Have you ever felt like you just can’t measure up spiritually? Like no matter how hard you try, you still feel guilty, condemned, and far from God? Or maybe you look at others in the church and feel like somehow they’ve got it all together while you constantly struggle and fail. You begin to wonder if you’ll ever get it right.
If this sounds familiar, you may be dealing with an oppressive religious spirit. This damaging spiritual influence is running rampant in the church today, keeping countless believers trapped in joyless rule-keeping and performance-based religion instead of experiencing the grace, peace, and intimacy with God they crave.
What Exactly Is a Religious Spirit?
A religious spirit is a deceitful demonic influence that draws us away from full dependence on Christ into lifeless religion. This spirit seduces believers into thinking that our standing with God depends on adhering to strict spiritual standards and man-made rules for holiness.
Judgementalism: The Hallmark of A Religious Spirit
One of the most prominent fruits of a religious spirit is a critical, fault-finding attitude toward others. This manifests as judgement, criticism, and feeling morally superior to people who don’t follow one’s own interpretation of the Christian life.
For example, a religious spirit causes one to be overly concerned with external appearances and assume that because someone doesn’t dress or talk “holy” enough, they must not be fully devoted to God. It ignores the reality that we are all works in progress, at different points in our journey.
Saved by Striving or Saved by Grace?
This oppressive influence also twists our understanding of salvation into something achieved through human effort and striving rather than by grace alone through faith. The mindset shifts from resting in what Jesus fully accomplished on the cross to constantly trying to earn favor and approval from both God and others.
Performing to Appease vs Serving in Love
The religious spirit also produces self-righteousness, pride, and hypocrisy. It wrongly convinces people that they are holier, more devoted, and generally superior to other “less spiritual” Christians.
One may look down on those who don’t pray as often, read the Bible as much, dress as modestly, give as sacrificially, or attend church as frequently as they do. But in reality it simply “majoring in the minors” for appearance sake versus modeling Christ-like humility.
Why Does This Spirit Have Such a Hold?
If left unchecked, the religious spirit can completely distort one’s perception of God as a harsh, demanding taskmaster and trap believers under heavy loads of guilt, anxiety and spiritual fatigue. We end up hiding our weaknesses due to fear of judgment or letting God down rather than confidently drawing near to Him as beloved children.
Thriving on Spiritual Wounds
This oppressive influence gains access through wounds inflicted by legalistic religious leaders or communities. Pastor Curt Landry notes that “a religious spirit is a type of demonic spirit that influences a person, or group of people, to replace a genuine relationship with God with works and traditions.”
Having been spiritually abused or under the influence of legalism, one can develop warped views of God and adopt self-destructive ways of relating to Him. The joy gets sucked right out of our faith!
Mistaking Rules for Redemption
Another reason the religious spirit thrives is that Christians unwittingly trade the gift of grace for a pressure-filled system of rule-keeping and performance. By lacking proper understanding of scriptures regarding salvation and related concepts, they revert back to a law-based paradigm.
Believers constantly feel they need to measure up and “earn their keep” with God rather than resting in the sufficiency of Christ’s finished work. This opens the door to the oppressive influence.
Impact and Consequences
Without intervention, the religious spirit wrecks immense havoc both internally and externally. At the heart level, it will drain every ounce of joy from your spiritual life until you eventually burn out altogether or give up trying.
An Insidious Source of Anxiety and Despair
As this spirit generates unending pressure to “do more”, one increasingly battles fear, anxiety, weariness, resentment, and even depression. It burdens sensitive consciences down with excessive feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy, stealing all peace.
In especially serious cases, the crushing weight leads Christians to contemplate whether their salvation is genuine or if God has rejected them. The utter despair causes a crisis of faith and a sense of estrangement from the One we need most.
Sowing Divisiveness and Discord
On the corporate level within the body of Christ, Christians under this influence tend to become harsh critics who pronounce judgement on those less “committed”. Often without even realizing it, they exude a condescending, “holier than thou” attitude that demeans fellow believers.
Such pride and hypocrisy breed resentment, disunity, and friction within groups. The religious spirit delights in using self-righteous believers as conduits to sow seeds of contention, grievance, division and offense. Leaders must urgently address this!
Finding Freedom from Religious Bondage
Whether you recognize traits of the religious spirit in yourself or just want to guard against them, here is the good news – through Christ we can walk in total freedom and fullness!
Reprogram Your Mind to God’s Truth
The first step is to renew your mind according to God’s word regarding your identity and acceptance in Christ. Passages such as Ephesians 1-3, Colossians 2:6-23, and Galatians 5 contain critical revelations that unravel legalistic distortions.
As you discover what Jesus truly accomplished for you and who you are to the Father, insecure striving melts away. The scripts you’ve believed and negative self-talk stemming from the religious mindset begin to lose their grip. Ultimately God’s rescuing truths dismantle spiritual strongholds.
Rest and Release Instead of Rush and Strain
Additionally, start applying spiritual disciplines that quiet your soul before God rather than feed striving and works. Silence, solitude, contemplative prayer, and meditation on scripture help slow your pace from rush and activity to intimacy and being with Jesus.
As we cease soul-draining religious routines to sit still in His presence, joy unspeakable arises along with renewed spiritual vigor. Our internal compass shifts from self-effort to Spirit-empowerment.
Major on Connection, Minor on Correction
On a relational level, choose to walk in humility, honor, and the love of Christ that covers over flaws rather than constantly scrutinizing and critiquing others. We can overlook minor differences and value unity.
Lets make it our aim to appreciate, not denigrate, fellow members of God’s family. One key tell-tale sign of religious spirit oppression lifting is increased compassion toward people who don’t share all of your convictions. Grace triumphs over judgment!
The truth sets us free from spirits that oppress and weigh us down. As you soak in God’s word, pray through areas of woundedness, and learn to extend the grace you’ve received, you’ll break loosed from the chokehold of religiosity. In its place will flow rivers of joy and rest for your soul. Its time to live free!