Of all the demons that fill the demonic realm, none is worse that the religious spirit.
This thing has opposed true spirituality from the beginning of time, and the sad thing is, it’s so coy and deceptive than most of us Christians don’t realize it’s gotten hold of us! We all recognize that the Pharisees, with a few exceptions, were “blind guides,” who totally opposed the Holy Spirit through Christ, and who ultimately killed Jesus for telling them the truth (see John 8).
However, many Christians (and some people who just name the name), having been deceived by this spirit through their denominational instruction and the doctrines of men, oppose the real power of God the Holy Spirit in their churches every time they get together, “holding to a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Americans, excepting a minority, are sickly religious! Is it any wonder why people quit church, rarely finding any real power to save and heal them? One of my good buddies, now deceased, said, “I’d rather be in a bar where everybody knows your name” if I couldn’t find an alive with the Holy Spirit church!”
Before I move on, I want to make it clear that the Bible declares that true religion is not showy, puffed up or done with impure motives:
“External religious worship [religion as it is expressed in outward acts] that is pure and unblemished in the sight of God the Father is this: to visit and help and care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and need, and to keep oneself unspotted and uncontaminated from the world” (James 1:27).
You may think I’m being too harsh about this, but your Lord and mine had no patience with the religious façade of His day. Yes, he most often answered the Pharisees and Sadducees’ religious questions through which they were more interested in tricking Jesus than looking for real truth, but ultimately, He exposed their hypocrisy, calling them “snakes” and “sons of hell.” Interestingly, He said the curse of their forefathers, who killed the prophets, had reached its fulfillment in them (Matthew 23)!
Jude summed up the religious spirit by citing three examples (Jude 11): the way of Cain (bloodless religion and good works save); the way of Balaam, a double-minded prophet for profit, who used his power to seduce the Children of Israel to cohabitate with pagans; and last, Korah, who’s rebellion against Moses, is the precipice upon which all religious rebellion is built – no honor, submission and respect for true godly authority.
“What sorrow awaits them! For they follow in the footsteps of Cain, who killed his brother. Like Balaam, they deceive people for money. And like Korah, they perish in their rebellion” (Jude 11) TLB.
All these were motivated by the religious spirit. And, yes, you will find the spirits of Jezebel and antichrist at work every time this hellish thing shows up.
What amazes me most are the well-known scholarly, God-fearing men and women, whose erroneous teaching about the Holy Spirit, can sometimes border on blasphemy. These people, sincere but wrong in what they believe, have been deceived by the religious spirit to think that God’s power somehow — through no particular biblical reason – or even common sense — ceased after the first hundred years of the church! Referred to as “Cessationists,” they, on the other hand, know and teach that the devil is alive and well on planet earth and is going to show up incarnate one day, but the church, powerless, except for prayer and good Bible preaching, will win or have to be raptured. Huh? Somebody help me with this, but the apostles and early church were totally dependent on the manifested power of the Holy Spirit to do great and miraculous things! (See the Book of Acts)
Incidentally, if you have friends who believe that somehow the power of God just passed away, I recommend the book, “Surprised by the Power of the Spirit,” by Jack Deere, a former Dallas Theological Seminary professor, who once believed the Cessationist tripe himself. He does a wonderfully biblical, experiential and historical account of the works of the Holy Spirit. People, we may not always see what we want to see or experience, but this in no way prohibits the “right now” Jesus power of the Holy Spirit!
So, do you or I have the symptoms that are the hallmarks of the religious spirit? You may not want to check! I did and still found several – LOL! C. Peter Wagner served for 30 years (1971 to 2001) as Professor of Church Growth at the Fuller Theological Seminary‘s School of World Missions until his retirement in 2001 and is the author of more than 70 books. One of these was “Freedom from the Religious Spirit.” I have included his summary of what constitutes the activity of a religious spirit. You could call it, “You May have a Religious Spirit If”…
FREEDOM IN CHRIST
Life should be filled with the joy of the Father so that we have the strength and faith to worship, walk and work with the Holy Spirit, (Nehemiah 8:10). We need to enjoy life, people, ministry, our families, food and even our own jokes. We need to never let life get stale. We need to practice the key of a godly lifestyle by embracing change as the Holy Spirit leads so we can continually walk in the freedom that Christ has bought for us as children of God. This is the liberty that Jesus has demonstrated for us and has provided for us in His kingdom. When God decides to bring change into the earth we need to lift our hands and say ‘Lord use me I am ready and willing’! In John 5:19 Jesus said, “The Son can do nothing of Himself but what he sees the Father do, for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner”.
Just as our bodies have a physical immune system to combat diseases, so our spirits have a spiritual immune system to combat evil spirits. Just as our physical immune system, when it is strong, heals us from every disease so our spiritual immune system, when it is full of the strength and life we have in Christ, under the direction and empowerment of the Holy Spirit delivers us from evil spirits. But Satan sends diseases to attack and bring death to our bodies and he also sends spirits of religion to attack our spirits and souls, causing us to live lives devoid of the presence and power of God. Jesus has come to bring life and life more abundantly but Satan has come to steal, kill and destroy our spirit, soul and body, (John 10:10).
THE SPIRIT OF RELIGION
When Ritual controls our Relationships this is Religion. Ritual minus Relationship equals Religion. The spirit of religion is an agent of Satan assigned to prevent change and to maintain the status quo by using religious devices. There are many spirits of religion as we see in the many types of non-Christian and Christian religions both personal and corporate in the world today.
It is a spirit that is assigned to distract people from the truth by making think that we are okay. The spirit of religion is the meanest, foulest, most ruthless spirit that you will ever confront. It comes as an impostor, masquerading as the real thing cutting off believers from relationship with God and blocking the work of the Holy Spirit.
The fruit of the spirit compared to the fruit of the religious spirit. The word of God says we can recognize a tree by the fruit that it bears (Matthew 12:33-37).
2 Timothy 3:1-5 lists 19 manifestations of the religious spirit in the lives of people in the church. “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”
The Bible describes two kingdoms operating in the world. The kingdom of God seeks to accomplish the will of the Father on earth (Matthew 6:10), which is to bring righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, (Romans 14:17).
In opposition to God’s kingdom, Satan has established the kingdom of this world. Satan’s goal is to resist the progress of God’s kingdom and hinder God’s plan of redemption. These kingdoms are locked in a conflict that will not end until Jesus returns. Satan’s goal is to counterfeit God’s kingdom by offering the world a dead imitation of the true kingdom to hinder the progress of god’s work by vaccinating the world against God’s love. Satan’s counterfeit kingdom is called religion. God’s goal is not to create people who are religious. His goal is to bring men and women into a relationship with Himself and combat the spirit of religion through love.
SOME WARNING SIGNS OF A RELIGIOUS SPIRIT
Most of us are subject to religious spirits to some degree. Paul exhorts us to “test ourselves to see if we are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Go through the warning signs below and check the ways you behave because you might have a religious spirit in that area of your life. Remember religious spirits are seven times stronger that other types of spirits as demonstrated in Daniel 3:19. Remember that religious spirits hold people in spiritual slavery. The battle against this spiritual slavery can only be won by unconditional love, in living the Christian life focused on Jesus and the Word of God and being filled with the Holy Spirit. So use this checklist to set yourself or others free to worship, walk and work with the Holy Spirit.
1 The tendency to see your primary mission as tearing down what you believe is wrong. This person’s ministry will produce more division than lasting works.
2 The inability to take a rebuke, especially from those you judge to be less spiritual than yourself. Think back on how you responded the last few times someone tried to correct you.
3 A philosophy that will not listen to other people – “only to God” Since God usually speaks through people, this is an obvious delusion and reveals serious spiritual pride.
4 The inclination to see more of what is wrong with other people and other churches than what is right with them. John saw Babylon from the valley, but when he was carried to a “high mountain: he saw the New Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:10) If we only see Babylon, our perspective is wrong. Those who are in a place of true vision will focus on what God is doing not on any human achievement.
5 Overwhelming guilt that you can never measure up to the Lord’s standards. This is a root of the religious spirit because it causes you to base your relationship with Him on your performance rather than on the cross.
6 The belief that you have been appointed to fix everyone else! The self-appointed watchmen or sheriffs in God’s kingdom are seldom involved in building anything; they keep the church in a state of annoyance and agitation and may cause serious divisions.
7 A leadership style that is bossy, overbearing and intolerant of the failure of others. As James said: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace”, (James 3:17-18).
8 A sense that you are closer to God than other people or that your life or ministry is more pleasing to Him. This is a symptom of the profound delusion that we draw closer to God by who we are rather than through Jesus.
9 Pride in your spiritual maturity or discipline, especially as you compare yourself to others. True spiritual maturity involves growing up into Christ. When we begin to compare ourselves with others, it is obvious that we have lost sight of the true goal – Jesus.
10 The belief that you are on the cutting edge of what God is doing. This includes thinking that you are involved in the most important thing that God is doing. Again this is spiritual pride, self-centeredness, even if it were true. Those entrusted with the truly important missions have the grace to fulfill them because God “gives grace to the humble”, (James 4:6).
11 A mechanical prayer life. When you start feeling relieved that your prayer time is over, or when you have prayed though your prayer list, you should check your condition. You will never feel relief when your conversation is over with the One you love.
12 Doing things so people will notice. This is a symptom of the idolatry of fearing people more than we fear God, and it results in a religion that serves people instead of God.
13 Being overly repulsed by emotionalism. When people who are subject to a religious spirit encounter the true life of God, it will usually appear excessive, emotional and demonstrative. Remember how David danced when he brought the ark of the God into Jerusalem? And remember this repulsed his wife Michal and she was barren from that day on, (2 Samuel 6:23). Such a critical spirit will lead to spiritual barrenness.
14 Using emotionalism as a substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit. Do you think that weeping and wailing must accompany repentance? Or that one must “fall under the power” to be truly touched by God? Even though both of these can be evidences of the true work of the Holy Spirit, you are beginning to move in another spirit if you require these manifestations.
During Jonathon Edward’s meetings in the First Great Awakening some of the toughest, most rebellious men fell on the ground and stayed there for up to 24 hours. Such seemingly strange manifestations fueled the Great Awakening, since these men were truly changed. Even so, Edwards stated men who faked these manifestations brought an end to the Great Awakening more than the enemies of the revival.
15 Keeping score in you spiritual life. Do you feel better about yourself because you go to more meetings, read your Bible more, or do more things for the Lord than other people do? These are all noble endeavors, but the true measure of spiritual maturity is getting closer to the Lord.
16 Being encouraged when your ministry looks better than others’ ministries. This includes getting discouraged when it seems that other ministries are looking better or growing faster.
17 Glorying more in what God has done in the past than what He is doing in the present. God has not changed. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. The veil has been removed. We can be as close to God today as anyone in the past. A religious spirit always seeks to focus our attention on making comparisons rather than simply drawing closer to Jesus.
18 The tendency to be suspicious of or oppose new movements or churches. This is an obvious symptom of jealousy, a primary fruit of the religious spirit or of pride that asserts that God would not do anything without going through us. Of course, the Lord rarely uses people with such a mentality.
19 The tendency to reject spiritual manifestations that we do not understand. This is a symptom of pride and arrogance that presumes our opinions are the same as God’s. True humility keeps us teachable and open, patiently waiting for fruit before making judgments. That is why we are exhorted to “prove all things, hold fast that which is good”, not what is bad, (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
20 An overreaction to carnality in the church. Far more carnality likely exists in the church and a lot less of the Holy Spirit than even the most critical person would think. We must learn to be delivered from our carnality and to grow in our submission to the Holy Spirit. But the critical person will want to annihilate those who may still be doing things in the flesh 60 percent of the time, instead of helping them along the way.
21 An overreaction to immaturity in the church. The Lord tolerates a certain amount of immaturity. A four year old is immature compared to a 14 year old, but that is okay. In fact, they may be very mature for a four year old. The idealistic religious spirit only sees the immaturity without considering the other important factors.
22 The inability to join anything that you do not deem as being perfect or near perfect. The Lord joined humans here on earth and even gave His life for the fallen human race. The apostles that he called and released to build His church would probably have made most people’s list of “The least likely to succeed”. Such will be our nature, too, if we abide in Him. We will not just see people as they are but also for whom they can become.
23 If while reading theses signs you were thinking about how they applied to someone else, you may have a serious problem with a religious spirit.
SCORING ON THE TEST
Score yourself on this test. Just remember that Paul did not tell us to test our neighbour or our pastor, but to test ourselves. Every one of these issues has applied to each one of us and probably a number still due because we have not come fully into maturity in Jesus. Also remember that all these are the fruit of having eaten from the spiritual Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and it takes a process of having our minds renewed to get free of the religious spirit influence.
THE FORMS OF A RELIGIOUS SPIRIT
We not only need to keep from being infected by a religious spirit ourselves but we also need to protect ourselves from someone who has a religious spirit. The following are five forms of a religious spirit: a counterfeit gift of discernment, a spirit of Jezebel, self-righteousness, the martyr syndrome, and some self-help psychology.
1 THE COUNTERFEIT GIFT OF DISCERNMENT
A religious spirit gives birth to a counterfeit gift of discernment of spirits. This counterfeit gift thrives on seeing what is wrong with others rather than seeing what God is doing to help them along. If you checked 4 and 6 on the self-test, you tend to have a counterfeit gift of discernment. Its wisdom is rooted in the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and thought the truth may be accurate; it is ministered in a spirit that kills. Suspicion, which is motivated by rejection, territorial preservation or general insecurity, causes this counterfeit gift. However the true gift of discernment can only function with love. In 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, Paul warns them about those who minister in a religious spirit that they try to place a yoke of legalism on the believers. Religions that are based on works will tend to become violent easily, especially when confronted with those who live by faith. This includes “Christian Religions” where a doctrine of works has supplanted the cross of Christ. Those who are driven by religious spirits may try to destroy the true Christian by onslaughts of slander.
2 THE SPIRIT OF JEZEBEL
The Spirit of Jezebel is a combination of the religious spirit and the spirit of witchcraft that is the spirit of manipulation and control. This spirit is often found in deeply wounded people. Every trial in our lives will either make us bitter or better, and the cross will heal every spiritual wound if we will turn to it. Those who are deeply wounded who do not go to the cross can open themselves up to this evil spirit. The Jezebel spirit is one of the enemy’s most potent forms of the religious spirit that seeks to keep the church and the world from being prepared for the Lord. This spirit attacks the prophetic ministry through which the Lord wants to give timely, strategic direction to His people. Jezebel knows that by removing the true prophets, the people will be vulnerable to her false prophets, which always leads to idolatry and spiritual adultery. When there is a void of the true prophetic word, the people will be much more prone to the deception of the enemy. A religious spirit produces religious pride so that God will not communicate with those who are proud. In Matthew 15:14, Jesus called the religious leaders of the day “blind guides”. A primary strategy of the religious spirit is to get the church devoted to sacrifice in a way that perverts the command for us to take up our crosses daily. This perversion will have us putting more faith in our sacrifices than in the Lord’s sacrifice. It will also use sacrifices and offerings to try to get God to manifest Himself. This is a form of the terrible delusion that we can somehow purchase the grace and presence of God with our good works.
3 SELF RIGHTEOUSNESS
We do not crucify ourselves for the sake of righteousness, purification, and spiritual maturity or to get the Lord to manifest Himself; this is nothing less than conjuring. We are “crucified with Christ” by faith, (Galatians 2:20). If we crucify ourselves, it will only result in self-righteousness. This is pride in it most base form because it gives the appearance of wisdom and righteousness. In Colossians 2:18-23 Paul warns us about pride about how well we are doing compared to others and not on God’s glory. This results in our putting confidence in discipline and personal sacrifice rather than in the Lord and His sacrifice. It is the motivation behind everything that we do that is important – driven by the Holy Spirit or a religious spirit. A religious spirit motivates through fear, guilt or pride and ambition. The Holy Spirit motivates through love for Jesus the Son of God.
In Colossians 2:18-19 Paul explains that people who delight in self-abasement will often be given to worshiping angels and taking improper stands on visions they have seen. A religious spirit wants us to worship anything or anyone but Jesus. God does not give us revelations to prove our ministry or so people will respect us more. The fruit of true revelation will be humility not pride. A religious spirit will always feed our pride, whereas true spiritual maturity will always lead to increasing humility.
4 THE MARTYR SYNDROME
To be a true martyr for the faith is one of the greatest honors that we can receive in this life. When this is perverted, it is a tragic form of deception. When a religious spirit is combined with the martyr syndrome, it is almost impossible for that person to be delivered from his deception. At that point any rejection or correction is perceived as the price he must bear to “stand for the truth” which drives him even farther from the truth and any possibility of correction. The martyr spirit can also be a form of the spirit of suicide. It is sometimes much easier to “die for the Lord’ that it is to live for Him. Those who have a perverted understanding of the cross often glory more in death than they do in life. The goal of the cross is the resurrection, not the grave.
5 SELF-HELP PSYCHOLOGY
The self-help psychology movement is a subtle attempt to replace the power of the cross in the church. This humanistic psychology is “another gospel” and another form of the religious spirit. In Colossians 2:6-8 Paul warns us about digging up the old man and trying to get him healed. We need to kill the old man and leave him. The way to heal our spiritual wounds is not a procedure or formula but simple repentance and forgiveness and taking all negative conclusions and behavior to the cross where we will find the perfect love of Jesus to wash away all the bitterness and resentment. In 2 Corinthians 11:3 we see salvation is simple. Healing is simple. Deliverance is simple. We are not to add or subtract from the Word of God like Eve did when Satan talked to her. Many “Christian” philosophies and therapies seem wise, but they attempt to substitute for the Holy Spirit in our lives. Some people do need counseling and genuine Christian counselors do lead people to the cross. (There are some counselors who describe them selves as “Christian” who have never been to the cross themselves. They cannot lead people where they haven’t been themselves.) But others are simply leading people into a black hole of self-centeredness that will consume them and try to suck in everyone else around them. This philosophy is an enemy of the cross of Christ.
THE TEST OF A TRUE MESSENGER
In Ezekiel 37 the prophet was taken to a valley full of dry bones and asked if they could live. The Lord then commanded him to prophesy to these bones. As he prophesied they came together, came to life, and became a great army. This is a test every true ministry must pass. The true prophet can see a great army in even the driest of bones. He will prophesy life to those bones until they come to life, and then become an army. In Jude 12-16 we see the false prophets as “grumblers and fault-finders”.
The world is becoming increasingly repulsed by religion. However, when Jesus is lifted up, everyone will be drawn to Him. Because the whole creation was created through Him and for Him, we all have a huge Jesus-size hole in our soul. Nothing else will every satisfy us or bring us peace but a genuine relationship with Him.
STEPS TOWARDS FREEDOM
The main order for deliverance from a religious spirit is intercessory prayer that will soften the hardened heart of those who are in bondage to the religious spirit so they can in humility be changed. Then the religious spirit must be confronted in a process to repent, to renounce and to break all behavior patterns influenced by this spirit. Here is a list of statements that can be used for deliverance as the person(s) with Godly sorrow speak them with sincerity, humility and submission to:
1 REPENT AND RENOUNCE
I repent and renounce every opening, known or unknown in my generations that I have given to a religious spirit in my family line even back to the 10th generation.
I repent and renounce every opening, known and unknown in my personal life that I have given to a religious spirit, and every work of darkness connected with it.
Character of God
I repent for not fully receiving Your love, compassion, mercy, grace and forgiveness and I renounce any belief that You, Father are distant and judgmental. I choose to embrace all aspects of Your character and to intimately know You.
I repent for allowing myself to be led by any other spirit than the Holy Spirit.
I repent for relying on my own intellect in worship, praise, prayer, reading of the Word and spiritual Warfare.
I repent and renounce all legalism, traditions and religious formulas.
I repent and renounce all participation in dead works.
I repent and renounce all dullness to the things of God.
I repent and renounce hardness of heart
I choose for the oil of Your Holy Spirit to flow across my heart.
My Behaviour Patterns
I repent and renounce placing man’s opinion of me above Yours.
I repent and renounce compromises of the truth, of my integrity and of my purity.
I repent and renounce all compromises in my attitude toward sin.
I repent for my lack of transparency for covering sin, for not confessing sin, for not receiving correction for being defensive and quick to justify and rationalize my sin.
I repent and renounce all deception and hypocrisy.
I repent and renounce all pride, arrogance and self-righteousness.
I repent and renounce all comparison, judgment, criticism, gossip, jealousy, covetousness and anger.
I repent and renounce all persecution and slander of those moving in the Holy Spirit.
I repent and renounce every act of rebellion that has reinforced the spirit of religion in my life.
I choose to have obedience as my heart attitude.
I choose to no longer partner with the same spirit that killed Jesus and that continues to attempt to kill the work of the Holy Spirit today.
I choose to no longer oppose God.
I break every hex, curse or vow, every spell, incantation or ritual.
I break every covenant and blood covenant, every sacrifice and blood sacrifice.
I break every ungodly soul tie, every ungodly generational tie in my family line.
I break any other legal right, known or unknown, for the spirit of religion to stay.
Spirit of religion, as the Body of Christ, I and those with me come against you:
We refuse to allow you to steal our intimate relationship with our Lord.
We refuse to allow you to kill the flow of the Holy Spirit in us.
We refuse to allow you to destroy the anointing of others through us.
We choose to receive the anointing to break the power of the spirit of religion in the Church of Jesus Christ in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
3 PROCLAIM THE LORDSHIP PRAYER
Pray this prayer to invite Jesus to be the Lord and Master of each area of your life. Even for some mature Christians, the only reason that the demons are still present in their lives is that Jesus is not Lord of one or more areas of their life. Meditate on this prayer for each area of your life and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any hidden sin(s). Repent and confess these sins thereby closing the door to these evil spirits. Then these spirits have no legal right to remain and they must go from you, (James 4: 7-10). Then a time of refreshing shall come upon you, (Acts 3:19-20).
Lord Jesus, I confess that I have sinned and I acknowledge my need of You. I thank You for dying on the cross for me and I accept You as my Saviour. I invite You now to be Lord of every area of my life:
Lord of my spirit, all of my worship and my relationship with You;
Lord of my mind, all my thoughts, all my attitudes and all my behaviour;
Lord of my emotions, all my feelings and all my reactions;
Lord of my will and all my decisions;
Lord of my body and all my physical health;
Lord of my eyes and all that I look upon;
Lord of my ears and all that I listen to;
Lord of my mouth and all that I speak;
Lord of my hands and all that I do;
Lord of my feet and everywhere that I go;
Lord of my sexuality and all its expression;
Lord of my family, my entire home, all my pleasure and all my relationships; Lord of my time, all my work and all my service for You;
Lord of my material goods, all my possessions, all my finances and all my needs.
Thank Jesus that Your blood was shed that I might be set free. You and You alone are my Lord and Master, Amen.