On a beautiful Ohio summer day in 2008 I nervously chatted with my friend as we drove to the house of a couple she knew. Though I had been prepared as to what to expect, I was uneasy. I was grateful for her help and desperate to try anything to free my mind of the racing anxious thoughts, reactionary temper, constant feeling of dread, and overall lack of peace in my life.
That spring this same friend, with a couple of others–all older more seasoned believers than I–had led me through the Seven Steps to Freedom from Neil T. Anderson’s book, The Bondage Breaker. These steps include a process of confessing sin, forgiving those who have wronged you, recognizing lies you’re telling yourself, and combating those lies with truth. Doing these things, the book claims, would grant you freedom in Jesus Christ.
Thus, with the women present, I confessed absolutely every possible sin I could think of using the book as a guide. Confessing sin is good, though it shouldn’t have to happen in the presence of a group. Forgiveness is also a good thing. You should forgive those who have wronged you and ask forgiveness when you have wronged another. Confession and forgiveness should be a regular practice in the Christian life. However, this process began the lie that my freedom in Christ was on me. That my sin and unforgiveness were pulling me down. I just needed to pray more, sin less, and be quicker to forgive.
The one good exercise that came from this book was embracing my identity in Christ by recognizing the lies I was believing and replacing them with truth. That, too, should be a regular practice of a believer.
The steps to freedom didn’t relieve me of my inner pain. The next course of action, according to this friend, was exorcism. I was struggling and willing to try anything.
At the time I was still rather young in my faith and unfamiliar with scripture. I wasn’t aware of scripture being taken out of context or twisted toward a desired message. This naivety led me to believe my friend that demons inside me were the cause of my distress.
I was given a booklet to read prior to my exorcism written by Tom, the guy who would lead me through the process. My first red flag should have been that Tom’s explanation of the origin of sin began in Revelation–a book telling how God will cast sin eternally in Hell and gather his believers in Heaven for everlasting life. Tom says nothing about Adam and Eve, the true origin of sin. Reading through the booklet now (I have no idea why I’ve kept it all these years) I see how horribly this guy twisted scripture.
Arriving at the couple’s house, Tom and his wife, Mary, warmly welcomed me and directed me to their kitchen table. The four of us sat as the couple interviewed me about my problems. I divulged the most intimate details of what ailed me.
The goal was to get the demons to speak their names and cast them out in the name of Jesus. Based on their interview, they told me the names of some of my demons. They guided me in prayer as I named others as words came to mind and we cast them out one by one.
(Matthew 12:22 says, “Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw.” This passage makes it clear that demons do not need to be named, as with this man who couldn’t speak, in order to be cast out.)
Tom told me the demons must exit my body somehow, whether by tears, snot, vomiting or some other means. They supplied me with tissues and a garbage can for this purpose. Throughout the process I sobbed. Looking back, of course I sobbed. I was divulging my deepest darkest secrets to strangers and my friend. I don’t remember what “demons” were cast out that day but examples they provide in their booklet were physical ailments (like asthma), witchcraft, lust, self-pity, rejection, depression, fear, terror, etc.
I left that day feeling drained and ashamed. I told myself that it helped–I really wanted to believe it did–but it didn’t take long for my “demons” to return. Tom told me that I needed to eliminate weak areas in my life so that the demons have no way to reenter my body. This is done through prayer and reading scripture and having trust in Jesus. This sent me even further on a path of believing that I wasn’t praying enough, reading my Bible enough, or holding onto my faith tight enough which continued to cause my pain. It took me a long time to undo these lies.
About a year later I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety. About ten years after that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. These diagnoses made sense of my struggles. They gave me a path to healing. Some would argue that mental illness is caused by demons. As you’ll see as you read on, this is generally a misguided belief.
If I knew more about scripture and had the ability to check it myself, I would never have bought into this exorcism. I know better now and want to share the lessons I’ve learned.
Do Demons Exist?
As uncomfortable of a topic as this is for many people, the answer is absolutely yes, demons exist. However, what you do with this truth is important. In his book Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis says, “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.”
We cannot ignore demonic activity. Evil spirits are just as present now as they were in the times of the old and new testaments.
I have experienced the oppression of demons in my Christian walk. That is, I have felt an uneasy presence around me when doing something that is honoring God. I have been tempted to speak or act in a way that wasn’t pleasing to God and many times I have fallen for it. I have experienced things happen to me that seemed too much of a coincidence that it could only be pointed to spiritual warfare. I’ve even gone as far as seeing dark spirits all around the room in my mind’s eye as I was preparing to write a chapter for my book that would share the gospel. Writing this blog post has been a battle against the enemy. I’ve prayed and studied scripture for months in preparation and when it came time to write I have struggled for clarity of thought and have been faced with many distractions.
Ephesians 6 makes our battle against Satan very clear as Paul instructs us to put on the armor of God. Peter tells us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” 1 John 4 beseeches us to test the spirits.
Can Believers Be Demon Possessed?
Tom would not perform an exorcism on an unbeliever because he believed that the demons wouldn’t leave unless the person had first been cleansed by the blood of Jesus. This is mixed up thinking. Someone indwelt with the Holy Spirit cannot also be possessed by a demon.
In [God] was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.John 1:4-5
Where there is light, darkness disappears. Darkness cannot take over light, whereas light does take over darkness. When you turn a light on in a room, the light fills the whole room. God is light and when a person repents and turns to Christ as their Lord and Savior, they are indwelt with God’s light–the Holy Spirit.
One cannot have both a soul cleansed by the blood of Jesus and be possessed by Satan, the epitome of sin, at the same time. One cannot be both good and bad at the same time. One cannot be both healthy and sick at the same time. It just doesn’t make logical sense.
The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.Matthew 12:35
Let’s also consider the gospels. Jesus’ ministry on earth was to proclaim the coming of God’s Kingdom, heal the sick, and cast out demons. He had yet to shed his blood for our sins and rise again. People followed Jesus and believed his teaching but they were not yet saved from their sins and indwelt with the Holy Spirit. And yet, one third of his ministry was casting out demons.
In the gospels people believed in Jesus because of the miracles he performed, not before.
Let’s also look at Saul, the first king of Israel. In his early reign as king of Israel he was a man of God and God’s spirit was upon him. Then he fell away and God rejected Saul as king. David was named as Saul’s successor and Saul was punished.
Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him.1 Samuel 16:14
Note that the harmful spirit entered Saul only after God’s spirit left him.
Temptation, Sin and Demons
Tom’s booklet points to sin as the entry point for demons. By reading our Bibles, praying, and avoiding sin, we are closing up areas where demons can enter. Yes, we should read our Bible, pray, and seek righteousness through the power of the Holy Spirit. These are necessary for a fruitful walk with Christ. Unless you aren’t doing them at all, there is no “not good enough” in these areas. And since a believer cannot be possessed by a demon, as we already established, you aren’t inviting one in by failing in these areas. The benefit of being in prayer and scripture regularly is the strength it gives you to resist temptation by Satan which is constantly at hand.
The first sign of Satan is in the Garden of Eden found through the serpent that tempted Eve. Throughout the Old Testament we see people fall into temptation. Even Jesus was tempted by Satan as he twisted scripture in order to trick Jesus. Satan and his demons exist to tempt us to sin. We are admonished throughout scripture to resist temptation which comes to us by the influence of the world around us. Jesus taught us to pray saying, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
There is a difference between being possessed by a demon internally and being harassed by one externally. Satan has stationed his demons all around us to draw us away from God and into sin. Not only does he not want us to be intimate with God, he wants us to act in a way that draws other’s away from God as well.
Demons and Health
After my exorcism I struggled for about another year with my mental health. I couldn’t shake the racing thoughts, chronic anxiety, the sensitive temper, the deep sense of dread and, at times, the desire to die. I thought that I was failing as a Christian. I thought these were sins and unforgiveness allowing demons to continue to take control of me. I couldn’t read my Bible enough or pray enough or have faith enough to keep them at bay. I was in excruciating pain.
In 2009 I finally hit rock bottom. I was introduced to a woman who walked alongside me in my internal crisis, helped me to start dispelling these lies and guided me to see my doctor. This was the turning point for my healing…and for undoing the harm of my exorcism.
But does our sin cause our physical and mental ailments? It is the presence of the sin invoked on us by Adam and Eve that our bodies are susceptible to sickness, disease and injury. Illness is a consequence of our fallen nature, generally not our specific sins. While sin does have consequences–promiscuity risks sexually transmitted diseases–getting cancer is not a consequence of sin. In all the instances in the Bible of demon possession, not one occasion attributed the possession as a result of sin, except for that of Saul.
While sin does not cause mental or physical illness, demons can oppress us to the detriment of our mental and physical health (refer back to Saul who was only comforted when David played his lyre, look at this boy with an unclean spirit, and many other examples in the gospels). I’m pretty sure if I was demon possessed my health would deteriorate, too. It’s an unnatural state of being.
Thinking back to the fact that a believer cannot be possessed by an unclean spirit, I can’t tell you how painful and infuriating it is when someone tells me that my mental illness is caused by demon possession.
Be so very careful of false teaching. Satan loves it when we twist scriptures to draw people away from God. Misquoting God was how the serpent fooled Adam and Eve. Twisting scripture was Satan’s method for tempting Jesus, but being the author of scripture, he was not fooled. Even the most well intentioned teachers can get it wrong sometimes. It’s important to check the scriptures for yourself. Trust the spirit within you. If it makes you uneasy, there’s probably a reason why.
Satan’s goal is to draw us away from God and prevent others from coming to know Christ. Surround yourself with sound Biblical teaching and also check the scriptures for yourself. He can tempt us away but he cannot separate us from God. His evil spirits can harass us but they cannot dwell in us.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:38-39