between the mental (thoughts) and the spirit world, where demons operate.
On further reflections, maybe demons can read some thoughts, but not the depths of the heart. Only God can read them. See my posts with an image that clarifies the differences between the mind and the spirit:
6.. Can Satan read the believer’s mind?
Since Satan can attack the believer’s mind, he must be able to read it to some degree, but exactly how much is unclear. In my own life, Satan has attacked my mind and knows my weaknesses, so he has access to my mind on some level. But it is difficult to know where to draw the line between access to the mind and reading it.
On the other hand, some Bible interpreters teach that since the believer wears the helmet of salvation (Eph. 6:17), it is not likely he can read the believer’s thoughts. Demons read our observations and hear our words and from them deduce our thoughts.
The solution is to get the mind full of Scripture, so the attacks have no strong power over the believer.
7.. Can a Christian be demon possessed?
The short answer is no. However, the Bible is not one-hundred percent clear on the topic, in context. And it is difficult to know where to draw the line between possession and severe attack.
In my own experience, Satan used to have wide-open access to my mind in a specific area of my life, during a certain season when I had not surrendered fully to the Spirit or to the will of God (Jas. 4:7). I don’t know to what degree or how to measure the degree a demon or demons influenced my mind, but they did. But possessed? Probably not, but for sure it was a strong attack. I am filled with the Spirit, and Satan cannot occupy my soul and spirit to possess it.
My solution was to resubmit to God and quote out loud Eph. 6:16, which says to take up the shield of faith, which quenches the fiery arrows of the enemy. I still pray it out loud every day. It works! Remember: Jesus quoted Scripture: Matt. 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13.
So rather than quarrel about this question, let’s just surrender to God and resist demons, in Jesus’s name, by the renewing of the mind through Scripture, in the power of the Spirit.
As one Pentecostal teacher said many years ago, “Can a Christian have a freedom?” In other words, whether a Christian is possessed or just attacked is not the point. Rather, can he be set free. And the answer is yes.
I don’t believe Ananias and Sapphira were believers, but nibbled around the edges of the Christian community, with one foot in Judaism and the foot in Satan’s kingdom; that’s why Peter asked, “Why has Satan filled your heart?”
See my post here for more discussion:
8.. Can demons cause diseases?
Yes, sometimes (Mark 9:17-18, 20, 22; Luke 4:39; Luke 13:11, 16; Acts 10:38), and all those passages reflect a connection between the body and an evil spirit. However, we have to be careful and not attribute every disease to Satan. The NT writers are able to distinguish between a natural cause of a disease and a satanic cause: “And so his fame spread throughout all of Syria, and they brought to him everyone having illness and various diseases, suffering pains and being demonized, and epileptics and paralytics, and he healed them” (Matt. 4:24). In other words, this verse distinguishes between demonic attacks and natural diseases.
We need discernment to distinguish between the two causes—natural and demonic.
9.. Should we rebuke Satanic strongholds over a city or territory?
The biblical authors do not teach this. For example, let’s say that we believe that first-century Ephesus was engulfed in a territorial demonic stronghold, such that people were oppressed with magic and the occult. They burned 50,000 drachmas worth of occultic papyri and scrolls, a huge monetary amount (Acts 19:17-20). They did this after a demonic manifestation beat down the seven sons of Scaeva (Acts 19:13-16). Despite the satanic environment, Paul just preached the gospel, which breaks bondages in humans, where Satan and demons attack. The Bible does not record that Paul prayed against territorial spirits over Ephesus. Rather, he focused on people’s lives, the gospel, and getting them saved. That’s the best way to take territories away from the kingdom of Satan and for the kingdom of God.
Eph. 6:10-12 says that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against spiritual beings and dark, wicked forces of evil. And then Paul counsels believers to put on personal armor, so they can defend themselves when the evil beings attack, not so believers can rebuke spirits in the air. The struggle is personal, not impersonal way up in the heavenly realms.
Next, an angel informed Daniel that there were territorial spirits (Dan. 10:10-14). But Daniel did not rebuke the spirit. He let God do the fighting.
Nonetheless, some scholars like C. P. Wagner (d. 2016), who headed the International Spiritual Warfare Network, and was a leader in the Third Wave (a Renewal Movement after the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements) has come up with a theology of territorial spirits. One such passage of Scriptures is Eph. 6:12-13, which speaks of rulers, authorities, world rulers of this dark world and spiritual hosts of evil in the heavenly realm. Christians can pray against them. However, instead of praying against and rebuking these evil ruling spirits, Paul personalizes this spiritual warfare in the individual Christian’s life and tells him to put on the armor of God, not to pray against these evil beings out there in the heavenly, spirit realm. But spiritual warfare warriors like Wagner do make much of such passages.
So then these two approaches can be followed in our Bible interpretation:
- If the Bible offers only a little information, don’t do it! Too risky!
- If the Bible offers only a little information, do it! Take the risk!
Clearly the spiritual warfare people follow the second approach.
John Wimber was a leader in the Neo-Charismatics Movement (Third Wave). I sat under his teaching for about twelve years, and he said not to pray against territorial spirits, but just to preach the gospel.
I personally don’t emphatically and categorically deny that praying against spirits who occupy heavenly territories over human kingdoms may work. So if your prayer team does it, then that is your call. Let your conscience and your reading of Scripture be your guide.
However, I personally just don’t bother with rebuking territorial spirits. Repentance and coming to know the truth is the best way to escape the snares of the devil, one life at a time (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
Just preach the gospel and the clarity of Scripture! That’s how the kingdom of God advances and expands, and the kingdom of darkness retreats and shrinks, in inverse proportion.
How does this post help me know Christ better?
In case you are confused about Satan’s ability to penetrate the human mind, the Bible does not teach the right answer either way. I just used a little Bible-based logic. It’s best to say that we don’t know, rather than excluding the possibility that he can do this. Personally, I say he can, to some limited degree, but not the depths of the human spirit or heart. You decide.
Now for the main point.
Here are key verses that talks about the victory Jesus has already won for us.
13 Although you were dead in your trespasses and uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive with him, forgiving us all our trespasses. 14 He removed the handwritten certificate of debt against us with the legal demand which were hostile to us. He removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross. 15 He paraded and displayed the rulers and authorities in a public spectacle, triumphing over them in him. (Col. 2:13-15)
This passage means at least three things for your growth in Christ.
1.. Your trespasses and transgressions were forgiven. Satan can no longer attack you for them.
2.. The handwritten certificate of debt with its hostile decrees has been removed or canceled. This certificate said that the law had caught you in your transgressions. You were forfeit to the law and Satan. However, God ransomed you. He did not have to pay money to Satan, because all God had to do was cancel the certificate by paying it another way—the cross. The debt was deeper than Satan’s clutches and his right to own you. It was payable, ultimately to God’s justice, and the cross satisfied the payment—paid in full.
3.. God paraded these spirit beings (rulers and authorities) before the universe, because he had triumphed over them through the cross, again. This looks like what the Roman Emperors did to their captive rulers—paraded them in Rome in a triumphal entry.
4.. James 4:7 says to submit to God, and then resist the devil and he will flee from you. If you are not surrendered to God, then Satan has easier access to your mind. This explains why unbelievers are constantly attacked in their minds.
Now, however, thanks to the cross of Jesus, you are free from demonic oppression and the power of sin, and you are liberated to live for Christ and be more like him.