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
and stands in stark contrast to the external darts of oppression referred to in
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
We teach that Christians are temples of God who lives inside each true believer, i.e.
1 Corinthians 3:16,
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
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.