The first instance of “the devil made me do it” used as an excuse was in the Garden of Eden. Eve says, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13). Her excuse did not get her off the hook (verse 16), and it won’t help us much, either.
Yes, the devil and his demons tempt us to sin (Genesis 3; Luke 4; 1 Peter 5:8). But “the devil made me do it” is far too often used to excuse our own bad choices. Except in an instance of demon possession, the devil cannot make us do anything. The devil is absolutely worthy of blame for much of the evil in the world, but using the devil as a scapegoat for our own sinful choices is counterproductive to achieving victory over sin.
Demon possession (see below) is a condition in which a demon or demons have complete control over a person. Demon possession involves demons actually inhabiting a person and controlling his or her actions (see Mark 9:22). Christians cannot be demon possessed. The indwelling Holy Spirit will not allow it (Romans 8:9; Ephesians 5:18). Therefore, the devil and his demons cannot control a believer. They cannot make us do anything involuntarily. So, rather than blame the devil, we need to look at ourselves.
James 1:4 declares, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (emphasis added). Why do we sin? We sin because we are sinners. We are plagued by and infected with sin (Romans 3:10-23). While demonic oppression (see below) and influence are real, the primary problem is our sinful natures. “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21). Notice, it’s the “works of the flesh” in this list, not the works of the devil.
As Christians, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit to help us overcome sin (1 John 4:4). We have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). If we sin, we have no excuse. We cannot blame the devil. We cannot blame our circumstances. We can only blame ourselves. And, until we recognize that the problem resides within us (Romans 7:20), we will never arrive at the solution.
It may sound harsh to tell someone that the problem is himself and his own choices. But it’s no harsher than a doctor telling a patient to quit smoking and that the tobacco company is not to blame for his poor health. To find a cure, you have to start with a correct diagnosis and then move to the correct treatment. The correct diagnosis is sin. The treatment is to submit to God and obey His Word. God can enable us to achieve victory over sin (Romans 7:24-25; 1 John 5:3-5).
If you are a Christian and you commit a sin, the devil did not make you do it. He may have tempted you to do it. He may have even influenced you to do it. But he did not make you do it. You still had a choice. God never allows you to be tempted beyond your ability to withstand, and He always provides a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). A Christian saying “the devil made me do it” is denying the truth of 1 John 4:4, “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.”
Demon Possession / Demonic Possession
The Bible gives some examples of people possessed or influenced by demons. From these examples we can find some symptoms of demonic influence and gain insight as to how a demon possesses someone. Here are some of the biblical passages: Matthew 9:32-33; 12:22; 17:18; Mark 5:1-20; 7:26-30; Luke 4:33-36; Luke 22:3; Acts 16:16-18. In some of these passages, the demon possession causes physical ailments such as inability to speak, epileptic symptoms, blindness, etc. In other cases, it causes the individual to do evil, Judas being the main example. In Acts 16:16-18, the spirit apparently gives a slave girl some ability to know things beyond her own learning. The demon-possessed man of the Gadarenes, who was possessed by a multitude of demons (Legion), had superhuman strength and lived naked among the tombstones. King Saul, after rebelling against the LORD, was troubled by an evil spirit (1 Samuel 16:14-15; 18:10-11; 19:9-10) with the apparent effect of a depressed mood and an increased desire to kill David.
Thus, there is a wide variety of possible symptoms of demon possession, such as a physical impairment that cannot be attributed to an actual physiological problem, a personality change such as depression or aggression, supernatural strength, immodesty, antisocial behavior, and perhaps the ability to share information that one has no natural way of knowing. It is important to note that nearly all, if not all, of these characteristics may have other explanations, so it is important not to label every depressed person or epileptic individual as demon-possessed. On the other hand, Western cultures probably do not take satanic involvement in people’s lives seriously enough.
In addition to these physical or emotional distinctions, one can also look at spiritual attributes showing demonic influence. These may include a refusal to forgive (2 Corinthians 2:10-11) and the belief in and spread of false doctrine, especially concerning Jesus Christ and His atoning work (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 13-15; 1 Timothy 4:1-5; 1 John 4:1-3).
Concerning the involvement of demons in the lives of Christians, the apostle Peter is an illustration of the fact that a believer can be influenced by the devil (Matthew 16:23). Some refer to Christians who are under a strong demonic influence as being “demonized,” but never is there an example in Scripture of a believer in Christ being possessed by a demon. Most theologians believe that a Christian cannot be possessed because he has the Holy Spirit abiding within (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; 1 Corinthians 6:19), and the Spirit of God would not share residence with a demon.
We are not told exactly how one opens himself up for possession. If Judas’ case is representative, he opened his heart to evil—in his case by his greed (John 12:6). So it may be possible that if one allows his heart to be ruled by some habitual sin, it becomes an invitation for a demon to enter. From missionaries’ experiences, demon possession also seems to be related to the worship of heathen idols and the possession of occult materials. Scripture repeatedly relates idol worship to the actual worship of demons (Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17; Psalm 106:37; 1 Corinthians 10:20), so it should not be surprising that involvement with idolatry could lead to demon possession.
Based on the above scriptural passages and some of the experiences of missionaries, we can conclude that many people open their lives up to demon involvement through the embracing of some sin or through cultic involvement (either knowingly or unknowingly). Examples may include immorality, drug/alcohol abuse that alters one’s state of consciousness, rebellion, bitterness, and transcendental meditation.
There is an additional consideration. Satan and his evil host can do nothing the Lord does not allow them to do (Job 1-2). This being the case, Satan, thinking he is accomplishing his own purposes, is actually accomplishing God’s good purposes, as in the case of Judas’ betrayal. Some people develop an unhealthy fascination with the occult and demonic activity. This is unwise and unbiblical. If we pursue God, if we are clothing ourselves with His armor and relying upon His strength (Ephesians 6:10-18), we have nothing to fear from the evil ones, for God rules over all!
There is strong biblical evidence that a Christian cannot be demon possessed. The question then arises regarding what influence/power a demon can have over a Christian. Many Bible teachers describe demonic influence on a Christian as “demonic oppression” to distinguish it from possession.
The Bible says that the devil seeks to devour believers (1 Peter 5:8), and Satan and his demons “scheme” against Christians (Ephesians 6:11). As Satan attempted with Jesus (Luke 4:2), demonic forces tempt us to sin and oppose our efforts to obey God. Should a Christian allow the demons to succeed in these attacks, oppression results. Demonic oppression is when a demon is temporarily victorious over a Christian, successfully tempting a Christian to sin and hindering his ability to serve God with a strong testimony. If a Christian continues to allow demonic oppression in his/her life, the oppression can increase to the point that the demon has a very strong influence over the Christian’s thoughts, behavior, and spirituality. Christians who allow continuing sin open themselves up for greater and greater oppression. Confession and repentance of sin are necessary to restore fellowship with God, who can then break the power of demonic influence. The apostle John gives us great encouragement in this area: “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him” (1 John 5:18).
For the Christian, the power for victory over and freedom from demonic oppression isalways available. John declares, “The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). The power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9) is always available to overcome demonic oppression. No demon, not even Satan himself, can prevent a Christian from surrendering to the Holy Spirit and thereby overcoming any and all demonic oppression. Peter encourages believers to resist the devil, “standing firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:9). Being firm or steadfast in the faith means relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to successfully resist demonic influence. Faith is built up through the spiritual disciplines of feeding on the Word of God, persistent prayer, and godly fellowship. Strengthening our faith by these means enables us to put up the shield of faith with which we can “extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).
What Does the Name Legion Mean?
In Mark 5, Jesus visits the region of the Gerasenes and is immediately confronted by a demon-possessed man who lived among the tombs, cut himself with stones, and could not be kept in captivity (Mark 5:1–5). When Jesus asked the demon what its name was, the demon replied, “My name is Legion . . . for we are many” (verse 9).
In common usage, a legion was the largest unit in the Roman army. At that time, a legion averaged about 5,000 fighting men, though it could have thousands more or fewer. So the term legion refers to any large number of beings; a multitude. When the demon in Mark 5 said that its name was Legion, it meant that the demoniac of the Gerasenes was possessed by a large number of unclean spirits.
Scripture does not say exactly how many demons comprised the Legion within the man. However, when Jesus cast them out, they entered a herd of pigs feeding nearby. Legion caused the pigs to rush down a hillside and into the sea, where they were all drowned (Mark 5:13). The number of pigs killed was “about two thousand.” That detail suggests that Legion was composed of about two thousand demons. The large number of demons may account for the afflicted man’s untamable nature and great strength—strength that was no match for God, of course.
There is one other mention of a “legion” in the context of spirit beings, this time of good angels. When Jesus was being arrested, Peter pulled out a sword and wounded a nearby member of the mob. Jesus healed the wound (Matthew 26:51) and told Peter to put away his sword. The Lord reminded Peter that, if He needed help, He could have God send “more than twelve legions of angels” (verse 53). That might total 60,000 angels, but the exact number wasn’t the point Jesus was making. Rather, it was to remind the terrified disciples that God is always in control of all circumstances, even during the horrible injustice of the murder of his own Son.
It is interesting that the Bible refers to both holy angels and demons as forming legions. Legion is a military term, one that fits the Bible’s descriptions of spiritual warfare in several places (Daniel 10:13; Ephesians 6:12; Revelation 12:7).
How can we stand against such numerous and powerful foes? God completely equips believers for battle against satanic forces: “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground” (Ephesians 6:13). As Christians, we are “more than conquerors” through Christ (Romans 8:37). Jesus is our Commander. He is the One who dispatched the demons named Legion with just a word. He it is who will someday throw Legion and all the other demons “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41; cf. Revelation 20:10).
Jesus Allows the Demons to Enter the Herd of Pigs
The story of Jesus casting the legion of demons into a herd of pigs is found in Matthew 8:30-37; Mark 5:1-20; and Luke 8:27-38. Only Matthew mentions the more prominent of the two demoniacs involved. Demoniacs were persons whose minds came under the control of an evil spirit or spirits. That such phenomena were especially prominent during the days of Christ’s earthly ministry is consistent with Satan’s efforts to counteract God’s program. It also allows us to witness the spiritual warfare in which our Savior was constantly engaged. Demons knew exactly who Jesus was—“Son of God”—and were aware of their ultimate doom (Matthew 8:28-29).
As Jesus was traveling in the hilly region east of the Jordan River, the path of this man who was controlled by demons and lived among the tombs crossed that of Jesus. Because of the physical strength the demons gave the man, he was able to break and throw off the chains with which people tried to bind him. When the demons begged Jesus to let them go into a herd of pigs, He gave them permission. They entered the pigs, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned. Jesus thereby made known His authority and thwarted whatever evil purpose the demons had.
Why the demons begged to be allowed to enter the swine is unclear from the account. It could be because they didn’t want to leave the area where they had been successful in doing their mischief among the people. Perhaps they were drawn to the unclean animals because of their own filthiness. The demons may have made this strange request because it was their last chance to avoid confinement in the Abyss, the place of confinement to which evil spirits are doomed (Revelation 9:1-6). Whatever their reasoning, it is clear from the account that demons had little power of their own and were unable to do anything without Jesus’ permission. As Christians, we can take comfort in the knowledge that the forces of the enemy of our souls are under the complete control of God and can only act in ways He allows.
The Bible doesn’t explain to us Jesus’ reasoning, but displaying His sovereign power over demons could be one reason why Jesus sent them into the pigs. If the pigs’ owners were Jews, Jesus could have been rebuking them for violating Mosaic law which forbids Jews from eating or keeping unclean animals such as swine (Leviticus 11:7). If the swineherds were Gentiles, perhaps Jesus was using this miraculous event to show them the malice of evil spirits under whose influence they lived, as well as displaying His own power and authority over creation. In any case, the owners were so terrified to be in the presence of such spiritual power that they made no demand for restitution for the loss of their property and begged Jesus to leave the region. The people were awe-struck but unrepentant—they wanted no more of Jesus Christ. This shows the hardness of their hearts and their desire to remain in sin. The healed demoniac, on the other hand, demonstrated the true faith and repentance of a changed heart and begged to be allowed to follow Jesus. Perhaps the unmistakable difference between the saved and the unsaved was an object lesson for the disciples and all who witnessed the event. Jesus sent the healed man away, giving him a commission that he joyfully obeyed: “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:17-20).