Friday, June 29, 2012

Dealing With A Religious Spirit

by Rick Joyner

Loving God is the greatest commandment, and the greatest gift that we can possess. The Second great commandment is to love our neighbor. 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. If we love the Lord we will not worship idols. If we love our neighbors we will not envy them, steal from them, murder them, etc. Therefore, keeping these two positive commandments to love will enable us to fulfill all of the negative "do nots" of the Law.

Simple love for God will overcome most of the evil in our hearts, and 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. That 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 2 Cor 3:18). As long as we keep looking at the evil, it will continue to have dominion over us. When we look to the Lord and behold His glory, we will be changed into His image.

This is not to imply that we excuse and overlook the sin and error that is now in our lives. In fact, the Scriptures command us to examine ourselves and test ourselves to be sure that we are still in the faith (see 2 Cor 13:5). The issue is--what do we do after the iniquity is discovered? Do we turn to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, or 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 Knowledge, and away from the glory of the Lord and the Cross. This tactic comes in the form of a religious spirit. This spirit is the counterfeit to the true love of God, and true worship. This evil spirit has probably done far more damage to the church than the New Age movement and all other cults combined.

A religious spirit is a demon which seeks to substitute religious activity for the power of the Holy Spirit in the believer's life. Its primary objective is to have the church "holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power" (2 Tim 3:5). The apostle Paul completed his exhortation with "avoid such men as these." This religious spirit is the "leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matthew 16:6) of which the Lord warned His disciples to beware.

When the Lord used metaphors it was because they characterized the object of the lesson. The religious spirit operates like the leaven in bread. It does not add substance or nutritional value to the bread, it only inflates it. Such is the result of the religious spirit. It does not add to the life and power of the church. It feeds the very pride of man which caused the first 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 NKJV). He knows very well that God will not inhabit any work that he can inflate through pride, and that God Himself will even resist it. So Satan's strategy is to make us proud, even proud of good things, such as how much we read our Bibles, or witness, or feed the poor. He knows well that even if we do the will of God in pride, it will be counter-productive and can even ultimately work toward our fall.

Satan also knows that once leaven gets into the bread, it is most difficult to remove. Pride, by its very nature, is the most difficult stronghold to correct or remove. A 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. This will cause even the rationalization of Scripture, having us believe that rebukes, exhortations and words of correction are for other people, but not for us.

If this is a problem in your life, you have probably already begun to think about how badly someone you know needs to read this. It may not even have occurred to you that God put this into your hands because you need it. In fact, we all need it. This is one enemy that all of us are probably battling to some degree. It is imperative that we get free of this devastating deception, and stay free. We will not be able to worship the Lord in Spirit and truth until we do.

The degree to which we have been delivered from this powerful deception will directly effect the degree to which we will be able to preach the true gospel in true power. The church's confrontation with the religious spirit will be one of the epic battles of the last days. Everyone will be fighting in this battle. The only issue to be determined is on which side we will be during this battle.

We will not have the authority to deliver others from darkness if we are not free from it ourselves. To begin taking ground from this vast enemy, we must ask the Lord to shine His light on us, showing how this applies to us personally. As the Lord's continuos confrontations with the Pharisees were an example, the church's most desperate fight from the very beginning has been with this spirit. Just as the primary characteristic of the Pharisees was their tendency to focus on what was wrong with others, while being blind to their own faults, the religious spirit tries to make us more prone to seeing what is wrong with others than the need for our own correction.

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 cannot be evil, but 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 in accordance with knowledge." 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 the Pharisees. Yet, they were the greatest resisters of God and His Messiah when He came.

The young Saul of Tarsus accurately called himself "the Pharisee of Pharisees"; he was motivated by zeal for God while he was persecuting His church. Zeal for God is one of the most desperately needed characteristics of the church today, which is bound by a terrible Laodicean lukewarmness. The Lord commanded the church to "be zealous therefore, and repent" (Rev 3:19b). The truly zealous are the most difficult to stop, so the enemy's strategy against those that he cannot stop is to push them too far. His first step is to get them to glory in their own zeal. Regardless of how important a gift or characteristic is that we have, if the enemy can get us to take pride in it he will have us in his snare and will use that gift for evil.

The Lord had little trouble with demons while He walked the earth. They quickly bowed the knee to Him, begging for mercy. It was the conservative, zealous, religious community that immediately became His greatest enemy. Those who were the most zealous for the Word of God crucified the Word Himself when He became flesh to walk among them. The same is still true. All of the cults and false religions combined have not done as much damage to the moves of God as the opposition, or infiltration, of the religious spirit in the church. Cults and false religions are easily discerned, but the religious spirit has thwarted or diverted possibly every revival or movement to date, and it still retains a seat of honor throughout most of the visible church.
It is a manifestation of the religious spirit that will take its seat in the very temple of God declaring himself to be God. This man of sin will take his seat in the church. Unfortunately, it will obviously be the church that allows him to do this.

Like most of the enemy's strongholds, the religious spirit builds its work on two basic foundations--fear and pride. the religious spirit seeks to have us serve the Lord in order to gain His approval, rather than from a position of having received our approval through the cross of Jesus. Therefore the religious spirit bases relationship to God on personal discipline rather than the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ. The motivation for doing this can be either fear of pride, or a combination of both.

Fear and pride are the two basic results of the Fall, and our deliverance from them is usually a long process. That is why the Lord even gave Jezebel "time to repent" (see Rev 2:20-21). The biblical Jezebel was the wife of King Ahab and a very religious woman, but she was given to false religion. The Lord gave her time to repent because the roots of this spirit go so deep that time is required to fully repent, and to be delivered from it.

However, even though the Lord gave Jezebel time to repent, He rebuked the church of Thyatira for "tolerating" her (v. 20). We can be patient with people who have religious spirits, but we must not tolerate their ministry in our midst while we are waiting! If this spirit is not confronted quickly it will do more damage to the church, our ministries, our families, and our lives, than possibly any other assault that we may suffer.

Eli, the priest who raised Samuel, is a good biblical example of someone who ministers in a religious spirit founded upon guilt. Eli had so much zeal for the Lord that when he heard that the Ark had been captured by the Philistines he fell over and died. He had spent his life trying to serve the Lord as the High Priest, but the very first word given to Samuel was one of the most frightening rebukes given in the Scriptures--for Eli!
"For I have told him that I Am about to judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knew, because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them. And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever" (1 Sam 3:13-14).

Eli's zeal for the Lord was based on sacrifices and offerings intended to compensate for his irresponsibility as a father. Guilt in our lives can spur us on to great zeal for the Lord, which usually results in our using our sacrifices and offerings as an attempt to atone for our failures. This is an affront to the cross, which alone can atone for our guilt. Such zeal will never be acceptable to the Lord, even if we could make sacrifices forever.
We should note here that the Lord did not say that Eli's sin could not be forgiven. He just said that Eli's attempts to atone for sin by sacrifice and offering would never atone for it. There are multitudes of men and women whose zeal for the Lord is likewise based on an attempt to atone for sin, failure, or irresponsibility in other areas of their lives. But all of the sacrifices in the world will not atone for even our smallest failure. Even the attempt to try is an insult to the cross of Jesus, Which alone is an acceptable sacrifice to the Father for sin.

The attempt to gain God's approval by our own sacrifice opens the door wide for a religious spirit because the service is not based on the blood of Jesus and the power of the cross, but on an attempt to make our own atonement for sin. This does not imply that we should not do things to please the Lord, but we must keep our motive to be pleasing to the Lord for His joy, not for our acceptance. One is God-centered; the other is self-centered, and that of the most destructive kind--an attempt to circumvent the cross.

It is also noteworthy that one of the sins of Eli's sons was that they "despised the offering of the Lord" (1 Sam 2:17). They appropriated the sacrifices and offerings brought to the Lord for their own selfish use. Those who are gripped by this form of a religious spirit will often be the most zealous to preach the cross, but herein is the perversion--it emphasizes their cross more than the cross of Jesus. Their delight really is more in self-abasement, than in the cross of Christ which alone makes us righteous and acceptable to God.

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. It has the appearance of only seeking the highest standards and the preservation of God's glory. However, 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, but attacks and destroys the foundation of those who are in pursuit of God's glory, but are not yet there.

Idealism makes us try to impose standards on others that are beyond what God has required, or has given the grace for at that time. For example, men controlled by this kind of religious spirit may condemn those who are not praying two hours a day as they are. The truth is that it may be God's will for us to be praying that much, but how we get there is crucial. The grace of God will first call us to pray maybe just ten 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 ten minutes, then an hour, then two. Then, when we are praying two hours a day it is because of our love for prayer and the presence of the Lord, not out of fear or pride.

A religious spirit based on idealism will usually be seeking the perfect church and will refuse to be a part of anything less. Those led by the Holy Spirit may have hopes for a church that are just as high, but will still be able to give themselves in service to even some of the most lowly works, in order to help those works grow in vision and maturity. The Holy Spirit is called "the Helper," and those who are truly led by the Spirit will always be looking for ways to help, not just to stand aloof and criticize.

When a religious spirit is founded upon pride, it is evidenced by perfectionism. The perfectionist sees everything as black or white. This develops into extremes as it requires that everyone and every teaching be judged as either 100% right or 100% wrong. This is a standard with which only Jesus could comply; it will lead to a serious delusion when we impose it on ourselves or others. True grace imparts a truth that sets people free, showing them the way out of their sin, or to higher levels of spiritual maturity.

One with a religious spirit can usually point to problems with great accuracy, but seldom has solutions, except to tear down what has already been built. This is the strategy of the enemy to nullify progress that is being made, and to sow a discouragement that will limit future progress. This produces the mentality that, if we cannot go straight to the top of the mountain, we should not climb at all, but just "die to self.' This is a death that God has not required, and it is a perversion of the exhortation for us to take up our crosses daily.

The perfectionist both imposes and tries to live by standards that 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 vision of making it to the top, and should never condemn ourselves for not being there yet, as long as we are still climbing.

James said, "we all stumble in many ways" (James 3:2). If we had to wait until we were perfect before we could minister, no one would ever qualify for the ministry. Perfect obedience and understanding should always be our goal; such will never be found within ourselves, but only as we come to perfectly abide in the Perfect One.

Because we now "see through a glass darkly," or in part, we are compelled to always be open to greater accuracy in our beliefs and teachings. One of the greatest delusions of all is that we are already complete in our understanding, or 100% accurate in our perceptions or actions. Those with a religious spirit will usually both teach and claim to be open to more understanding, but most of the time this is done to get everyone else to be open to what they teach, while they remain steadfastly closed to others.

Jesus blessed Peter and turned the keys of the Kingdom over to him just before He had to rebuke him by calling him "Satan" (see Matt 16:23). Right after this greatest of blessings the enemy deceived him, yet the Lord did not take the keys away from Peter. Jesus knew when He gave the keys to Peter that he was soon to deny that he even knew Him. Many years after Peter used the keys to open the door of faith for both the Jews and Gentiles, the youngest of the apostles, Paul, had to rebuke him publicly because of his hypocrisy. Even so, Peter was promised that he would sit on one of the twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The Lord has proven that He will commission and use men long before most of us would tend to do it, and He knows all of the mistakes that we will make when He calls us!

It seems that the Lord's leadership style was to provide a place where His followers could make mistakes and learn from them. If we required our children to be perfectly mature while they were still children it would actually stifle their growth and maturity. The same is true in the church . We must correct mistakes, because that is how we learn, but it must be a correction that encourages and frees, not one that condemns and crushes initiative.

One of the most powerful and deceptive forms of the religious spirit is built upon the foundations of both fear and pride. Those who are bound in this way go through periods of deep anguish and remorse at their failures, which results in a repentance that is just more self-abasement, and further attempts to make sacrifices that will appease the Lord. Then they flip to the other side, where they become so convinced that they are superior to other Christians, other groups, movements, etcetera, 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 disintegrate.

A religious spirit will usually give a counterfeit gift of discernment of spirits. The counterfeit gift thrives on seeing what is wrong with others rather than seeing what God is doing in order to help them along. It is here that this spirit does some of its greatest damage to the church. Its ministry will almost always leave more damage and division than healing and reconciliation. Its wisdom is rooted in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and though the truth 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. The true gift of discernment can only function with love. Any other motive than love will distort 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 group, and has an "investment" of service to them.

When Paul warned the Corinthians about those who ministered in a religious spirit, which sought to bring a yoke of legalism upon the young church, he explained that, "Such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (2 Cor 11:13-15).

 This phrase "angel of light" could be interpreted as a "messenger of truth." Satan's most deceptive and deadly disguise is to come as a servant of righteousness, using truths for the purpose of destruction. He is quite skillful at quoting Scripture, and using wisdom, but it is the wisdom of the Tree of Knowledge that kills. He can accurately point out what is wrong with someone else, but he always does it in such a way that tears down, not offering solutions that lead to deliverance and life.

 "Angels of light" who are empowered by a religious spirit, will first look for what is wrong with someone rather than for what is right. The guise will usually be the protection of the sheep, truth, or the Lord's glory, but a critical spirit is an evil spirit and will always end up causing division and destruction. Criticism holds forth an appearance of wisdom, but it is pride in one of its most base forms. When we criticize someone else we are by that declaring ourselves to be better than they are. We may be better than others in some areas, but if we are, it is only by grace. Believers know the true grace of God never looks at how to put others down, but how to build them up, imparting the same grace upon which they have built their lives. As an old proverb declares, "Any jackass can kick a barn down, but it requires a skillful carpenter to build one."

When Adam and Eve determined to live by the Knowledge of Good and Evil they were partaking of the religious spirit. The first result of this was self-centeredness--they looked at themselves. The first child born to them after partaking of this fruit was Cain, who is the first biblical model of a man controlled by the religious spirit.

 Cain was "a tiller of the ground," or earthly minded. The religious spirit will always seek to have us focused on the earthly realm rather than the heavenly realm. This "seed of Cain" judges by what is seen, and cannot understand those who "endure by seeing Him Who is unseen." In Revelation we see the second beast "coming up out of the earth" (Rev 13:11); this is because the spiritual seed of Cain are tillers of the ground. This earthly-mindedness has produced one of the most evil beasts the world will ever know.

 Cain also tried to make an offering to the Lord from his own labors. God rejected that sacrifice, but accepted Abel's sacrifice of the blood. The fruit of our labors will never be an acceptable offering to the Lord. This was a statement from the beginning that God would only accept the blood of the Lamb. Instead of receiving this correction and repenting, Cain became jealous of his brother, and slew him. Those who attempt to live by their own works will often become enraged at those who take their stand on the righteousness of the Lamb.

 That is why Saul of Tarsus, the "Pharisee of Pharisees," was so enraged against Christians. They represented the greatest threat to what the Pharisees had built their whole lives on. Their very existence could not be endured. Religions that are based on works will become violent very easily. This includes "Christian" sects where a doctrine of works has supplanted the cross of Christ.

 The Lord said that if a man just hates his brother he is guilty of murder. Those who are driven by religious spirits try to destroy by means other than physically taking lives. Many of the onslaughts of slander instigated against churches and ministries are the ragings of this same religious spirit that caused Cain to slay his brother.

In Ezekiel 37 the prophet was taken to a valley full of dry bones and asked if they could live. The Lord then commanded him to "prophesy to the bones." As he prophesied they came together, came to life, and then became a great army. This is a test 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 then become an army. A false prophet with a religious spirit will do little more than just tell the bones how dry they are, heaping discouragement and condemnation on them, but giving no life or power to overcome their circumstances.

 Apostles and prophets are given authority to build up and tear down, but we have no right to tear down if we have not first built up. We should give no one the authority to bring correction to the people under our care unless they have a history of feeding them and building them up. Some may say that this eliminates the ministry of the "prophets," but I say that those are "prophets" I would like to eliminate from ministry. As Jude said of them, "These are grumblers, fault finders ..." who are "hidden reefs in your love feasts" (see Jude 11-16).

Even so, as Eli gave us an example, woe to the shepherds who feed and care for the sheep, but fail to correct them. The true grace of God is found between the extremes of unrighteous fault finding and unsanctified mercy (showing mercy to the things that God disapproves of). Either extreme can be the result of a religious spirit.

by Rick Joyner, Chapter 7, Epic Battles of the Last Days
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