by Jeannette Haley
“Beloved, believe not every spirit,
but try the spirits whether they are of God:
because many false prophets are
gone out into the world.” – 1 john 4:1
How many of us actually try, or test, different spirits, both in the world and in the Church today? Discerning of spirits is one of the gifts of the Spirit, yet most people do not seek for discernment, but instead crave the title of “prophet.” This should be a matter of grave concern to God’s people. The gift of prophecy is two-fold; that is forthtelling (preaching the Word) or foretelling (future events.) The reason for this stampede to claim the title of “prophet” is simply because people, who have never recognized and repented of their pride, desire to be recognized as possessing the same power and anointing as the Old Testament prophets. In short, they want a following.
The repeated warnings of Jesus (see Matthew 24) concerning false prophets in the end times is generally glossed over by Christians. This has always been a grave concern for this ministry. I cannot begin to tell you how many people we have met through the years who have been either led astray by some false prophet, or who have gone so far as to dub themselves as being a prophet. The tragedy is, whenever a professing Christian desires to be “great” in the Kingdom of God without sitting at the feet of Jesus, being properly discipled, coming under His yoke through submission, humility, and obedience, along with denying self, receiving a love for truth, being Spirit-led, and paying the price to be a seasoned minister (servant), then such a person is wide open to receive a religious spirit through the door of pride.
Religious spirits, as with any other spirit or demon, play on people’s pride and high opinion of themselves. Their goal is to gain a following of people who are deluded into giving them the recognition, attention, adoration, and worship that they desire. To put it bluntly, in the demonic realm, from Satan on down through the ranks of fallen angels to the lowest demon, every last one of them craves attention and worship, and they will work unceasingly to get it by any means available. This is the very thing that Satan was tempting Jesus to do in the wilderness. (See Matthew 4.) Satan desires to be worshipped as God.
Being the gullible sheep that we all are, we dangerously assume that just because a person goes to church, quotes the Bible, and appears to be religious that they are of the right spirit. The bottom line is, anything God does Satan can counterfeit, right on down to false fruit. This is why discernment is a must—not judgmentalism, or a critical spirit which comes from a lack of integrity, good character, and love, but true spiritual discernment. If believers fail to discern spirits, how will they recognize an antichrist spirit, or even the antichrist who will step on the scene to deceive, if possible, the whole world? A few years ago we met an entire church full of people who all possessed an antichrist spirit because they had bought the lie that Jesus is not God Incarnate. They thought they had the right Jesus, but they had all received “another Jesus, another spirit, and another gospel.” (See 2 Corinthians 11:4.) They believed that the false light they had was the “real thing,” yet every one of them had spiritual problems.
Acts 16:16-18 gives us an account of Paul’s encounter with a spirit of divination, or a religious spirit. “And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.” If such a person were to stand up in the church and proclaim that the leaders were “servants of the most high God, which show us the way of salvation,” how many of us would nod in agreement without first testing, or discerning, the spirit behind it? The truth is, Satan and his workers must be discerned because they not only counterfeit what is of God, but they put forth a false light. Jesus said, “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness” Matthew 6:22.
Rayola explains: “’Light’” in Matthew 6:22 has to do with understanding. If people perceive they understand a matter, they feel they are indeed enlightened. Since they perceive they are enlightened, they walk according to their understanding. Even though what they perceive could very well be darkness based on ignorance or deception, the intellectual pride that is intertwined with their understanding deludes them to the real state of their understanding. The greater the level of pride, the more the false light of understanding hides the real darkness. Clearly, such light hides the fact that there is no truth in the person’s understanding, failing to bring contrast and clarity. It is important to point out at this time that the light of truth not only brings clarity, but contrast as it reveals the difference between that which is of the true light and that which is of darkness.”
Satan could not deceive anyone if he appeared as the ugliest Halloween costume you ever saw. Instead, he deceives through a false light, the very same light that so many unsaved people declare they have seen in near death (or even after death, before resuscitation) experiences. The Apostle Paul warned the Christians at Corinth of false apostles, deceitful workers, who transformed themselves into the apostles of Christ. He went on to say, “And no marvel: for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” 2 Corinthians 11:13-15. Satan’s workers also have power to deceive. Jesus warned in Mark 13:22, “For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.”
Many years ago I was invited by a friend to attend a certain Bible school in Everett, Washington. At first, I was thrilled at the excellent, biblical teaching. It was spot on. After a time, however, my spirit became agitated, yet I could not put my finger on any doctrinal discrepancies. Then, both my friend and I began to notice something. It was as if the seemingly “perfect” and smooth talking teacher had a strange “light” about her. This was my first introduction to an “angel of light spirit.” In time, strange and frightening things began to happen as she appeared in dreams, and not only that, would tell us things that we had thought or said when in the privacy of our own homes, indicating she also had a familiar spirit. Eventually, we both had to drop out of the school and concluded that the education we got was far more valuable in the realm of spiritual discernment than the Bible lessons ever were.
This brings me to another important point, and that is this: religious spirits are generally always to be found in churches, where Christians gather together, and, of course, in cults and false religions. That is where we have always seen them in operation because, after all, Satan and the demonic realm is an unseen, spiritual, religious realm. I have yet to go to the bank, Post Office, gas station or grocery store and hear a religious spirit trying to gain an audience, although that is not to say they don’t ever appear in public places trying to gain an audience. On the other hand, I couldn’t begin to name the number of churches we have been in that didn’t have at least one religious spirit.
Years ago we attended a church where the late author and evangelist, Betty Swinford, was holding special meetings. Betty was a woman who truly knew and operated in the Holy Spirit. Her anointed preaching was direct, simple, and anointed. The power of the Spirit was so strong that people were saved, delivered, and healed in great numbers. In this one particular church on one of the nights when she delivered a powerful message, the Holy Spirit filled the sanctuary. People were streaming to the front for ministry. Rayola and I were sitting towards the back, and watched as a tall young man standing a few rows in front of us began to sway, and repeatedly yell, “Jesus! Oh Jesus!” We instantly discerned that he was operating in a religious spirit. He was not only out of order, disrupting the flow of the Spirit, and causing confusion (which is not of God) but he began to manifest physically. Suddenly, it was if an unseen force slammed him against the wall of the church, head first. As we watched him slump to the floor, we noticed a gash on his head that was bleeding. Incredibly, the people close to him surrounded him, arms raised, praising God as he lay writhing on the floor. Not one of the people there discerned the religious spirit that was manifesting and deal with it.
Later that night while visiting with Betty, we asked her if she had heard or seen this incident. She was so involved in praying with people at the front of the church that she hadn’t witnessed it, and commented with a slight chuckle that it was a good thing too, or she would’ve had to go take care of it herself.
Another example of a person with a religious spirit is Judas Iscariot. We gain a glimpse of it in John 12:5, where, after Mary anointed Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair, Judas asked, “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” We know that Judas didn’t care for the poor according to the following verse, but his outburst was a put down to both Jesus and Mary because Jesus graciously received Mary’s loving sacrifice, and Mary had wasted no expense on Jesus. In spite of Judas’ attitude, his sanctimonious remark may have impressed some of the people that were present, but it brought a swift rebuke from the Lord. According to Mark’s account of this event, in Chapter 14 verse 9, Jesus defended Mary, and uttered a prophecy honoring her. Immediately after this incident, Judas sought to betray Jesus. After all, he was rebuked by the Lord in the presence of a number of people, which was bad enough, but for a woman to be defended and exalted in front of the crowd was more than his pride and religious spirit could bear. A truly godly man would have rejoiced to see the Lord honored so by His handmaiden, and would have known in his heart the full meaning of His anointing.
Christians need to examine their own hearts to determine if they have personal agendas, goals, and causes that are not of God. Even though someone’s personal agendas and causes may appear to be “religious and right” in his or her own eyes does not mean that they are of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, people with personal agendas that include them being exalted somehow are wide open to religious spirits, and such will look for a platform in which to operate where they can be seen, heard, and gain a position for themselves that others may deem as “indispensable.” This is very dangerous. We have witnessed more than one church split because of religious spirits that have worked their way into positions that give them power to delude, deceive, and call attention to themselves as “experts” or “authorities” on a matter. In addition, through the years most of the people we have met with a so-called “deliverance ministry” needed deliverance themselves from religious spirits.
When religious spirits are involved with worship, which is not uncommon in our experience, you can discern them by asking yourself the following questions: 1) During worship, when you feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, and your heart enters into true worship in Spirit and truth, is it suddenly interrupted, cut off, and stifled by a leader who habitually draws your attention to themselves? 2) Does a religious person make you feel like you are being talked down to, or “pushed” to believe or perform a certain way? 3) Does the spirit in a person make you feel inferior, while giving the impression that they are superior? 4) Is there something about a “super religious” person that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous, agitated, confused, or robbed? 5) What does their fruit consistently say about them? 6) Do they jealously guard their “position,” fearing any competition? 7) Are they controlling?
How does a person end up with a religious spirit? Here is a list of some of the ways this can take place: 1) When a Christian resists making Jesus LORD of all because he or she still wants to call the shots in his or her own life, and simply plays the game. 2) Pride. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” 1 John 2:16. 3) Adapting to the “Christian culture” because it serves their purpose without ever coming to true repentance and salvation. 4) Using religion as a means to exalt self. 5) Having a religious façade as a means to cover sin. 6) Idolatry—putting self and one’s personal causes and agendas above God. 7) The wrong laying on of hands.
The wrong laying on of hands is something every believer should be acutely aware of. For example, remember the “Toronto Blessing” movement? Many years ago, when the Toronto Blessing phenomenon was in full swing, several women who had gone there to receive their “blessing” came to us for ministry. I was shocked and horrified as they filed through the door of our house in eastern Idaho, for one look into their eyes and I knew a huge battle was about to take place. One lady kept folding her arms across her stomach, loudly groaning, grunting, and doubling over. All of them had weird, ungodly and, to be honest, scary manifestations of powerful demons which they had received at the so-called “blessing” debacle. In their religious zeal (without knowledge) they had opened themselves up to major religious spirits that had to be cast out.
At an earlier time, a young missionary to India and his wife came to our office in Washington. They had visited a mega church pastured by a world-famous pastor (now deceased). At that time, the pastor’s wife laid her hands on the missionary and prayed for him. Immediately he felt his great love and desire towards the Word of God lift and disappear. Struggle as he might, he could no longer read or study his Bible. This woman had, through the laying on of hands, imparted a powerful spirit on him that greatly hindered him in his personal life with Christ and his ministry. He was utterly distraught, but after prayer and deliverance, he was set free from the spirit, and returned to his passion and ministry.
Years before this incident, a friend of mine was concerned for her teenage son. They lived on an Indian reservation, and her son’s closest friend was a young Indian boy. This boy was deep into witchcraft and the occult because of the “power” that he was supposedly given. (Demons may grant people enough power to deceive and delude them, but in the end, their victims discover to their great horror that they have no power at all.) One day the boy took my friend’s son to his house, laid hands on his head and said, “I want you to have the same spirit I have.” Immediately an evil spirit was imparted to him that caused a great deal of angst and trouble for my friend and her son.
The Bible warns us about the wrong laying on of hands. It is very powerful and very real. If we are ever caught in a situation when someone with the wrong spirit lays hands on us, we instantly rebuke it and come against it in the name of Jesus.
While this short article touches on the religious spirit, there are many other spirits that Christians need to beware of, examples of which are in the Bible. When did we, in America, become so sophisticated, so special that we dismiss demons as quickly as we would a gnat zipping past our nose?
The question is, can a person operating with a religious spirit be truly set free from it? The answer is, yes, if religious pride is genuinely repented of in brokenness, bringing about (as Charles Finney would say) true conversion. This means being converted to the ways of righteousness. Without humility there can be no agreement with God at any point. (An excellent little book on this subject is Humility by Andrew Murray.) Pride is an open door for not only a religious spirit, but a host of other hindering spirits. Satan fell through pride, he tempted Eve through pride (to be “as gods”) and he tempted our Lord in the same manner, but to no avail. Jesus had one goal, and that was to obey the Father. Surely, if we are to walk in a manner that is pleasing to God, then that should be our priority as well.
If we are to survive great spiritual deception in these latter days, then we must pray for discernment! We must gain understanding and wisdom through the fear of the Lord, love for truth and God’s Word, and be ever ready to repent of our sins, either of commission or omission, pride, self-will, rotten attitudes, and unbelief. Our churches in America are in the mess they are in today because of a lack of preaching against sin, and overlooking discernment of spirits and the false doctrines that they promote. God still has his remnant of true believers, and godly pastors, who love Him; nevertheless, how many churches are truly Christ-centered rather than man-centered, and know how to worship God in Spirit and truth? How many can discern between what is of the flesh, what is of a religious spirit, what is of the world, as opposed to what is in reality of God? There can be no true revival if our churches insist on doing business as usual. If the Spirit is not clearly moving upon hearts and lives in humility and repentance, each body of believers must step back and discern why the Holy Spirit is not landing, confirming, saving, and reviving souls. Perhaps in such examination, each ineffective body will remember the commission and once again catch the flame of the Holy Spirit to burn brightly in these end days.