The Exorcists – A Word about Demonic Possession

I remember the first time I saw young Linda Blair’s head spin around in the 1973 monster-hit (pun intended), The Exorcist. It scared the you-know-what out of me.

I’ve professed my faith in Christ since then. And that, according to the Bible, changes everything. Powerfully.

The Daily Beast recently published a story on the Vatican’s Exorcist Convention.  You can read the story here.  The article  interests me since the conference has “grown ten fold” since the annual event began in 2004.

Whenever demonic possession is a topic of discussion, almost always what people believe is based not on scripture, but on Hollywood films and/or someone’s creepy story.

Sadly, this applies to many professing Christians as well.

In short, the “father of lies”, as Jesus called him, perpetuates “fake news” wherever demonology is concerned.

Years ago, I was listening to one of my favorite Bible teachers, Chuck Smith.  He wisely said,

We cannot allow experience to become the criteria for truthTruth comes from the Word of God.  Allowing the Word of God to be our final authority frees us from being forced to judge which conflicting human experience is true and which one is false.  So we rest our case on the Word of God.

So, to the Word of God we go….

According to the Bible:

1. Satan is real, making his biblical debut in Genesis, chapter 3, in the form of a serpent. By the way, he makes his exit in Revelation 20:10.

2. Demonic possession is real.  Demons are not the invention of Dante – they are real, sometimes called “wicked…unclean spirits,”   There are a seven passages in the gospels recording specific scenes of Jesus casting out demons.  Most of these scenes are commonly recorded by Matthew, Mark & Luke.  (Interestingly, only the first three gospels mention Jesus exorcising demons.)  Then, there are numerous passages describing, indirectly, Jesus’ authority over demons – as in having “cast seven demons out of Mary Magdelene,” “he also drove out many demons,” etc.  “Professional exorcists” describe dramatic events during exorcising. Are these events possible? Sure – almost anything’s possible. (And Satan, a consummate narcissist, loves the attention.) But, we must always be careful to make scripture – not contemporary stories or Hollywood – our primary authority on this topic.  Although the Bible clearly records the demon-possessed, at times, convulsing,  possessing supernatural strength and even speaking from the possessed individual, not once does it record anyone’s head spinning around. 🙂 Although the origination of demons is ambiguous scripturally, their destiny, according to Jesus, is clear.

3. The Bible never once gives us permission – or even encourage us – to seek Satan out. The old saying, “If you go looking for trouble, chances are you’ll find it,” applies. It is a fool who seeks to pick a fight with our ancient foe, who is a brilliant strategist, master manipulator, and is keenly aware of our many flaws and weaknesses.  Believers tend to forget that Adam and Eve enjoyed a level of intimacy with God that is beyond our comprehension and, yet, were still fooled by the deceptive expertise of the serpent.  Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, records that even the archangel, Michael, chose not to pick a fight with Satan (apart from the Lord’s authority to do so) but rather rebuked him in the name of Jesus Christ.

4. Lastly, no church or denomination need “authorize you” to cast out a demon should that moment ever present itself.  With humble respect to my Catholic friends, attending a conference is not necessary to be equipped to face Satan.  Further, should that encounter ever arise, it will not be necessary to call a Catholic priest – since the Bible clearly states all believers are priests. Believers were “authorized” the very nano-second Christ took up residence inside of you. We’re told not only that Jesus cast out demons, but that he gave authority to his followers to do the same. Just as his followers were given authority over Satan, so are we today. James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote that “demons tremble” at the mere thought of Jesus. And it’s on Christ’s authority – and his authority alone – we are able to command evil spirits. (Luke records an unsettling, if not comical, story in Acts 19:13-16 of those foolish enough to face Satan without Christ’s authority.) Additionally, contrary to how it’s portrayed in movies, note that every single time Jesus cast out a demon there was no lengthy “street fight between good and evil” – not even with the “legion” of demons.  Jesus commanded. And the terrified demons immediately obeyed (sometimes pleading for their lives). As I mentioned above, never go looking for a fight with the devil. But, bought with Christ’s blood and filled with the Holy Spirit, we don’t have to run away from one either.

I’ve been asked, “Can a Christian be possessed?” I usually smile and reply, “Oh, but Christians are possessed.”  I continue, “The Bible tells us we’re possessed – by the Holy Spirit, which is God, himself. We’ve been purchased – ‘bought with a price’, Paul wrote. And that price is the precious blood of Jesus Christ. We can’t be ‘re-possessed.’ We’re ‘off the market.’ Besides, no demon would ever even attempt to possess us – they’re terrified of Who lives and reigns in us.”

Jesus said, “Satan has no hold on me.” Neither does he have a hold on us – God’s children.

I once visited with a former satanic high priest who had finally professed his faith in Christ. He told me,

“Nick, I saw evil on a very powerful scale while I served Satan in the priesthood. But I must confess: never – I mean, never – did I behold real power – terrifying power – until I met the almighty Christ.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Homeless Demons

[Jesus said],“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’  And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order.  Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”  Luke 11:24-26

There are dozens of sermons in this passage.  Allow me to briefly focus on just one: the security & authority one has in Christ.

First of all, this passage must not be taken out of the context of the canon of Scripture.  One who has professed their faith in the risen Christ cannot be demon-possessed (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19-20; Eph. 1:13-14)  A believer is already “possessed” – by the Holy Spirit.  John MacArthur rightly comments on this passage:  “When a demon is defeated by the power of Christ, the soul vacated by the power of darkness is taken over by Christ.”

It should be noted that the principles taught by Jesus in this passage apply without restriction to a non-believer.  This truth is sobering. The torment of evil spirits can be manifested in chronic anger, bitterness, a critical spirit, unforgiveness, pride, sexual addiction, lying, disrespect for authority, fear, etc.  For the non-believer, to try and “will” these self-destructive habits away can, indeed, lead to momentary improvement.  But, according to Jesus, the relief is merely temporalChrist, the Bible tells us, is the only “cure” for sin.  (cf. Romans 8:1)  A demon is not afraid of “a house swept and put in order.”  A demon, on the other hand, is terrified of a “house” possessed by the risen Christ.  (cf. James 2:19)

For the believer, as previously stated, the Bible is clear:  we cannot be demon-possessed.  However, the enemy is no fool.  As Billy Graham purports, satan is a strategic genius.  As such, demonic oppression is quite common and can be manifested in the very self-destructive habits mentioned above.  New Testament scholar, Dr. David Garland, comments, “Demons…do whatever they can to neutralize” and twist biblical truth in a believer’s life.  The difference between a believer and a non-believer, when in this state, is profound.  For the believer, all that is required is a conscious re-focusing on the truth: God’s Word.  Jesus said, the truth sets us free.  Paul wrote, “For we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”  In sum, satan has no hold on believers.  He only wants to make us think he does.  The enemy’s best and most used weapon, after all, is deception.

If you’ve never placed your faith in the risen Christ, please consider His claims.  Honestly investigate the historicity of Jesus and the reliability of the Gospels. 1  Consider the evidence.  Make your own decisions based on the evidence.  Consider Him who loves you so much that He died a horrific death on a wooden cross, then, three days later, authenticated His claims about Himself by rising again.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  The Apostle Paul  (1 Cor. 15:3-4)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

1 Two very good, very readable books on the topic of evidence for the Christian faith were written by former atheists:  More Than a Carpenter, by Josh & Sean McDowell;  The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel.   A third book, a little harder to read, but a classic, is Mere Christianity  by C.S. Lewis, also a former atheist.

Paranormal Activity

“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons….Watch your life and doctrine closely.” (1 Timothy 4:1 & 16)

Years ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the (then) recently released movie, Paranormal Activity. For those of you who don’t know, Paranormal Activity (definition of “paranormal activity” is: phenomena unexplained by normal experience) was produced along the lines of 1999’s hugely successful Blair Witch Projectfilmed more in the genre of a documentary filled with raw footage. In other words, it’s hard to tell what’s fact—and what’s fake.

The movie centers around a young couple who begin to try and find out what all the creepy stuff is that keeps happening in their home at night. Little does the guy know that the girl has dealt with this creepy stuff most of her life. The guy gets curious and sets up a video camera during the night to try and “catch a ghost in the act” of pulling some kind of prank—much like you see on popular shows like SyFy’s Ghost Hunters. But, things go from mischievous to nefarious very quickly as this dark entity becomes more and more hostile and possessive.

This led to some great dialogue between me and my friend —who happens to be a born-again believer— regarding what the Bible teaches about “paranormal activity.”

According to the Bible, there are no “disembodied human spirits” (a.k.a. ghosts) roaming this earth. On the contrary, scripture teaches just the opposite:

2 Corinthians 5 reminds us that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Jesus told the repentant thief, Today, you shall be with Me in paradise.” Furthermore, in the only parable in Scripture that includes a proper name, Jesus describes the Rich Man in Luke 16 as going immediately to hell after he died, and Lazarus (not the “raised-from-the-dead Lazarus”) going immediately to heaven.

In other words, the Bible consistently teaches there’s no “roaming around on earth period” between life & the after-life.

“If that’s true,” you ask, “then WHAT is causing all the ‘paranormal activity’ that cameras appear to catch on film?”

The same thing that caused paranormal activity in the New Testament: demons. And they would love for believers to base their understanding of what demons can – and can’t – do on movies, documentaries, etc – anything but the Bible. 

Before I continue, C.S. Lewis’ warning in the preface to his Screwtape Letters is most appropriate here:

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally please by both errors…”

That said, I will address this topic, but will not give Satan more “press” than he deserves.

There are nine recorded stories of demonic possession in the New Testament with numerous other stories related to demonic activity.  My point here is simply: according to God’s own Word, demons exist.

And horror flicks can plant within a person a “spirit of fear” which, we know, is not from God (2 Timothy 1:7).  Further (and Satan enjoys this immensely), even a believer, when gripped with fear, can begin to think Satan is more powerful than Christ.

But nothing could be farther from the truth.  For Jesus said about Satan, “He has no power over me.”

Indeed, Satan was helpless to prevent Jesus from uttering from the cross, “It is finished,” or preventing Christ from rising from the dead.

The biblical truth is clear:  Christ, over whom Satan has absolutely no power, dwells within the believer.  Hence, Satan has no power over one who has placed their faith in the power, risen Christ.  John comforted his readers,

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

In 1989, I had the opportunity to visit with a former Satanic high priest who had professed his faith in Christ.  I’ll never forget what he shared – creepy stories that made the hair stand up on the back my neck.  But he concluded by saying,

“I’ve seen some terrifying things within the realm of Satanism. But nothing satanic comes close to the terrifying presence and power of Almighty God.”

Back to my conversation about paranormal activity with my friend.  In addition to reminding them of their position/authority in Christ, I said,

“Be very, very careful not to develop your doctrine of demons/evil spirits on anything other than Scripture. When we do that—and a lot of believers do—we open our minds up to what the Bible calls “every wind of doctrine”. (Eph. 4:11-14)

Throughout the history of Hollywood, movies dealing with the paranormal (a.k.a. demonic activity) like The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Conjuring, the list is endless – are filtered through the minds of Hollywood directors and producers. Stick to the one true Script—the Bible.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

Possessed

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14, NIV)

Don’t for a moment think that Jesus never had a bad day. Only moments before the religious leaders accused Jesus of being demonically possessed (Mark 3:22), his family told him that he was nuts. (3:21)

After a few opening thoughts and observations, Mark gets right into the “ministry portion” of Jesus’ life, including numerous references to the casting out of demons in the first 3 chapters, alone. One thing we know for certain: “spirit activity” was kicked into overdrive when Jesus arrived on the scene. It must have been incredible to watch.

That the religious leaders foolishly claimed Jesus was possessed brings up a question I’ve been asked numerous times over the years: “Can a Christian be demonically possessed?” The unequivocal, biblical answer is “No.” And here’s why: a Christian is already “possessed” – by the Holy Spirit of Almighty God.

Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your body is the temple (the very sanctuary) of the Holy Spirit, Who lives within you, Whom you have received [as a Gift] from God? You are not your own.” (1 Corinthians 6:19, Amplified)

Make no mistake – Satan can oppress our minds and spirits by planting seeds of anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, depression, lust, etc. As God’s children, we’re not immune to allowing Satan to lead us astray. Think: Adam & Eve, Moses, & David. Moreover, Jesus actually addressed Simon Peter as “Satan” when Peter, albeit ignorant of Jesus’ mission, tried to talk Christ out of the cross. Mark records that exchange a few chapters later in 8:33.

It’s critical that, as believers, we understand that, once we’ve professed our faith in Jesus Christ – from that moment on – we can only be “possessed” by one spirit – the Holy Spirit.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick