|COMBATING THE SPIRIT OF RELIGION
HIS GLORY REIGNS
Jul 10 2009 08:00 AM
It was in December 2003 that I first heard C. Peter Wagner offer Daniel 7:25 as a clear statement of the primary goals of
the corporate spirit of religion. This verse, which speaks of the fourth beast (the manifestation of evil in Daniel's vision)
reads, "He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The
saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time" (NIV). Five strategies of the enemy are summarized
in this verse:
Leaders who make ongoing renewal of Christ's Church one of their primary objectives will have to deal with all of these
strategies of the enemy at some point. Many new Christians anticipate that most of the opposition they will endure will
come from the demonic realm and from people who are not a part of Christ's Church. However, one quickly learns that
this is not always true. We soon realize that strong opposition to change often comes from within the Body of Christ.
This opposition comes from well-meaning traditionalists and what many of us have come to call the spirit of religion, or
more specifically the corporate spirit of religion.
This evil principality works within the Church to fan into flame a natural human passion to preserve the "tradition of the
elders," as the Pharisees expressed it in Mark 7:5. C. Peter Wagner has accurately characterized this mind-set brought
about by the corporate spirit of religion as one that allows what God said in the past to keep us from hearing what God
is saying today. In Mark 7:9, Jesus told us to beware of prejudice in favor of the familiar. He warned that our hearts can
easily set aside a passionate obedience to God's present commands (both scriptural and prophetic) because we have
fallen into an adulterous affair of the heart with our traditions.
Loving God is the greatest commandment and the greatest gift that we can possess. The second greatest
commandment is to love our neighbors. As the Lord affirmed, the whole Law is fulfilled by keeping these two
commandments. That is, if we keep these two commandments, we will keep the whole Law (see Matthew 22:34-40;
Simple love for God will overcome most of the evil in our hearts, and it is the most powerful weapon against evil in the
world. Because loving God is our highest goal, it must be the primary focus of our lives. This is why one of the enemy's
most deceptive and deadly attacks upon the Church is meant to divert us from this ultimate quest. It is his strategy to
keep us focused on the evil in our lives, knowing that we will become what we are beholding (see II Corinthians 3:18).
As long as we keep looking at the evil, it will continue to have dominion over us.
This is not to imply that we should ignore the sins and errors that are in our lives. In fact, the Scriptures command us to
examine and test ourselves to be sure that we are still in the faith (see II Corinthians 13:5). The issue is what we do
after the iniquity is discovered. Do we turn to the tree of life? Do we try to make ourselves better so that we will then be
acceptable to God, or do we turn to the cross of Jesus to find both the forgiveness and the power to overcome the sin?
A primary strategy of the enemy is intended to keep us focused on the evil, partaking of the tree of the knowledge of
good and evil, instead of on the glory of the Lord and the cross. This is a tactic of the religious spirit, an evil spirit that
is the counterfeit of the true love of God and of true worship. I wouldn't be surprised if this religious spirit has done more
damage to the Church than have done the New Age movement and all the other cults combined.
THE NATURE OF THE SPIRIT OF RELIGION
The spirit of religion is a demon that seeks to substitute religious activity for the power of the Holy Spirit in our
lives. Its primary objective is to have the Church "holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power"
(II Timothy 3:5, NASB). The apostle Paul completed his exhortation with "avoid such men as these" (verse 5, NASB,
emphasis added). This religious spirit is the "leaven of the Pharisees and Sadduccees" (Matthew 16:6), of which the
Lord warned us to beware.
The Lord often used metaphors to illustrate the lessons He taught because their characteristics were similar. The
religious spirit does operate like the leaven in bread. It does not add substance or nutritional value to the bread - it only
inflates it. Such is the by-product of the religious spirit. It does not add to the life and power of the Church, but merely
feeds the very pride of man that caused the Fall, and almost every fall since.
Satan seems to understand even better than the Church that "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble"
(James 4:6). He knows very well that God will not inhabit any work that is inflated with pride and that God Himself will
even resist such a work. So Satan's strategy is to make us proud - even proud of good things, such as how much we
read the Bible, witness or feed the poor. He knows that if we do the will of God in pride, our work will be
counterproductive and could ultimately work toward our fall.
Satan also knows that once leaven gets into the bread, it is extremely difficult to remove. Pride, by its very nature, it the
most difficult stronghold to remove or correct. The religious spirit keeps us from hearing the voice of God by
encouraging us to assume that we already know God's opinion, what He is saying and what pleases Him. This delusion
is the result of believing that God is just like us. It could even cause us to rationalize our need to obey Scripture, having
us believe that rebukes, exhortations, and words of correction are for other people, but not for us.
If the religious spirit is a problem in your life, you have probably already begun to think about how badly someone you
know needs to read this message. It may not even have occurred to you that God put this into your hands because you
need it. In fact, we all need to keep our guard up, because the religious spirit is one enemy that all of us are very
susceptible to. It is imperative that we remain free of its devastating deception.
THE GREAT DECEPTION
One of the most deceptive characteristics about the religious spirit is that it is founded upon zeal for God. We tend to
think that zeal for God could never be evil, however that depends on why we are zealous for Him.
Paul wrote of his Jewish brethren in Romans 10:2, "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not
according to knowledge" (emphasis added). At that time of Paul, no one on earth prayed more, fasted more, read the
Bible more, had a greater hope in the coming of the Messiah or had more zeal for the things of God than did the
Pharisees. Yet these religious leaders turned out to be the greatest opposers of God and His Messiah when Christ
Those who are truly zealous are the most difficult to deal with, so the enemy's strategy against them is to push their zeal
too far. His first step is to get them to glory in their own zeal. Regardless of how important a gift we might have, if the
enemy can get us to take pride in it, he will have us in his snare and will begin to use that gift for evil.
The Lord had little trouble with most demons while He walked the earth. They quickly recognized His authority and they
begged for mercy. But the religious spirit was different. It was embedded in the conservative, zealous religious leaders,
who immediately became Jesus' greatest enemies. Those who were the most zealous for the Word of God ended up
crucifying the Word Himself when He became flesh to walk among them. The same is still true.
As I have said, all of the cults and false religions combined have not done as much damage to the move of God as the
infiltration of the spirit of religion into the Church. Cults and false religions are easily discerned and discarded, but the
religious spirit is extremely subtle. It has attempted to thwart possibly every revival or movement of God to date, and it
still retains an undeserved seat of honor throughout a huge part of today's Church.
THE FOUNDATION OF PRIDE
Idealism is one of the most deceptive and destructive disguises of the religious spirit. Idealism is of human origin and is
a form of humanism. Although it has the appearance of seeking only the highest standards and the preservation of
God's glory, idealism is possibly the most deadly enemy of true revelation and true grace. It is deadly because it does
not allow for growing up into grace and wisdom; rather it attacks and destroys the foundation of those who are in pursuit
of God's glory but who have not arrived yet.
Idealism makes us try to impose on others standards that are beyond that which God has required or has given the
grace for at that time. For example, those who are controlled by this kind of religious spirit may condemn others who
may not pray two hours a day as they do. The truth is that God's will for others might not be the same as for us. The
grace of God may call us to pray, in a certain season, say 10 minutes a day. Then as we become so blessed by His
presence, we will want to spend more and more time with Him until we will not want to quit after just 10 minutes. If we are
eventually praying two hours a day, it will be because of our love for prayer and the presence of the Lord, not out of
fear or pride caused by the spirit of religion.
When the religious spirit succeeds in producing pride, it leads to perfectionism. The perfectionist person sees
everything as black or white. This develops extremes, requiring that every person and every teaching be judged as
either 100 percent right or 100 percent wrong. This is a standard of perfection that only Jesus could comply with. It will
lead to a serious delusion when we impose it on ourselves or on others. True grace imparts a truth that sets people
free, showing them the way out of their sin and beckoning them to higher levels of spiritual maturity.
Those who have the religious spirit may be able to point out problems with great accuracy, but they seldom have
solutions, except to tear down what has already been built. The strategy of the enemy is to nullify progress that is being
made and to sow discouragement that will limit future progress.
The perfectionist both imposes and tries to live by standards that actually stifle true maturity and growth. The grace of
God will lead us up the mountain step-by-step. The Lord does not condemn us because we may trip a few times while
trying to climb. He graciously picks us up with the encouragement that we can make it. We must have a vision of
making it to the top, and we should never condemn ourselves for not being there yet as long as we are still climbing.
THE DEADLY COMBINATION
One of the most powerful and deceptive forms of the religious spirit is built upon a combination of fear and pride. Those
who are bound in this way go through periods of deep anguish and remorse at their failures, but his false repentance
results only in more self-abasement and further attempts to make sacrifices that will appease the Lord. Then they often
flip to the other side, becoming so convinced that they are superior to other Christians or other groups that they
become unteachable and unable to receive reproof. The foundation that they stand on at any given time will be
dictated more by external pressure than by true conviction.
Such a religious spirit is so slippery that it will wiggle out of almost any attempt to confront it. If you address the pride,
the fears and insecurities will rise up to attract sympathy. If you confront the fear, it will then change into religious pride
masquerading as faith. This type of spirit will drive individuals or congregations to such extremes that they will inevitably
THE COUNTERFEIT GIFT OF DISCERNMENT
The religious spirit will often produce a counterfeit gift of discernment of spirits. This counterfeit gift thrives on seeing
what is wrong with others rather than on seeing what God is doing in people so that we can help them along. This is
how the religious spirit does some of its greatest damage to the Church. Its evil work will almost always leave more
damage and division than it does healing and reconciliation. Its mind-set is rooted in the tree of the knowledge of good
and evil, and though some of the truth it proclaims may be accurate, it is ministered in a spirit that kills.
This counterfeit gift of discernment is motivated by suspicion and fear. The suspicion is rooted in such things as
rejection, territorial preservation or general insecurity. However, the true gift of discernment can only function through
love. Any motive other than love will destroy spiritual perception. Whenever someone submits a judgment or criticism
about another person or group, we should disregard it unless we know that the one bringing it truly loves that person or
THE TEST OF A TRUE MESSENGER
In Ezekiel 37 the Lord took the prophet Ezekiel to a valley full of dry bones and asked him whether the bones could live.
The Lord then commanded him, "Prophesy to these bones" (verse 4). As Ezekiel prophesied, the bones came together
and came to life, and then became a great army (verses 7-10).
This is an important test through which every true ministry must pass. The true prophet can see a great army in even
the driest of bones. He will prophesy life to those bones until they come to life and become an army. A false prophet
with the religious spirit will do little more than just tell the bones how dry they are, heaping discouragement and
condemnation on them, but imparting no life or power to overcome their circumstances.
Apostles and prophets are given authority to build up and tear down, but they have no right to tear down if they have
not first built up. We should give no one the authority to bring correction to the people under our care unless they first
have a history of providing spiritual nourishment and building people up. Some people may say that such a policy
would eliminate the ministry of the prophets altogether, but I say that so-called prophets who do not have a heart to
build others up should be eliminated from ministry. As Jude said of them, these people are "hidden reefs in your love
feasts" (Jude 12, NASB). They are "grumblers, finding fault" (verse 16, NASB). They have come under the power of
the spirit of religion.
THE ROOT OF SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS
The religious spirit will make us feel very good about our spiritual condition as long as we are self-centered and self-
seeking. Pride feels good; it can even be exhilarating. But it keeps all of our attention on how well we are doing and on
how we stand compared to others - not on how we stand compared to the glory of God. This results in our putting
confidence in discipline and personal sacrifice rather than in the Lord and His sacrifice.
Of course, discipline and a commitment to self-sacrifice are essential qualities for every believer to have. But it is the
motivation behind them that determines whether we are being driven by the religious spirit or being led by the Holy
Spirit. The religious spirit motivates through fear and guilt, or through pride and ambition. The motivation of the Holy
Spirit is love for the Son of God.
Delighting in self-abasement is a sure symptom of the religious spirit. This does not mean that we should neglect to fast
or to discipline our bodies, as Paul did (see I Corinthians 9:27). However, the problem comes when we take a perverse
delight in this, rather than taking delight in the Son of God.
Colossians 2:18-19 indicates that those with the religious spirit will tend to delight in self-abasement and will often be
given to worshiping angels or taking improper stands on visions they have seen. The religious spirit wants us to
worship anything or anyone except Jesus. The same spirit that influences us to worship angels will also push us to
excessively exalt people.
Consequently, we must beware of anyone who unduly exalts angels or men and women of God, or anyone who uses the
visions that he or she has received to gain improper influence in the Church. God does not give us revelations so that
people will respect us more or to exalt our ministries. The fruit of true revelation will be humility, not pride.
THE MARTYR SYNDROME
When combined with the religious spirit, the martyr syndrome is one of the ultimate and most deadly delusions. To be a
true martyr for the faith, literally losing our lives for the sake of Christ, is one of the greatest honors that we could
receive. Yet when this is perverted, it becomes a most tragic form of deception.
When the religious spirit succeeds in producing a martyr syndrome, it is almost impossible for that person to be
delivered from the deception that he or she is "suffering for the gospel." At this point, any rejection or correction
received from others is perceived as the price to be paid in order to "stand for the truth." This warped perspective will
drive them even further from the truth and any possibility of correction.
The martyr syndrome can also be a manifestation of the spirit of suicide. For some people, it seems easier to "die for
the Lord" than to live for Him. Those who have a perverted understanding of the Cross glory more in death than they
do in life. They fail to see that the point of the Cross is resurrection, not the grave.
THE EARLY WARNING SIGNS OF THE SPIRIT OF RELIGION
Our Goal must be to get completely free of any influence from the religious spirit by being completely submitted to the
Holy Spirit. Without this submission to the Lord, there is no way to be delivered from the religious spirit.
Through many years of ministry I have observed the spirit of religion closely. It has attacked me on more than one
occasion. I have watched its devastating effects in the lives of other believers. In many cases I have helped people to
recognize the pernicious inroads of this spirit into their lives, and I have helped them to be delivered and to enter into
the true freedom of life in Christ.
As I have confronted this spirit, I have developed a checklist of 25 early warning signs that frequently appear. I would
encourage you to prayerfully go through this list. First ask God to show you to what degree any of these traits apply to
your own life. This may not be easy, because the spirit of religion is so subtle and deceptive. If you find one or more of
these things in your life, boldly rebuke that filthy spirit and command it to leave in the name of Jesus. Be free and be
It is only after you do that, that you begin to use the list to detect the religious spirit in others in order to help them.
However, if you try this without being an overcomer yourself, you are probably showing a symptom that you have a
serious problem. Take heed of Paul's instruction: "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith" (II Corinthians 13:5,
they believe is wrong. Such a person's ministry will result more in division than in lasting works that are bearing
fruit for the Kingdom.
they. Think back on how you responded the last few times someone tried to correct you.
speaks through people, this is an obvious delusion, revealing serious spiritual pride.
what is right with them. From the valley John saw Babylon, but when he was carried to a high mountain, he
saw the new Jerusalem (see Revelation 21:10). If we are only seeing Babylon, it is because of our perspective.
Those who are in a place of true vision will have their attention on what God is doing, not on what people are
standards. This is a root of the religious spirit, because it causes us to base our relationship with Him on our
performance rather than on the Cross. Jesus has already measured up for us. He is the completed work that the
Father is seeking to accomplish within us. Our whole goal in life should be simply to abide in Him.
what we consider to be spiritual, such as go to more meetings, read the Bible more and do more things for the
Lord. These are all noble endeavors, but the true measure of spiritual maturity is getting closer to God.
appointed watchmen or sheriffs, in God's kingdom. They are seldom involved in the building, but serve only to
keep the Church in a state of annoyance and agitation, if not causing serious divisions.
failures of others. However, as James wrote, "the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle,
reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is
righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:17-18, NASB).
are more pleasing to Him. This is a symptom of the profound delusion that we draw closer to God because of
who we are, rather than through Jesus.
compared with others. True spiritual maturity involves growing up into Christ. When we begin to compare
ourselves with others, it is obvious that we have lost sight of the true goal - Jesus.
are involved in the most important thing that God is doing.
we have prayed through our prayer list, we should consider our condition. We should never feel relief when our
conversations with the One we love are over.
more than we fear God, which results in a religion that serves people instead of God.
encounter the true life of God, it will usually appear to them to be excessive, emotional and carnal. True passion
for God is often emotional and demonstrative, such as David exemplified when he brought the Ark of God into
Jerusalem (see II Samuel 6:14-16).
the previous point, but the religious spirit will often take contradictory positions in its drive for self-preservation
and exaltation. This use of emotionalism will include such things as requiring weeping and wailing as evidence of
repentance, or "falling under the power" as evidence that one has been touched by God. Both of these can be
evidences of the true work of the Holy Spirit. It is when we require these manifestations that we are beginning to
move in another spirit.
toughest, most rebellious men falling to the ground and staying there for up to 24 hours. They would get up
changed. Such strange manifestations of the Holy Spirit fueled the Great Awakening. Even so, Edwards stated
that people who faked the manifestations did more to bring an end to the Great Awakening than did the enemies
of the revival!
discouraged when it seems that others are looking better or growing faster than we are.
changed - He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The veil has been removed, and we can be as close to
God today as anyone ever has been in the past. The religious spirit will always seek to focus our attention on
doing good work and on making comparisons, rather than on simply drawing closer to the Lord.
that God brings to life. This is an obvious symptom of jealousy, a primary fruit of the religious spirit, or of the
pride that asserts that God would not do anything new without doing it through us. Of course, those with such a
mentality are seldom used by the Lord to birth new works.
pride and arrogance of presuming that our opinions are the same as God's. True humility keeps us teachable
and open, patiently waiting for fruit before making judgments. True discernment enables us to look for and hope
for the best, not the worst. For this reason, we are exhorted to "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that
which is good" (I Thessalonians 5:21, NASB), not to what is bad.
far more carnality in the Church, and a lot less of the Holy Spirit, than even the most critical person has guessed.
It is important that we learn to discern between the carnal and that which is from the Holy Spirit in order to be
delivered from our carnality and to grow in our submission to the Holy Spirit. But the critical person will annihilate
those who may still be 60 percent carnal but who were 95 percent carnal last year. Instead, we need to recognize
that people are making progress and to do what we can to help them along the way.
My two-year old is immature when compared with my nine-year old, but that is to be expected. In fact, he may be
very mature for a two-year old. The idealistic religious spirit only sees the immaturity, without considering the
other important factors.
just another form of keeping score and comparing ourselves with others. Some of Jesus' greatest miracles, such
as walking on water, were seen by only a few people. He was doing His works to glorify the Father, not Himself.
Those who use the evidence of miracles to promote and build their own ministries and reputations have made a
serious departure from the path of life.
and even gave His life for, the fallen human race. Such is the nature of those who abide in Him.
overcoming it with faith in Christ Jesus.
and who He is. If we are building our lives, ministries, or churches on anything but these, we are building on a
shaky foundation that will not stand.
I hope that this chapter has given you illumination about problems both in yourself and in another person or ministry.
But let me warn you once again to be sure that you respond in the Holy Spirit, heeding Paul's warning to the Galatians:
"Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness;
each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted" (Galatians 6:1).
God wants us to overcome the spirit of religion! We do this primarily by keeping the main thing- loving God and loving
our neighbors - the main thing.
FREEDOM FROM THE RELIGIOUS SPIRIT, by C. Peter Wagner, Copyright 2005, Regal Books.
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