Understanding the Spirit of Religion and How It Affects Believers


Discover how the spirit of religion can affect believers and how to recognize and guard yourself against it. The spirit of religion is a force that tries to get you to act pious, self-righteous, or super-spiritual. Before you can guard yourself from this spirit, you first have to understand what it is. Some of you have never heard of a religious spirit.

Others of you may think being religious is a good thing, mistaking religion for a right relationship with God. You may even ask, "What’s wrong with being religious?" Or, "So what if there are religious spirits? How can they affect me if I am a born-again believer in Christ Jesus?"

In order to find truthful answers to these questions, let’s look into what the Bible teaches about religion. First, exactly what is religion? Scripture says, "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:26-27).

So we learn from the above Scripture that religion in itself is simply...

  • to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.
  • to keep oneself free from worldly influences.

That sounds like a good thing on the surface—and it is. However, if we examine the sum of God’s Word, we will soon discover there is a religious spirit that is quite different from what the Bible describes as "pure religion." It is this different spirit that challenges our understanding of Jesus and endangers believers.


The Lord would not have us ignorant of the spirit of religion. The Bible gives us many examples of the operations of religious spirits throughout the Bible, including:

  • The scribes and Pharisees were ready to stone the woman who was caught in the act of adultery, yet there was no mention of stoning the man who was with her (John 8).
  • Apostles Peter and Barnabas would not sit and eat with the Gentile believers in Antioch when Jewish brothers came to visit from Jerusalem (Galatians 2:11–13).
  • The scribes and Pharisees challenged Jesus because His disciples did not wash their hands (ceremonially) before they ate (Matthew 15:2).
  • Jesus taught His disciples not to pray long prayers like the scribes, who prayed only for show (Luke 20:46–47).
  • Saul kept the murderers' clothes safe while they stoned a good man named Stephen to death (Acts 7:58).
  • After a notable miracle, a religious council, motivated by fear, reprimanded Apostles Peter and John for speaking the name of Jesus (Acts 4:15–18).
  • When Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, it so stirred up those with religious spirits that they sought to kill Him (Mark 3:1–6).

We will examine many more examples throughout this essay.


Remember James and John, the two sons of thunder? They wanted to pray down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village because the people there would not receive the Lord. Upon hearing their request, our Lord responded harshly to His disciples: "You do not know what spirit you are of" (See Luke 9:52–55).

What did Jesus mean? A word study reveals the depth of the Lord’s response. The Greek word for "spirit" is pneuma. From the Greek word pneuma, we derive the English word "wind." When we speak of the Holy Ghost, for example, we could also refer to Him as the Holy Pneuma or Holy Wind.

In Samaria, a different spirit (wind or pneuma) was influencing the disciples. Notice also that Christ made no excuses for James and John—they weren’t just having a bad day—and He was quite specific when He used the word "spirit." Again, Jesus said, "You do not know what kind of pneuma you are."

But Jesus knew precisely what spirit the two disciples were of—a religious spirit. Religious spirits influence someone to act self-righteous. Self-righteousness means being filled with or showing a conviction of being morally superior or more righteous than others. It is important to understand that to be influenced does not mean to be possessed, but rather simply means to be:

  • Affected
  • Inspired
  • Moved
  • Swayed
  • Motivated.

The disciples were outraged at the Samaritans' actions and began to act self-righteous because the Samaritans were not receiving Jesus, their Lord, into their territory. There is a difference between self-righteousness and righteous indignation. Can you imagine being so self-righteous that you are willing to call down the fiery judgment of God on an entire city? That’s not normal behavior.

Jesus responded to the disciples’ request with a rebuke. "But he turned and rebuked them and said, You know not what manner of spirit you are of" (Luke 9:55). To rebuke means to:

  • Tax with a fault
  • Reprove
  • Censure severely
  • Admonish sharply.


The religious spirit had an impact on many of the disciples, not just James and John.Peter, too, fell prey to this self-righteous spirit. If the spirit of religion could influence Christ's chosen disciples, then none of us are immune. Let’s study the Scriptures to gain insight into how the Apostle Peter was affected.

One day, Jesus told His disciples that He would have to go to Jerusalem, suffer many things, and be killed, but would be raised up on the third day. Peter took Jesus aside for a private talk and began to reprimand the Lord for saying such things. But Jesus was quick to respond to Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan!" (Matthew 16:23) Like James and John, Peter did not know what spirit he was of that day.

Jesus saw the influence of a different spirit (pneuma) at work on Peter that day and was very specific in rebuking Satan (the spirit) and not Peter (the person). Notice also that Christ spoke directly to Satan, not as an attitude. The point of these two examples is to demonstrate three things:

1. It's possible for a different spirit to influence you.

2. Jesus taught us to be aware of the operation of a different spirit.

3. It is possible to do something that looks religiously correct but could be done out of a wrong religious spirit.


The religious spirit did not disappear after the resurrection of Christ. In fact, the spirit of religion is an enemy that has always been around and is increasing its attacks against the Church. Believers need to understand the purpose of this spirit and why it is so dangerous. The mission of the religious spirit is to:

  • Infiltrate your life.
  • Bind your freedom
  • Steal your liberty in the Holy Spirit.
  • Stop your advancement.
  • Ruin your true Christian witness
  • Buffet the progress of the gospel
  • Corrupt your perception of who Christ is.

A religious spirit is a force that tries to get you to act pious, self-righteous, or super-spiritual.

People influenced by the spirit of religion have an outward appearance of holiness but are self-righteous in their innermost beings.

If the spirit of religion could influence Christ's chosen disciples, then none of us are immune.

Believers need to understand the purpose of the religious spirit and why it is so dangerous.

Religious spirits will try to infiltrate your life and bind your liberty in the Holy Spirit.

(c) Jonas Clark









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