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Devils and Demons
(Oppression / Demonization / Possession)
(K. Payne)

Author's Bias: Interpretation: conservative
Inclination: dispensational
Seminary: Western (Portland)

Accounts and instruction attesting to the reality of demonic warfare in the New Testament involving Christians and non-Christians did not seem to surprise or shock Jesus, the Apostles or the men and women to whom they ministered i.e. Matthew 4:1-12; Luke 10:18-20, 13:11-17; Acts 5:1-11, 19:13-20; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, 11:1-4, 13-15; Ephesians 6:10-17; James 4:7-10; 1 Peter 5:6-9; Jude 8-9; Revelation 12:10-11. Each of these verses speaks directly or indirectly to the reality of satanic / demonic warfare.

The Apostle Paul addressed the topic of satanic / demonic warfare with the Christians at Corinth in a very matter of fact fashion. It would appear as though this subject was considered mundanely ordinary rather than extraordinary, at least to Christians in the first century.

But whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:11)

Apparently Paul felt confident reminding his readers that they were not ignorant of the "schemes" or methodologies of Satan regarding warfare. This may have been a reasonable assumption during Paul's day, but I do not believe the church can honestly make that same claim today.

Demonic oppression, demonization and demonic possession are topics in Christian circles that can easily take on the appearance of a swinging pendulum. One side of the pendulum swing represents the groups who refuse to give any credibility or credence to serious discussions regarding satanic / demonic warfare other than hypothetical lip service concerning the most extreme of possible circumstances.

There is a natural, rational, psychological or psychosomatic explanation for nearly all problems, and the one's which do not fit into this supposition are not worth considering. The subjective experience of Christians who would otherwise be considered trustworthy is suspect at best. A more probable cause for this supernatural hysteria would lie in the areas of faulty reasoning, emotional excesses, sincere but naive manipulation, inadequate Bible study methods or in some instances, deliberate fraud and deception.

On the other side of this swinging pendulum are the groups that appear to credit or blame everything on the presence of satanic / demonic activity at the expense of common sense and the need to take responsibility for one's own personal actions. The Bible is relegated to little more than a scratch and sniff book used to entertain children. According to these folks, demons some how have evolved from the position of a defeated, evil, finite part of creation, into omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent beings who possess and control everything from coffee cups to spirit filled Christians.

Complicating this battle over extremes is the fact that in many of our leading evangelical Bible colleges and seminaries the topic of satanic / demonic conflict is often innocently ignored, deliberately glossed over or held up to ridicule. Many prospective Christian leaders leave their respective schools and enter their ministries as ill equipped to personally deal with supernatural conflict as they were the day they began their training.

The subject of demonic warfare is typically explained using a two-fold oppression or possession paradigm. Christians can be oppressed by demonic spirits, but they cannot be possessed. Non-Christians can be both oppressed and possessed. The term oppression is usually used when referring to external spiritual harassment. It is considered quite normal in the life of a growing Christian, although, there seems to be wide latitude in the intensity and severity of this type of supernatural attack. Possession is a word used to describe a condition experienced by non-Christians. It connotes ownership and is associated with complete demonic domination and control. This condition can be observed in Matthew 8:28-34 and stands in stark contrast to the external darts of oppression referred to in Ephesians 6:16.

A growing number of Christian leaders are recognizing the need for a paradigm shift which adds the category of "demonization" to the traditional paradigm. This paradigm, oppression / demonization / possession, is not new. Unfortunately, this message is too often marginalized, muted and muzzled in many theological circles. There are several compelling reasons for this paradigm shift.

  • First, it doesn’t violate Scripture. In fact, it does a better job incorporating the totality of Scripture on the subject than the status quo.
  • Second, it provides an explanation for a Christian’s spiritual battles that allows for confrontation and resolution rather than just definition.
  • Third, it passes a reality test. Demonized Christians who have been set free and learned how to defend themselves from demonic beating attest to its truth.

As long as conventional wisdom is accepted limiting a Christian's possible demonic conflict to external oppression, and relegating possession to a condition in which only a handful of non-Christians potentially face, this subject is easy to ridicule or ignore. The battle lines are clear. Non-Christians had better keep a sharp eye on how far they go with decisions that could possibly expose them to demonic involvement. Christians, however, are kept safe from direct demonic influence as long as they read their Bibles, confess their sins, and faithfully pray the blood of Jesus against supernatural opposition.

There is, however, a real problem, a glitch that must be addressed in this discussion. The proverbial fly in the ointment is the fact that for tens of hundreds of thousands of Christians, their daily life experiences do not fit quite so neatly within the boundaries of the oppression / possession paradigm. These Christians read their Bibles (usually with great trouble and constant mental distractions), confess their sins (although their prayers never seem to be complete or sincere enough), and faithfully pray the blood of Jesus against enemies real and imaginary. Tragically, their emotional and mental torment continues unabated. A constant sense of failure, physical fatigue, an inability to concentrate and hopeless mental paralysis often remains before, during and after their prayer, confession, Bible study, meditation, and fasting. They are often left wondering if the demeaning, accusatory haranguing they endure will ever end and predictably begin to question their own sanity, their love for God, and even God’s love for them.

If we parrot conventional wisdom concerning spiritual warfare, what conclusions must be drawn concerning these individuals as they are viewed through the oppression / possession paradigm? The person stuck in this paralyzing condition is either a Christian who has serious mental and / or emotional problems, a weak willed Christian who simply needs to be more disciplined in their thinking and actions, or they mistakenly think they are a Christian, when in fact they are not. So why the fuss?

What do you say when the person in question is just as orthodox in their theology and as sincere and zealous in their dedication and devotion to Jesus Christ as you are, and yet their problems persist? What do you say after they have memorized Scripture, prayed and fasted, and yet the daily mental accusations they endure continue to torment them, often to the point of contemplating suicide?

You are not good enough. You are not really a Christian. No one in church really likes you. Christian leaders don’t respect you. They are all hypocrites so why listen to them anyway? You are not smart enough to study the Bible so why do you try? You are fat, you are ugly, you are a failure. You would do God, your family and friends all a favor if you were dead. Things are never going to change. Why don’t you just give up and die?

What if our presuppositions concerning oppression and possession are mistaken or at least incomplete? What if we challenge the conventional wisdom of the oppression / possession paradigm rather than the faith or sincerity of the person mentally paralyzed in this debilitating struggle?

Ambiguity is frustrating. However, the fact is that godly evangelical Bible teachers like John MacArthur and Charles Swindoll have differing viewpoints on the subject of demonic warfare, at least as it relates to Christians. Both of these men love God and are committed to consistent Bible study. Both men can read and study from the Greek New Testament and the Hebrew Old Testament. Their differences of opinion ought to serve notice that this subject should be approached with prayerful consideration and thoughtfulness rather than pomp, presumption or patronizing arrogance.

Demonization is a third category regarding the possible condition of a true Christian that respected evangelical leaders have recognized from Scripture and ministry. Merrill Unger, Dick Hillis, Mark Bubeck, Ed Murphy, Fred Dickason, Charles Swindoll, and Neil Anderson have used terms like demonization, invasion, or infestation when speaking or writing about real demonic problems troubling genuine Christian believers. They agree that a person can still be thoroughly evangelical and yet challenge conventional thinking regarding demonic warfare. Each of these men believes that there is a condition in which Christian’s can potentially find themselves that is far more severe than simple oppression, but less extreme than demonic possession (ownership).

Traditional oppression/possession paradigm options do not adequately explain all of the temptations and struggles faced by many born again Christians. Missionaries have openly discussed the problem of demonic bondage among genuine believers for many years. But we are often slow to hear and reluctant to consider things that make us feel uncomfortable. If we acknowledge the possibility of a Christian suffering under actual demonic attack, which is more severe than oppression, but not complete possession (ownership), demonic warfare becomes a far more complicated subject than a conventional oppression / possession paradigm model suggests. For those individuals who refuse to even consider this possibility because it violates their oppression / possession paradigm, I would like to pose a question. When a man made paradigm and God-breathed Scripture clash, do we subjugate the Scripture to the paradigm or the paradigm to the Scripture?

Ephesians 4:27 is an interesting verse that sheds some helpful light in this discussion. The word translated foothold or opportunity in Ephesians 4:27 had several common meanings in Greek literature. According to Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament And Other Early Christian Literature, University of Chicago Press, 1957, pgs. 830-831, the word topos can mean: A) Inhabited place, B) Inhabited space, place, C) Place, location, D) Regions, districts, E) Place, room to live, stay, sit etc., F) The place where something is found, G) The place to which a person’s final destiny brings him. In special circumstances the word could also mean: a) A place or passage, b) Position or office, and c) Possibility, opportunity or chance.

Is it possible for a person owning a home to rent out rooms or for a person leasing a house to sub-rent rooms without affecting the actual ownership of that house? Renting to good or bad tenants does not change who is the actual legal owner of that house.

As a Christian, I can choose to walk controlled by the spirit and yield my whole life to God which is my reasonable service. It is also possible for me to refuse to yield select areas of my life to the control of the Holy Spirit.

A willful choice to refuse to submit every area of our life to God is a foolish decision, but it does not change the fact that God is still the legal owner of our life (Galatians 2:20). Christians choosing to give footholds to Satan are potentially surrendering areas of their life to demonic control one room at a time. Jesus’ Lordship over every area of our life is not just a game. Usually the longer an owner allows a bad renter to destroy rooms of a house the more rooms they will destroy. Failure to confront a problem is typically an open invitation for escalating problems.

Is it possible for Christians to be possessed (owned) by a demon? Advocates on both sides of this issue say the answer to this question is a clear and resounding "No". God owns the life of every true Christian. Is it possible for a Christian to be oppressed by demonic spirits? Once again, individuals promoting both paradigm models agree. Yes, Christians can be oppressed by demons. Scripture promises us a shield of faith capable of extinguishing flaming arrows, not the absence of conflict in this life.

Can a true Christian to be demonized, invaded, or infested? This is the question that divides the two positions. Promoters of the oppression / possession paradigm answer this question "no". God would never share space with evil in one of His temples. Christians advocating the oppression / demonization / possession paradigm answer this question "yes". Scripture allows for demonization, and the experience and testimony of Christians around the world confirms it.

Luke 13:10-17, Acts 5:1-11, and 2 Corinthians 11:1-4 arguably represent accounts of true believers who were entangled with demons. Carefully examine these passages.

The woman, "a daughter of Abraham as she is", was afflicted physically by a demonic spirit (Luke 13:11, 16). The terms "son(s) of Abraham" and "daughter(s) of Abraham" were typically reserved for the true children of Abraham, the father of all those who believe God’s promise of salvation by grace through faith, apart from works (Romans 4:1-5).

Ananias had his heart "filled" by Satan. Apparently, to whatever degree the Holy Spirit can fill or control a believer for godly living, demons can fill or control believers for godless living. How so? The same word, "filled" was used in inspired Scripture to describe satanic filling / controlling and Holy Spirit filling / controlling i.e. Acts 5:3 and Ephesians 5:18.

The Corinthian believers, who had been walking in "purity of devotion" to Christ, had foolishly "received a spirit other than the one they had received" (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). Since all believers receive the Holy Spirit at conversion, (Romans 8:9, Ephesians 1:13-14), what type of spirits do you think they were receiving that had Paul so upset? Reading 2 Corinthians 11:1-15 makes it clear that Paul is addressing a problem involving Satan, demons, satanically deceived Christians and demonically controlled teachers in this chapter.

Do these three examples represent demonic possession? No. None of the believers involved were owned or totally subjugated and dominated by a demon. But all of their problems were certainly more severe than simple oppression.

The oppression / demonization / possession paradigm provides a reasonable and biblical explanation for their condition. The oppression / possession paradigm does not.

2 Corinthians 6:14-15 is a favorite passage among promoters of the oppression/possession paradigm.

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?

It is true that there is no harmony between Christ and Belial and that there is no partnership between righteousness and lawlessness. What contextually does this have to do with whether or not demons have the ability to fill / control Christians who give them a place, a space or a territory of control through unconfessed sin? These verses have absolutely nothing to do with the ontological make up of man. They are a warning, an admonition for Christians to quite doing something they were already doing.

New Testament Scripture indicates that the flesh actively works against God’s purposes in the life of a genuine Christian. 1 Corinthians 2:14 - 3:3 indicates that it is possible for a Christian to become so compromised by sin that there does not appear to be much difference between a believer and a natural man. Galatians 5:16 states that walking controlled by the Spirit or living under the control of the flesh is ultimately a daily choice, not a theological axiom or guaranteed Christian entitlement. Galatians 5:17 explains the ongoing conflict between the flesh and the Spirit takes place within each Christian. This battle is real and it is internal. Romans 7:15-25 repeats this same message, again directed towards genuine Christians.

If God allows the flesh or old nature to remain active in the life of a true Christian, why is it so difficult to consider the possibility that demons have the ability to exercise limited control over a place, space or territory in the life of a true Christian? Christians who deliberately pick and choose which areas of their life they will submit to God and those that they withhold from Him are not resisting the devil; they are extending him an invitation?

We teach that Christians are temples of God who lives inside each true believer, i.e. 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19-20, and Ephesians 1:13-14. If God will share a space in our temple with our old nature, which is evil, what silver bullet guarantees that He will not also allow demonic spirits to share space in that same temple, just because they are evil?

How do demonic spirits usually attack Christians?

The most common method of demonic attack is habitual, debilitating, and paralyzing mental accusation. Revelation 12:10 makes it clear that this is consistent with Satan's strategic operation. This also helps explain the nature of the fiery darts Paul warns Christians to defend themselves against in Ephesians 6:10-18.

There are hundreds and thousands of Christians on the receiving end of demonic accusation, fiery arrows, who secretly feel like a caged hamster, running on a wheel. No matter how hard they try, they never seem to be able to get off the treadmill or outside the cage of their own mind and thoughts. The only thing all their efforts seem to produce is mental confusion, physical pain and emotional exhaustion.

Promises to pray longer and study more are met with predictable feelings of failure and frustration. Eventually, this individual will listen to the voices, thoughts, impressions, or ideas so long that they begin to believe them; deciding that maybe things never will change and they would actually be better off dead.

While Christians struggle with guilt and false guilt, the accuser mocks and laughs.

Run, you stupid little hamster. You are a failure. Do yourself and God a favor and just die. You don't experience victory in your life. You never have. Your testimony is a lie. You are worthless to yourself, others, and God. Do everybody a favor and end all of your pain and suffering. You are a bother to others.

As Christians, we play into the hand of Satan and his demonic host when we approach demonic warfare as a theoretical game or curiosity rather than a life threatening conspiracy from the pit of hell. While we try to see how "normal" we can still appear to other Christians and our non-Christian colleagues and neighbors, demonic accusers relentlessly and ruthlessly plot our distraction and destruction. When we approach prayer, Bible study, and the assembling of ourselves together as a necessary obligation to fit into our busy schedule rather than building our schedules around prayer, Bible study and assembling ourselves together, we find ourselves taking dart after dart, hit after hit, and wondering why God is failing to protect us.

For a Christian caught in the paralyzing clutches of demonic warfare, victory begins with being able to recognize the differences between demonic oppression, demonization and demonic possession. The oppression / possession paradigm fails to recognize one important area of these attacks. This oversight sets genuine Christians up for guaranteed failure, not because our resources are inadequate, but because we have been inadequately prepared to respond biblically at each point of attack.

Christians must learn how to respond to demonic attack biblically rather than just sincerely if we want to win more battles than we lose. The oppression / demonization / possession paradigm affords us this opportunity. The oppression / possession paradigm does not. Paradigms are man made; Scripture is not. Paradigms can change; God’s word does not.

Taken from "Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics" by Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner, ed. Used by permission of Harvest House Publishing Company, copyright ©2008. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Harvest House Publishing, Inc. (www.harvesthousepublishing.com)


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