It seems clear that an even cursory perusing of the biblical scriptures indicates that demons and evil spirits are real. Indeed, scriptures such as Matthew 4:1,3 and 5 describe the activity and agency of Satan. Other evidence of demonic activity as a spiritually verifiable reality surfaces in scriptures like I Corinthians 7:5, where Paul notes that Satan has the ability to tempt believing husbands and wives to commit sexual sin. Yet while the existence and agency of demons is made plain by scriptures, many would argue that biblical passages do not answer important questions about them. One such question-whether or not a demon can possess a believer-is worth examining critically.
Personally, I do not think that a believer can be possessed by the devil. I base this belief on my recognition that an individual who accepts Christ as Lord and Savior is subsequently filled with the Holy Spirit. Scriptures like Ephesians 1:13,14-where Paul notes that people who accept the gospel message are sealed with the Holy Spirit and exist as “purchased possessions” until the day of redemption-seem to indicate that the spiritual sealing that transpires after the salvation experience means that God’s Spirit reigns within the believer. This interpretation of the scripture would not allow for consent to the notion that a demon could simultaneously inhabit or “possess” the person mentally and physically. Such a reality would constitute a dual occupation which seems fundamentally antithetical to other scriptures like II Corinthians 6:16 indicating that when the believer makes the decision to accept Christ’s salvation and follow God she or he becomes His temple, the locality where He resides.
While my reading of scriptures regarding the issue of demonic activity does not allow for the idea of a believer being possessed by a demon or evil spirit, I do believe it is possible for followers of Christ to be hindered or bothered by Satan and his dark forces. I think this is why scriptures such as Ephesians 6:10-18 encourage believers to put on the armour of God for the purpose of warding off the spiritual attacks of the enemy. Evidence of demonic attacks against believers can be found in other passages, such as Paul’s reference to the thorn in the flesh given to him by a messenger of Satan in II Corinthians 12:7.
Many theologians and biblical scholars have submitting interesting suppositions about whether or not believers can be possessed by demons. In his own discourse, Charles C. Ryrie notes that the argument regarding demonic possession needs to be rephrased because we typically interpret demonic possession the way we view the Holy Spirit permanently indwelling a believer (191). Ryrie goes on to argue that neither Satan nor demons can permanently dwell within a believer, but he argues that they may “dominate or control a believer’s life for some time” (191, 192). Moreover, he notes that Acts 5:3, the scriptures that reference Satan filling the heart of Ananias to lie to the Spirit, is evidence of a demonic spirit dwelling within the believer because the term “fill” used in the passage parallels the word used to describe the Holy Spirit taking up residence within the believer in Ephesians 5:18 (191). While this argument is compelling, it would be more so if Ryrie could give scriptural proof indicating that Ananias was a spirit-filled believer. Because this cannot be done, the issue of whether Ananias had a dual occupation of the Holy Spirit and Satan cannot even be debated.
In his own commentary on the subject of demonic possession, Paul Enns gives no explicit indication that such activity can or cannot take place within a believer. He simply cites Mark 1:23-24 and Mark 5:3-4 as biblical evidence that such demonic possessions are transpiring (310). Despite the fact that he makes no clear statement about whether a believer can be demonically possessed, he does accede to the notion that the dark spiritual forces can influence her or his thought life. He uses II Corinthians 11:3, the scripture that discusses Satan tricking Eve, as his text proof (309).
When one considers the commentary provided by theologians regarding the issue of whether or not a believer can be possessed by a demon, the varying views regarding the issue become plain. Ryrie proposes that people consider semantic issues that may cloud our reason and understanding when we discuss demonic possession. In his view, a demonic force can indeed fill or dwell within a person, but not with the same power of permanence one witnesses upon being filled with the Holy Spirit. Enn’s commentary on the subject of demonic possession provides readers with a clear definition and description of it that is legitimated with text proofs, yet he doesn’t openly address whether or not believers are subject to such activity. Ultimately, determining whether a believer can be possessed by a demon may be contingent upon myriad overlapping and intersecting factors such as interpretation of scripture, cultural and religious upbringing, as well as wisdom and knowledge supernaturally imparted to the believer by God. Irrespective of a believer’s view on the matter, it is important to continue to be receptive to truth and to remain in a state of disciplined study on this and all other significant biblical issues.
Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology, Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008. Print.
Ryrie, Charles C. Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1999. Print.