Religious Spirits (Part 1)
by Juan St. Thomas
[Christian Boot Camp (CBC) is a series of teachings on topics (which CBC refers to as Belief Deceptions) that cripple people and churches, such as pride, offense, anger, fear, self-righteousness, denial, blame-shifting, enabling and victim mentality, just to name a few. These teachings—complete with accompanying slides, handouts, and other collaterals—can help your church get on the road to total health. The following article is a very short excerpt of the CBC teaching on the subject of Self-Righteousness. Contact Innovative Church & Worship Consulting for more details.]
The terms are interchangeable: Religiosity, Self-Righteous, and Pharisaical (Pharisee-like). Here’s the problem: A religious spirit is…well…a spirit. But it’s not a good spirit. It’s an evil spirit; an actual demon.
Many times, our walk with God can grow cold. We continue to attend church, do our volunteer church duty, even read the Bible daily or listen to a worship song or two on the way to work. But when our walk with God grows cold, it becomes cold for one reason and one reason only: we’ve allowed self (Pride) to become more important than our relationship with God. And when pride comes (pride is also an evil spirit), we’re unknowingly opening the door for the demon of religiosity to come in.
Could you have fallen prey to this spirit? Here are ten signs that you may be under the control of a religious spirit:
1. You Believe the Good You Have Done in Your Life Should Earn Your Salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that we are saved by grace and not by our own works. Yes, you may have prophesied or even cast out a demon. But Jesus said that many will appeal to Him on Judgment Day with rationale that they believe should gain them entrance into Heaven (Matthew 7:21-23). Jesus finishes His statement by telling us that those who never knew Him would have to depart. Doing things in His name and knowing Him are two completely different things.
2. You Emulate Outward Holiness but Neglect Inward Transformation. Psalm 51:6 teaches us that God is more concerned with cleansing the inward man than our outward compliance to rules and regulations. Those that only have a form of godliness without inward transformation deny His power (2 Tim. 3:5). Jesus strongly rebuked those who merely attempted to cleanse the outer man without allowing God to deal with the heart (Matt. 23). It’s no coincidence that very religious people usually have sinful habit patterns that eventually manifest because they don't allow God to change their inner being. The more we attempt to follow God merely by the letter of the law, the more it will incite our sinful tendencies (Rom. 7:7-25).
3. You’re Always Critical of Other People's Walks with God. Ever notice that the more religious a person is, the more critical they are of other believers—and even ministers? Since religious people are often so hard on themselves, they generally don't understand grace, so they are also equally hard on others.
4. Your Closest Christian Relationships are Based only on Ministry Activities. Religious people are not only superficial with God but also with others. Since they attempt to connect with others merely by activities (volunteering in a church department, bible study, etc.), they are disengaged emotionally and do not know how to connect with the heart(s) of those they interface with. Church-related ministry or functions usually hold their “friendships” together.
5. You Perform Christian Duties but Have no Passion or Hunger for God. Similar to point number five above, religious people sustain their version of their faith by performing ministry or by church attendance. They do not have a deep relationship with God; nor do they hunger and thirst for Him.
6. You Desire Position and Honor in the Church More than Honor from God. Those with a religious spirit hinge their life and identity upon how they are perceived by others. Hence, they are drawn to having recognition and titles in the church world. If they cannot legitimately get a ministerial title from their local church, they will hook up with an online course or other entity that will give them some kind of badge or card signifying they are a minister or chaplain. Their desire for respect and honor from man far outweighs their desire for honor from God.
7. Your Identity is Rooted in a Lifestyle of Christianity instead of in Christ. Mature Christ-followers receive their main identity in the fact they are children of God, whereas religious people receive their main identity in the things they attempt to do for God and their church.
8. You Judge Others by Their Appearance. According to 1 Samuel 16:7, God judges us by our heart, but man judges by outward appearance. I know of several churches where certain people have not felt welcome because they had a tattoo, a nose ring, or wore clothing that isn’t “normal” in church circles. Yes, mature believers should dress modestly, but having expectations on visitor’s apparel is most certainly self-righteous. Legalistic churches that look down on folks who attend services dressed similar to what we see outside of the church show signs of having a religious spirit.
9. You Know About Jesus, but Don’t Really Know Him Personally. Religious people make a big deal about the doctrines they accumulate through head knowledge. Begin to quote a scripture, and they’ll finish it. They make the mistake of thinking that having biblical knowledge means they are mature believers. Just because we may know about God doesn't mean we commune with God and know Him experientially.
10. You Project Outward Righteousness but are Filled with Anger, Offense and Resentment. Religious people know Christian terminology, know how to act and project themselves in certain settings and use this "act" to gain influence in church circles. However, projecting ourselves to create a Christian façade will not last long. Those who depend upon this superficial personality projection are merely being religious and will not have the sustainability to deal with the hurt, pain and disappointments of life. This results in a duality in their behaviors in which they appear righteous but inside are filled with anger, offense, resentment and envy.
Most of us have fit into one of these ten categories at times. The good news is that God is calling for us to go deeper in Him and experience His infinite love and peace. The only way to experience His life to the fullest is to let Him increase us by the Holy Spirit so that we can automatically decrease (John 3:30). When we try to reverse this, then we will merely be religious and God will allow us to fail.
(Don’t forget to catch Part II of Religious Spirits)