Our Charismatic crowd was quick to denounce the religious spirit anytime it felt freedom impinged.
They were quite good at spotting it and quick to send it packing, or so they thought.
My unraveling with this crowd came with a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit to buy a little book I saw on the subject of the religious spirit. “Well God, I don’t need that book,” I actually said. “I know all there is to know about the religious spirit.”
God’s mercy did not relent. I bought the book. It took one story to pose the blow. The story went something like this. A woman was cackling or crowing or making some sort of odd noise at a Christian conference (as Charismatics are known to do post-Toronto), and a leader put a stop to it. The protest came that such behavior was sanctioned by so-and-so at such-and-such. The leader was firm and explained: the religious spirit copies the anointing of another. It sees what looks spiritual and grabs it for itself, so it will look spiritual.
Here was a new thought, because the religious spirit I’d learned was a firm believer in rules, a prim Pharisee. But now I saw it differently. It copied the anointing to honor self.
So much of what we were doing was copying. We did it and taught it because Someone Up Front had done it or taught it.
About half the people I ran with came away from our experience with those little head shakes and Oh! jerks. I remember asking a guy why he did that. We’d be having a normal lunch or breakfast and all of a sudden he just jump like someone had speared him with a hot poker. He said it was God touching him. I’ve seen a well-timed so-godly OH! draw all focus from a pastor’s message and redirect it right on the jerker. An immature believer begins to think: Wow, God must be touching her, she’s really godly. I should be more like her.
Those of us who didn’t shake or jerk were left wondering what was wrong with us! We wanted the spiritual jolts too, and went up for prayer hoping to be slain in the spirit and get some new revelation. We were consumers of God, shopping the latest church and conference for the newest and best. Some glued themselves to God TV. I spent hundreds of dollars on stuff that I have since thrown away.
All I ever needed to know about God was right between the pages of my Bible, and when I got tired of the fake and the shake and the dazzling new ways to market God to me to get my money in the name of Jesus, I was out—and for a long while I was angry.
I had wasted so much time, in foolishness and focus on self—my destiny and God’s plan for Me!
The religious spirit always takes the focus off of Christ, for the group and for the individual. I began to notice that the sermons I was listening to on my iPod every week from that big church in California were all about us and what we were going to do with God’s power. We were so special we could hardly stand it.
The religious spirit works to render men and women ineffective for Christ. It does this by making them believe they are the most effective. They come to consider themselves the most spiritual (few would use the term religious—it has such bad connotation), the most enlightened, the closest to God, able to hear His voice clearly. But that very belief is ample warning that some ill has beset us, for we have become like the Pharisees on parade.
Scripture teaches that God opposes the proud and gives favor to the humble. It says that living waters will flow out of us, but the religious spirit turns the seeker inward, wasting him in constant self-examination. You can scramble your brain trying to find the spiritual in all things physical and feel really godly for doing it. For me, each dream and vision directed more focus to self and away from Christ. I finally dreamed myself to exhaustion and put aside the dream journal all good Charismatics keep—what is the point? I asked.
Constant self focus quickly renders a Christian unable to reach others (except to slap them on the back when they become as spiritual as he is). The religious spirit loves an unproductive, ineffectual Christian, one rendered null and void. Placed in the spin cycle, he is like a cat chasing its tail, a whirl of motion while the rats run free.
In a church where the religious spirit reigns, you will find focus on self and self-improvement (you can call it breakthrough or destiny), focus on doctrine (everyone must be healed!), always putting the focus on something just aside of Christ and your need to become like Him. You will sense that this church is the best church and the most enlightened. You will see some people who are just so godly cool, you wish you could be them!
But while that person may constantly and fervently whisper the name of Jesus, the focus is on his fervency. I recall going to a church yard sale, shopping tables of used goods when all of a sudden a worker swept into the room loudly mouthing a praise song as she busied herself arranging. She didn’t greet me, encourage me, or in any way connect as a believer. She simply wanted to make sure that I knew she was holiness presiding.
The religious spirit would turn us all in caricatures, whether it is holy hymn hummers or holy rollers. In our crowd, it was great if everyone would shake, rattle, and roll. Those who didn’t were prophesied over with visions of them rolling on the ground.
Why is all this important? Because Christ came to set us free.
I believe the religious spirit targets the seeking hearts, those who sincerely do want to do the will of God and walk in His ways. The fence sitters generally don’t get caught up in it.
I believe I was genuinely seeking, but I had no idea how entrenched my Self was, how insidious and stubbornly accustomed to its throne. The religious spirit helped me retain the throne and look godly doing it. But my fruit stunk. Maybe yours does too.
In Bible study recently, a woman wondered why she couldn’t overcome her sin. “I’m basically a good person,” she said.
Believing that is your first mistake, I told her.
Once I learned the depravity of Self, I knew I could never trust its guidance again.
At the risk of sounding like a 1950s TV commercial, I ask: Has your religion left you feeling exhausted? Is your life lacking the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and all the other fruits of the spirit, especially self control? Do you hear that small but persistent voice telling you that something is just not quite right?
Then take a look at your guiding spirit, lest your light really be darkness.
“We were so special we could hardly stand it.”
Been there, done that.
Thank God for His mercy towards me.