Journey to Hope – Religion

Based on a sermon from Sunday 27th March 2022

Holy Spirit, you are our teacher.  Jesus you are the Word and Truth.  Father, may we submit ourselves to Your truth.  Open our eyes and our ears that we may see and hear.  We bind the spirit of religion that would try to make us offended or to hinder us from seeing the truth in Jesus.  Amen.

Moses is spending time with God on Mount Sinai, receiving instruction on holy living.  He’s there 40 days and 40 nights.  Whilst he is there, the Israelites make for themselves a Golden Calf to worship.  It appeared that having a physical item was more important to them, than the living breathing God.  They believed that God wouldn’t provide for them, that He had deserted them.

What things have we made which have become a religion?

What things have we created that stop us from looking at the face of God?

What is stopping us from trusting God more fully each day?

What are our golden calves?

Is it a belief that there is only one way we think that worship/communion can be done? 

Do we believe that we have to dress in a particular way to worship God?

Is it a belief that there is only one way to sing and pray before the Lord?

These are all questions I have asked myself on a regular basis.

I believe that we can all fall into an unhealthy spirit of religion when we allow things to prevent us from seeing who God truly is and thus stop ourselves from entering into the throne room of God. 

If we lack joy in our life, would rather skip church, prayer, and scripture reading, if we feel stuck in sin, shame, or condemnation we are likely to be struggling with a spirit of religion.

What is the spirit of religion and how does it impact the local church?  The spirit of religion is a shift from joyful obedience in God and a transformed life through His Son Jesus Christ, to doing things that you think are right.  You do this in an effort to abstain from doing wrong things, but the spirit of religion only allows for outward righteousness.  It does not transform the person or the heart.  Rather, it puts on a front and appearance that is no greater than skin deep.  This impacts the local church by creating divisions between individuals and stealing the joy, freedom, healing, and transformation that comes through the power of God dwelling in us via the person of Jesus Christ.

Scripture does not name a ‘religious spirit’ but it is clearly alluded to and revealed where people, thinking they are serving God, do in fact collaborate with the evil one and resist the purposes and will of Christ.  Such collaboration reduces our ability to see the power of God working in our lives.  A spirit of religion is most clearly revealed in the attitude and mind-set of the Pharisees, as Jesus told His disciples in our Gospel reading for we read that the disciples were concerned about the lack of bread, forgetting that Jesus can multiply it, if that was needed! 

In Matthew 23, Jesus through His teaching of the seven ‘woes’ outlines the key aspects of the false religious mind-sets of the Pharisees.  These verses provide a broad perspective on false religion.

Jesus also told the parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13 and describes the tares which look identical to the wheat as ‘the seed planted by an enemy’.  Satan’s scheme is to render the church fruitless at harvest time.

This false religion is the ‘yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees’ (Matthew 16:6) and it is highly infectious and only a little is needed to work through the whole batch of dough (Galatians 5:9).  So we must be on our guard against this spirit!

Paul wrote to Timothy about being on his guard against this work of the enemy…

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

Our enemy, the devil, prowls around encouraging us to operate with this form of godliness, whilst at the same time deceiving us into believing that we are operating out of an appearance of righteousness.  When we do this we deceive ourselves by lowering our definition and understanding of what it means to live as a Christian, we become accustomed to a lack of God’s power in our life and accept it as normal.

Whenever Christians are not operating in consistent power; seeing regular conversions (the Lord added daily to their number…), regular deliverance, regular healings, regular miracles, then we must ask ourselves “Have we become ‘religious’”.

This is a permanent battle to resist.  Every tradition can and will have its own temptation to be ‘religious’.  The ultimate test is encountering the presence of Christ in ministry aligned to kingdom fruit.  We need to continually redefine what is normal and submit ourselves to the searching ministry of the Spirit to reveal the ‘yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees’ (Matthew 16:6).

The spirit of religion has always been around.  It is a type of demonic spirit that influences a person, or group of people, to replace a genuine relationship with God with works, forms and traditions.  When people operate out of a religious spirit they attempt to earn salvation.  This evil spirit has established nonbiblical beliefs and customs for generations.  Yet, as believers, we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the work of the religious spirit.  It is lurking around attempting to cause judgement and destruction among believers and in the body of Christ’s Church.

This spirit is out to wage war against your intimate relationship with God.  It can make you feel distant from God, because no matter what you do, it will never be enough, or it can set you up for spiritual disaster through pride and self-righteousness.  Either way, its goal is to nullify the work of Christ in your life, and make it to no effect for you.  Being set free from a religious spirit can bring major spiritual freedom and breakthrough in your relationship with God, as well as with others!

The good news is that God provides an antidote.  The Lord will not leave nor forsake us.  He always provides a way.  His way is His Word.  We must put on the full armour of God and guard our hearts and minds while praying in the Spirit.

The religious spirit tries to steal our peace and joy, causing fear, doubt, and unbelief.  The Apostle Paul reminds us of this:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

We must remember the enemy is not the people in our lives; the enemy is the ruler of darkness.  When there is spiritual warfare, weapons of the flesh will not prevail.  It must be fought with God’s armour.

We need to wrap ourselves in His Word and trust in His righteousness while being sensitive to and praying in the Spirit.  Remember these words of Paul’s…

“Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 

“Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…”  (Ephesians 6:11-18)

If we are struggling with a spirit of religion the first step to take is repentance.  Confess your sins to the Lord through prayer.  Accept His forgiveness.  Ask the Lord how you can consciously and intentionally turn away from this mentality and habit.

Remember, God is loving and He is good.  Following Him is a freeing, beautiful, joyful, and life-giving thing.  This may look different from what you have in mind.  However, I can attest to it.  I know many others who would say the same thing.  Continue to pray daily, asking the Lord to release over you His truth, grace, forgiveness, and new revelation so that you may know Him better day by day.

Let us pray:

Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit – I give you liberty to rewire my brain. I confess where I have given the spirit of religion access in my life.  Change my thinking and my emotional attachments to anything involving a religious spirit or attitude.  Your word says I have the mind of Christ therefore I shall have it!  Thank you for your goodness and your faithfulness.  I apply the blood of Jesus to cleanse, heal and restore me over my mind and my emotions from this day forward. Amen.

Living thoughts

Please consider the following questions…  As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

  • What things have we made which have become a religion?
  • What things have we created that stop us from looking at the face of God?
  • What is stopping us from trusting God more fully each day?
  • What are our golden calves?
    • Is it a belief that there is only one way we think that worship/communion can be done? 
    • Do we believe that we have to dress in a particular way to worship God?
    • Is it a belief that there is only one way to sing and pray before the Lord?

Prayer Response

Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit – I give you liberty to rewire my brain. I confess where I have given the spirit of religion access in my life.  Change my thinking and my emotional attachments to anything involving a religious spirit or attitude.  Your word says I have the mind of Christ therefore I shall have it!  Thank you for your goodness and your faithfulness.  I apply the blood of Jesus to cleanse, heal and restore me over my mind and my emotions from this day forward. Amen.