E. Leo Lawson, Jr.

B. Childress
July 24 2009 08:00 AM

I had a hunger for God at a very early age.  Walking around on my grandfather's Kentucky farm, I would talk to Jesus
just as loudly as I would talk to anyone else.  Why?  Because I sensed His presence.  However, I did not know
Him.  It
was like sitting in the audience of a president - you experience his presence, though you know him not.

My grandfather, a baptist deacon, would sit me on his knee and read his Bible to me.  Inquiring soul that I was, I wanted
to know much about this Jesus whose presence I so sensed, as children often do.  My Catholic mother would take me,
along with my Baptist dad, to Mass; and then in the next hour, she would attend the Baptist service with my father and
me.  This worked fine until the priest demanded that our commitment be to the Catholic Church, not to the Baptist
church, if I was going to attend their parochial Catholic school.


When I entered the first of eight years of Catholic grade school, I certainly carried with me this hunger for God.  After
hearing the Ten Commandments and all the requirements to participate in the Mass, I set my mind and heart to "do the
dos," and "don't the don'ts."  I figured that if that was how to please the God whose presence I so treasured, then that
was what I would pursue with all my juvenile might.

Yet sometime past my first Communion, the years of devotion to "religion" seemed to drain away the sense of God's
presence.  The very God I wanted to know seemed ever so far, so intensifying my
commitment appeared to be the only
remedy.  Being an altar boy was attractive to me.  I even checked out Catholic seminaries in the seventh and eighth
grades, hoping that the priesthood might be the place to find God - but to no avail.  Where was He?  At graduation I
decided that there was no reality in "religion," though my earlier experience with the Baptists left me wondering whether
there was something more than what the Catholics were telling me.

My experience of "the priesthood" during my school years left a bad aftertaste.  No, there was no clergy sex abuse.  But
I would propose that something at least as damaging occurred in my young soul during those years. The spirit of
religion dulled the sense of God's presence within me
and nullified God's Word to me.  Should this surprise you?  It
shouldn't, because this is exactly what Jesus said it would do.


Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of His day, telling them that they could not discern when God was present, even
when standing there in human flesh! (see John 8).  What was it that Jesus discerned about the Pharisees' religious past
that had so dulled them to God's presence? Of all the religious sects in His day, Jesus would have probably most
aligned Himself with what the Pharisees taught, yet His harshest rebukes came their way.  Why?  There was nothing so
wrong about what they said as there was about what they
did (see Matthew 23:3).  There was just something about the
spirit behind their words and deeds that made them detestable, especially to God.  They professed to know Him, but by
their deeds they denied God (see Titus 1:16).  Like so many religious people, their words seemed right, but these folks
did not have a right spirit.  Could this have been caused by a demonic spirit?

AKA:  The Religious Spirit

Some people would call it the spirit of religion; and others, the spirit of religiosity.  One names a spirit by the destiny it
distributes over someone; i.e., the spirit of religiosity distributes that demonic destiny.  However, it might more simply be
called the religious spirit.  Lest we damn all "religion," I must make clear that religion can be human initiated, and some
of it can even be good.  "To keep oneself unstained by the world" (James 1:27,
NASB) is self-initiated, though only
made possible by God's grace.

However, in God's sight, religion can be "pure and undefiled" (James 1:27).  Therefore it must also be possible for
religion to be impure and defiled. One source of that defiled religion is a demonic spirit of religiosity.  This seems to be
what Jesus discerned to be at work when He was around most Pharisees.  In Matthew 15:1-9, Jesus uncovered the root
of their religious spirit, as we shall see.

Prior to His exposè on religiosity, Jesus had returned from Gennesaret, where the sick folks were simply touching His
garment and getting healed (see Matthew 14:34-36).  But such manifest power is where the rub came.  Just like today, it
seems that the perpetrators of "religion" just couldn't tolerate the power of God flowing so readily.  The central
motivating factor behind the religious spirit is pride in its self-righteous works, and this, too, was what was welling up
inside of those Pharisees.  They felt that Jesus was showing them up!  So they determined to shut down such a "show"
of power in order to secure their own position in society.  The religious spirit never changes.  It still shows up that way

As those vultures circled around the Master, they could find no fault with Him.  So they turned their attention to His
rough-hewn disciples, who cared little for "religion" over reality - heaven's reality brought to the earth by the power of
God's kingdom.  Offended, the Pharisees fixed their gaze on these men and, yes, found that they violated the traditions
of the elders.  The disciples did not wash their hands according to the ceremonial traditions, and thus, these renegades
did not qualify with the Pharisees.

    Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do Your disciples break the
    tradition of the elders?  For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread."  And He answered and said to
    them, "And do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?"  (Matthew 15:
    1-3, NASB).

Dethroning the Traditions from Men

The Twelve were mostly outdoorsmen.  Jesus' leading disciples were fishermen.  Eating without washing their hands,
well, that's just life!  But not so for these Pharisees.  The tradition of the elders had spoken -
this was a mortal sin!  
Jewish legend had it that these traditions orally came down from Moses, but the Hebrew Torah (the Law) which Moses
received from God, said nothing about pre-meal hand washing.  However, it did say that nothing was to e taken away or
added to the Torah (see Deuteronomy 4:2).

In truth, over the years Jewish priests had simply added their own oral commentary (the Talmud) and made dogma of it.  
Their religious dogma was so twisted that it violated God's commands.  Their dogma was for the dogs!  The oral
traditions were not even written down until the time of the Romans, over 1,000 years after Moses.  Why then should
these Talmud proclamations be given the same weight as the Torah, which God gave to Moses on the mountain?  By
extension, what does this suggest about the place of church dogma that is contradicted by the Scripture?

As usual, Jesus goes right to the heart of the issue.  For these Pharisees, traditions from men had taken priority over
God's Word!  May I suggest to you that this is the root of the religious spirit?  When this happens, God's Word does not
just get undervalued - Jesus said that it gets nullified, or invalidated (see Matthew 15:6). The New Testament Greek
word for "nullified" derives from
kuros, which means "supremacy,"  and thus implies lordship.  Jesus was saying that the
lordship of God's Word had been annulled by choosing traditions from men over His Word.  Consider the power of
God's word that created the ever-expanding universe.  Yet with one choice, that power can be nullified in a person's life!


How then does a religious spirit obtain a legal right into your life?  Human-initiated religion finds its way into the fabric of
a society and becomes a tradition passed on to you.  But the source is human, and it is properly called traditions from
men.  When the status quo exalts such tradition over God's command, the status quo has to go.  But the status quo
dies hard; when a person individually chooses to make traditions from men the priority, the religious spirit has found a
legal right and can demonize the soul of that person.  Demons find access to the soul through all deeds of the flesh,
and religion can sometimes be no more than simply a deed of the flesh, when it is not rooted in a relationship with God.

Working in evangelism to win religious people over the years, I have found that the first thing I have to do, especially
with religious folks, is to ask them if the Word of God is
the priority with them.  "If, for some reason, your religious
tradition is found to be in contradiction with God's Scripture, will the Word of God be your final authority?" I ask.  Only
when this is affirmed can I go further in ministry with them.  This decision weakens the right of the religious spirit to their
soul, and the stronghold of the religious spirit begins to crumble.

However, Jesus said that if an unsaved religious person chooses to hold to man-made traditions, it becomes an act of
"neglecting the commandment of God"  (Mark 7:8,
NASB).  The Greek word for "neglect" here is the same word that
Paul used to speak of a man's divorcing his wife (see I Corinthians 7:11-12).  In other words, when you choose
traditions from men as a top priority, you end up divorcing yourself from God's Word.  This gives ground to the religious

Jesus attacked the root of the spirit of religion in these Pharisees.  He illustrated how, by their tradition keeping, God's
commandment had been transgressed, that is, side-stepped (see Matthews 15:3).  Yes, the Greek word for "transgress"
also means "to overstep, neglect, violate," namely God's laws.  Accordingly, a transgression occurs when one sidesteps
the basics of the faith.  This is a manifestation of the religious spirit.  It causes a person to give more attention to the
application of a principle than to the principle itself.  Both are important, but the weightier provisions of God's laws
(principles) are to have the priority (see Matthew 23:23).  Principle is principal!  A religious spirit moves a person away
from the basics, and something else comes into focus.  The basics fade into the background and external ritual wins the


Jesus characterized the byproduct of the religious spirit:  ritual without relationship.  External ritual is hollow without an
internal relationship with God.  According to Jesus, this is the real meaning of the word "hypocrite."  The word Jesus
used originality came from Greek theater.  When used negatively, it referred to actors who did not identify themselves
with their roles.  From this came its meanings of "play-acting," "disguise" and "hypocrisy."  Hypocrites, then, are not the
same on the inside as they are on the outside.  This is another manifestation of the religious spirit!  People who yield to
it too often lack integrity, or simply put, are hypocrites.  Hypocrites are what Jesus called the Pharisees, pointing out that
Isaiah had prophesied of their kind 700 years earlier.  Thus Jesus dynamically quotes Isaiah 29:13:

    By this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.  You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy
    of you:  'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.  But in vain do they worship
    Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men" (Matthew 15:6-9, NASB; see also Mark 7:6-9,13).

They had ritual without relationship.


Though the sect of the Pharisees did not exist in Isaiah's day, Jesus still said that Isaiah prophesied about their kind.  
Jesus identified some of the hallmarks of these hypocrites as those same hallmarks that Isaiah used to describe such
religious people of his day (see Matthew 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-13).  Let's look at Jesus and Isaiah's description of the effects
of the spirit of religion.

    1.  You focus more on the externals, rather than focusing first on being right internally.  The Pharisees whose
    hearts were far from God asked Jesus, "Why do Your their bread with impure hands?"  (Mark 7:5,

    2.  You are a hypocrite:  one thing on the outside, but another within.  Jesus said, "[Hypocrites] honor Me with
    their lips, but their heart is far away from Me"  (Mark 7:6, NASB).

    3.  You sidestep the basic principles, focusing more on their application.  Jesus responded to the Pharisees'
    question with another question:  "Why do you yourselves transgress [sidestep] the commandment of God for the
    sake of your tradition [application]?"  (Matthew 15:3, NASB).

    4.  You prioritize (or make equal) tradition from men alongside of God's Word.  Because the Pharisees refused to
    follow God's commands, Jesus said to them, "By this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your
    tradition"  (Matthew 15:6 NASB).

    5.  You accuse those who do not exalt your tradition (i.e., any church dogma).  The Pharisees asked, "Why do
    Your disciples break the tradition of the elders?  For they do not..."  (Matthew 15:2, NASB).

    6.  You divorce yourself from God's Word, dismissing its lordship over you.  Jesus responded with a number of
    true accusations:  "Neglecting [dismissing the lordship of] the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of
    men"  (Mark 7:8, NASB).

    7.  You set aside [reject] God's Word in order to practice traditions from men.  "You are experts at setting aside
    the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition"  Mark 7:9, NASB).

    8.  You invalidate God's Word by practicing traditions from men and doing so regularly.  "Thus invalidating the
    word of God by your traditions...; and you do many things such as that"  (Mark 7:13, NASB).

    9.  You have ritual, not relationship with God!  "Their heart is far away from Me.  But in vain do they worship Me"  
    (Mark 7:6-7, NASB).

    10.  You falsely honor God with your lips, while holding your heart far from Him.  "This people honors Me with their
    lips, but their heart is far away from Me"  (Mark 7:6, NASB).

    11.  You worship with empty words; your heart is not engaged behind the words.  "Their heart is far away from
    Me.  But in vain do they worship Me"  (Mark 7:6-7, NASB).

    12.  You accept as your code of conduct traditions from men, and not God's precepts.  "Teaching as doctrines
    the precepts of men"  (Mark 7:7, NASB).


Even though human authority enforced religious ritual, Isaiah 29 makes it clear that when those hypocrites chose ritual
over relationship in their worship, God still held them responsible for their choice.  In fact, the first word the Lord used in
verse 13 was "because."  Thus he gave the reason for the judgment that He had poured out on the people who had
made that choice -
heartless worship.

    Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts
    far from Me, and their reverence for me consists of tradition learned by rote, therefore behold, I will once again
    deal...(Isaiah 29:13-14, NASB, emphasis added).

Like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, the hypocrites of Isaiah's day were one thing on the outside, but inside they distanced
themselves from God - and it showed up in their worship.  Heartless worship is a stench in the nostrils of God and thus
God deals out judgment to this kind of worshiper, who is under the influence of a religious spirit.


So let's look at the hand that God dealt to those who yielded to a religious spirit.  Just three verses earlier, God began
to sentence them, saying, "Be delayed and wait, blind yourselves and be blind; they become drunk, but not with wine,
they stagger, but not with strong drink.  The wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the discernment of their discerning
men will be concealed" (verses 9,14).  That is to say, "Stop dead in your tracks and gawk, as with a drunken stare; be
amazed and ponder God's Word, yet in the end you will
not understand with your mind what God is trying to reveal to
you."  It is as if you were in a darkened room, and suddenly the brilliance of the strongest camera flash enters your eyes
and blinds you so that you can't see, though you look intently.  

This is the blindness that comes upon those who yield to the religious spirit.  Put simply, this spirit causes you to "blind
yourself" when trying to look at God and His Word.  Thus, you look right past Him and His Word.  Some theologians
have called this spiritual drunkenness.  It is an intoxication with religious ritual that short-circuits an intimate relationship
with God.  Heartless lip service produces a self-induced hardening of the heart.

This religious hardening makes the senses numb more than any intoxication that wine could ever achieve.  This is a
dulling of your spiritual senses.  You just don't "feel" what others get from God.  You stagger from place to place, hoping
you will find something that connects you to God; but to your dismay you bounce from one wall to another, from one
church to another, hoping to find something to awaken you from this lifeless stupor.  Your heartless ritual has left you
bankrupt and in a drunken state that compromises your morals, as you spiral ever downward with a hopeless religion
that doesn't deliver.


    For [Because] the LORD has poured over you a spirit of deep sleep.  He has shut your eyes, the prophets; and
    He has covered your heads, the seers.  The entire vision will be to you like the words of a sealed book, which
    when they give it to the one who is literate, saying, "Please read this," he will say, "I cannot, for it is sealed."  Then
    the book will be given to one who is illiterate, saying, "Please read this."  And he will say, "I cannot read" (Isaiah

There's that word again: "because."  Why did all this spiritual debauchery, or drunkenness, occur?  Because each
person chose ritual over relationship.  As a result, a demonic spirit of stupor was poured over those who chose their
own religious works above God's commands (see verse 13).  This is the source of that dullness and drunkenness.  
According to Keil and Delitzsch, "this stupefaction was the self-inflicted punishment of the dead works with which the
people mocked god and deceived themselves.

God abhors empty worship; heartless words only mock Him.  Because of the choices these people made, God permitted
a spirit of stupor to be poured over these people.  The original Hebrew text calls it a spirit of
tardemah, meaning "trance"
or "deep sleep."  This spirit would hypnotize a person into a drunken stare, under the influence, staggering throughout
their religious days, insensible and impervious to God's Spirit of revelation and His Word.  This hypnotic spirit was so
poured out on them that they were drenched, baptized, immersed and drowning in their own religious ritual.  The eyes
of their heart were shut, so they could not catch the nation's prophetic direction - the vision from God eluded them (see
verse 10).

People with this spirit to whom I have ministered can never seem to catch the vision of Christ's Church or hear the
prophetic word of the Lord.  I ministered to one prophet who, when he was also vexed by a religious spirit, would bounce
in and out of his prophetic gift.   When he was on prophetically, he was really on.  But when this religious spirit attacked
him, he could hardly discern any nudging from God's Spirit.  As verse 10 describes, "He has shut your eyes, the

Under the Influence of the Spirit of Stupor

As Isaiah 29:14 explains, the result of this punishment was the loss of wisdom and discernment.  Why?  They made the
choice, and thus a spirit of stupor was poured out on them and hypnotized them.  The words used in this verse "signify
the powerless, passive state of utter spiritual insensibility.  This is the religious spirit that locks people into passivity and
the status quo - spirit of stupefaction.  It is a stupidity that drives one to madness against God's Word, thus nullifying it.  
That is what happens to people with the spirit of stupor - they are driven mad against the Word, especially the Word
made flesh.  Doesn't it seem to be more than a few religious theologians out there?  This spirit of stupor can harden
their hearts and make them hardheaded, too!

The Spirit of Stupor Is a Demon

Religiosity gives the spirit of stupor the right to take up occupancy in a person.  Dare we call this a demonic spirit?  
Ernst Kasemann asserts, "Israel's inability to see salvation has a demonic depth which resists the Spirit of God...In the
righteousness of works there comes into effect th[is] power ...the immanent power of the cosmos which comes to a peak
in religiosity...The Lord and demons are most sharply opposed at this point.  It is here that blindness and deafness arise
most easily" (emphasis added).  Yes, this spirit of stupor is a demonic spirit that "benumb[s] the faculties, and make[s]
them insensible."  But why do I call it the spirit of stupor instead of the spirit of deep sleep, as translated in Isaiah 29?

The Spirit of Stupor and Its Results

    But if [God's choice of us] is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.  
    What then?  What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were
    hardened; just as it is written, "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to
    this very day" (Romans 11:6-8, NASB) .

In Romans 11:8, Paul dynamically quoted the phrase "a spirit of deep sleep" from Isaiah 29:10 and translated it as "a
spirit of stupor."  He explained that he, and those like him, had received grace by
faith and that those Israelites who
sought that grace by works of righteousness
did not receive it.  Their heartless religious works produced an external
religiosity that brought on them a spirit of stupor, which hardened them (see verses 5-7).  This was just as it is today
with many Jews and other such religious people.  As Kasemann notes, "Not sins, but pious works prevent Judaism from
obtaining the salvation held out to it, and keep it in bondage."

Then in verses 8 and 9, Paul amplified Isaiah's description of those who are under the power of the demonic spirit of
stupor.  The insensibility and hardness showed themselves in lives lived according to their appetites.  It was not that
their senses were starved of God's things, but rather that they were inundated with the
wrong thing, things that fed into
their appetites.  "The torpor [stupor] seems the result of too much sensation, dulled by incitement into apathy," explains
Robinson.  Those professing "saints" were so dull to God that they flooded their senses with what their appetites
demanded, only to be further dulled.  They're the kind that you might find in the back seat of a car in the church parking
lot after a church service, being immoral with one of their fellow youth group members, while earlier in church, they
pretended to worship.  They're also the kind that might swindle a client out of millions of dollars, though the previous
day at church spoke piously of righteousness.  These two people have different appetites, but both are following their
appetites all the same.

From the days of Moses, through the days of Isaiah and Jesus, down to Paul's day and our own, this spirit of stupor has
hardened those who rendered to God only external lip service while they held their hearts far from Him.  The spirit of
stupor hardens the heart, blinds the eyes and deafens the ears to God.  Of this hardness, Albert Barnes explains, "It
comes from a word which signifies properly to become
hard, as bones do which are broken and then united; or as the
joints sometimes do when they become callous or stiff.  It was probably applied also to the formation of a hard
substance in the eye, a cataract; and then means the same as to be blinded.  Hence, applied to the mind, it means that
which is
hard, obdurate, insensible, stupid" (emphasis added).  This is that hardness of heart that we too often see
among young people and adults alike.


A religious person you might be, but defiled religion only defiles you and leaves you bankrupt.  According to Romans 11:
8-9, your appetites snare you, trap you, stumble, judge you, blind you, and enslave you.  Does Paul's description of a
religious person who is under the influence of a spirit of stupor fit you?  How do you rate yourself now?  Here are Paul's
additional descriptors of such a religious person:

    1.  You are always seeking grace and victory (redemption) but never obtaining them.  "What Israel is seeking, it
    has not obtained"  (Romans 11:7, NASB).

    2.  You do works of righteousness but never sense God's acceptance.  "There has also come to be at the
    present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice...It is not longer on the basis of works"  (Romans 11:
    5-6, NASB, emphasis added).

    3.  You sense that the grace you were seeking at church always eludes you after the service is over.  "On the
    basis of works, ...what Israel is seeking, it has not obtained"  (Romans 11:6-7, NASB).

    4.  You go to church, but you leave more dulled (hardened) than before you came.  "The rest were hardened"  
    (Romans 11:7, NASB).

    5.  You "see not" and "hear not" what other saints get out of the pastor's message.  Eyes  to see not and ears to
    hear not"  (Romans 11:8, NASB).

    6.  You are lured by your appetites and lusts away from obedience to God.  "Let their table become a snare and
    a trap, and a stumbling block"  (Romans 11:9, NASB).

    7.   You feel so enslaved to sin that your back will be bent forever (i.e., that you'll never change).  "Let their eyes
    be darkened to see not, and bend their backs forever"  (Romans 11:10, NASB).

Does this description somewhat describe you?  It certainly described my life for years after I met the Lord - that is, until I
got delivered from a religious spirit!  It seemed that all the talk of a victorious Christian life was
just talk and could never
be a reality for me.  My back was bent with slavery to sin, lusts and appetites that chased me into a corner.  The more I
heard the preacher say, the more dulled and despairing I became.  I was always seeking for the grace to win, but it
forever slipped through my hands like sand.  Could God ever be pleased with me?  I wondered.

Though slow in coming, the day of my deliverance arrived.  My pastor helped me see the effects that this demon, which
he called a religious spirit, had on my life.  He charged me to take responsibility for the choices I had made before and
after becoming a Christian.  Once that spirit was cast out, it was as if a veil were lifted from my eyes.  I could then hear
the Word of God in a way that brought permanent transformation in my character.  The spirit of revelation (see
Ephesians 1:17) replaced the spirit of religion, and life with God became a joy - relationship, not ritual.


If you have experienced an inner feeling that the spirit of religion might have more of a grip on you than you would like,
there is hope.

You can be set free from a spirit of religiosity.  But you must be willing to take responsibility for the choice you previously
made to exalt traditions from men above God's Word.  You undoubtedly chose a heartless religion over relationship with
God at some point in your past.  It may have been when your mother admonished you to "practice your religion" so that
you would not disappoint your grandma.  But it's more likely that you made your decision at a more formal occasion, like
Confirmation, where you exercised your own volitional abilities.  In that moment, you made an alliance with external
religion apart from a right relationship with God.  You rendered lip service, but your self-centered heart was still far from
God.  For me this occurred at my First Communion.

If you decide to renounce this alliance with such religion, you should forever repent of trying to appease God with your
external rituals, thinking that you are paying Him off so that He will leave you alone to do your own desires.  No!  Instead
you should turn from being your own lord to allow Christ to be your Lord.  Then make a covenant to obey, by grace,
God's Word as your final authority.  Renounce any man-made traditions that stand contrary to His Word.  Finally,
renounce your agreement with that demon called the spirit of religion to which you gave legal ground through your sin
of exalting the traditions from men above God and His Word.

Then ask someone in authority over your life, like a parent or pastor, to verbally break the power of this ungodly
alliance with such religion, affirming only your covenant with Christ.  That person needs to agree with you, asking for
God to forgive your sin of idolizing such traditions over God's Word.  That person should pray for your mind, emotions
and will to be healed and cleansed from this unrighteousness (see I John 1:7).  When you renounce your alliance with
the spirit of religiosity, this person with spiritual authority over you will cancel all the legal rights of that spirit and will
loose it and cast it out of your soul and body.  Lastly, pray together with this person, asking the Holy Spirit to flow out of
your innermost being (your spirit) like a river of living water and to fill every area of your soul that the spirit of religiosity
had once afflicted.

Congratulations!  Now make sure that by faith you
engage your heart each time you open your mouth in the service of
your worship of God (see Hebrews 13:15).


FREEDOM FROM THE RELIGIOUS SPIRIT, by C. Peter Wagner, Copyright 2005, Regal Books.