By the spirit of religion we mean that group of evil spirits which inspire loyalty to religious concepts and practices in such a way as to oppose and possibly to counterfeit the true work of the Holy Spirit.
Satan knows he cannot stop people from being religious. He therefore seeks to pervert the religious instinct of mankind by deception. All religious deceptions work to draw men away from glorifying and enjoying Christ. Religious spirits work in many different ways, and with many different tactics. We may see through some of their tactics only to be completely fooled by them in another area of our attitudes and thinking. Therefore we must be humble enough to admit that we too, not having fully possessed the mind of Christ as yet, could be deceived in some areas.
It should be obvious to Christians that the power that non-Christian religions exercise over the minds of men comes from Satan. Only a supernatural power could drive men to worship rocks or rats. What power is it that keeps people away from worshipping the true God, the Creator and turning their primary affections to false gods and other vain things? It is the spirit which is now at work in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2).
However, religious spirits are at work not only outside the church of Christ, but also within it. The extent to which Christendom has been infiltrated by evil spirits is greater than it will ever be possible to calculate. It extends virtually to every local church and across every denomination to a greater or lesser extent. This fact can be demonstrated logically by considering for a moment the theological disagreements and bad relationships which exist between churches, and also within individual local churches. How can these things be so, when Jesus put so much emphasis on us loving one another (John 13:34, 35), and was so emphatic in his desire for the unity of the church to reflect the unity of the godhead? (See John 17). Obviously the spiritual power behind these problems is religious in nature.
The religious spirit will also rear its ugly head when a man or woman full of the mercy of God and the power of the Holy Spirit begins to confront religious people in churches with the truth. At these times demons get stirred up and if possible will provoke all kinds of unreasonable and malicious attacks on such servants of God. In some situations they may even be publicly cast out of those so influenced by them. This ministry is necessary, and in the last days will become more and more common.
Jesus Christ had little trouble dealing with demons provoking sickness and disease in people. However, the Lord faced greater opposition from people controlled by religious spirits. These people did not know they had religious spirits. They thought they represented the true religion of God. They did not want to be free of the spirits that made them feel important and more righteous than those around them. Because of their pride and hardness of heart, even the Son of God could not help them to come to the Father. These people were known as the Scribes and Pharisees, the chief priests and experts in the law. It was these people who hated Jesus and conspired to crucify Him. They were motivated by pride, envy and self-righteousness. They refused to humble themselves and believe in the Messiah, despite the many proofs that Jesus gave. This remained true even after they were confronted with the fact of the resurrection.
We make a serious mistake if we assume that the spirit which motivated these Jewish religious leaders can in no way influence us. In fact, those who think like that are probably the very ones who are influenced by such spirits. While these religious spirits will obviously not promote exactly the same errors now as they did in those people, there will be similarities of attitude and behaviour which will be clearly seen.
This subject is actually a vast one and we need the help of the Spirit of God to be able to get free from the influence of religious spirits. Most people, myself included, will have an ongoing battle with these kinds of spirits. If we are not fighting them, perhaps it is because we are happy to be securely in their grip.
The Scripture gives us many clues as to the marks of the activity of religious spirits, especially those religious spirits which are closest to the truth and therefore harder to detect.
Characteristics of the Work of Religious Spirits
Fear of not being good enough
When we think our salvation depends all on us we will be fearful, because the Bible says that we all stumble in many ways. Until we cast ourselves at the mercy of God and truly give ourselves to Him, we go through a cycle of hearing laws, falling short, feeling guilty, trying to measure up, and repeated failure.
People under religious spirits are carrying heavy burdens and do not have the sense of freedom that comes when we know that our sins are washed away. The Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and JOY in the Holy Spirit. If you are religious but you have no peace or joy, something is wrong. Condemnation and unrighteous judgment may have stolen it from you.
Fear of People
If you are asking yourself more often: “What will the people at church think?” than “What will Jesus think?” you are bound by a religious, man-pleasing spirit.
We should not offend people unnecessarily, but if we must choose between offending people and offending the Spirit of God, then let people take offense if they must. Many were offended at Jesus.
The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be kept safe. (Pr. 29:25).
Fear of the Pharisees kept many Jews out of the Kingdom of God
“Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. (John 12:42,43)
When you are at church you behave in a certain way, because you are more conscious of people than conscious of God. If you really feared God more than people, you would not watch some of the garbage you watch on television. But remember that God sees all that you do.
When will you give up that garbage, confess it to God and get on with serving the Lord from a pure heart?
Performance, not grace-based
The religious spirit seeks to have us serve the Lord in order to gain his approval, rather than from having received our approval from the cross of Christ.
Doing works to atone for our sense of guilt, rather than trusting the blood of Jesus
Some people are driven to do good works to make up for the wrong they have done. This kind of works will never bring us God’s acceptance. It is another way of rejecting the sacrifice of Jesus when we say to God, “No, let me pay for it.”
Emphasis on External Things
– Food (Hebrews 13:8; 1 Tim 4:1,2)
– Marriage (fobidding to, or pushing people to marry)
– External appearance (Matthew 23:5; 2 Corinthians 5:12)
“Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness.” (Luke 11:39).
Religion can put new clothes on the man, but Christ puts a new man in the clothes.
Two extremes: carnality and legalism. Both put too much emphasis on external appearance.
We no longer stone to death those whose prophecies do not come to pass, but still we must judge prophecy.
Failure to do this has given the religious spirit too much influence in the church. Just because we feel something spiritual does not mean that it was the spirit of God.
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. TEST ALL THINGS; hold fast to what is good.” (1 Thess. 5:19-21).
“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge”. (1 Corinthians 14:7). Do you let people judge what is said? This is a commandment of Scripture.
If we make people fear that they are blaspheming the Holy Spirit if they dare to question anything said in church with a “Thus sayeth the Lord” we are not letting people judge the prophecy.
If we say “The Lord has spoken” and he has not spoken, we give place to a religious spirit. This can corrupt the church, by putting fear and condemnation into people when instead they need to be built up and strengthened and shown how to overcome sin and the devil.
Emphasis on Traditions of the elders
“This is the way we’ve always done it.”
“Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?” (Mark 7:5)
If limit God to a particular way of doing things in ministry, we may grieve the Holy Spirit and He will not work as He wishes. He may even leave us alone.
If the way we do things is not working, perhaps we have not allowed the Holy Spirit to lead us to make the necessary changes.
If the way we minister healing does not work, we need to ask how much we are being led by the Spirit, and how much we are stuck in tradition.
Emphasis on ritual, special rules and regulations
“And they have many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches” (Mark 7 4:)
We don’t worry about the same rules, but we look too much at other things. For example, the difference between the clothing of men and women. Jesus did not wear pants. He wore a robe. Appropriate clothing will always be modest, but it depends to some extent on culture. Women should not dress like prostitutes, but neither should men be looking over every woman in church making sure they are not breaking any of “the rules”. We should keep our eyes on Jesus.
The religious spirit makes outward things like clothes the major issue, and puts less emphasis on a right heart attitude of humilty, gratitude, mercy and courageous faith.
Pride in personal sacrifice
We may have given up things to serve the Lord. We may have prayed, fasted or given. But when we want others to know we do these things, and we wish to gain the approval and admiration of men, we are falling prey to the religious spirit.(Matthew 6)
The next step is to ask, “Why is God not blessing me, since I have sacrificed so much?”
Lack of mercy
But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’, you would not have condemned the guiltless. (Matthew 12:7)
Mercy is one of the “weightier matters of the law”. Remember the Samaritan who helped those in trouble by the roadside, while the others went to church. Remember that Jesus healed as an expression of the mercy of God. Healing is not a reward for good behaviour, although sometimes bad things like religious spirits can stop us from receiving our healing. When Jesus heals today it is an expression of God’s mercy.
Lack of concern for the needs of people
The Pharisees would pull their ox out of the well on the Sabbath, but were upset when someone was healed. They didn’t care about the needs of the people around them. They loved t
Hypocrisy – play acting
Why do some people have a special tone of voice in church? What is this if not “play acting”? When we pretend that we have a concern for righteousness and justice but secretly hold onto certain areas of sin we are being hypocrites.
The Love of Religious Power, but rejection of the power of the Holy Spirit
The Pharisees hated Jesus because they thought that because of him they would lose their place as religious leaders.
They were upset with Jesus for healing and casting out demons. They called it the work of the devil. (Matthew 12:44)
Jealousy and Envy of anointed ministers of God
They considered that if Jesus were truly from God he would recognise and honour them.
1 Corinthians 1:12 “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos”.
“But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” (2 Cor. 10:12),.
What does it matter who God works through? We are making disciples for Jesus. If we have anything it comes from Him. Can we rejoice when God blesses someone else, or do we immediately feel bad and try to find fault with them. Remember Cain’s attitude to Abel when his sacrifice was rejected, but Abel’s was accepted.
“But this crowd which does not know the law is accursed”. (John 7:49)
Jesus spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. (Luke 18:9)
The Pharisees considered themselves better than the bulk of the people because of their knowledge of the law.
We make a serious error if we consider ourselves better than others on the basis of race, education, knowledge, good looks or any such thing.
Placing more emphasis on their traditions than on the plain teachings, commandments and declarations of the Scripture
Jesus told us to preach the gospel. (Mark 16:15). People are dying out there. Why are we fighting about what kind of clothes we should wear, and how important this or that practice should be in church life?
Blindness to the work of God
Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the cheif priests and scribes saw the wonderful things He did, and teh children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant
They could not rejoice in the healing of the blind and lame. It had become unimportant to them. They were spiritually blind.
“So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.” (Mark 3:2.) They were hoping to find something to accuse Jesus with.