What is exorcism? Can a believer cast out demons?

Exorcism is the practice of expelling a demon from a person who is controlled, or possessed by the demon.  Several examples of exorcism are mentioned in the Bible – all in the New Testament during the period of Christ’s ministry and the following years with the disciples.

The Christian should resist the devil, but not by exorcism.  Instead, the weapons we have been given are our ability to resist in the power of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives and by the liberating power of salvation through the proclamation of the gospel to the lost ones.

Examples of exorcism

Some of the examples include people who were casting out demons (Mark 9:38), Jesus commands to the 70 evangelists (Matthew 10), the false accusation that Jesus was empowered by Beelzebul to be able to cast out demons (Luke 11:15-19) and Paul’s ability to cast the demon out of a slave girl (Acts 16:16-18).

Mark 9:38-40  John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us."  (39)  But Jesus said, "Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.  (40)  For the one who is not against us is for us.
Matthew 10:8  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.
Luke 11:15-19  But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,"  (16)  while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven.  (17)  But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.  (18)  And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul.  (19)  And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.

Acts 16:16-18  As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling.  (17)  She followed Paul and us, crying out, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation."  (18)  And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And it came out that very hour.

Why show this power?

In order to demonstrate Christ’s power over the Prince of Darkness, he cast out demons.  For example he says in Luke 11:21 -22 “when one stronger than he (Satan) attack him and overcomes him…”  He also gave this power to authenticate the 12 disciples in the eyes of the people. He says in Luke 10:17 “I have given you authority”

Luke 10:17-20  The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!"  (18)  And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  (19)  Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.  (20)  Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

Christ’s ultimate triumph over Satan was accomplished at the cross.  From the very beginning of time, God had given a curious prophecy regarding the power of Christ over Satan. This verse is known as the protevangelium, meaning "The First Gospel."

Genesis 3:15  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."

The “offspring” or “seed” of the woman is Christ the Messiah or the Promised One.  The offspring of Satan is the group of his agents – fallen angels. The bruising of Christ’s heel refers to his wounding at the cross. The bruised head – or crushed head – is the ultimate triumph over Satan’s power.  His “power” resides in the manipulation of the laws of sin and death against humanity.  Bruising Satan’s head is a mortal wound, while bruising the heel is a painful, but less serious wound.  Satan is defeated when Christ gives us eternal life.

The instructions to the church in the epistles tell us that Satan is a defeated foe.  However, we are not encouraged nor commanded to cast out demons.  Instead we are to put on armor to stand against Satan.

Ephesians 6:11  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

We should resist the devil and his work of provoking jealousy and covetousness by submitting ourselves to God.  The devil is using our own fleshly desires and selfishness against us.  His tools are found within our own being.  By denying him access to our selfishness, we can defeat him.

James 4:6-7  But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."  (7)  Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Ephesians 4:25-27  Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.  (26)  Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,  (27)  and give no opportunity to the devil.

We should be aware of him, and strengthen our own faith in response to his attacks.

1 Peter 5:8-9  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  (9)  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

A new weapon in Christian victory over sin

The lack of instructions for expelling him from possessed people is a noticeable contrast to the activities of Christ and the disciples during His earthly ministry.  The new weapon that we are given in our spiritual battles is the Holy Spirit.  With Him residing in every believer we have a way of resisting the devil and new power to submit to God. The focus of our spiritual conflict is on the battle between fleshly desires and the Holy Spirit. 

A new weapon in victory for the lost ones

An unconverted person, living in spiritual darkness and tormented by the ways of the devil, can be freed by the power of the gospel.  A drug addict, alcoholic or a person in involved in cults is clearly being manipulated and driven by Satan.  The Christian’s response and duty is not to try to drive away demons, but to set him at liberty through faith in Christ.

Remember the words of the Lord at the start of his ministry?  As he begin his ministry he demonstrated his power over Satan.  He finished his work by redeeming us through his death on the cross.

Luke 4:18-19  "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,  (19)  to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Paul announces his mission statement as opening the eyes of those in darkness, not through exorcism, but instead through the power of the forgiveness of sins in the gospel.

Acts 26:18, 22-23  To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. (22) Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come:  (23)  That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.


The Christian should resist the devil, but not by scolding him, or "binding" him, or by exorcism.  Instead, the weapons we have been given are our ability to resist in the power of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives and by the liberating power of salvation through the proclamation of the gospel to the lost ones.



Shad Sluiter