Can a Christian, someone who has the Holy Spirit dwelling them, be possessed?
1 Corinthians 6:19 (NLT) Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself,
If this is true my question then, is how can an unclean spirit inhabit the same place as the Holy Spirit?
I wrote about binding and rebuking unclean spirits in another post “Can We Bind and Rebuke Satan - What Does The Bible Say?”
One point that I want to make right out of the box is that when I refer to the casting out of demons I’m talking about casting them out of the unbeliever. The believer can’t be possessed or be the dwelling place of a demon. I say that because as Paul says the believer’s body is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.
Think about it. Can a demon or an evil spirit dwell in the same place as God? Now that that is clear I want to quickly address those who believe that any illness that they have is the result of demonic presence. Again I say it is impossible for there to be any possession of any kind in the body of a believer. There can be and there is attack from outside the body but we are told to resist and the devil (that includes his demon friends) will flee.
James 4:7 (NKJV) Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Ephesians 6:13 (NKJV) Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
One other point. Every illness, financial crisis, breakup, loss of job, or other unpleasant happening are not the result of demonic activity. Poor eating habits or dangerous activities may be the cause of sickness or accidents. Foolish financial decisions can result in financial crises. Downsizing of a company or an economic recession can cause loss of a job....you get the picture.
No Scriptural Evidence of Believers Possessed By Unclean Spirits
Never in the New Testament epistles are believers warned about the possibility of being possessed by demons. There are no references to anyone rebuking, binding, or casting demons from a believer. From unbelievers yes, but not from believers. The scriptures never even call believers to cast out demons at all.
This is from a post I published last year, “Can All Believers Cast Out Demons?”,
Mark 16:17-18 (NKJV) 17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."
This is the scripture that many Christians, especially those in the word of faith and prosperity gospel movements, use to say that all believers have the ability, whether they use it or not, to perform exorcisms or cast out demons. They also use it for claiming universal authority for other things as well but those are not a subject of this post.
I first want to address Mark 16:17-18, the scripture that is most often used to assert that all Christians have been given the authority to “cast out”. My guess is that there is a note in your bible that reads something like; “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20." This is another way of saying that these verses are not considered inspired scripture, and thus should not be used to build doctrines or to even preach on by themselves, since they are considered unreliable and were most likely added to the scriptures by some scribe. (For more information on this note see the complete post HERE)
Christ and the apostles were the only ones who cast out demons, and in every instance the possessed people were unbelievers. To be completely honest there is reference in scripture of individuals who were not Christians or followers of Jesus that cast out demons.
Matthew 12:27 (NLT) And if I am empowered by Satan, what about your own exorcists? They cast out demons, too, so they will condemn you for what you have said.
Acts 19:13-16 (NLT)13 A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!”14 Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this.15 But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?”16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.
How Then Do You Explain The Actions Of many Believers If Not Unclean Spirits?
First some definitions;
Possession - the state of having, owning, or controlling something.
Demon possession involves a demon having direct/complete control over the thoughts and/or actions of a person
Matthew 17:14-18 (NLT)14 At the foot of the mountain, a large crowd was waiting for them. A man came and knelt before Jesus and said,15 “Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water.16 So I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”17 Jesus replied, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon in the boy, and it left him. From that moment the boy was well.
To be possessed would mean that the unclean spirit has direct control of a person from the inside. This would mean there would be a degree of unusual actions resulting from some unnatural things going on in the mind or the body.
Oppression - prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control.
Demon oppression or influence involves an unclean spirit or demon attacking a person spiritually and/or encouraging them into sinful behavior, but from the outside. In a blog series on Spiritual Warfare II write the this war takes place in the mind not the body. Mind here being your intellect not your brain.
While scripture indicates that a believer can’t be possessed by an unclean spirit a believer can be oppressed by unclean spirits. It’s also possible that they may be suffering from severe psychological problems which are not the result of unclean spirits at all. We have to be careful not to confuse possession or oppression with mental or behavioral illness although there may appear the same. I am not a Psychologist or a Psychiatrist so I am talking about possession and oppression not mental illness. In all instances where we are trying to determine possession, oppression, or mental illness we need to ask God for discernment. If you aren’t sure always try to refer the person to a professional.
Some Signs of Possible Oppression
Practicing sin can open a person up to having little control over certain aspects in their lives.. We forget sometimes that the old nature is still there in after salvation. The process of sanctification begins at conversion and continues until we die or Jesus returns. The old nature shows itself through our bodies, that’s why we are urged to crucify the flesh.
Galatians 5:24 (NLT) Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.
Romans 8:13 (NLT) For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.
Yielding to the desires of the flesh can bring you into bondage but is not the same as possession it is oppression. Much of what we blame on demonic activity is really us trying to excuse sin Unclean spirits can tempt us and exaggerate our fleshly weaknesses but when we yield to the temptation it’s our fault. We have the Holy Spirit and with Him we can overcome the temptation.
1 Corinthians 10:12-13 (NLT)12 If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall.13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
I addressed this subject in yet another post “Take Responsibility, Stop Blaming The Devil and Use The Power And Authority That You Have In Christ” Satan has a limit in dealing with a believer, it that wasn’t the case we would be are no better off than someone who was an unbeliever.
The Solution To Oppression
Believers are commanded to be filled by the Holy Spirit. To be filled is to be controlled completely by the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 5:18 (NLT)18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit,
To be filled with the Holy Spirit you must allow yourself to be, dominated, and controlled by Him.
To be filled with the Spirit implies freedom for Him to occupy every part of your life, guiding and controlling you. Then His power can be exerted through you so that what you do is fruitful to God. Being filled the Spirit does not apply to outward acts alone; it also applies to the innermost thoughts and motives of your actions.
Psalm 19:14 (NLT)14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
That’s what it means when the scripture said,
Romans 8:6 (NLT) So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.
Here is a way I describe being filled with or by the Holy Spirit;
If you put electrodes in a glass of water and apply an electric current to them the electricity excites the water and splits the molecules and separates them into water’s elements of hydrogen and oxygen and if you do it right it can create the energy necessary to operate a vehicle. When your spirit is under the control of the Holy Spirit you can do things you thought you could never do.
Again I say that Christians cannot be possessed by a demon, but we can be influenced and oppressed by one.
1 Peter 5:8 (NLT)8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
he Apostle Peter himself is an example of a believer who was influenced by a Satan.
Matthew 16:22-23 (NKJV)22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!"23 But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men."
Peter was influenced not possessed and after submitting himself completely to Jesus he was used by Him to introduce salvation through Christ to the Gentiles.
John 21:17 (NKJV)17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep.
When you come under attack from Satan, demons, or unclean spirits, and you will be, you aren’t told to bind or rebuke them but to resist them and if we resist them they will flee.
James 4:7 (NLT)7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Editor's Note: This post was originally posted in September 2016 and was modified September 8, 2017.
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Donald Jacobs is an ordained minister with the spiritual gift of teaching. He is the Associate Pastor of a non-denominational church in Los Angeles, CA.