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Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Religious Spirit Revisited

This spirit operates out of old religious structures and attempts to maintain the status quo, favoring tradition over a genuine, intimate relationship with God. It influences believers to live the Christian life based on works instead of grace. Similar to the Greek way of thinking, the religious spirit depends on human effort to acquire spiritual knowledge and favor from God.

God save us!

Religious Spirit Self-Assessment
o You believe your faith life should remain separate from your work life.
o You’re motivated to share Christ out of duty.
o You can’t relate to non-believers because you’re afraid of rejection.
o You display a “better than they are” attitude toward nonbelievers.
o You are viewed by others as dogmatic and rigid (not simply a person of conviction).
o You feel compelled to be involved in religious activity and you can’t relax in your faith.
o You often feel guilty (not the same as the conviction of the Holy Spirit) for not sharing Christ with others.
o You often engage in religious debate.
o You need a packaged presentation in order to share the gospel.
o When talking about spiritual matters to strangers, you tend to talk about your church or ask about their church involvement versus talking about Jesus and their personal relationship with God.
o You have a difficult time socializing, loving or accepting those who do not believe the way you do.
o You are motivated by your church leadership out of guilt and Christian duty instead of loving devotion to Christ.
o You discourage change, preferring religious tradition.
o You believe that the ministry gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 and Ephesians 4:11 are no longer applicable today; or, if you believe they are valid, you think that they are for religious professionals, not for you.
o You form relationships for the purpose of achieving a religious activity rather than developing community from which Christ-like ministry flows naturally.
o Your loyalty to denominational structures is greater than your commitment to the kingdom of God and the entire Body of Christ.
o You view government as an “evil empire” from which we must separate instead of influence for good.
o You don’t see the need to work with other Christian ministry groups in a common effort; you usually feel that your way is the primary way and everyone should join your endeavor so as to not compromise your belief or doctrine.

In the New Testament, the Galatians started their Christian life simply by believing and having faith in God. However, somewhere along the road, they were influenced to live their lives by focusing on rules and regulations and to live according to their own human effort. Read the apostle Paul’s words as he confronted the believers in Galatia about the effect of the religious spirit on their lives:

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?
Gal. 3:1-5

Living according to rules and regulations and by our own human efforts is a trap set by the religious spirit that we can all fall into. However, it is not the abundant life that Jesus promised (see John 10:10). In Galatians 2:20-21, Paul describes how we should live our lives: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"

In the Gospel of Matthew, we also read about a rich young ruler who was prevented from making a commitment to the one true God because of the religious spirit. Although he considered himself religious because he followed the laws, he had an idol in his life that prevented him from making a total or "sold-out" commitment to Jesus.

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." "Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, "‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’""All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth
Matt. 19:16-22.

The rich young ruler wanted to gain God’s approval on his own terms by fulfilling the law. However, Jesus cut through the religious spirit by speaking to the heart of his issue.When the Early Church expanded its leadership, it commissioned Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, to active ministry.

"The word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people" (Acts 6:7-8). Notice how Stephen began to make an impact on his city—by performing signs and wonders.

However, his work also stirred up the religious spirit, and Stephen became the first person martyred for his faith God save us from our religious spirit!

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