Understanding demonic oppression
There is a general disbelief that Christians can be captured, oppressed and controlled by demons. It seems hard to imagine how believers who have the Holy Spirit in them can also “host” demons at the same time. Isn’t faith in Jesus enough to stay free from demonisation? As the testimonies in this website show, this is only part of the truth. How are believers misled into Satan’s traps?
Spiritual impurity attracts demons
Like germs and viruses, demons are invisible to our naked eye and can cause us significant harm if we don’t take the necessary precautions.
When we maintain good hygiene and healthy habits, our immune systems will be strong enough to naturally repel virus attacks. Similarly, when we keep ourselves cleansed spiritually, we will minimise the entry points for demons to oppress us.
This is why the Bible calls us to “cleanse our hands and purify our hearts” as we submit to God and resist the devil. To become spiritual pure, we need to repent of our sins and be fully committed to God (not double-minded) on an ongoing basis. This has been the same requirement of God’s people from the Old Testament to the New Testament.
James 4:7-8 ESV Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
Our minds can be blind to spiritually impurity
Ever since Adam and Eve lost their dominion over this earth to the devil by turning against God, Satan has taken over all worldly domains – from people groups and physical places to ideologies and worship systems. Satan may be called the “god of this world” but He doesn’t have ultimate authority. The devil must bow down to Jesus Christ, who utterly defeated and disarmed him through His death and resurrection. We too have all spiritual authority over Satan and demons when we speak in Jesus’ name.
2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Colossians 2:13-15 NLT You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.
Philippians 2:10 ESV so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
The problem arises when our minds have been “blinded” to spiritually impurity.
Satan surrounds us with so many ungodly distractions and lies, however, that our ability to purely desire our good and perfect God has been severely impacted. He has cunningly blinded our minds with half-truths and doubts so that we find it hard to trust or understand God’s Word with childlike faith. Resultingly, we have been misled to believe that many things are unimportant or unoffensive to God.
To understand how this works, let us look at the very first deception recorded in the Bible, where Satan, described as a serpent in Genesis 3, deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Genesis 3:1-5 ESV Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Satan’s deceptions in the Garden of Eden
|1. Camouflage evil as good||… your eyes will be opened i.e. “It’s good for you. You will be a “better” you (and along the way, you will be separated from God).”|
|2. Deception of power||.. you will be like God” i.e. “You don’t need God. You can have control over your own destiny (and rebel against His will for you).”|
|3. False promise of wisdom||.. knowing good and evil.” i.e. “You will gain wisdom (but the reality is that you will become corrupted and lose your innocence).“|
|4. Half the truth||You will not surely die. i.e. “You won’t die physically (but you will die spiritually. Worry only about your physical life and death.)”|
|5. Dismiss God’s warnings||“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” i.e. “Are you sure this goes against God’s Word? Maybe it doesn’t (when it actually does).”|
|6. Slander God’s character||For God knows that … you will be like God i.e. “God is trying to stop you from enjoying an abundant life (when in reality, it is Satan who is trying to destroy you).”|
Satan uses different messages today, but his tactics are largely the same.
Like fish that are distracted by attractive lures that camouflage dangerous hooks, we are caught when we bite wholesale into Satan’s lies. Thankfully, fish can still escape if they merely take a light nimble. It is those that refuse to release their bite that will get pulled straight into a trap.
Here are a few contemporary examples:
- Camouflage evil as good | “Yoga, taichi, acupuncture, and mindfulness are all excellent for health and fitness.”
- Deception of power | “Fengshui and fortune telling can help you map out your life.”
- False promise of wisdom | “Philosophy and science and make you wise, there is no need to study the Bible.”
- Half the truth | “It’s enough to ask Jesus to be your Saviour to be saved spiritually.”
- Dismiss God’s warnings | “It is ok to bow before an altar just once. It’s not a big deal.”
- Slander God’s character | “Look at all the things you don’t have. Is God really that good?”
We may be initially confused and be attracted to such “lures”, but if we take the effort to study God’s Word, seek the Holy Spirit for the truth, and conduct some research of our own, we will recognise the truth, avoid Satan’s traps, and escape from demonic oppression.
Also, see Lies we believe from horror stories
Jesus came to recover “sight” to our blinded minds
Jesus declared that He brought good news for the spiritually poor (Luke 4:18-19 ). Where Satan had deceived and stolen from God’s people, like how he first did with Adam and Eve, Jesus would restore them from spiritual poverty to spiritual abundance (John 10:10).
- Jesus declared that spiritually freedom had arrived.
- He helps us recover our mind’s ability to see the truth.
- His truth will set us free. (John 8:31-32)
- We will stay free when we obey His Word.
Luke 4:18-19 ESV “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
John 10:10 ESV The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
John 8:31-32 ESV So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Jesus explained that His mission was primarily to redeem the lost amongst His chosen nation of followers. Then, He proceeded to cast demons out from them. Many of God’s chosen followers at that time would have undergone sacrificial rituals to cleanse themselves spiritually. Yet, some were heavily oppressed. How could God’s people, who memorised His Word from young, become blinded and oppressed by demons?
Matthew 15:24 ESV He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Mark 1:28,34 ESV And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons…
What makes us vulnerable to spiritual deception
Hebrews 3 holds some clues to the answer to the question above. God’s own people suffered from:
- Lack of exhortation
Hebrews 3:12-13,16-19 ESV Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin… For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
Unbelief is not the outright denial of God, but rather, a lack of faith in all that He says. The Israelites knew God is real but they still withheld their complete trust and devotion from Him. We also see this with the apostles. Jesus rebuked them for their unbelief and hardened hearts because they didn’t believe He had risen from the dead, like He said He would.
Mark 16:14 ESV Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.
Matthew 18:3 ESV and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
2. Love for this world (rebellion)
When Satan tempted Jesus in the desert to rebel against His Heavenly Father, the enemy focused on tempting Jesus using fleshly desires and the things of this world. This is why the Bible says that “friendship with the world is enmity with God“. Rebellion begins with becoming too caught up with worldly things from Satan and allowing our hearts towards God to become cold.
James 4:4-5 ESV You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?
3. Lack of exhortation
Sometimes, we sin unintentionally and become spiritually defiled. Sadly, when we don’t have anyone to teach or counsel us spiritually, we may remain trapped in demonic oppression our entire lives without ever knowing it.
Hosea 4:6 ESV My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…
Spiritual blindness that leads to demonisation
When we have unbelief in our hearts, an unhealthy preoccupation with this world, or no one to teach us about spiritual traps, our minds can become blinded to spiritual impurities.
The spiritual corruption in our minds, hearts, and bodies produces spiritual “decay and death” which gives demons a legitimate reason to oppress us, as Galatians 6:7-8 points out. The New Living Translation puts it this way, “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.”
Galatians 6:7-8 ESV Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
The sources of spiritual decay and death include:
- Suppressed ungodly emotions from trauma or childhood wounds
- Generational sins and curses
- Ungodly beliefs and patterns
- Occult sins
- Sexual sins
- Ungodly spiritual ties
- Ungodly organisations and places
- Ungodly covenants and vows
Common symptoms of demonisation
Genuine followers of Jesus Christ cannot be completely possessed by demons, meaning that evil spirits cannot completely take over our minds and bodies. But they can oppress us mentally, emotionally and physically, and influence our choices and actions. For some people, demonic oppression can be so overwhelming that our sinful desires become compulsive. We can feel as if we have been ensnared by our sinful desires and “captured” to do Satan’s will.
2 Timothy 2:25-26 ESV … God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
Some symptoms of demonisation
|Emotional||Feeling a sense of heaviness, feeling stuck, irrational fears, constant anxiety, shame and guilt, deep loneliness, deep jealousy, self-hatred, self-pity, panic attacks, desire to hide and isolate oneself, hopelessness, bitterness, anger, and hatred towards others etc.|
|Mental||Inability to remember things or focus for long, easily confused, difficulty in reading or memorising God’s Word, restlessness, hearing curse words in one’s head, urge to argue and debate, neurosis, paranoias, compulsion to control others, ongoing conversations in one’s mind, thoughts of death and suicide, depression, self-accusations, condemnation of others, constant recounting of past wrongs or mistakes, fascination with the occult, death or horror stories, addiction to pornography or violent movies etc.|
|Physical||Accident prone, inability to hold on to wealth, stress-related illnesses and skin diseases, recurring aches and pains, inability to sleep well, typically waking up around 3am-4am, horrifying nightmares, sexual “visitors” in dreams, compulsive behaviours and addictions, uncontrollable lust and sexual thoughts, self-harm etc.|
When the patterns described above are common or repeated in a person’s life, it is very likely that they are under demonic oppression. Heavily demonised people will usually not recognise their spiritual state because they have become accustomed to their patterns, until something happens that gets their attention.
Spotting oppression in our Christian circles
When oppressed people are around Holy Spirit-filled believers who can help them, they are likely to feel nervous, dread, fear or a desire to run away from them. They hear accusing thoughts about these particular believers or reasons why they should stay away from them. They may experience unexplainable fatigue, headaches, stomach pangs or sharp body pains when they are around these people.
Demonised people also tend to feel sleepy, doze off or get very distracted during sermons and prayers. When they pray, their minds can sometimes suddenly go blank or they are unable to engage their hearts in prayer. Sexual images and other ungodly words may interrupt their thoughts during prayer. Believers who pray for demonised people may feel an unexpected unease, fogginess or heaviness in their own heads.
Oppressed people will push back strongly when people start praising God. This can manifest as anger, doubt, objections, dismissals, offense, mockery, curses or threats.
Other telltale signs that someone might be oppressed is by their countenance and mentality. There could be a dull grey hue over their face, a look of stony pride, anger, hatred or simply, a glazed, hollow gaze in their eyes. Their countenances do not radiate the joy and light of Jesus, and they will usually avoid eye contact with or glare in defiance at Spirit-filled believers.
John 8:12 ESV Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
They may talk incessantly in circles or have difficulty focusing their thoughts. There is a compulsion to condemn other people or themselves. Their decisions are based on fear, rather than love. They turn to emotional guilt and fear tactics to manipulate or control other people. Seemingly innocent things can trigger strong emotional reactions. They may also laugh vacuously and cry without provocation, but can’t explain why.
Oppressed people may serve in Christian ministries but they will do so with little joy. They will be legalistic, argumentative and obstinate; a regular source of division, judgment, envy, comparisons, pride, gossip, and slander in Christians circles. They make ministry about their desires, rather than the needs of other people.
Romans 1:29-32 ESV They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Demonised Christians will live in bondage to sin, unable to “shake it off” no matter how much they try – until they repent of the “decay and death” in their lives so that Satan can no longer blind their minds and keep them in bondage.
We are to care for, not judge, the oppressed
We must never judge one person as being more oppressed than another, because this is one of Satan’s most successful traps for believers; spiritual pride. No Christian chooses to be demonically oppressed. It is often the result of genuine ignorance or spiritual blindness.
Neither is anyone perfect and sinless. Just as we cannot avoid viruses in this world, none of us can totally avoid some level of demonic influence in our lives – but we can minimise it. The more we are transformed to be like Jesus through His Holy Spirit, the less demons can find a foothold in our lives.
Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.
2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Let us also remember that the first person that Jesus appeared to after His resurrection was Mary Magdalene, someone He had cast out seven demons from. He only appeared to the 12 disciples afterwards. Mary, who personally experienced great freedom from Jesus, deeply loved and adored her Saviour.
John 20:18 ESV Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
Luke 8:1-2 ESV Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,
Helping one another overcome demonic strongholds
Just as we avoid infections and sickness by staying healthy so viruses can’t attack our health, we are to do the same spiritually – except that it is not something we can do on our own. There is no person, medication, oil or tool we can turn to. Only God’s Holy Spirit can help us steer clear of demonic oppression.
1. Salvation through Jesus Christ
The first basic step is to ask Jesus to become our Lord and Saviour and surrender our hearts’ desires to Him. The more willing we are to completely turn away from our old ways and pursue God, the more spiritual victory and freedom we will experience.
Galatians 5:1 ESV For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
2. Baptism and new life through the Holy Spirit
Next is to be baptised in Jesus’ name, declare that we die to ourselves, and ask the Holy Spirit to raise us to new life. God’s Holy Spirit will keep us from sinning and show us the “decay and death” in our lives that we must renounce in order to live the abundant life that Jesus promises us. For more about baptism, see Preparing our hearts for baptism and Romans 6.
Acts 2:38 ESV And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
3. Confession and repentance
We also need to actively take all the spiritual decay and death we have been carrying around with us since childhood and “crucify them to the cross”. This includes our ways of thinking, pagan beliefs, earthly ties, fleshly desires, and worldly identities. We do this through confession and repentance before godly believers who can pray with us and keep us accountable.
Where necessary, we may need help from biblically focused deliverance and inner healing ministries that are god fearing and which do not use any new age techniques. Praise God we have complete authority and power to cast these demonic powers out in Jesus’ name, because He who is in us is greater than Satan. See The urgent truth about repentance and Kingdom citizenship.
1 John 4:4 ESV Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
4. Renewal of our minds
Then we need to study God’s Word so we know how to live in a way that gives “no opportunity to the devil” to afflict us (Ephesians 4:27). This is an important part of putting on the “spiritual armour” that God has provided for us. Also, see Renewing the spirit of our minds and Ephesians 4:17-5:20.
Galatians 5:24 ESV And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Ephesians 6:11-12 ESV Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Fasting is another vital way to renew our spiritual health. It sharpens the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and dulls that of the enemy. Fasting helps to remove the chains that bind us spiritually. It is an important part of nurturing our spiritual alertness. See The significance of fasting.
Isaiah 58:6 ESV “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
6. Mutual exhortation and accountability
Last but not least, we need to remain in a healthy spiritual environment for mutual edification and accountability so that we do not fall back into sin. This is why God’s Word calls us to exhort one another.
Hebrews 3:12-14 ESV Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
Our good Father never abandons the oppressed
God’s love for us doesn’t change whether we are lightly or heavily oppressed by demonic influences. We see an excellent example in the apostle Peter.
Jesus told Peter that He would give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, knowing that Peter would deny knowing Him three times a few days later. When Peter listened to Satan and tried to stop Jesus from fulfilling His ministry, Jesus rebuked Satan – not Peter. God does not condemn His children who follow Him with genuine hearts and sometimes fall for Satan’s deceptions. We live in a broken sinful world and no one escapes demonic oppression at some point, but that doesn’t stop God from loving us and having great plans for us.
Matthew 16:18-19 ESV And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Matthew 16:22-23 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord. This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
God knows we need His Holy Spirit in us in order to live victoriously. Even though we are stained with the spiritual impurities of this world most of the time, He still chooses to dwell with us and lovingly guide us. What a wonderful Father we have! He is truly compassionate, gracious, patient and loving. God will keep us spiritually safe and free from oppression when we submit and follow Him. May we turn our hearts to Him completely and live in His everlasting hope, joy, peace, and love.
Psalm 72:12-14 ESV For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.
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