First, what is a religious spirit? A religious spirit is a demon that wages war against the grace of God in our lives and acceptance of Jesus' work as true fulfillment of God's covenant between God and man. The Pharisees were obvious examples of people who have religious spirits, but many times those of us with religious spirits do not come close to their behavior. Having had religious spirits myself, I must say that they are very destructive to our intimate relationships with God. If you want a true intimate relationship with your heavenly Father, then you definitely don't want religious spirits!
It is said that religion and relationship don't get along, and this is why religious spirits will work diligently to hinder true meaningful relationships between God and His children.
Religious spirits can manifest in different ways for different people, depending on Satan's plan for that person's life. For example, one person may be plagued with feelings of never being good enough for God, while the next person may be infected with self-righteousness and false holiness.
What are some of the common religious spirits?
Religious spirits, like many other types of demons, have relatives or similar demons in their groupings. This is a basic list of demons that you might find in somebody who has a religious spirit:
Some of the common symptoms of religious spirits
Often, people who have religious spirits will find it hard to believe that salvation comes through the grace of God apart from works of the law. They may find it easy to judge others or criticize them over petty issues. There is usually a sense of 'earning' your status or good standing with God. Legalism is a popular bondage today where a person feels that they have to adhere to a strict set of rules (laws) before they can be made right with God. People who never feel good enough for a relationship with God, but are continually condemned or have a guilty feeling hovering over them may have a religious spirit(s) operating in their mind. The feeling of 'never being good enough' is a dead giveaway, because it shows that the person is trying to make things right with God themselves and not relying on the work of Christ, which already paid their debt in full.
If you think of yourself as more important than others, then you almost certainly have a self-righteous or false holiness spirit. Other things you might look for are feelings that you're always right and everybody else is wrong, or a weakness with being outspoken. Somebody who comes across as a know-it-all may also have religious spirits.
Thinking that you can do things apart from God is another dead-giveaway. Jesus made it very clear that apart from Him, you can do nothing:
John 15:5, "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing."
These are just some examples of what you may look for.
Biblical examples of judgementalism and self-righteousness
Luke 18:9-14, "And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
As we can see, somebody who sees themselves as superior to others is often in bondage to a religious spirit(s) of some kind. This Pharisee felt that he had earned his good standing with God, and that the sinner had not, therefore he had reason to boast before the Lord. The Bible makes it clear that our salvation is an undeserved gift from God, lest any man boast:
Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast."
The Pharisees were always looking down upon others, as if they were superior to everyone else. Look at this passage where they criticized Jesus for hanging out with tax collectors:
Luke 5:30, "But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?"
Another example of this is where a woman poured expensive perfume over Jesus' feet, and washed them with her tears and her hair. The Pharisees had to put in their 2 cents over this woman:
Luke 7:39, "Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner."
People with religious spirits are often judging and criticizing others in their thought-lives. They see themselves as holy, righteous, and favored by God, but look down upon others.
Religious spirits are more interested in judgment than forgiveness
Somebody who has religious spirits will often be more interested in seeing somebody 'pay' or be punished for their wrongdoing, than they are in seeing the person repent and receive the forgiveness and grace of God. A good example of this is found in John chapter 8:
John 8:3-11, "And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more."
The Pharisees were known for laying heavy burdens (spiritually speaking) on others, yet omit the more important matters such as justice, mercy and faith:
Matthew 23:4, 23, "For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers... Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment [referring to justice], mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."
Jesus said that if you are heavy laden, to come unto Him and He will give you rest, for His yoke is light:
Matthew 11:28-30, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Salvation apart from works does not settle well with religious spirits
People who have spirits of religion, legalism, etc. find it hard to accept the fact that their sins have been paid for on the cross, and that there is nothing that they can do but accept the gift that God has given them. Religion likes to 'earn' status with God, whereas relationship accepts the gift that Christ has given.
Luke 7:29-30, "And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him."
Matthew 21:32, "For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not; but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him."
In the above verses, we can see that the Pharisees felt too proud or self-righteous to accept a free gift from God; they felt they were already holy or felt they could earn their right standing themselves. Religious spirits will often hold your past against you, because they deny the work of Christ on the cross and the way of righteousness through faith in Christ (see Romans 3:22). Grace refers to something that we don't deserve, but is given to us because of God's great love and mercy. Religious spirits have little or no room in their theology for grace!
God's Word makes it clear that if we try to gain salvation through works, then we have fallen from grace and the work of Christ is of no effect to us:
Galatians 5:4, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace."
When Jesus would freely forgive a person's sins, it made the Pharisees irate, because it didn't settle well with their self-righteous spirits. The concept of grace was an abomination to their doctrine of legalism!
Mark 2:5-7, "When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?"
Here Jesus just forgave a man of his sins, and as proof that He was sent from God... He healed the man while He was at it! But the religious mindset in those scribes overlooked the miraculous healing and was quick to judge Jesus for gracefully forgiving the man's sins.
Religious spirits are easy prey to unforgiveness
Do you feel like you've been wronged, and that person deserves justice for what they've done to you? This may very well be the workings of a religious spirit. Remember, religious spirits are more interested in justice and punishment than mercy and forgiveness.
Feeling this way is actually a form of pride, because it holds you up on a righteous pedestal while it sees the other person as a sinner who deserves to be repaid for the wrong they've done. There is no concept of mercy or forgiveness for the other person, nor is there any remembrance of how they themselves needed mercy in their own life at some time or another. They are only interested in seeing that person who wronged them repaid and receive judgment for their wrong. Beware, this can often be a dead-giveaway of a religious spirit at work!
Religious spirits are very popular today. If you have religious spirits, please do not hesitate to seek deliverance from them. They are out to wage war against your intimate relationship with God. They can make you feel distant from God, because no matter what you do, it will never be enough, or they can set you up for spiritual disaster through pride and self-righteousness. Either way, their goal is to nullify the work of Christ in your life, and make it to no effect for you. Being set free from religious spirits can bring major spiritual freedom and breakthrough in your relationship with God!
For further reading on religious spirits and how they operate, I highly recommend a book entitled, "30 Pieces of Silver" by Jonas Clark.