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Home > Issues > 2012 > Spring > Diagnosing the Demonic

Recognizing the presence of demonic spirits would be easy if each demonized person had symptoms that were as dramatic as those we saw in movies like The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and The Rite. They've taught us what deliverance looks like: projectile vomiting, head spinning, levitating, a sudden drop in room temperature, a total distortion of the individual's appearance, a guttural voice, a sense of evil, and the ability to make objects fly about the room.

After being involved in deliverance ministry for more than 30 years and having seen more than 1000 people set free in the name of Jesus, I can attest that deliverance rarely looks like this, for which I am extremely grateful.

Brokenness can be covered with a smile, torment with service, and compulsive behavior with secrecy. Most of the time what others see on the outside doesn't reflect what is going on inside. We can give ourselves to the Lord, be baptized, and try to walk with him, but still be oppressed and victimized by spiritual forces beyond our control. And we can do it with a smile on our face.

Because everything we do and think and feel is the result of a mix of biological, cognitive, psychological, social, and spiritual factors, it is very difficult to say, "This is what a demonized person looks like." The Bible itself lists a broad assortment of symptoms that are attributed to demonic spirits.

In the physical realm, we see demonization resulting in muteness (Mt. 12:22), deafness (Mk. 9:25), blindness (Mt. 12:22), and bodily deformity (Lk. 13:10-17). In Matthew 4:23-25 we find the demonized among those who were ill from various diseases, those suffering severe pain, seizures, and paralysis. Mark 9:17 indicates that physical symptoms and demonization are not mutually exclusive. Jesus healed those who were sick and those who had demons. The word "healed" was applied to both.

In the psychological realm, some of the symptoms that demonized people displayed in the New Testament would be categorized as characteristic of a mental disorder today. Unprovoked violence, crying out uncontrollably, raving, and being troubled are mentioned (Mt. 8:28, Mk. 1:23-24, Lk. 6:17-18, Acts 19:13-16). These are not stable, healthy behaviors. Mental health symptoms and demonic symptoms can be similar.

In the relational realm, we see demonic involvement in Luke 8:27-28, manifesting in a man who lived naked among tombs and was impossible to restrain. This behavior would, at the least, hinder successful interaction with family, friends, and those in the community.

So Scripture shows us that virtually any physical, psychological, or social symptoms might be attributed to demonic spirits. The enemy attacks on all possible fronts, which complicates the whole process of diagnosis.

The most accurate diagnoses come not from looking only at symptoms, but at predictive life experiences. If an individual has opened certain doors, there is an increased probability that demonic involvement is present. These include (1) generational curses, oaths, and soul ties, (2) occult involvement, (3) trauma or victimization, and (4) long-term ongoing sin. These create areas of spiritual vulnerability into which demonic spirits may move.

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From Issue:Spiritual Warfare, Spring 2012 | Posted: April 30, 2012

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Displaying 1–5 of 18 comments

Julia Duin

September 19, 2013  8:30pm

Deliverance has been called the hidden quarter of Jesus' ministry where few people wish to go. I also found Scott Peck's work on demons very helpful. We need thousands more people like David Appleby in our churches today to counter the pervasive ignorance of all things in the spiritual realm. Few churches as a whole are a threat at all to Satan. Deliverance ministries are and one tends to get burned out fast. But it's so needed. Witness how much deliverance Jesus had to do.

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David Haddon

September 12, 2013  10:48pm

From my study of the Scriptures and from my personal experience of demonization as a Christian, I am favorably impressed with David Appleby's balanced handling of this subject. And I trust that he would agree with Ed Murphy and Fred Dickason's understanding that sometimes both psychological counseling and deliverance ministry are needed. I make a Biblical argument for the reality that demons can afflict Christians on the basis of familial or personal involvement with occultism, false religion and habitual sin in Chapter 20 of my book, "Confessions of a Demonized Christian: How I received another "Jesus," then overcame the impostors." I also point out how the believer's identity "in Christ" and spiritual authority over demons in his name can be used in self-deliverance by afflicted Christians. In addition, I warn against the dangers of demonic incursion through the mental passivity induced by various forms of yoga and the spiritual practices of Buddhism.

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David W. Appleby

August 22, 2012  1:48pm

Matt, thanks for your input. The purpose of this article was not to make a carefully reasoned case for deliverance. I try to do that in my book, It’s Only a Demon. I would encourage you to check it out if you are looking for a carefully reasoned argument. As for Michelle being powerless and 100% the victim as a child, I would agree. We know that the Enemy goes about like a lion seeking whom he may devour. If you’ve ever watched a large predator hunting you will see that they go after the young, the injured, and those who have been separated from the herd (meaningful, healthy support). Michelle was all of these. As an adult, I am afraid that I would part company with you there. I believe that God holds us responsible for our choices, though your point about co-dependency is a good one. Demons prefer to begin the process of violation and destruction early. Their usual pattern is for the demon to help the victim “fix” one problem using demonic patterns that will ultimately exacerbate other problems further down the road. Because the demonic “fix” often initially works and helps alleviate the pain, the victim begins to cooperate with the demonic spirit, thus reinforcing the destructive patterns. It rarely gets better before it gets worse.

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David W. Appleby

August 22, 2012  1:45pm

David, I appreciate your comments and I just wanted to tell you that I completely agree with you. The symptoms and sources of demonization are based upon observations made over more than twenty-five years of doing deliverance and are not, to my knowledge, found listed this way anywhere in the Scriptures. If you read my book, it’s Only a Demon you will find that I say that plainly there. I try to make a clear distinction between what I can support biblically and what I’ve discovered over the years that is not biblically based. In fact, if you read this article carefully, I don’t think I say anywhere that the symptoms or sources are biblically based. Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t provide us with much information on a lot of subjects. The purpose of the Scriptures is to reveal Jesus Christ, not to be a handbook on how to do deliverance, how to govern a church, the biblical position of men and women in the community of believers, etc. However, the fact that many things are not clearly laid out for us does not keep us from trying to connect the dots and drawing what we hope are biblical conclusions on a wide variety of subjects.

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June 10, 2012  4:25pm

I was raised baptist and mostly educated within the Church of Christ (which does an EXCELLENT job with educating their flock, in my honest opinion), and I had issues that my Bible teachers assumed were neurological. I heard about Dr. Appleby, so I booked an appointment. Lo and behold, I was freed from the torment and have now seen first hand what freedom in Christ is supposed to look like.

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