There is a danger, however, when emphasizing any neglected doctrine, to go to an extreme which is beyond the intent of the Scriptures. It is also possible to be sidetracked into making the neglected doctrine the whole ministry. This seems to be the case with some who become fascinated with the subject of demonology. They are trapped into giving most of their attention to it. The more demons they cast out, the more there seem to be to cast out, and the rest of their ministry is practically ignored.
This tendency to become more occupied with casting out demons than with exalting Christ seems inconsistent with the balance of Scripture. Also there seems to be no basis in Scripture for the accompanying preoccupation with external phenomena, such as vomiting up various substances in connection with the casting out of demons (forgetting that demons are spirit beings). In the one instance in which foaming is mandated, Scripture makes it clear that this was a consistent pattern prior to the time the demon was cast out and not a phenomenon occurring only at the time of exorcism.
A question that arises, then, is not whether demons are active today, but whether born-again believers can be demon possessed, have a demon, or need to have someone cast demons out of them. Can the Holy Spirit and a demon dwell in the same temple? Are not our bodies’ temples of the Holy Spirit?
Many Christians have had God-given deliverances from problems and believed they were delivered from demon possession. But we must search the Scriptures to see if their interpretation of what happened is really in line with what the Bible teaches.
Some, for example, teach that since the Bible speaks of a spirit of cowardly fear, any deliverance from fear must be by the casting out of an evil spirit or demon of fear. But an examination of the same passage (2 Timothy 1:7) shows it speaks also of a spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind or self-control. If people interpret fear to be an evil spirit needing to be cast out, to be consistent they would need to beseech three good spirits to come in.
The fallacy of this reasoning is obvious. Love and self-control are fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives. By a spirit of love and of self-control is meant the attitudes that result from our cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
Actually, the word spirit in many cases means an attitude or a disposition. David spoke of a broken spirit (Psalm 51:17); Solomon of a humble spirit (Proverbs 16:19). Paul wanted to come to Corinth, not with a rod, but with love and a meek or gentle spirit (1 Corinthians 4:21). Peter spoke of the adorning of the heart with the imperishable gift of a meek and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4), actually meaning a quiet disposition. This is in line with the frequent use of the word spirit for one’s own spirit and its expressions (Haggai 1:14; Acts 17:16; 1 Corinthians 2:11, etc.).
Thus, unless the context shows that an independent spirit-being is meant, it seems best to take most phrases such as a haughty spirit, a hasty spirit, a spirit of slumber, a spirit of jealousy, etc., to be sins of the disposition or lusts of the flesh (Galatians 6), and not demons.
A serious danger in considering all these sins of the disposition to be demons is that the individual may feel no responsibility for personal actions and feel that the necessity for repentance is removed. Actually, the Bible calls people to repent of these things and to put off these attitudes. The great conflict within us is not between the Holy Spirit and demons, but between the indwelling Holy Spirit and the flesh (that is, all the sensory apparatus that tends toward sin).
When the word spirit is used of demons, the Bible may speak of an evil or unclean spirit. Sometimes the words are used together; for example, "a spirit of an unclean devil" (Luke 4:33).
In many cases these demons caused sickness. But the New Testament does not ascribe all sickness to demons or evil spirits. In fact, many passages make a clear distinction between sicknesses and diseases not caused by demons and those caused by demons (Matthew 4:24; 8:16; 9:32,33; 10:1; Mark 1:32; 3:15; Luke 6:17,18; 9:1, etc.). In none of these examples is there any indication that any of these sicknesses caused by demons were of people in right relation to God. We must remember also that all of these examples took place before Pentecost.
The word daimonizomai, to be possessed of a demon, or, as some put it, to be demonized, is not as common. It is used as a verb only once and that of a Canaanite girl who was "badly demonized," or cruelly tormented by a demon. Everywhere else it is found as a participle which should be translated, "the demoniac(s)" (Matthew 8:28,33; 9:32; 12:22; Mark 5:15—18; Luke 8:35). Again, in no case is there any indication that any of these "demoniacs" or demonized persons was right with God; and in most cases they suffered severe torment–and a dramatic change of personality.
Another great problem with the idea that demons may possess Christians is a concept that erodes faith and waters down our concept of God and the salvation He provides. God is our Father. He has "rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves" (Colossians1:13). In "this darkness we used to live when [we] followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient" (Ephesians 2:2). But now God by His love has saved us and made us "fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household" (Ephesians 2:19). It would seem contradictory for demons to indwell our bodies now that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.
We were once servants of sin (Romans 6:17) but now we are free to live for Christ. It is still possible to sin, but if a believer sins, it is because of having become willing to do so, not because of having been invaded by a demon. The Book of Romans calls not for the casting out of demons but for a faith act by which one becomes what one is.
For a Christian to have a demon would bring a division that Jesus refused to admit. The Pharisees tried to say that Jesus cast out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons (Matthew 12:24). They supposed the kingdom of Satan might be divided against itself. Jesus rejected this. Luke 11:21,22 further implies that Jesus has bound Satan as far as Satan’s power to enslave a believer is concerned. Only when a demon returns and finds the house empty is he able to re-enter (Luke 11:24—26).
The idea of a true believer being inhabited by a demon also erodes the biblical concept of salvation and peace. It may produce terrible fear as Christians begin to wonder what demon will invade them next. This is certainly not in line with the freedom the Bible assures us we have. Early Christians had no such fear, nor did the Church of the second century.
It seems evident that the term possessed should not be applied to true believers. What the Bible does show is that Satan and his cohorts are external foes. We are in warfare against Satan’s forces and they are looking for opportunities to attack us. (See Ephesians 6:12.) The biblical emphasis is on what we must face in the very atmosphere around us. The call is never for us to get someone to cast the demons out of us. They are out there attacking us, testing us, not possessing us. The call is to be vigilant and to put our armor on and take our stand (2 Corinthian 10:3—6; Ephesians 6:10—18; 1 Peter 5:8,9).
Jesus defeated Satan by quoting the Word of God (Matthew 4). We too must take our stand on God’s Word and resist Satan and his demons, in faith (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8,9). Then the shield of faith will quench every fiery dart of the enemy (Ephesians 6:16). (Here we recognize that just as God’s deliverances sometimes come through angels, so Satan’s attacks sometimes come through demons or through those who are demon possessed.)
That the attack is external is seen in the case of Job; and also in the case of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, which he called a messenger (or angel–Greek aggelos) of Satan sent to buffet him (beat or strike him with the fist). (See 2 Corinthians 12:7.) Paul besought the Lord three times that it (the messenger of Satan) might be removed (more literally, "Keep away from him"), but God refused and said His grace was sufficient. The result was that Paul learned to depend on God in his weakness, reproach, or distress. Whether the messenger of Satan was a demon, a sickness, or a person, the Bible does not say. Just what it was, however, is beside the point here. The attack, the buffeting, was from the outside, and Paul sought for it to be kept away, not cast out. We note also that Paul sees in himself and in us the living presence of Christ as the only hope (Colossian 1:2, 29).
Christ’s enemies accused Him of having a demon. It is a subtle trick of the devil that makes sincere people accuse Christians today of having a demon. Clearly, there are deliverances, but calling them deliverances from demon possession is unscriptural.