When we inquire about things like demons, also called evil spirits, we need to remember that the only reliable source of truth is the Bible because it is God’s Word. Tradition, human experience, and church authorities all must be subjected to the standard of Scripture. When we ask, “Can a believer be demon possessed?” the larger question is,
“What does the Bible say about demon possession?” Although this is not addressed directly in Scripture, there is enough biblical support to answer that question.
Demon possession in the Bible
Theologians discuss the terms “demon possessed” and “demonized” (the English transliteration of the Greek word, which means having demons). But it’s the related biblical truths that shed light on the issue and help us answer this question, “Can a Christian be demon possessed?”
In Scripture, demon possession involves a demon, an evil spirit, having direct or complete control over the thoughts and/or actions of a person (Matthew 17:14–18; Luke 4:33–35, 8:27–33). Illness, rage, self-mutilation, and super-human strength can be some of the effects of this control.
The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit indwells believers (Romans 8:9–10; 1 Corinthians 3:16). Evidence of this is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). It is inconceivable that God the Holy Spirit would allow one who Christ died for, the one who is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the one who now belongs to the Lord, to be inhabited and controlled by an evil spirit.
There are neither biblical examples of believers being possessed by demons nor is there biblical instruction regarding exorcism (expulsion of the demon). If believers could be possessed we would expect both. Therefore, the silence of Scripture on these topics speaks volumes.
When we first became believers, God transferred us from the kingdom of darkness and the rule and reign of Satan to the kingdom of righteousness and of His Son Jesus Christ. In fact, 1 John 5:18 tells us “We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them.” The word “touch” in this verse has the sense of grabbing onto. Demons cannot possess a believer. They do not have the authority to do so. The believer belongs to Christ, and neither Satan nor his demons can reclaim one who belongs to the Lord.
Demon oppression in the Bible
Knowing he cannot possess believers, Satan’s objective is to render us ineffective. All he can do is use his lies and power to influence, attack, and oppress us. He tells us lies about God, ourselves, and others to try to deceive us into behaving in ways that don’t glorify God. He can inflict illness, adversity, and calamity to cause us to question the character or will of God. He knows our personal weaknesses and can use the lures of the flesh and the world to bait us. He will wait years to spring his trap if necessary.
Believers who have been tripped up or caught in one of Satan’s traps are in spiritual bondage. Some of the more common things that bind believers and hinder our effectiveness are pride, bitterness, lack of forgiveness, and unconfessed sin “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4: 26–27). These things quench the work of the Spirit in and through us and limit our effectiveness for the Lord. Sadly, Satan’s traps have sidelined many believers. Their refusal or inability to free themselves from his traps by confession and repentance keeps them limited.
Since Satan’s aim is to trip us up, Scripture warns us repeatedly to be aware of his schemes and to be on the alert. We cannot stop his attacks but we can fight back with the truth of God’s Word aimed directly at the lies. We are told to resist Satan and stand in the strength and power the Lord provides (Ephesians 6:10–18; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5: 8–9).
Believers should neither fear possession nor be ignorant or cavalier about it. We are secure in Christ and the Spirit who lives in us is greater than the spirit who lives in the world (1 John 4:4).
For more extensive treatment of this question, read Freedom from Spiritual Bondage by Charles R. Swindoll.