The term religious spirit or spirit of religion is not mentioned by name as such in the Bible, but the evidence is everywhere, especially in the Gospels. Daily our thoughts become a battlefield where we must take captive every thought, putting it at the cross and taking up the mind of Christ. Unfortunately, however, we often yield to thoughts that are being guided by demonic influences.
Through time these thoughts take root and become strongholds and influence or control us. That is how it is with the ‘spirit of religion.’ Jesus encountered it when he confronted the Pharisees or religious leaders of the day. There was no Biblical mandate for a Sanhedrin or any similar religious group. This evolved after the exiles returned and rebuilt the temple.
Since there was no ark of the covenant in the second temple because it was hidden before the destruction, there was nowhere to bring the sacrifice, no mercy seat, and thus the priestly function was altered. In response to the need for instruction, the schools of the prophets gradually evolved into what we see present when Jesus arrives on the scene. They had taken ten commandments and built a system of dos and don’ts of 613 in number.
No wonder he spent so much time dealing with this spirit. They had lost the heart or true meaning of the matters. They had become dull, full of tradition and man’s ways, and had no relationship or understanding of what the Torah was really there for. The word Torah should be translated instruction, but we have lost that understanding.
Today the same spirit exists in our world. Religion can be a good thing, and according to James’ epistle, it is a heart matter where we serve those in need. Whether it shows up corporately or individually, we have all been subjected to the snares of this unclean spirit at one time or another. Below I give ten characteristics that anyone can identify with. This is only a sampling.
1-Leave The Command of God For Man’s Traditions
Mark 7:8 ‘You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’ ESV other translations say you have left the commandments of God and hold onto man’s traditions.
I remember growing up as a Pastor’s son, and my dad would ask his flock why they did something a certain way and the reply was, “ we’ve always done it that way.”
If we are doing something, we need to know why and it should be from God. If it is no longer working, we need to let the Holy Spirit lead us to fresh streams.
2-Teach Doctrines AS Commands
Many of the things that are taught and practiced are commands from God through His Word. However, there are some things we call doctrines that are not commands of God. Telling someone that Salvation requires works or putting needless conditions on how to mature in discipleship are examples.
Often someone can say something, but in practice, they do the opposite. For example, they say they are a prayer warrior or intercessor but never show up for a scheduled prayer meeting. Perhaps they say they love helping the homeless but never participate in any way.
A person operating in a critical spirit often is being controlled by a religious spirit. They never find the good in anything, and they always criticize the sermon, the music, the lights, and everything else. They can never find a good word about a person or situation.
Jealousy and envy are strong spirits in their own right, but they often come in with a religious spirit. A church or person operating with religion often is jealous of everyone and everything around them. They compete and desire position and recognition and will step on whoever they have to to get it.
Again, this is a major spirit affecting so many in the body of Christ. The Pharisees had a lot of pride due to their status. Many in the body of Christ are afraid of losing a position when a new move of God comes. As a result, many get comfortable and are unwilling to change because pride has helped them maintain a position, one that often was not where they were supposed to be in the first place.
7-Rejecting God To Establish Your Own Traditions
We often do what God says, and through time, we just keep doing it because it feels good. God has moved on, and we are unaware of it. I have been part of some major moves of God where this happened, and once the leaders realized and decided to move with God, it was too late. We need fresh streams to keep His work fresh and alive.
8- Always Looking Back At The Past
If we are always admiring what God did twenty years ago, we will never see what He is doing now! Looking back helps us learn and grow, but we should never camp out on past moves of God.
9- Accuse Those Who Do Not Follow You
We want everyone to like us and like what we teach. When we get a fresh revelation, and people don’t think it is as great as we did, we get offended and offer labels to them like Jezebel or deceived. We should always speak the truth and let the Holy Spirit handle the results.
10- Glory In Anything But The Finished Work Of The Cross
A religious spirit will always steer the focus away from Jesus and the finished work of the cross. That is the last thing Satan wants us to focus on.
Satan always offers a counterfeit to what God says and does. That is His goal. He doesn’t care if you go to church, pray, feed the poor, or read your Bible; he just doesn’t want you to fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Come out of agreement with a religious Spirit and stronghold like pride, jealousy, accusation, and come back to the Word. Repent and return to your loving Father’s arms.
Get ready for the New that God is bringing. You will never accept what God is doing if you and I remain under the guise of religion, always watching and criticizing.
Scripture references: Mark 7: 1-14; Matthew 15:3, Matthew 15:12.
Some material adapted from Peter Wagner’s Book ‘Freedom From The Religious Spirit”, Chosen books, available on Amazon. See Chapters 3,4 and 5.