I believe the answer is no, but believers can still be deceived, harassed, and oppressed by demons. At one point, Satan spoke right through Peter when he was warning Jesus not to proceed to Jerusalem (Matt.16:23). Does this indicate Peter was possessed? I don’t think so, but Satan still had access to Peter’s soul (mind) and had a strong influence on his thoughts. Some may argue that he was not baptized in the Holy Spirit yet, so Satan was able to gain access. But Peter had confessed Jesus as the Christ so I believe he was saved at this point. Furthermore, many Christians today are not baptized in the Spirit, so does this mean that only those “types” of believers could be as influenced as Peter? I don’t think so.

We need to understand what the Bible says about our three-dimensional make up. According to Hebrews 4:12 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23, humans have a body, a soul, and a spirit. I think the soul is our personality along with all our emotional baggage accumulated over the years. Our spirit, on the other hand, is that part of us that is connected directly to God and cannot be possessed by darkness. To keep this in proper perspective, the Bible does not define these terms, so it is human guesswork that provides these ideas. So there is room for error here.

That said, I think it is reasonable to assert that any type of Christian can have demons waging war in their souls but not their spirits. This would explain the existence of dark strongholds that Christians can carry within themselves from abuse, addictions, curses from occult involvement, repeated sins (iniquity), or other sources of darkness. Symptoms of demonic oppressions may include fears, compulsions, foul language, poverty, lusts, and anger among many others. These problems are examples not of possession but rather oppression. They hold back our spiritual growth. These things do not all disappear at salvation to which, I assume, many of you can attest. We need to be set free from those demonic holds through Jesus Christ. In some cases, all we need to do is repent (a deep desire never to do a particular sin again), ask forgiveness, and then do common sense things to lessen our risk of doing wrong again while always relying on God’s grace rather than our own strength. In some other cases, however, the stronghold may be so powerful that special prayer by others within a church, along with fasting, may be necessary to deal that demon or demons. They have rank as well as angels. Some are more powerful than others.

As Paul was addressing believers, he said, “If you receive a different spirit…” (2 Cor. 11:4). It has been said by some that a true Christian cannot receive a wrong spirit. This verse says we can. All the more reason to cling to Jesus and to be filled with the Holy Spirit, always asking for God’s protection against such deception. Although we have authority over evil entities in Christ, we need to have a healthy respect for the power of wrong spirits. I do not believe this verse indicates that believers can be possessed by a demon. It does, however, make clear that we can “receive” a wrong spirit. I think that is what happened to Peter. That word “receive” says to me that a demon can be in our minds influencing what we believe or do. To me, this speaks of two possible things: 1) the Spirit of Error (which leads one into cults), or demonic oppression (where we can be plagued with wrong thoughts or actions we know to be immoral). “Possession” to me indicates a total loss of self awareness and control of actions or speech. In scientific terms, I think “psychotic” would define it well. If a person is psychotic, they need to be institutionalized because they are a danger to self and others. The term “neurotic” may describe demonic oppression well.

I recall four examples in my Christian life that attest to some of the above statements:

  • At different parts of my life, fishing, Strat-O-Matic Baseball (hobby game), and golf became compulsions. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these things, I developed an inordinate love toward them, and that love caused me to backslide from Christ. He no longer held the preeminence in my heart. I call these things potential idols. In each case I had to confess my wrong attitude and ask Jesus to forgive me and fill me with Himself to replace that junk as they left my heart (soul). I became free to love and serve Jesus once again.
  • My dad had a short temper. I did not realize I had one until I played college ice hockey. I quickly found out that if I fought in a game, I would be tossed out. Initially I thought we played according to NHL rules and I would simply get a 5-minute penalty and then keep playing. Well, I preferred playing to fighting so that suppressed my temper for a while. I do not blame my dad for my temper problem. I am not sure if I “caught” it from him, though I realize it is possible. It does not really matter how I obtained this problem. What matters is that I do something to conquer it – namely admit it and seek God for help. As I grew older, however, temper was rearing its ugly head more often, especially when I played golf! The language that spewed from my mouth (and I was a Christian by then) would be embarrassing for me to say. As years went by (and I was doing nothing to stop this thing), I got married and soon after had a little 4-year old son named Michael. One day I was working on some home repair job that should have taken 5 minutes with some simple tools. Not being a handyman, I was well into the 55th minute and finally exploded by yelling and throwing down that “dumb” tool! Little did I realize that little Mike saw and heard the whole thing. The very next day, he did a similar “act” and I said to myself, “Oh oh! He has ‘caught’ something bad from me.” So I brought him to my pastor and explained my temper history and what recently had occurred with me and Michael. He laid hands on both of us and prayed against this demonic stronghold. Suddenly my son began hyperventilating which I interpret as a manifestation of a demon leaving his soul (mind). This was not the power of suggestion. Mike was too young to know what was expected or what was going on. Following that meeting, both Mike and I did better. To be honest, however, we both remain vulnerable in this area, and our guard must always be up. But I realize my battle is not against flesh and blood. In other words, people or circumstances do not trigger by bad temper. Demons do. So I fight them off with prayer and it works. This is called “taking a Holy Pause“ and “walking in my deliverance.” Freedom is fun!
  • My 86-year-old Aunt laid on a hospital bed in a coma from a stroke. She would never regain consciousness. She was my dad’s sister, and on this side of my family were many grudges. For some reason, they all had issues with family members. I traveled to see her and my cousin. I walked up to my aunt while she was unconscious on her hospital bed, and began to pray in the spirit against a demon of unforgiveness. She suddenly began hyperventilating along with moaning and groaning. This was obviously not the power of suggestion working. She was in a coma.

Believers can harbor many things that are demonic in nature. Just before my dad died, he was having hallucinations about his deceased brother against whom he had held a huge grudge. He told my mom that “she had to make things right with him!” No, my dad had to make things right with him. God says if we do not forgive others, then He will not forgive us, so it is a demon’s delight when we hold onto grudges.

  • For years as a Christian, I could not go to sleep quickly at night. I had a habit of thinking too much, especially negative thoughts about me and what I thought others thought of me. For years I just assumed those thoughts were my thoughts until the Lord spoke to my inner being (spirit-to-soul) and revealed that I had a demon assigned to me and it was his voice I was hearing at night. The word “assigned” got my attention. This may sound funny, but that made me feel good because I felt that Christ must have been doing something worthwhile through my life to gain such attention from the “dark side.” God told me to rebuke that spirit in the name of Jesus every time I started hearing that “voice” in my mind (soul). It has been over 20 years since this revelation hit me, and I have been getting to sleep quickly ever since. It’s quite exhilarating to sense the retreat of that voice when I pray in Jesus’ name! It works EVERY time.

This last case involved a man who has attended my church. He never had migraine headaches until he reached middle-age. The onset was sudden, constant, and extremely painful. This went on for four years. Extensive medical tests showed nothing. He later discovered that an occult group was cursing him when they found out he was a Christian. He sought pastoral help. The pastor laid his hands on his forehead and rebuked the headache in the name of Jesus. The pain suddenly moved to the back of his head! Hands were then laid on the back of his head, and the pain instantly returned to the front! Finally, two pastors laid their hands all over his head and the pain vanished instantly! One day, however, it returned. It was just prior to him sharing about this experience in my church’s Foundations Class. I guess the dark side does not like testimonies that glorify our Savior! Since that day, I always pray for his protection when he is about to speak to my class, and the pain has never returned, although he has had slight headaches temporarily. I am not suggesting that all migraines are caused by demons, but certainly some are – even in believers.

In summation, just because believers cannot be possessed by a devil, we should never neglect, underestimate, or be ignorant of his schemes (2 Cor. 2:11). Satan and demons are crafty and subtle (Gen. 3:1). They can harass and stick around. They can speak to our minds (souls). They can cause strong oppression that can be conquered through Christ. At the same time, however, we should not be looking for a demon under every rock. Jesus didn’t, but He surely ran into some and so will we. There is a balance to be struck here, but let us keep in mind that if Satan can penetrate Peter while he was literally walking next to Jesus Himself Matthew 16:23), demons can invade anyone. Fortunately, God has given His kids the necessary weaponry to defeat them (Ephesians 6:10-18 and 2 Cor. 10:3-5). Deliverance from demonic oppression is available to all who believe.