X Close Menu

The Exorcism of Emily Rose - Part 6

In the previous study we introduced the question of whether or not a Christian can be demonized, i.e., indwelt or inhabited by a demonic spirit. I looked at those texts (1) which describe the defeat of Satan, as well as those (2) which speak of divine protection of the believer, both of which are thought by many to prove that it is impossible for a child of God to be inhabited by a demon.

I now turn to those many texts which describe the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

(3) The argument is this: "A demon cannot enter and dwell within a believer because the Holy Spirit lives there. Since the Holy Spirit is greater and more powerful than any demon, there is no possibility that he would grant access into a Christian's heart."

But is this protection against demonic invasion automatic? What if the believer grieves the Spirit through repeated and unrepentant sin? What if the believer fails to faithfully and prayerfully adorn himself/herself with the armor of God (Eph. 6)?

[Please note that I am not suggesting a true Christian can live in prolonged and unrepentant sin, as if to say that a person who “practices sin” (see 1 John 3:6,9) and does not experience the conviction of the Spirit and the discipline of the Father is saved. The absence of such conviction and discipline, together with the absence of that holiness without which no one will see God (Hebrews 12:14), may be evidence that the person in question was never truly born again. Having said that, we must still reckon with the possibility of a Christian temporarily backsliding and refusing, if only for a short season, to confess and repent of his/her sin.]

Several texts are relevant to this issue:

a. Psalm 5:4 (“For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you”) – Does this text really mean to suggest that God cannot dwell alongside an evil spirit inside a person? Observe that the two lines of v. 4 are in synonymous parallelism, i.e., "evil may not dwell with you" = "You are not a God who delights in wickedness.” The point is not that God cannot be in close spatial proximity with evil [Note: the omnipresent God is in close spatial proximity with everything!], but that God detests evil and has no fellowship with it.

b. Matthew 12:43-45 (this is the account of a demon departing from a person and later returning with seven additional demons) – The argument is that if the house (i.e., the person) is occupied (presumably by Jesus or the Spirit), demons can't enter. But does this mean the person himself/herself cannot "open the door" to intrusion by a demon through willful, unrepentant sin or idolatry?

Also, the text does not say what the demon would have done had he found his previous home occupied. It does not say that that in itself would have prevented his re-entry. It may well have made re-entry more difficult, but not necessarily impossible.

c. 1 Corinthians 10:21 (“You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons”) – But the "cannot" in Paul's language refers to a moral, not a metaphysical, impossibility. If I say to a Christian who is contemplating committing adultery: "But you can't do that", I don't mean that it is physically impossible for him to commit adultery but that it is morally or spiritually incompatible with his being a Christian. In other words, you can't expect to enjoy close intimacy with Christ and simultaneously give yourself to the influence of demons. It is a moral and spiritual contradiction to affirm your love for God while you simultaneously expose yourself to the influence of demons by participating in activities which they energize.

In fact, far from ruling out the possibility of a Christian "fellowshipping" with demons, Paul warns us to be careful of that very thing (v. 22). More on this later.

d. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 (texts which describe the Christian as the temple of God in whom the Spirit dwells) – The argument from these texts at first glance seems persuasive: "Surely a Christian cannot simultaneously be both the temple of God and the temple of a demon!"

As for 2 Corinthians 6, Paul is not referring to the physical impossibility of a Christian being "yoked" in "fellowship" with evil or with an unbeliever. The fact is, we know it happens all the time (unfortunately). Rather, he is denouncing the moral or spiritual incongruity of such fellowship. The temple of God has no moral or spiritual harmony with idols. Therefore, avoid all such entangling alliances.

The argument from 1 Corinthians 3 is based on the idea that a demon indwelling a Christian is a "spatial" and "spiritual" impossibility. As to the former, the argument is that there is "not enough room" for both the Holy Spirit and a demonic being to co-exist in the same human body. It would be too crowded!

But this is to think of spiritual beings in physical terms. I could as easily ask, "How can the Holy Spirit and the human spirit both indwell the same body? Wouldn't that be just as 'crowded'?" Mary Magdalene at one time had "seven demons" inhabiting her (Luke 8:2). The Gadarene demoniac (Mk. 5) was inhabited by a "legion" (@6,000) of demons; enough, at any rate, to enter and destroy 2,000 pigs. If the presence of the Holy Spirit "crowds out" demons, then demons couldn't exist anywhere because the Holy Spirit exists everywhere.

The other suggestion is that for a demon to inhabit a person who is indwelt by the Spirit is a “spiritual” impossibility. The argument is this: "How can the ‘Holy’ Spirit inhabit the same body with an ‘unholy’ demon?"

But let’s not forget that the Spirit in a certain sense "inhabits" everything and everyone in the universe, even unbelievers (but not in a saving, sanctifying sense). The Holy Spirit is omnipresent. Satan had access to the presence of God in the book of Job (chps. 1-2), indicating that the issue is not one of spatial proximity but personal relationship.

The Holy Spirit and demons are in close proximity when outside the human body, so why could they not be in close proximity while inside one? The Spirit indwells the Christian even though the latter still has a sinful nature or sinful flesh. In other words, if the “Holy” Spirit can inhabit the same body with “unholy” human sin, why could he not inhabit the same body with an “unholy” demon?

In summary, the force of this argument appears to be more emotional than biblical. The idea of the Holy Spirit and a demon living inside a believer is too close, too intimate of contact. The thought of it is emotionally provocative and scandalous; it violates one's sense of spiritual propriety. The “spiritually visceral” feeling is that God simply wouldn't allow it. His love for his own is too great to let demonic influence get that far.

(4) Fourth, and finally, there are a handful of miscellaneous arguments to note.

For example, I’ve heard it asked: "How can a Christian who is possessed by Christ be possessed by a demon?" But in this question the word "possessed" is being used in two entirely different senses. To say that one is "possessed" by a demon (although that in itself is an unbiblical term) is to say that he/she is severely influenced by the spirit. To say that one is "possessed" by Christ is to say he/she is owned by the Lord because purchased with His blood (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

Another argument is this: "How can a Christian who is in Christ have a demon in him/her?" But again, words are here being used in a way that provokes an emotional response but lacks theological substance. To be "in Christ" refers to eternal salvation whereas to say a demon is "in a believer" refers to influence or powers of persuasion.

Lastly, I’ve heard people say: "The internal struggle of the Christian is portrayed in the NT as between the Holy Spirit and the flesh, not the Holy Spirit and a demon."

In the first place, this is an argument from silence. Or to put it another way, what biblical text denies or precludes the Spirit from fighting against an indwelling demon? Also, if a Christian yields to the flesh and grieves the Spirit, wouldn't this open the door to demonic presence? Finally, Ephesians 6 says that our primary struggle is, in fact, against the demonic. Although there is no explicit reference to this being an internal battle, there is nothing here that precludes it being such (especially if we fail to employ the full armor of God).

My conclusion is that whereas such texts and arguments have a measure of plausibility, nothing in them necessarily precludes the possibility that a Christian could be indwelt by a demon, hence demonized. The idea that a demon might inhabit a Christian “feels” incongruent with what we know to be true of the Holy Spirit and the experience of a child of God, but in the absence of biblical texts which explicitly say this, we need to be cautious about drawing dogmatic conclusions.