The Religious Spirit Explained

By Edwin Christiaan

The religious spirit is a demon that wages war against the grace of God in our lives and acceptance of Jesus’ work as true fulfillment of God’s covenant between God and man.

The religious spirits are very destructive to our intimate relationship with God. 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 other areas of our thinking and attitudes. For example, one person may be plagued with feelings of never being good enough for God, while the next person may be infected with self-righteousness and false holiness.

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. When this happens, demons get stirred up and if possible, will provoke all kinds of unreasonable and malicious attacks on such servants of God, just like it happened to Jesus in the Bible who confronted the Pharisees who were obvious examples of people who have 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 religious 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.

It was these people who hated Jesus and conspired to crucify Him. They were motivated by pride, envy, and self-righteousness. Jesus Christ had little trouble dealing with demons inflicting sickness and disease in people, but He faced greater opposition from people controlled by religious spirits. 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. For example, if you think of yourself as more important than others, then you almost certainly have a self-righteous or false holiness demonic spirit. Other things you might look for are feelings that you are always right and everybody else is wrong, or you feel the need to constantly talk and be strongly opinionated. Somebody who comes across as a know-it-all may also have religious spirit. The Scripture gives us many clues of the activity of religious spirits, especially those that are close to the truth and therefore harder to detect, making it difficult to distinguish religious people from true Christians at first, but their daily behavior will give them away. Religious people can look so good from the outside, as they act or appear religious by going to church, knowing Christian doctrine, using Christian clichés, and following Christian traditions. But their inner attitudes of belief, love, and true worship are lacking.

This is what the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, as he warned him not be deceived by people who only appear to be Christians:

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! 2. Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

Religious spirits, like many other types of demons, have similar demons in their groupings. The following is a basic list of demonic behavior that you might find in somebody who has a religious spirit: Judgmental, merciless, self-righteous, critical, religiously prideful, legalistic, perfectionistic, divisive, unbelieving, doubtful, in doctrinal error.

Often, people who have religious spirits will find it hard to believe that salvation comes through the grace of God apart from works of the law. They may find it easy to judge others or criticize them over petty issues. There is usually a sense of ‘earning’ your status or good standing with God. Legalism is a popular bondage today, where a person feels they have to adhere to a strict set of rules (laws) before they can be made right with God. People who never feel good enough for a relationship with God, but are continually condemned or have a guilty feeling hovering over them, may have a religious spirit or spirits operating in their mind. The feeling of ‘never being good enough’ is a dead giveaway, because it shows that the person is trying to make things right with God themselves and are not relying on the work of Jesus Christ, which already paid their debt in full. 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 by Christ. The Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you are a believer but you have no peace or joy, something is wrong. Condemnation and unrighteous judgment may have stolen it from you. Until we cast ourselves at the mercy of God and truly give ourselves to Him, we go through a torturing cycle of giving in to legalistic rules and laws, falling short, feeling guilty, trying to measure up, and repeated failure.

Let me explain some of the characteristics of the workings of religious spirits:

Fearing People

Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety. Proverbs 29:25 NLT

That is when you are more concerned about what people think or say about you than what God thinks and says. For instance, when you are at church or out and about you behave in a certain way, because you are more conscious of people than conscious of God. You are afraid not to offend anybody, but in reality, 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:

Then the disciples came to Him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?” (Matthew 15:12 NLT)

We are not to seek the approval and praise of people like the Pharisees were doing.

For they loved human praise more than the praise of God. John 12:43 NLT

Putting Emphasis on External Things

Then the Lord said to him, “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness! Fools! Didn’t God make the inside as well as the outside?” Luke 11:39-40 NLT

Like rules about certain food, we should eat:

So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules about food, which don’t help those who follow them. Hebrews 13:9 NLT

Like forbidding to, or pushing people to marry:

They will say it is wrong to be married and wrong to eat certain foods. 1. Timothy 4:3 NLT

Like clothing:

Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra-long tassels. Matthew 23:5 NLT

The religious spirit makes outward things like clothes the major issue, and puts less emphasis on a right heart attitude of humility, gratitude, mercy, and courageous faith.

Like bragging about having a spectacular ministry:

Are we commending ourselves to you again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart. 2. Corinthians 5:12 NLT

Emphasis and Being Stuck on Traditions, Rituals, Special Rules, and Regulations
“This is the way we’ve always done it.”

One day some Pharisees and teachers of religious law arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They noticed that some of his disciples failed to follow the Jewish ritual of hand washing before eating. (The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions. Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of many traditions they have clung to—such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles.) So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, “Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.” Mark 7:1-5 NLT

Pride in personal sacrifice
We take great pride and want everybody to know about how we have given up things to serve the Lord and how often we pray, fast, and how much money we have given. But when we want others to know we do these things, and we wish to – hypocritically – gain the approval and admiration of men, we are falling prey to the religious spirit.

When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. Matthew 6:5 NLT

And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. Matthew 6:16 NLT

Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! Matthew 6:1-2 NLT

Lack of mercy

But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ Matthew 12:7 NLT

When Jesus heals, forgives, delivers, and provides, it is always an expression of God’s mercy. Those who are bound by religious spirits don’t know what mercy is, and therefore they lack concern for and are cold to the needs of people.

That is why religious spirits have little or no room in their theology for grace and mercy! To them, it is all about works and doing good things to earn a good standing with God. Religious spirits feel too proud or self-righteous to accept a free gift from God; they feel they are already holy or feel they can earn their right to salvation. God’s Word makes it clear that if we try to gain salvation through works, then we have fallen from grace and the work of Christ is of no effect to us.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

When Jesus would freely forgive a person’s sins, it made the Pharisees very angry, because it didn’t settle well with their self-righteous spirits. The concept of grace was an abomination to their doctrine of legalism!

For example, Jesus forgave a man of his sins, and as proof that He was sent from God, He also mercifully healed the paralyzed man. But the religious mindset in those scribes or religious teachers overlooked the miraculous healing, and was quick to judge Jesus for gracefully forgiving the man’s sins.

When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins! Mark 2:1-7 NLT

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 positions as religious leaders. They were upset with Jesus for healing and casting out demons. They blatantly called it the work of the devil.

But when the Pharisees heard about the miracle, they said, “No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.” Matthew 12:24 NLT

Jealousy and Envy
People who are infected with religious spirits are often jealous, and envy anointed ministers of God. The Pharisees thought that if anyone who is a follower of Jesus were truly from God, they would certainly recognize and honor them. The religious spirits are absolutely not happy when God uses or blesses someone other than them. As they compare themselves with others, they consider themselves to be better than common people because of their so-called knowledge.

We make a serious mistake if we consider ourselves to be better than others on the basis of race, education, knowledge, good looks, or any such thing. When we compare ourselves with others, we may feel proud because we think we are better. But when we measure ourselves against God’s standards, it becomes obvious that we have absolutely no basis for pride.

Oh, don’t worry; we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant! 2. Corinthians 10:12 NLT

Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Romans 12:3 NLT

Blindness to the work of God
Religious spirits are also blind to the work of God. It does not move them.

The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them. The leading priests and the teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David.” But the leaders were indignant. Matthew 21:14-16 NLT

Religious spirits are more interested in fault-finding, holding your past against you, and pass judgment rather than offering forgiveness. A person with a religious spirit would rather see somebody ‘pay’ or be punished for their wrongdoing, than see the person repent and receive the forgiveness and grace of God. A good example of this is found in John chapter 8 about a woman caught in adultery:

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” John 8:1-11 NLT

Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath. Mark 3:1-2 NLT

The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees were hoping to find something to accuse Jesus of.

As I already indicated, people with religious spirits are often judging and criticizing others in their thought-lives. They see themselves as holy, righteous, and favored by God, but look down upon others as you can read in this parable of the religious Pharisee and the tax collector:

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 NLT

This Pharisee felt that he had earned his good standing with God, and that the sinner had not, therefore he had reason to boast before the Lord.

Another example of a critical religious spirit in the Bible is about a woman who poured expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet, and washed them with her tears and her hair. Jesus was criticized and accused by a Pharisee for allowing the woman to touch Him, since she was a sinner:

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!” Luke 7:36-39 NLT

The demonic religious spirits are out to wage war against your intimate relationship with God and make you feel distant from God, because no matter what you do, it will never be enough. Or, they make you so proud and self-righteous that it ultimately devastates and destroys your spiritual life, causing you in turn to destroy others. Either way, their goal is to nullify the work of Christ in your life, and make it to no effect for you.

For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace. Galatians 5:4 NLT

It is very important to keep in mind that religious spirits have no concept of mercy or forgiveness for other people, nor is there any remembrance of how they themselves needed mercy in their own life at some time or another. The Bible says to:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT)

Religious people like to burden people with impossible religious demands and lecture them about things they shouldn’t do, and yet they do them themselves!

They crush people with impossible religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. Matthew 23:4 NLT

Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal? You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples? You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it. Romans 2:21-23 NLT

Our prayer is that anybody who is bound by the evil Religious Spirit, will find deliverance and freedom in Jesus Christ, who said:

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 NLT