Before we begin please allow me to clarify something
Throughout this article, I am constantly addressing a works-based religion even to the point that the reader could think that I subscribe to the “hyper-grace” or “sloppey agape’ movements which basically subscribe to the ideas that God and people (respectively) are “loving” and accepting regardless of a person’s sin or iniquity. However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Those who have been around our ministry for any length of time know very well that I am VERY Bible-based.
The entire Bible tells us what James 2:26 so precisely says: “faith without works is dead”. Likewise, in Philippians 2:12 Apostle Paul admonishes us to “work out our own salvation”. Clearly, relationship goes hand in hand with action.
The subject of this article is not whether certain activities should be practiced or not. Rather at issue here is the origin of the motivation of those activities. In John 7:38 Jesus / Yeshua said that our relationship with God should flow forth from the most inner part of our being. 1 Samuel 16:7 says that “man looks at the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks at the heart.” It is from this perspective that this article is written.
There are several definitions for the word “religion”: When I was studying Christian apologetics the definition that I used was “a system, set, or collection of beliefs”. This will be the definition I will be using throughout this article.
On its own, this isn’t a bad definition: But notice what it is missing – Relationship. There is a reason for that…
Religion is easier than relationship
Most people of average intelligence can easily to study and memorize a religious “system, set or collection of beliefs” to the point at which they can fluently recite them. Religion can be studied and memorized much like you would study and memorize for a history, English, or math class in school.
Similarly, it is easy to “go to church” every week and socialize for an hour. It is easy to take a meal over to the Johnson family because they are experiencing a crisis and it is a nice thing to do. For many, it is even easy to fulfill their weekly, religious, financial commitment because they are told it is the right thing to do and it keeps them in good standing and it may even give them a little leverage. It is easy to learn what is expected of you and how to perform in order to be accepted.
If a person has just average social skills, sometimes, that alone will put them in good standing in the church / community. Often times, average social skills coupled with regular donations, is enough to give someone an even higher standing in the “church”. With just this combination, a person may very well even find themselves on the church elder board, fully engulfed in religion.
Notice that while all of these things sound noble. In some cases, these outward activities can be performed relatively easily with not even a mention of a real, genuine, authentic relationship with Jesus / Yeshua: I have personally witnessed this.
Who wouldn’t say that it is easier to study and become knowledgeable about a particular religion, socialize for an hour a week, and drop an envelope in an offering plate, than it is to interact with another living being day in and day out in a committed relationship? Not many, if any, I’m sure.
In these ways, you can see that a person can become quite immersed in religious activities without really even knowing God. It is entirely possible to become engulfed in these things while knowing about God, but not knowing HIM. In fact, it is my observation that that is more often the case.
What percentage of the people attending America’s churches do you think might fall into this category? It isn’t entirely their fault; it is what they have been taught from the pulpit. It is my observation that as a whole, people have been taught that being religious IS a relationship with God: But it isn’t…
Religion is learning ABOUT God: Relationship is learning to ENCOUNTER God
Being nice is not synonymous with having a relationship with Yeshua
Many years ago I did some work in a customer’s home. I had never met them before The project took most of a week to complete. When you are in a home like that you come to know people in a unique way. Even now, many years later, I can still say that this family was one of the nicest, if not thee nicest I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. In fact, I was there because they were adding a second story to their house in order to help their aging parents. There were to be three generations living under that roof.
Their lifestyle seemed to make it obvious they were Christians and so I asked what church they went to. I was profoundly surprised when they told me that they did not attend a church. They then went ton to specify that they were atheists. Being nice does not qualify you as having a relationship with Yeshua.
“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For the satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.” 2 Corinthians 11:13-14
The Religious spirit
I understand that when I address this subject in this manner it may sound a bit unusual. Many times when I say these kinds of things, even if people don’t actually say it, I can see what people are thinking: “What’s wrong with attending a church orientation course, what’s wrong with “going to church”, what’s wrong with helping others in need, what’s wrong with tithing / donating, what’s wrong with…..?” The answer to all of those is easy; nothing. The problem comes when activities replace relationship and because you have never been taught what a REAL relationship with God looks like, you think that doing good things IS a relationship with God: But it’s not. If these kinds of activities are not accomplished from the basis of love for God, then they are just religion and the Word of God says that everything that is not of Him will burn.
In this way, a person might exhibit a “religious spirit”. However, there may or may not be an actual, demonic, spirit of religion involved. More on religious spirits and evil spirits of religion below.
Whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Collosians 3:23
There are several reasons that a person would prefer religion over relationship – here are five
Apathy – It is my observation and experience that the majority of American Christians are apathetic. They may “go to church” but if they do, they feel that that is where their obligation ends. While there they will usually listen to the speaker most of the time, and unless the speaker says anything too outrageous what they hear from the pulpit will shape their religion until they hear something else that seems to make more sense to them. These people will try to live a mostly “moral” life based upon what they have been told God wants, and what seems right to them, but not because of any spiritual conviction.
Ignorance – This group is similar to the first group except they are a little more committed to the Bible and what they think is “right”. While “at church” they may follow along when the speaker suggests that they look at a verse in their Bible, they usually pay their tithes, they may be a little more set in their doctrine, and they may even pray before dinner, at home, in the evenings. No one has ever told them that anything more is required and they haven’t bothered to look for themselves.
Selfishness – (closely related to pride) There can be a lot of advantages to being involved with “a church”. It can be a good way to climb the community social ladder. You can dress up once a week, be social when necessary, donate some extra cash that is tax-deductible, it can be a good thing: A relatively small investment for a good return. You might even find a husband, wife, or friends there that are morally similar. I was associated with a church one time that had an influx of young singles because the young singles mistakenly thought they were more likely to find virgins in the church singles group. There are many selfish reasons that a person could attend “a church” and embrace religion with little or no concern about a relationship with Yeshua.
Pride – In the end, apathy, ignorance, selfishness, and most other reasons that a person prefers religion over authentic relationship (perhaps except for the demonic spirit addressed next) is pride: Pride prevents a person from humbling themselves before Almighty God to see for themselves what He asks of him or her. In the end, almost all sin is rooted in pride. If a person is willing to acknowledge that Yahweh God is God and they are not, they will do whatever it takes to humble themselves before Him.
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: Psalms 139:23
A religious demonic spirit – For those unfamiliar with demonic spirits, they can come upon a person for a number of reasons or sometimes, for no legal reason at all. Demonic religious spirits can certainly influence a person to be “religious” as we have defined here. This causes the person to “think” that they are a “good Christian”. However, rather than aligning with God, they are simply living an illusion in a parallel existence, never really connecting with Him. There are several articles on this website about demonic spirits. If interested in that, just go to the search bar on the home page and do a search on the subject.
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away… 2 Timothy 3:5
The Result of Religion
Religion without relationship is deadly. It is deadly because false religion gives people a false sense of security. They depend upon the pulpit to tell them what to do (their fault) and when the pulpit sets a low standard (pulpit’s fault) people think that meeting some sort of external obligation to God is all that is necessary and that they are now one with Him and Heaven bound. However, nothing could be further from the truth. These are things that we need to be alert for not only in others but especially in ourselves. For me, when I discovered that I had been operating under a spirit of religion it was very difficult. I wanted to be right with God and I thought I had been, but I wasn’t.
I did some research to see if anyone has ever calculated the percentage of time that Yeshua spent rebuking the Pharisees relative to everything else He said. I was unable to find anything of that nature and I am not going to undertake the task myself, but I am confident that it is significant. Yeshua spent a good portion of His time countering the religious rulers / dogma of the day. It was unquestionably the religious people, with the spirit of religion, who gave Him His most serious problems; including the cross.
Today I see a very similar situation. I can’t speak for others but for me, throughout my ministry which now spans two decades, I can unquestionably say that it has definitely been “religious” people who have caused me the most trouble. The spirit of religion is definitely alive and active.
As mentioned above, when I was studying Christian apologetics my definition of religion was “a system, set, or collection of beliefs”: And then I would go on to say that EVERYONE has one: I believe these to be accurate.
However, what I found was that people seem to want to hold on to their “religion” more than they desire a “relationship” with Yeshua. Many religious people you might encounter will not even be interested in what is right: You will find that if they even care to discuss the things of God, most of them are more concerned about winning the argument / discussion than truth.
As mentioned above, in order to have a right relationship with God and a healthy relationship with others, the spirit of religion must be eradicated; especially from within ourselves.
Ten signs that you may have a religious spirit or spirit of religion.
In this article, I am basically addressing two categories of people. There may be several variations of this first type of person. This person may have some sort of religious training that they are dogmatic about, they may be more of an analytical type person that sees everything as right and wrong according to THEIR observations, or they may have limited Bible knowledge, but not Spirit led, yet dogmatic in what little they do know, et Cetra.
The other type of religion-based person that we are addressing here is a person that has an evil demonic spirit of religion. To the casual or undiscerning observer, someone with a demonic spirit of religion may appear to behave similarly to the person described above. There may appear to be very little or no difference between the two.
While they may appear to be similar, there is a great deal of difference between someone with an evil demonic spirit and someone who just has some religious tendencies.
While just religion without relationship is bad enough, an evil demonic spirit of religion is much more destructive and even potentially deadly.
Being strict, rigid, unwavering
You demand that things are a certain way and you are resistant to considering change or that there might be a better way
Because of your rigidity, you have formed a strict code of right and wrong. You conclude that anyone who you perceive to be on the wrong side of your set of rules to be in sin and therefore on the wrong side of right.
You have your ways of thinking and doing things that you feel are right. Any deviation from your way is flawed.
Not only can others not live up to your expectations but even you fail to live up to your own expectations which leads to self-condemnation.
Religious meetings and events are acceptable even with limited personal involvement
The spirit of religion likes to keep others at a distance so that personal interaction seems unnecessary.
Approval / acceptance is based upon outward appearance
Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks on the heart. The religious spirit is largely performance-driven and accepts / analyzes others on that basis. Motivation matters, but it is secondary.
You are more concerned about what the Bible SAYS than its author
You like to study, debate, or discuss the Bible but taking steps to really know Yeshua on a personal basis doesn’t seem to be as important.
You will listen to God, but not man
You say that you hear from God but that you only hear directly from Him. It is difficult for you to acknowledge that God frequently speaks through others or that someone else may be right or have a better way.
You crave a position in the church
You desire a position of authority to rule over rather than leading by serving according to the Biblical model.
You acknowledge God’s love but you attempt to earn it rather than just receive it
Because the Bible says that God loves everyone you accept that but you believe that salvation is, at least, largely based upon performance.
I think I have a religious spirit. What do I do?
As always, acknowledging a problem is often half the battle to solving it so congratulations for overcoming that hurdle.
Of course our first go-to should always be God through repentance and prayer. Also, there is tremendous power in recruiting the assistance of a trusted Brother or Sister that is capable of assisting us. Often this is extremely difficult to find, particularly if you have a religious spirit. Rebuking the spirit of religion and verbally confessing who you are in the Messiah with a resolve to go deeper in the genuine things of God will go a long way.
Often the spirit of religion brings with it many other issues such as broken relationships, inferiority complexes, and others so this may be more involved than what appears.
If you find it is difficult to cut loose from this destructive spirit and address all of its related issues, it may be worth it to enlist qualified assistance.
Click here for additional information about how we can help.
Please feel free to contact me if I can be of further assistance.