I once heard Pastor Bill Johnson from Bethel Church in Redding, CA say, “There are more demons in the Church than there are outside the Church.” I remember pondering that statement and coming to the same conclusion, based on my own experiences of ministering to hundreds of believers who were under the influence of demons in over 25 years of ministry. In addition to the spirits that are operating in the world, seen in various manifestations of ungodliness and fleshly indulgence, there are also spirits of religion. Jesus dealt with these demons in the Jewish religious leaders of His day.
In this context, the word religious is defined as, man’s way to get to God, gaining acceptance from God through one’s own works, acts of charity, observance of disciplines such as fasting, prayer, giving, serving the poor, etc. I have always found it revealing that Jesus had such compassion and grace for the sinners He encountered, the prostitutes, tax-collectors, adulterers, and demonized, but had nothing but criticism and stern rebukes for the religious leaders and teachers of the Law. These are just some of the words He called them as found in the gospels: hypocrites, child of hell, full of greed and self-indulgence, full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean, children of the devil, blind guides. These are pretty harsh words! They were prideful and self-righteous, controlling and hypocritical.
Jesus knew that these people were under the influence of demons. So, while He hated their sin, He still loved and died for them even as He did for all of us. His words, I believe, were not directed at the people themselves, but at the spirits operating through them. Yet, unlike the sinners who were demonized and recognized their need for salvation, the religious leaders were blinded by their pride and arrogance and refused to come to Him. Even worse, as leaders, they grossly misrepresented the heart of God to His people. Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land for doing the very same thing. This was what stirred Jesus’ righteous anger and zeal when He cleansed the temple of the money changers. It also had a big part to play in His condemnation of their behavior.
Unfortunately, the religious spirit remains alive and fully functioning in many, if not most, of our churches today. The behavior of the leaders of Jesus’ day are still seen in both leaders and members of our congregations. The devil can’t create anything new, so he uses the same old tricks, and we still fall for them. The good news is that Jesus will not allow this to go on forever. He will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against her. He will raise up a bride that is worthy to be His wife, holy and pure, without spot or wrinkle, and fully lovesick for her Bridegroom. The true Church will operate in a spirit of meekness, humility, love and compassion. The true Church is not groups of people that meet in a building once or twice a week. It is the worldwide body of Christ, those who are called by His name, who hear and heed His voice, walk in His ways, and follow Him wherever He leads. This is the Church He is building and the bride He will one day return for.