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What is "the spirit of religion?"


James 1:26–27- "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

Here in the book of James, we encounter a passage that sarcastically addresses the notion of "religion" in a manner that challenges empty piety and superficial religious practices. James, with a hint of irony, sheds light on the fallacy of outward displays of religiosity, emphasizing the need for genuine transformation and a reliance on the Holy Spirit rather than hollow forms of worship. While some contend that the Bible provides us with a definition of "true religion" in this passage, it can be observed from the context that James is actually addressing individuals who were arrogantly boasting about their "religion." Consequently, he employs their own language to convey a theological message. 

We can further understand that the Bible is not setting forth a standard positive use of the word religion in this passage by digging deeper into the original language of the New Testament. "Religion" comes from the Greek word "thrēskeías" and is only used 4 times in the entire Bible. Each of these occurrences are unmistakably negative. In Acts 26:5 the Apostle Paul uses it to describe the strict "religion" of the Pharisees and in Colossians 2:18 he uses it to refer to people who worship angels. Other than this, we have the above instance where James uses the word twice to deal with people who were hypocritical.

Empty Piety: A Mockery of God’s Desire for the Church 

James, in his unique style, ridicules those who claim to be religious but fail to live out their faith in meaningful ways. He exposes the hypocrisy of those who hold onto empty piety, using the idea of "true religion" with a hint of sarcasm to point out the futility of their actions. It becomes evident that true religion is far removed from the façade of self-righteousness and instead demands a heartfelt commitment to repentance and godly living.

The Spirit of Religiosity: A Captivating Deception

Galatians 3:1‭-‬2- "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 the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? (Emphasis mine)"

Beneath the surface of empty piety lies a dangerous spirit that has plagued believers throughout history—the spirit of religiosity/religion. This age-old demonic influence seeks to ensnare sincere individuals who genuinely desire to serve God. It deceives them into conforming to religious systems that prioritize outward rituals and regulations, rather than cultivating a vibrant, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The religious spirit doesn't like to be exposed! So it will pontificate, rationalize, and even misuse the Bible to try to justify it's enslaving behavior. The Cross of Christ provides a new way of repentance, renewal, and revival, not arrogant religiousity!

Acts 3:19- "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord."

Constricting God's Power: A Tragic Consequence

2 Timothy 3:5- "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away."

The spirit of religiosity operates as a constricting force, limiting the full manifestation of God's power in the lives of believers. By emphasizing external practices over genuine heart transformation, it obstructs the work of the Holy Spirit and suppresses the supernatural expressions of God's grace, love, and power. Consequently, those ensnared by religiosity often find themselves confined and spiritually stagnant, unable to experience the true freedom and transformation promised by a vibrant relationship with God.

Embracing True Liberation: The Holy Spirit's Power

Galatians 3:3- "Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?"

To break free from the grip of empty religiosity, believers must turn their focus towards the liberating power of the Holy Spirit. It is through a genuine relationship with the Holy Spirit that true worship, authentic service, and transformative encounters with God are realized. By surrendering to the leading of the Spirit, believers can overcome the constraints of religiosity and experience the fullness of God's transformative work in their lives.

James' sarcastic use of the term "true religion" challenges empty piety and superficial religious practices. However, it is essential to recognize the underlying spirit of religiosity that seeks to entrap believers and limit the power of God in their lives. By embracing the liberating power of the Holy Spirit, believers can break free from the chains of religiosity and experience a faith that is vibrant, transformative, and aligned with the purposes of God. Let us not be captivated by empty forms of religiosity but rather seek an authentic, Spirit-filled relationship with God, where His power and presence flow freely. Bind and remove the spirit of religiousity/religion from your life, tell it to go and never return in Jesus name!

Published by: Kyle Bailey, D.Min.

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