Are you lacking joy in life? Would you rather skip church, prayer, and scripture reading? Instead of focusing on joyful obedience to God and a transformed life, do you find yourself primarily concerned with doing the right things and avoiding the wrong ones?
Spirit of religion is a shift away from finding joy in obeying God and experiencing a life transformed by Him, and instead, it centers on mere compliance with rules and regulations. Remember what was said in the bible: “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” (Mark 7:9 ESV).
The spirit of religion focuses solely on outward righteousness, lacking the power to bring true transformation to the person or their heart. It’s nothing more than a superficial facade, deceiving others with its shallow appearance. This has a profound impact on the local church, as it fosters divisions among individuals and robs them of the joy, freedom, healing, and transformative power that comes from God.
What is the Spirit of Religion?
When we bring up the term “spirit,” it can elicit various thoughts and associations. Some might immediately think of demons, exorcisms, and power struggles.
Others might dismiss it as fake, an exaggerated response not worthy of consideration. Both extremes are unhelpful, unhealthy, and not rooted in biblical truth.
Throughout the Scriptures, we encounter the undeniable existence of spiritual beings. Jesus Himself and His disciples consistently performed exorcisms, casting out demons.
The Apostle Paul clarifies this reality, saying, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).
So, what does all of this mean in relation to the spirit of religion? Is there an actual spirit at work here? I cannot state this with complete certainty or confidence. Such a spirit may exist. On the other hand, I’ve encountered many individuals who tend to overly spiritualize everyday occurrences and phenomena. Additionally, some fight against the wrong things but never truly experience genuine freedom.
To address this matter, we need discernment, wisdom, and a solid understanding of Scripture. Often, what many refer to as a “spirit of religion” is actually a mindset that people have adopted and clung to. Could it be influenced by a spiritual entity? Perhaps. However, whether it is or not, we can take action to combat it.
How To Practically Distinguish The Spirit Of Religion
In a local church, the spirit of religion, as many describe it, seems to revolve around actions, or rather, the lack thereof. Those who possess this “spirit” tend to approach the gospel and their life in Christ with a legalistic mindset. Their focus is solely on outward actions, making it challenging for the message to truly penetrate their hearts. They lack a deeper connection with God and others.
They meticulously carry out all the expected behaviours and fulfil all the requirements. They are deemed good people. But here’s the problem: external actions don’t always reflect internal purity, holiness, life, love, or godliness. These individuals who do what is right and abstain from what is wrong may still struggle with hatred, lust, selfishness, and greed.
Moreover, they can maintain a righteous appearance in public while succumbing to sin when no one is watching. This can lead to secrecy, deception, lies, gossip behind closed doors, and unspoken sins. Furthermore, those who have been led to believe that it’s all about the sacraments, rituals, or ceremonies may think they are exempt. They genuinely believe that their actions excuse them and that their sins are somehow compensated for.
Scripture as a Tool of Discernment
To put it simply, this notion is a deceptive one, not aligned with biblical truth. Justification is never contingent upon our actions or abstinence.
Instead, through justification, believers are made pure and empowered to live a life free from sin, bearing abundant good fruit. As it is written, “It is God who works in you to will and to act to fulfill His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).
What Jesus Had to Say About It
As Jesus walked the earth, He encountered diverse crowds, including the general population, Pharisees, and teachers of the Law. During His renowned Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7, He addressed and rectified various misconceptions. This must have left the listeners startled. The crowds were likely thinking, “Do I really need to be more righteous than those who are considered experts in righteousness?” You might have similar thoughts, wondering how you, an ordinary Christian without extensive lifelong training, can ever measure up to those who have dedicated their entire lives to following Scripture.
The answer is surprisingly simple. Jesus wasn’t implying that righteousness needed to be greater or superior to that of the Pharisees. Instead, He was describing a different kind of righteousness. The righteousness Jesus desired was not defined by the same standards as the Pharisees’ righteousness.
The Pharisees placed their emphasis on outward actions. They delighted in showcasing their righteousness to others (Matthew 6:1-16). Their righteousness revolved around performing the right deeds and refraining from the wrong ones. However, their minds, hearts, and desires were tainted by sin and evil. They lacked true transformation. They appeared pristine on the outside but harbored inward wickedness (Matthew 23:27-28).
The Type of Righteous Jesus Desires
Jesus desires a righteousness that penetrates deep into the heart, where it originates and radiates outward. He values actions that stem from a purified and holy heart devoted to the Lord. It’s crucial to understand that these actions are the fruit produced by cultivating the tree of life within oneself.
Scripture illuminates this truth, stating, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Jesus longs for hearts to be transformed by the grace poured out through His death and resurrection. Believers can receive this through faith and, with the power of the Holy Spirit, live it out.
Jesus desires to see the continuation of the good works performed by the Pharisees.
However, He desires a shift in motivation. He uses the term “when,” as in “when you pray,” “when you give to the needy,” and “when you fast,” etc.
Prayer, fasting, giving to the needy, and engaging in good deeds should be regular components of a believer’s life. However, the mindset should shift from reluctant obligation to joyful opportunity.
When individuals truly know and experience the joy and love of the Lord, they cannot help but live in a manner that spreads more love and provision to their families, friendships, community, and the world.