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.

  • Could you clarify what your understanding of "legal access" is? I want to make sure I didn't misinterpret. Nov 24, 2011 at 7:05
  • This is also a popular teaching by modern Charismatic excorists like Bob Larson. Nov 13, 2014 at 15:23

4 Answers 4


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."

  • 1
    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. Nov 24, 2011 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, 2011 at 6:07

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.

  • 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, 2011 at 3:45
  • I know it's rather an old answer by this site's standards, but despite it's length, I find it to be somewhat inadequate as it doesn't appear to have sufficiently researched what may be the basis of the claim viz. the particular scripture referenced in the top-voted answer and additionally, the concept of Satan as 'the God of this world' and theories of how this situation eventuated that are consistent with the general tenor of scritpure. Jul 6, 2014 at 14:17
  • One further consideration - "Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (James 4:7) - a natural consideration regarding this text, is: what will happen if we don't resist? ('Legal right' may not be the terminology you would use, but perhaps you could address the concept behind the terminology) (cf. also Matt 12:43-45/luke 11:24-26) Jul 6, 2014 at 14:24
  • I just checked out the links you posted (yes, I know, I should have done this before commenting, 2nd one has expired btw) and the third one actually references James 4:7 and what I alluded to with 'god of this world' (2 Cor 4:4) - I should not have capitalized the 'g' in my earlier comment - so your claim that your references have 'no scriptural backing' seems uncharitable to say the least (perhaps 'just plain wrong' would be a more accurate description, this also applies to the first one - scripture references are futher down the page). Jul 6, 2014 at 14:34
  • Can you provide a citation that "unsaved persons belong to Satan" is indeed a doctrine of the Independent Baptist denomination?
    – Andrew
    Jul 6, 2014 at 15:46

The language Scripture uses is "being a slave to" or "belonging to a dominion/kingdom of". Scripture uses this language equally whether the slavery is to God or to sin and whether the dominion is of darkness or the kingdom of God's beloved Son.

One is only free in God's kingdom but experiences oppression by the devil in the dominion of darkness.

OP is right, the commission of sins is the way into the dominion of darkness where no one can free themselves. Delivery and transfer to the kingdom of God's Son is effected by God's beloved Son.

Whether one can read "Legal Access" into all of this is another matter. I'd rather the understanding be first from what Scripture says.

The OT can shed some light on this for example the delivery of Israel from the house of bondage, or when they were exiled from the promised land because of committing idolatry and their subsequent return after they repented and the LORD relented.

Some Scriptural passages

John 8:33-35 (RSVCE)

33 They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, ‘You will be made free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever.

Acts 10:38 (RSVCE)

38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

Col 1:13 (RSVCE)

13 He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,


Satan has a right to those who choose him knowingly, those who have perfected the rejection of the Holy Spirit. He would have a right to all of us had Jesus not defeated him here on earth. This is why Satan contended for the body of Moses after his death (believing he had a right), but there it is revealed that God had the right. (Jude 9)


There are only two masters in this world, either God or Satan.

At the fall, Satan became the usurper of this world, having wrestled dominion from Adam. When Satan comes to bring to surface our sinful inclinations, he comes home. Without God, men has enmity against God.

However, the plan of salvation was from the foundation of the world. God promised that He would put enmity between us and the serpent (Genesis 3:15). This enmity is the Spirit of God which lives in us (all of us). Nothing happens to us without the consent of God. Even in trials, Satan's temptation is limited to the degree of preparation God makes available to us first (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Because of this, the only sin that is unforgivable is the sin against the Holy Spirit. That is, the repeated rejection of the Spirit working in the person, the gradual hardening of his heart. Once the limits of God's mercy is reached (and this is not an easy task), God will leave that person. Then Satan has free range with him.

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