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I was talking to a Christian friend recently, and she brought up this teaching that when you sin you give the devil 'legal access' (her words) to your life. The conversation was in the context of a Lutheran pastor with cancer we both knew, who refused to believe that his cancer was in any way a spiritual attack, as he was a child of God and 'defended from the darts of the enemy.'

I'm curious about any scriptural teaching on whether your sin opens up some sort of 'legal right' for satan to work in your life. Personally I'm quite uncomfortable with this idea for a number of reasons (for one, it doesn't seem to sit well with the story of Job), but I'd be interested if anyone can provide any scriputural justification/refutation.

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Could you clarify what your understanding of "legal access" is? I want to make sure I didn't misinterpret. –  David Stratton Nov 24 '11 at 7:05
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4 Answers

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This answer is coming from the viewpoint of a Conservative Independent Baptist that believes that the Bible is the ultimate guide to truth.
It also assumes that the phrase "legal access" in your question means "legal claim", and is intended to mean the official definition of the phrase.

claim 1) v. to make a demand for money, for property, or for enforcement of a right provided by law. 2) n. the making of a demand (assert a claim) for money due, for property, for damages or for enforcement of a right. If such a demand is not honored, it may result in a lawsuit. In order to enforce a right against a government agency (ranging for damages from a negligent bus driver to a shortage in payroll) a claim must be filed first. If rejected or ignored by the government, it is lawsuit time.

claim (Right), noun beneficial interest, contingent interrst, due, equitable interest, expectancy, heritage, interest, legacy, ownership, privilege, share, stake, title, vested interest Associated concepts: claim of ownership, claim of right, claim of title

It also assumed that you are referring to sin in the life of a believer after salvation (based on the context). This answer is not to contradict the core doctrinal tenets of original sin, or of unbelievers/unsaved persons belonging to Satan. As covered elsewhere, we adhere to those teachings, and believe that if a person is not saved, he or she is lost already. (John 3:18 and others)

I've heard this statement as well, and your question prompted me to see if I could look into it myself. The main issue that I have with the teaching is that in all my Bible studies, I've never heard a Scriptural basis for such a claim.

I managed to find some teachings on the Internet on the subject, but these are also without Scriptural backing. Examples, all of which make the claim that our sin gives Satan a legal right to us, or that Satan fights a legal battle. I'll skip including quotes on each because they all essentially make that same statement:

The list goes on.

The closest I came to a site that had actual Scriptural basis cited Revelation 12:10, KJV

And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.

This is often explained as Satan being our accuser in God's court of judgment. This is how I understand the passage as well, but the idea of Satan being our accuser in a "court" is not the same as giving Satan a legal claim on our lives.

The meaning of these statements seem to indicate that by giving Satan a legal claim, we make ourselves his and give him full power to possess, harm, and destroy us. The accuser in the final judgment is accusing us in the trial for our final destination. These are two very different things.

The statement that sin gives Satan a legal right may sound right, but without Scripture to back it up, I see no reason to accept it as truth. I base this on the lack of Scriptural support and the following:

  • 1 John 4:1, KJV which says Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
  • The authors of the New Testament went into great detail on doctrinal issues. Paul, in the many books he authored, went to great pains to ensure that the truths that are important were understood. If this were an important, doctrinal issue, it would be evident in Scripture.

This is not to say that there are no truths outside of Scripture. Scripture never states that 1+1=2, yet it's true. However, as a doctrinal issue, this one sounds good, but fails the test of Biblical support.

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Thanks very much for your answer! While I did leave the question a little vague (after all, this isn't so much my doctrine as my friend's) looking quickly through the links to different teachings I think we're definitely both talking about the same doctrine. Just looking at your first link, I find it very interesting that my friend often talks about 'ancestral sins', 'soul ties', etc. I guess she's been reading these books :) I think I find myself in a similar position to yourself: I haven't run into much biblical exposition for this teaching, so I remain uncommited for now :) –  tom Nov 25 '11 at 3:45
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I believe that Christians have developed this conviction from the passage in Ephesians 4:27 which in the NIV translation says, "and do not give the devil a foothold."

Therefore taking this passage some believe that if you allow any sin in your life you are giving the devil a foothold or, as someone else might put it, "legal access" to your life.

Matthew Henry states in his commentary on Ephesians a similar belief, "We give place to the devil, when the first motions of sin are not grievous to our souls; when we consent to them; and when we repeat an evil deed. This teaches that as sin, if yielded unto, lets in the devil upon us, we are to resist it, keeping from all appearance of evil."

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Welcome to the site, Zach! I believe you have a valid point, although I don't know if this is the same "legal claim" that is supported by some. I'm looking for a better answer than my own, and maybe you have it... Do you know of any denominations or even a quote from a Pastor in a sermon the specifically ties this verse to the "Legal hold" claim? Also, I encourage you to read the note on @Zannjaminderson's post from Caleb. Any supporting material helps to make a better answer. –  David Stratton Nov 24 '11 at 5:09
Hi David, thanks for welcome. I have been lurking on this site all day and very impressed by the quality of writing of everyone. I hope that I can contribute in some beneficial way. I've added an exegesis reference which I believe is commonly used in many denominations. –  Zach Nov 24 '11 at 6:07
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Sin absolutely invites Satan into your life. It gives him a foothold to continue to tempt you and to try to drag you down with both more sin and negative thinking. (Ephesians 4:27) That's not to say, however, that trials and tribulation that you face always come because of sin. Some (many? most?) of the difficulties we face in life are just part of life and the learning process. The Lord knows us each perfectly and what we need in order to grow and progress, and often permits things to happen in our lives that he knows will not only strengthen us but also our faith in him as we turn to him.

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Welcome to Christianity.SE! Thanks for taking the time to answer. I would encourage you to read this post about how to support your answers: What makes a good supported answer? We do make a point of answers needing more than just one Christian's opinion. Some things to consider adding to your answer would be which Christian doctrine addresses this issue, where the doctrine comes from in Scripture, and what Christian traditions hold that doctrine. –  Caleb Nov 23 '11 at 16:17
@Zannjaminderson thanks for your thoughts! I suppose I'd second Caleb in asking if you could possibly back this up with a little more scripture. Ephesians 4:27 is great, but you could probably argue that it is particularly in the context of anger (c.f. vs 4:26 before it), rather than sin more generally. Indeed, the NLT (admittedly not the most scholarly work) translates this verse as 'for anger gives a foothold to the devil.' It just seems to me that all this 'legal rights' teaching is not in perfect proportion to the amount of supporting scripture. thanks! –  tom Nov 25 '11 at 3:56
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God says in the bible that he who follows Satan is a child of Satan, and no child of mine. So when you choose Satan over God, yes you personally give your life over to Satan.

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Welcome to the site! This next has nothing to do with the quality of your answer, it's just standard to help new visitors avoid misunderstanding the site (as I did at first.) As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page and How we are different than other sites? –  David Stratton Nov 27 '13 at 21:24
You might be quite right in the gist of your answer here, but we're looking for a lot more than this from answers. Can you edit this to include the scripture you are citing and also identify what parts of Christianity agree with this theological position? We're looking for answers that look more like small thesis papers rather than blog comments. You might find meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/q/692/30 useful for understanding what we're after here. –  Caleb Dec 1 '13 at 7:37
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