What is Demon Possession?

Title: What is Demon Possession?

Text: Luke 8:26-39

Date: August 19th, 2007

One of the strangest things about the Christian faith is that it teaches the possibility of demon possession. What is demon possession? It’s the condition where a person’s soul or spirit is joined with or co-mingled with an evil spirit. It’s where the native human spirit or the spirit nature of a person is invaded and controlled by an alien or foreign evil spirit. Christianity teaches that when a person converts to faith in Christ that person’s soul or spirit is joined together with God’s Spirit — the Holy Spirit — and starts to think, speak and act under the control of this Good Spirit. But in demon possession, a person’s soul or spirit is joined together with a fallen evil spirit or demon and that outside spirit then has control to some degree of the person’s life or personality. Today, lots and lots of people don’t even believe that demon possession is possible. Most doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and scientists don’t believe this is possible. Sadly, even many or even most pastors and church leaders don’t seriously believe in the possibility of possession, or if they do, they don’t take such a belief seriously. But any Christian who believes in original, biblical Christianity must believe in the reality of demon possession because Jesus and the Apostles taught it. For the Christian, demon possession is a valid explanation why some people act as they do. It also offers a possible solution as to what to do with such people who suffer with problems that modern medicine and psychiatry can’t cure. What do we do with people who don’t seem to respond to any modern medicine or medical treatment? What do we do with someone who isn’t helped by psychiatry or psychology or counseling? What if no accurate diagnosis can be given that explains a person’s problem? Do we just continue treating a person with methods that don’t work or help? That’s what we are left with if we don’t allow for the possibility of demon possession. But as Christians, when the best that medicine and the health professions have to offer doesn’t help, we can turn to something that our faith describes as exorcism or casting out demons. In the course of my pastoral ministry which is now approaching 20 years, I’ve run into probably a handful of cases I thought might be real cases of demonic possession. Out of those, there were probably 2 or 3 that I’m pretty sure were really cases of possession. The frustrating thing is that the person who is suffering from possession must totally want to be freed of it or it won’t happen, because possessions, I’m told, occur usually somehow at the request, knowingly or unknowingly, of the person. Or in other words, the victim in some way has consented in one way or another in inviting the demon into their life. So in order to expulse the demon, the victim must consent to the exorcism; unfortunately many don’t. Most people are so skeptical about possession today that they wouldn’t even know if they had a demon themselves! This is another reason we have to be informed about these things – so we can help friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, etc. who might be either bothered by or possessed by demons; so that we might help free them. Luke 8:26-39 (read) gives us instruction in how to deal realistically with someone possessed in some form by a demon.

First, what are signs of someone possessed of a demon? Luke 8:26-29, “. . . When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the most high God? I beg you, don’t torture me.’ For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.” What are the signs of demon possession? Strange behavior is a first clue, although everyone who acts strange isn’t automatically demon possessed. The Roman Catholic Church has some pretty strict tests for anyone who might be demon possessed; unfortunately the standards are so high that they probably exclude almost everyone who is really possessed. One of the tests is that there must be some kind of supernatural activity happening: objects moving by themselves, supernatural knowledge or strength coming from the victim, etc., things that can’t be explained naturally. But if we applied those tests to this man Jesus dealt with he probably wouldn’t have been dealt with, so the Roman Catholic test is too narrow to be useful in most cases. The first sign is that someone is acting strange in some way. Look at this man who met Jesus, he was acting very strange and bizarre. He was running around naked, living in the woods and fields and talking crazy. He did exhibit extraordinary strength, which is one of the Roman Catholic tests, because he had been chained, but he kept breaking out of the chains and terrorizing people. We don’t know the whole story, but he had probably become such a problem for the town’s people that they maybe jailed him or chained him for the safety of all and for his own safety, but he broke the chains. So, he was probably operating under unusual supernatural strength. So a second sign might be that someone is displaying unusual or even supernatural abilities in some way. Another sign is that he couldn’t be helped by normal and natural means. The town’s people had tried to deal with him, but nothing they did had helped him (Of course, they didn’t have access to modern medicine and treatment that we can help people with today). Today, if a person you know is suffering with something that can’t be treated with the any modern means of help available today, that might mean they suffer from demon possession. Another important sign of possession, is that the person acts strange around Christian sign or symbols. In this case, the presence of Jesus made this person go crazy. Today, it might be a reaction against a Bible, a church, a Christian book or some other symbol of Christ. These all are tell-tale signs that a person might be possessed.

Second, what should be done for a person who is demon possessed? Luke 8:30-31, “Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Legion,’ he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.” Suppose you know someone who has is suffering from a problem that the psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors can’t help. Let’s say this friend of yours is going from bad to worse in their destructive behavior. Are they demon possessed? Possibly. There is a difference between someone who is crazy, someone who is suffering from some mental problem and someone who is possessed by demons. Someone who is only mentally ill can usually be helped by natural treatment of some kind, although it may take a long time to find the right treatment. Yes, there are people who are mentally ill and who can’t be treated, but usually something can be done for those who are simply suffering a mental disorder. But in the case of demon possession, the person gets treated but the treatment doesn’t work because the problem isn’t only mental, it’s spiritual. Demon possession is when an alien or foreign personality, that of the demon or demons, is controlling or highly influencing the host personality. The person’s personality is being affected by these other evil personalities. The problem isn’t mostly mental, it’s spiritual, thus, the cure must be spiritual for there to be success. So the normal process in dealing with a mentally sick person is for them to go through a thorough psychiatric or psychological evaluation to identify their problem, or at least to be able to label it something. Then, after the evaluation process is complete, treatment starts. If the problem is natural, then it can usually be treated naturally. Is there progress taking place during the treatment? Is the person learning how to overcome their problems, whatever they might be? If so, great. But if after treatment the problem is no better, or even worse, then the diagnosis of possession might be explored, that is, if some of the signs of possession are present. If you know of someone who is suffering from some personality problem, some mental problem or illness, pray for them and pray that they can be treated and that they respond positively to the treatment. Pray that they might be healed by any means the Lord makes available. But if nothing seems to help them and they keep exhibiting the same conditions over and over again, even after the best professional help available, then pray that they might be open to seeking help from God through His church or a representative of the church. A pastor or spiritual leader can offer prayer and, if need be more, an exorcism, if they are knowledgeable and willing. I wouldn’t recommend the average Christian try casting out a demon without a leader or mature Christian present.

Let’s say your friend has been treated, for example, for anger, but isn’t improving. Now what? Try to get the friend to visit a mature Christian or leader for prayer. The mildest form of exorcism is what is being called “deliverance,” that is, the assumption is that some demon personality is influencing the person but not possessing the person fully. Under this model, simple prayer and mild rebuke of the spirit is all that is needed. So under this method, your friend goes (you could go along as well) to see the pastor or spiritual leader of a good, solid Christian church. Your friend’s situation is explained, so there is some general direction to go in prayer. If it is truly a case of demon influence, prayer would be directed against the demon, in this case anger, with the command that it go, leave the person. If successful, the deliverance — as it is commonly called, has chased the demon of anger out and the person is now totally cured or at least now can be treated by normal means, whereas before he couldn’t. Now in a more severe case where there is a real possession, the demon will have to speak, which is more complicated. In the case of the demon possessed man in the passage, Jesus asked the demon his name. He wasn’t asking the man his name, he was asking the alien or foreign personality within the man his name. Why? Because demons have names and they also have functions, which is strange but true. So in an actual exorcism, which shouldn’t be done alone or with only a few people, but usually with a team of mature Christians, there should be every effort made to distinguish between the victim’s personality and the demon personality or personalities. “I’m not talking to Joe now, I want to talk to whoever is in Joe. Whoever is causing Joe to go into fits of anger and rage, who are you, identify yourself, what is your name, what is your purpose?” And if it’s the real case, a strange, foreign, alien personality will speak which will be noticeably different from the victim’s personality. In Jesus’s situation, He got the demon to talk and it said, “Don’t torture me,” and it feared being sent to hell, and it requested that it be sent into the pigs at least. Once the demon or demons have been identified, then they can be dealt with directly. But without identifying the personalities within the victim, it’s impossible to specifically deal with them. A real exorcism can take a long time, because it takes a long time to figure out what alien personalities are present within the person because the demons will try to confuse things and hide behind the person’s natural personality. But it is essential for the demons to be identified in order that they may be dealt with properly.

Third, how can we get a demon out of a person who is possessed? Luke 8:32-33, “A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.” Once the unwanted personality or personalities have been identified within the victim – and that process takes time, along with much prayer, much reading aloud of passages from the Bible, much singing of hymns, much reciting the Lord’s Prayer and other signs and symbols of the Christian faith, then the final step comes of casting out the demon or demons. The fact is, demons don’t want to leave their place of control or influence in the person’s life. We see this kind of resistance even when Jesus dealt with the demons. Verse 29 says, “For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man,” yet it didn’t come out immediately, but tried to stall and negotiate with Him. Another lengthy part of the exorcism is getting the demon or demons to finally leave. For example, in the case of our illustration, your friend with anger problems and who didn’t respond to normal treatment is identified as possessed by demons. The demon of anger is identified and engaged. Now it is commanded to leave in Jesus’ name. It must always be in Jesus’ name, because only Jesus ultimately has the authority to cast it out. A good procedure would be to go through all the passages in the Bible that describe Jesus and the disciples casting out demons, and then after every reading, to summarize by saying, “Therefore, demon of anger, you must leave this man. I command you, we command you, in Jesus’ name to leave, now.” Other things may be brought into use to get the demon out. A Bible may be brought close to the victim, touching the victim’s forehead, etc. A crucifix could be placed on the victim’s forehead or against the chest. Other sacred objects could be employed – whatever seems to upset and bother the demon inside the victim, making life uncomfortable for it. Finally, through a combination of prayer, reading of scripture, and the use of any and all sacred objects, the demon leaves. How do we know it has left? It no longer answers. It no longer is provoked by prayers, sacred objects, or the reading of scripture. It no longer responds in any way. There is no alien or foreign personality or voice coming from the person. The only person left is the victim, who feels great relief.

Fourth, and finally, what is the end result of an exorcism? Luke 8:34-38, “. . . When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind. . . .” How do we know if a person has gotten rid of all their demons? Because they often, or can in most cases, feel the immediate release of their personality from the grip of the demon. In our illustration of the friend with anger, there is an immediate release from that anger. There is an immediate peace that comes where there once was only anger. This man in the Bible after his exorcism sat at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind – healed. For the person who has been successfully exorcized, he will be released from the dominating demon personality disorder and he will naturally be attracted to Jesus who freed him. It is appropriate for the person and everyone involved in the exorcism to take communion and pray prayers of thanks to God in Jesus’ name for the answer to prayer. It is natural for the person who was healed to want to commit his life to Jesus, be baptized, and join the Christian church. This should be encouraged. If they are already professing Christianity, they should be encouraged to re-commit their life to Christ and renounce any influences that may have contributed to their demonic possession. An exorcism can only succeed if the victim wills it to succeed. During the whole process, if the person suffering with the demon or demons doesn’t want them to go, they won’t go. When the demons do go, it is because the victim has strongly willed that they go. If the victim isn’t cooperating with the people helping cast the demons out, the demon will not go. But it’s also the same after a successful exorcism. The victim must continually will that the demons stay out or else they will come back, and maybe even stronger, as another passage in the Bible describes. So everything must be done for the person released from demons to strengthen the will and resolve against ever inviting the demons back. Some experts in this field claim that nobody can become possessed of demons without in some way permitting it themselves. In our illustration, the friend suffering with anger probably unknowingly invited demons in because it temporarily felt good to become enraged at someone or something and the demons helped him do that. In that way, the demons were allowed in. In the same way, the demons must be kept out by replacing them with God’s Good Spirit. Instead of allowing rage to build up and burst, now the friend will need to learn to turn to the Holy Spirit in forgiveness. I hope that none of us ever have occasion to experience dealing with demonic personalities, but at least if we must, we now know what to do.



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