By Randy Kay

First, what is a religious spirit? A religious spirit is a demonic influence that fights against the grace of God in our lives and acceptance of Jesus Christ’s true fulfillment of God’s covenant between God and humankind. The religious spirit’s purpose is to stand in the way of the Spirit of God’s true plan. It wants you to trade your liberty for legalism. By stealing away your spiritual joy, it will try to conform you to a falsely contrived “respectable” image.

A religious spirit is a strong and pervasive demonic spirit that influences a person, or group of people, to replace a genuine relationship with God with works and traditions. When people operate out of a religious spirit, they seek salvation. This evil spirit has established nonbiblical beliefs and customs for generations. Yet, as believers, we must be wise to the religious spirit and learn how to combat this evil influence. This spirit lurks around religious centers attempting to condemn others and destroy the believers’ genuine faith in the Body of Christ

We know the enemy is an angel of light, attempting to counterfeit any of God’s good and perfect gifts, causing shame, chaos, confusion, and guilt. Satan and his minions seek to destroy true fellowship with Christ through the religious spirit.

“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ? And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.”—2 Corinthians 11:13-14

This religious spirit seeks to depress or eliminate the work of the Holy Spirit. We must know that these demonic spirits cannot deny the work of the Holy Spirit – ever. But they can cause confusion and deception. The good news is, when you listen to the Holy Spirit and obey God’s leading, you will be able to identify and deal with this destructive and mocking spirit.

The Pharisees were clearly examples of people who surrendered to religious spirits, but often those controlled by a religious spirit are much more cunning in their deceptive practices. They thrive in environments that profess a religion of works apart from grace using a form of godliness through regimens, traditions, and repetition. Second Timothy 3:5 warns us to avoid people of deceitful forms of godliness.

Let us look at ways this religious spirit tries to destroy the grace and power of Christ in a believer’s life: 

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, they:

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”—James 4:6

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned” – Luke 6:37

 “…having the appearance of godliness but denying its power. Avoid such people. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!” – Timothy 3:5

“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:37-39

Here is a list of the most 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:

One of the strongest holds of the religious spirits

Legalism is a strong bondage today where a person feels that they must 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 minds. 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. Jesus made it 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.”

Superiority is a mark of the religious spirit.

A person, especially one in authority, who sees themselves as superior to others, is often in bondage to a religious spirit of some kind. The Pharisaical religious spirit tells these people in authority that they have earned a good standing with God, and that the person whom they lead has not, therefore these types of Pharisees feel justified in boasting 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 when 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.”

How does a religious spirit manifest?

A religious spirit often uses a person’s past and circumstances to impart internal self-speak that compels a person to feel judged and pressured to perform. The lies of these spirits espouse a type of false righteousness and holiness, but in the end, they create bitterness. Eventually, the person who succumbs to the religious spirit feels resentment. This leads to a variety of destructive thoughts and behaviors.

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”—Philippians 2:3-4

“…First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”—Matthew 7:5

How to Walk into Freedom from the Religious Spirit:

Here are some ways to be set free from the spirit of religion:

1. Know your freedom in Christ.

Jesus declared, “Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). As believers, we enjoy numerous freedoms because of what Jesus has done for those who have placed their trust in Him alone.

According to Luke 4:18 in the Bible, Jesus’ mission was to set captives free. Too many feel that God is angry with them.

2. Take an earnest assessment of yourself before criticizing others.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:3 that we should pay attention to the “plank” in our own eye before looking at the speck in our brother’s (or sister’s) eye.  A little self-check and introspection are healthy ways to operate from a position of humility.

The typical response to any discernment of others is to think of the negatives. Psychologists say that we carry a negative bias when it comes to differences. Deflection onto others is a way to avoid dealing with your own heart and brokenness. It’s always good to work on your heart before God, and let others see your spiritual maturity and humility before correcting others.

3. Understand God’s overwhelming love for you.

Here is a fact: God not only loves you – He likes you. God created us to have a family. He desires an intimate relationship with His children (Matthew 22:37-38). Live in the confidence of the Lord Jesus Christ’s love toward you. Not only is John 3:16 the most famous Bible verse, but it also is the most telling since God sacrificed His Son because He loves you beyond measure. Reach beyond just head knowledge to a heart knowledge to grasp the vast love that God possesses for you, as a Father, a friend, and as your closest companion through the Holy Spirit. A religious spirit operates in people that lack a sense of the Father’s massive love for them. People with a religious spirit compensate for their brokenness with an overzealous rigidity to rule over relationships.

4. Know that grace is for you.

God says in His Word that His “grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). What is grace? Grace is the unmerited gift of God’s favor, love, forgiveness, acceptance, and help. It is God’s Way of providing help or strength to enable you to do and be the person you desire to be but cannot do on your own. The Bible uses the word “grace” 131 times. Grace is the antithesis of legalism. The Pharisaical spirit postures because a religious spirit says, “I can do all things if I really try.” Grace says I can do “all things through Christ” (Philippians 4:13), not just by myself, but by surrendering to the power of the Holy Spirit through me. Freedom is found in the power of grace. Grace involves God’s empowerment to transform our lives and impact others through our journey in life.

5. Pray against any soul bondages to religious spirits that have gained a foothold over you.

Pray earnestly against any guilt, hostility, or rejection that you may have felt. You can pray something like this:  

In the name of Jesus Christ, I repent and renounce all legalism, traditions and religious formulas, and participation in dead works, dullness to the things of God, and hardness of heart. I repent and renounce every person’s opinion of me where this is different from the opinion of my Heavenly Father. I repent and renounce all comparison, judgement, criticism, gossip, jealousy, covetousness, and anger. I repent and renounce all persecution and slander of those moving in the Holy Spirit. I choose to no longer partner with the same spirit which killed Jesus, and that continues to attempt to kill the work of the Holy Spirit today. I come out of agreement with the enemies of Almighty God, and I choose to come into agreement with God my Father, with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. In the name of Jesus Christ, I now break every condemnation, curse, vow, every spell, incantation or ritual, every covenant, blood covenant, every sacrifice and blood sacrifice. I break every ungodly soul tie, and every generational tie in my family bloodline which does not honor the Holy Spirit and His works. In the name of Jesus Christ, I now break every other legal right, known or unknown, for the spirit of religion to stay in my life, or in my family’s lives. I choose to receive the anointing to break the power of the spirit of religion in the Body of Jesus Christ. Father, I humbly plead the blood of Jesus Christ over me, to cleanse me from all the sins I have committed, to cleanse my soul, my mind, my emotions and every part of my body which has been affected by these sins, in the name of Jesus Christ. Finally, I praise you Almighty God for delivering me from the spirit of religion, in the name of Jesus Christ!”

5. Break out of your comfort zones.

Harmful traditions are hard to break, so you will need to get a little uncomfortable before settling into your newfound freedom. Freedom is available for you, but Jesus never said it would be comfortable. Your sense of control will be confronted and what others think of you will all be challenged. So, remember this verse in Isaiah 43:19 as your promise for the newness in your life: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

6. Examine your practices: are they producing fruit?

Be honest. If something is not producing fruit in your life, as in bringing you closer to God and bearing out good works, examine the motivation behind what you are doing. For example, are you hanging around with the right people who can grow your faith? Are you placing your relationship with God foremost? Don’t be like that man who on his deathbed said: “If I had only spent time on the things that really mattered to God.”

Oftentimes the religious spirit will tell us that we are not doing enough, and this may replace busyness with sincerely spending time with God.  Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord, be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” We live in a “doer” culture, which sometimes causes us to major in the minors. The major thing during our walk is spending time with God in conversation, knowing His Word, and doing the good works that God sets before us in the moments of our lives.  

7. Take a step of faith.

If you want to be freed from the confines of negative religious practices, God will place you in positions where you need to act. When God called me to leave my church and begin a ministry, initially I felt alone. I had no idea what would be next. God wanted me to leave a comfortable career and start a ministry – and a very non-traditional ministry.

I had served on church Boards and ministry Boards, but now I would be the founding member of a ministry, with no money to begin. Initially, when I started talking about the afterlife, I lost several of my church friends, as well as some of my former business and clinical associates who thought I had suffered an aneurysm, or perhaps even a mental collapse.

Yet as God was stretching my faith boundaries, I began seeing how He was fitting the pieces of my new life together. I remembered Philippians 1:6: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” Then God spoke to me: “I want to create a new thing, and I want you to lead it.”

At no point did the religious leaders who gleefully accepted my volunteerism offer support for the new ministry God called me to begin. I could only rely on faith for God to provide, and I would need to sacrifice my need to control things.

Now we have directly reached over two million people with the Great News of Jesus Christ, and through various channels and partnerships, we have even reached hundreds of millions.

We have showcased the largest number of Christ-honoring near-death and afterlife accounts. We began the first virtual Christian afterlife conference, and the first in-person conference about Heaven in San Diego, California.

We started My Family, a worldwide union of believers who would meet via Zoom in small groups. We hosted prayer groups for people around the globe. We even began a Christ-honoring documentary about what people can expect after they leave this world. Through our efforts, we have helped many others launch their own ministries – all within a span of less than four years.

Countless numbers have been healed and saved.

When you step out in faith, the key is to follow the words of Jesus to me in Heaven when He said: “Trust Me.”

8. Relax and smell the flowers.

God did not create uptight human beings. If you’re feeling like you need to strive to serve God, then perhaps you are missing the ease of serving the Lord God. Ministry can be hard, even brutal, but it should never drain your spiritual strength.

At the heart of serving God is feeling the effects of family – you are not alone. He created a family. Families laugh together, cry together, and grow together. True, families can cause stress, but in a healthy family stress is reduced through sharing. When God created “My Family,” He was creating a safe place for the “orphaned” believers of this world to find loving fellowship regardless of status, nationality, or brokenness.

Laugh a little. Does God have a sense of humor? Perhaps the best indication that God does have a sense of humor is that He created man in His image (Genesis 1:27), and certainly people are able to perceive and express humor. You can even inwardly laugh at those who persecute you. Psalm 2 reveals God laughing at those who would rebel against His kingship (verse 4). It is like the comical picture of a kindergarten-aged child being upset at his parents and running away from home.

Joy is a fruit of the spirit and joy is the ethos of Heaven. But to experience joy we need to let go of our uptight, legalistic ways to live in the freedom that Christ provides. We can even laugh at ourselves sometimes.

Stop and smell those flowers. I remember Rabbi Felix Halpern said to me that after his Heaven encounter, he routinely smelled the flowers around his home, gazed in wonderment at the trees sprouting new life, and cherished time with loved ones without worrying about tomorrow.

All freedom has some aspect of joy attached to it. If you cannot feel joy most of the time, a religious spirit may be getting in the way.

Consider Luke 12:22-27: “He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?* 26If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;* yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”

9. Express sincere humility toward others.

The Bible verse Philippians 2:3 says, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem the other better than himself”. The verse continues, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Humility is the most often expressed character trait in Heaven and the least evidenced character trait in the world. The spirit of religion always ranks people as higher or lower than its fabricated religious standard.  As you break free from the religious spirit, do not frown upon those who still carry the shackles of religiosity. Don’t consider yourself as more holy, or less holy than others. Holiness is a position toward God, not a self-made stature. While keeping a humble heart, give patience to others who are at a different level in their spiritual maturity toward God.

Understand that pursuing freedom from the religious spirit may cause you to associate with those who do not share your zeal. This means not acting superior or in a divisive manner.  

Critics will always be present. Since moving into ministry full-time, criticism of me has ranged from people who say I should not share something, to those who wish me dead. But I cannot be rude or disrespectful to my accusers. We can all maintain a heart of love towards those who oppose us, which one can argue is the greatest transformation Jesus proposed in an era where the law instructed an “eye for an eye.”

10. Change the “have-to” of life to the “want-to” of life.

An irony of the religious spirit is that it has an appearance of closeness to God, by continually reminding people to be good, ‘even if it kills you.’ That kind of forced goodness is fake. Doing the will of God out of pure duty robs one of the responsibility to mature in Christ so that doing good just spills out of us because that is who we are in Christ. This is called spiritual maturity.

What does spiritual maturity look like? It craves the Word of God. It loves sharing the great news of Jesus Christ. It cannot do enough good deeds. It forgives others as easily as breathing.  

But let’s get real: maturing in Christ in a world that constantly places action above motivation is hard. That coupled with the increasing demands of life and degrading culture in society tries to pull us into survival mode. Thriving in Christ is a moment-by-moment discipline to prioritize the things of God first. Proverbs 3:6 proclaims: “In everything you do, put God first, and He will direct you and crown your efforts with success.”

This means and excuse the tacky pun – letting go and letting God take the control. When the impossible seems just that, remember that God can best be seen in the impossible. Remember Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. Remember Jesus in the tomb when the disciples gave up hope. Remember the storm when Jesus told Peter to walk on water with Him.  

Faith is not just believing, it is expecting. Expect that even in your failures, God can redeem them to make you stronger. Each time you fall because of failure, get back up, learn from your mistake, and do better. Spiritual maturity is not forcing success, it is growing.

Even Jesus had a posture of growth. Luke 2:40 says, “There Jesus grew up, maturing in physical strength and increasing in wisdom, and the grace of God rested on Him.” Verse 52 says, “And Jesus kept on growing—in wisdom, in physical stature, in favor with God, and in favor with others.”

None of us will arrive as the person we always wanted to be until we are in Heaven. When I was in Heaven, released from my body and mind, I felt like I had become the person I always wanted to be. Jesus knew that I was trying, and failing, and trying again. In the end, when Jesus asked me if all my struggles were worth it, I said “Yes!” You will say the same.

Concluding thoughts

Religious spirits are very common today. If you have religious spirits, get rid of them. They are out to block 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 arrogance and self-righteousness. They can even cause you to doubt your salvation. Ultimately, their goal is to negate the work of Christ in your life and cause you to give up. Being set free from religious spirits can bring major spiritual freedom and a breakthrough in your relationship with God. Remember this, as a child of God, as a believer in Christ, be of good cheer, because Heaven is in your future!