"You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness." Psalms 74:14 ESV
Have you ever seen yourself caught up in a situation playing out exactly like the plot-line of a movie like Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier? I saw that play out in my own life for a season. More specifically, this started a few years back when I started to read books on healing the sick, casting out demons, etc. after I saw demons manifest in some friends of mine before my other friends cast them out in the name of Jesus. Before then I never imagined that demons could live inside followers of Jesus, much less that they could successfully operate within wonderful ministries and their sincere, God-fearing leaders completely undetected.
One day Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) drives up to an intersection, minding his own business, when some police cars make an assassination attempt on his life, leading to him going into hiding. S.H.I.E.L.D., the organization he heads, turns out to be compromised beyond his wildest expectations. ≪SPOILER≫ Near the end of the movie, Captain America over a loudspeaker informs the workers at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters that a large percentage of their co-workers are working with Hydra. He asks them to make sacrifices, even at the cost of their own lives, to join him in opposing the infiltrators lest they bring destruction to the organization and to millions of lives.
This story parallels that of the kingdom of ancient Israel when it was infiltrated by a mixture of Baal worship under the influence of Ahab and his marriage to Queen Jezebel. It required a dramatic power encounter from the prophet Elijah against 450 prophets of Baal to rally the people of Israel to gather to him in loyalty to put an end to the prophets of Baal.
Have you ever wondered if a parallel situation could happen in your life, organization, or church? It may take a prophet like Elijah to draw the battle lines for you to see that there's an ungodly mixture throughout the congregation of allegiance to both the One True God and a false god.
For example, what if demons by the name of Jezebel convince many Christians that sexual sins like pornography, fornication, and homosexuality are totally okay? (see Revelation 2:18ff) What if other evil spirits convince much of the church that it’s insensitive, fruitless, out-of-date, and/or futile to try casting out demons, healing the sick, etc.? Think about it. If the Holy Spirit isn’t finished with miracles yet, then wouldn’t demons want to convince the church not to obey Matthew 10:8 “to the end of the age” since they don’t like getting their butts kicked?
One can better understand how such religious spirits within some ministry leaders manifest by studying the Pharisees and religious leaders’ interactions with Jesus and his people throughout the gospel accounts and Acts. (1) The following brainstormed list is by no means exhaustive.
Characteristics of religious spirits include:
Resisting the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51)
Denial about resisting the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:57)
Attributing demonic exorcism to satan (Matthew 12:24)
Antagonism towards physical healing (Mark 3:1-6)
Sub-conscious allegiance with the accuser of the brethren (Mark 3:2; John 18:29-30; Revelation 12:10)
Trumping God's activity and commandments with their theological and ministry traditions (Mark 7:1-13)
Committing ad hominem fallacies (John 7:47-49; 8:41, 48)
Committing the genetic fallacy (John 7:50-52) (4)
Committing straw man fallacies and making false assumptions (Acts 21:27-29)
Judging by mere appearances (Matthew 11:18-19; John 7:23-24; 1 Samuel 16:7)
Criticism (Acts 11:1-3)
Misinterpretation of Scriptures due to a faulty worldview grid that tends to deny miracles and trusts logic before and in place of trusting God. (Matthew 22:29)
Prioritizing strategic marketing in ministry for the attainment of human honor over love for people and praise from God (Matthew 23:5-12)
Disingenuous compassion and piety to gain human recognition (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)
Fear of man (Mark 11:29-33)
More concerned about their ministry reputation than God's glory (John 12:42f; Matthew 23:5-12)
Memorializing past moves of God while opposing present ones (Matthew 23:29-31)
Hypocrisy (Matthew 15:7-9; Galatians 2:11ff)
Carnality (Matthew 23:27-28)
Shutting the kingdom of heaven in people's faces; not entering nor allowing others to enter. (Matthew 23:13) (2)
Using fear/scare tactics to keep their sheep away from Spirit-filled and anointed ministers of the gospel. (John 12:42-43; 9:22) (3)
False accusation of heresy, blasphemy, and occultism (Acts 6:8-15; Mark 14:55-65; Luke 11:15)
Scorning or mocking the gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as prophecy (Luke 22:63-65)
Seeing other ministries as competition towards whom they feel attitudes of envy and jealousy (Matthew 27:18; Acts 5:17; 17:5)
Accusing believers of causing havoc in the public square (sometimes in violent mob form, ironically) and of turning societies, cities, and the world upside down (John 19:12; Acts 17:6ff; 21:27ff; 24:1ff)
Hard-heartedness, disillusioned by disappointment and past lost (Acts 28:25-28)
Stubbornness about leaving all behind to follow Jesus (Matthew 21:27-32, 43)
Pride in spiritual heritage to the extent of self-righteousness (Luke 3:8; John 8:33ff)
Religion--form without power (Matthew 23:1-4; 2 Timothy 3:5, 7)
Knowing Jesus in form, but not in relationship or demonstration (Mark 6:1-6) (5)
Entertaining debate with concepts about God rather than bringing heaven into the situation by the power of God (John 9:1-7) (6)
Easily angered when rebuked concerning their spiritual lives (Acts 7:51-54)
Lacking a heart for the lost that takes risks to seek and rescue them (Luke 15:1ff)
Lying in wait to trap an anointed minister in his words, looking for opportunities to use his words against him, naturally out of context of the intended meaning (Luke 11:53-43)
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15 ESV)
To paraphrase Martin Luther’s first thesis, repentance is a daily thing. We daily need to change the way we think. To say that a person or group doesn’t need to change a thing in their thinking (which results eventually in changed behavior and lifestyle) is to say they need no repentance. This attitude is called pride. Since God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, we need to come before God willing to change our perspectives, opinions, attitudes, and behaviors. Only then can we be in close fellowship with Him when our cleansed hands and purified hearts are open to receive His love, peace, joy, and freedom we need in life (see James 4).
Therefore, let us study the Word of God with an open heart that is willing to change the way we think. Otherwise, we will only read the Word of God like a textbook rather than a love letter which includes commands and warnings from a loving Father about our enemies released from their prison who are out to steal, kill, and destroy us. We don’t need to worry about those thieves unless we scorn the warnings and commands of our strong and mighty Father who gives us life-saving instructions in His Word.
Some theologians have taught that the miraculous acts of the Holy Spirit (except conversion) had an expiration date after the early church, such as when the Scriptures were canonized. Such is like a practical deism that functions as a worldview grid through which some people interpret the world, their experiences, and the Scriptures itself.
Does this mean that religious people and their converts don't go to heaven? No, not necessarily. Whoever enters a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ on the basis in his substitutionary death and resurrection will be saved. Having received Christ and the forgiveness of sins they will get past the pearly gates; but it’s possible they just might be missing out on how much more God could've used them for His glory (see 1 Corinthians 3:15). The kingdom of heaven isn't only about getting into heaven, but also about heaven getting into us. The Pharisees weren’t open to learning how to cast out demons, heal the sick, raise the dead, or cleanse lepers, and they didn’t encourage that in their followers. Today we can unwittingly partner with the thief who wants to steal our full potential by leaving him alone as he steals, kills, and destroys sick and demonized people all around us.
It’s an effective tactic. Their sheep trust their leaders, and rightfully so. Many theologians who don’t yet believe in implementing Jesus’ entire discipleship model are godly men and women who sincerely love the Lord and people. But religious spirits want to curb the leaders’ effectiveness and cause distrust in their relationship with God by doubting His power and goodness. Thus, deceiving spirits plant seeds of suspicion, doubt, and bad theology (nullifying Jesus’ commands in Matthew 10:8) in the leaders’ minds, resulting in such leaders falsely accusing anointed ministers who closely follow Jesus’ ministry model by the power of the Holy Spirit of heresy, blasphemy, hypnotism, occultism, fake miracles, etc. Consequently, their sheep--who also love the Lord and desire to please Him with holy lives--will stay clear away from the anointed ministers and living churches without further investigation. Certainly there are counterfeits, but it is “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” to reject all authentic currency (miracles) based on the existence of counterfeit currency (miracles). Since counterfeiters don’t waste their time counterfeiting pennies due to their low value, but rather counterfeit more valuable bills, so too does Satan want to produce counterfeit signs and wonders because genuine signs and wonders are so effective at destroying hell and bringing heaven down to earth.
The Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind by Bill Johnson. Kindle page 86.