Those who believe that Christians can be demon possessed or demonized (still feels foolish to even write that phrase) assert that certain passages in which the Bible warns against things happening in the Christian’s life automatically equate demon possession. Let’s examine one that I heard today:

“Give no place (foothold) to the devil means a Christian can be demonized if they allow the devil to reside in their soul (thoughts).”

First, let’s start with the context of this passage;

Ephesians 4:22-27 (NIV), “22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.”

According to the verses prior to the foothold phrase Christians are told by Paul they have a new self and are not to allow corruption to come in via their old self from deceitful desires, but rather to be made new in the attitude of their minds or as the KJV reads, “be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” This passage is teaching that what we set our minds on as Christians determine whether we live by the new self or the old self. Nothing in this passage even gives a hint towards demonization. Paul teaches this same concept but with different terms in the passage below.

Romans 8:5-10 (NIV), “5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.”

The concept is clear from both Ephesians 4 and Romans 8; “Whatever the Christian’s mind is set on is what they are going to live by.”

Second, looking back at Ephesians 4:27 where Paul warns against giving the devil a “foothold” as the NIV translates. The Greek word is topos and is better understood as “place,” hence the KJV reads, “neither give place to the devil.” Therefore, when we as Christians do not act and think according to the new self we allow ourselves to be influenced by the devil via our fleshly desires. In other words, we give the devil a place in our lives when our thoughts are on the old self with sins like lying, anger and the like.

However, Christians giving a place to the devil in our thoughts never equals demonization in the Bible. When a Christian sins and gives into temptation that doesn’t mean they are now under the power and control of the devil.

Giving a foothold or place to the devil means that when Christians sin by putting their mind on the old self the devil is able to continue to deceive so he can try to draw them away from Christ.

Third, take a look back in Ephesians 2 and see how the devil only has spiritual dominion over those who are without the Holy Spirit. And yet, even then, every sinner, under the power of the “spirit of the air” is not said to be demonized. Otherwise, Jesus and the apostles would have cast out devils out of every one of his followers. Whereas, both the gospels and Acts describe demons being cast out as being something unique for certain people- not something done in everyone. Just like all of Jesus’s disciples didn’t have leprosy, everyone didn’t have demons.

Now consider the following passage;

Ephesians 2:1-7 (NIV), “1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you 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. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

Paul wrote that the Christian is no longer dead in transgressions and sins, but rather alive in Christ. Therefore, the Christian cannot be under the ruler of the kingdom of the air because they are seated in heavenly places with Christ. Certainly, the devil doesn’t like this so he tries to war against the believer and looks for those “places” where the Christian has given into the old self. At the same time, the devil cannot seize control while the Christian is still a Christian. For this exchange of authority to happen the Christian must turn away from God, come under God’s judgement, have the Holy Spirit removed, and thus be an “empty house” that can now be occupied and/or controlled by the hordes of hell (Matthew 12:44-45).

The Bible considers this process as a falling away (Galatians 5:4) or shipwrecking the faith (1 Timothy 1:19) or being cut off (John 15:2;6). Remember, Saul was not tormented by an evil spirit until the Spirit of the Lord departed him (1 Samual 16:14). That is why Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:10-11 (NIV), “10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” The default position of the believer is in heavenly places, winning the battles against the devil. However, if the believer stops upholding the shield the faith, the darts can penetrate the soul (which has already been led astray by the old self) and result in someone turning from the living God in unbelief.

Just as Paul warned in Hebrews 3:12, “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” Notice that turning from God starts with sin and ends with unbelief. On one hand, this is all the fault and responsibility of the person (not the devil)- hence the backslider being rightfully judged. On the other hand, the devil was there the whole time finding ways (places) to deceive.

No one is getting demonized who hasn’t first turned from the living God by unbelief as a result of a willful and continual lifestyle of minding and acting upon the deceitful desires of the flesh. Truly, this is the one who gave a place to the devil, lived in continual sin without repentance, and was brought to destruction. 

In closing, it takes time to untangle the knots that naive people tie by misinterpreting the Scriptures. But I pray that this short lesson has blessed you and that you and I both remember the great privilege we have as Christians to live in the Spirit with a new self and do not go back to the vomit of the flesh by being deceived by the desires of the old self, giving place to the devil, and fall away from grace- shipwrecking the faith which is able to thwart all the attacks of the enemy.