The spirit of Jezebel is a form of the religious spirit. Just as Jezebel was the ambitious and manipulative wife of King Ahab—a weak leader who allowed her to dictate policy in his kingdom—the Jezebel spirit will usually be found supplanting weak leadership. The Jezebel spirit usually gains its dominion by making political alliances, and often it uses a deceptively humble and submissive demeanor in order to manipulate. However, once this spirit gains authority, it will usually manifest a strong control spirit and shameless presumption. Despite its name, this spiritual problem is not limited to women.
Jezebel “calls herself a prophetess” (see Revelation 2:20). This is often one of the telltale signs of false prophets who are operating in a religious spirit—they are preoccupied with their own recognition. To the degree that self-seeking and the need for recognition abide within us, our ministry will be corrupted. Those who are easily offended because they are not given an important title or position should never be accepted by that title or given that position! The difference between those motivated by a desire for recognition and those motivated by love for the Lord is the difference between the false prophet and the true. The Lord Himself declared:
He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory [literally: “recognition”]; but He who is seeking the glory of the one who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him (John 7:18). Demanding recognition for herself, Jezebel serves as the enemy of the true prophetic ministry. Jezebel was the greatest enemy of one of the Old Covenant’s most powerful prophets, Elijah, whose ministry especially typified preparing the way for the Lord. The Jezebel spirit is one of the most potent forms of the religious spirit, which seeks to keep the church and the world from being prepared for the return of the Lord.
The Jezebel spirit especially attacks the prophetic ministry, because that ministry has an important place in preparing the way for the Lord. That is why John the Baptist was persecuted by a personification of Jezebel, in the wife of Herod. The prophetic ministry is the primary vehicle through which the Lord gives timely, strategic direction to His people. Jezebel knows that removing the true prophets will make the people vulnerable to her false prophets, always resulting in idolatry and spiritual adultery.
When there is a void of hearing the true voice of the Lord, the people will be much more susceptible to the deceptions of the enemy. This is why Jesus called the religious leaders of His own day “blind guides” (see Matthew 23:16). These men, who knew the messianic prophecies better than anyone else in the world, looked into the face of the One who perfectly fulfilled those prophecies and thought that He was sent from Beelzebub. Jezebel’s prophets of Baal were also given to sacrifice, even to the point of cutting and flailing themselves while seeking the manifestation of their god. A primary strategy of the religious spirit is to get the church devoted to “sacrifice” in a way that perverts the command for us to take up our crosses daily. This perversion will have us putting more faith in our sacrifices than in the Lord’s sacrifice. It will also use sacrifices and offerings to pressure God to manifest Himself. This is a form of the terrible delusion that we can somehow purchase the grace and presence of God with our good works.
The Root of Self-Righteousness
We do not crucify ourselves for the sake of righteousness, purification, spiritual maturity, or to get the Lord to manifest Himself; this is nothing less than conjuring. We are “crucified with Christ” (see Galatians 2:20). If we “crucify ourselves,” it will only result in self-righteousness—which is pride in one of its most base forms. This pride is deceptive, because it gives the appearance of wisdom and righteousness, of which the Apostle Paul warned:
Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind,
and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as,
“Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self- abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence (Colossians 2:18-23). The religious spirit will make us feel very good about our spiritual condition as long as it is self-centered and self-seeking. Pride feels good; it can even be exhilarating. But it keeps all of our attention on how well we are doing and on how we stand compared to others—not on the glory of God. This results in our putting confidence in discipline and personal sacrifice rather than in the Lord and His sacrifice. Of course, discipline and a commitment to self-sacrifice are essential qualities for every believer to have. But it is the motivation behind them that determines whether we are being driven by a religious spirit or by the Holy Spirit. A religious spirit motivates through fear and guilt, or through pride and ambition. The motivation of the Holy Spirit is love for the Son of God. Delighting in self-abasement is a sure symptom of the religious spirit. This does not mean that we can neglect to discipline ourselves, fast, or buffet our bodies as Paul did. However, the problem comes when we take a perverse delight in this, rather than delighting in the Son of God.
Colossians 2:18-19 indicates that a person with a religious spirit will tend to delight in self-abasement and will often be given to worshiping angels or taking improper stands on visions he has seen. A religious spirit wants us to worship anything or anyone but Jesus. The same spirit that is given to worshiping angels will also be prone to excessively exalting people. We must beware of anyone who unduly exalts angels, or men and women of God, or anyone who uses the visions he has received in order to gain improper influence in the church. God does not give us revelations so that people will respect us more, or to prove our ministry. The fruit of true revelation will be humility, not pride.
Of course, the Scriptures teach that Christians do have these prophetic experiences, and we are also told in Acts 2:17 that they will increase in the last days. Jesus also warned that in the last days there would be many false prophets (see Matthew 24:11). Prophetic revelation that is truly from God is crucial to the body of Christ. The enemy knows this very well, which is why he will raise up many false prophets. But they can be easily discerned. As Paul warned the Colossians, the danger doesn’t come from those who are having prophetic revelations, but from those who have been inflated by them.
A religious spirit will always feed our fear or pride, whereas genuine spiritual maturity will always lead to increasing humility. This progression of humility is wonderfully demonstrated in the life of Paul the Apostle. In his letter to the Galatians, estimated to have been written in 56 A.D., he declared that when he visited the original apostles in Jerusalem, they “...contributed nothing to me” (see Galatians 2:6). He was by this declaring that he had as much as they did.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, written about six years later, he called himself the “least of the apostles” (see I Corinthians 15:9). In Ephesians 3:8, written in about 61 A.D., he declared himself to be the “...the very least of all saints.” When writing to Timothy in approximately 65 A.D., Paul declared himself to be the “foremost of all sinners” (see I Timothy 1:15), adding that he had found mercy. A true revelation of God’s mercy is a great antidote for the religious spirit. It is clear by this that the great apostle was not completely free of pride in the first years of his ministry. Which of us can claim to be free of it either? However, we are all hopefully growing in grace and, therefore, humility.
Young apostles may exude a lot of pride, but they can still be true apostles. The key here is in which direction we are going. Are we being puffed up by our revelations, our commission, or our accomplishments? Or are we growing in grace and humility?
The Martyr Syndrome
When combined with the religious spirit, the martyr syndrome is one of the ultimate and most deadly delusions. To be true martyrs for the faith and literally lose our lives for the sake of Christ is one of the greatest honors that we can receive in this life. Yet, when this is perverted, it is a most tragic form of deception.
When a religious spirit is combined with the martyr syndrome, it is almost impossible for that person to be delivered from the deception that he is “suffering for the gospel.” At this point, any rejection or correction received from others is perceived as the price he must pay to “stand for the truth.” This warped perspective will drive him even further from the truth and any possibility of correction.
The martyr syndrome can also be a manifestation of the spirit of suicide. It is sometimes easier to “die for the Lord” than it is to live for Him. Those who have a perverted understanding of the cross glory more in death than they do in life. They fail to see that the point of the cross is the resurrection, not the grave.
There is a “self-help psychology” movement that is attempting to replace the power of the cross in the church. Humanistically-based psychology is “a different gospel” (see II Corinthians 11:4); it is an enemy of the cross, and is another form of the religious spirit. Paul warned us: As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him, and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (Colossians 2:6-8).
We all need “inner healing” to some degree, but much of what is being called inner healing is nothing less than digging up the “old man” and trying to get him healed. The answer to these deep wounds is not a procedure or a formula, but simple forgiveness. When we go to the cross and find forgiveness and true acceptance based on the blood of Jesus, we will find a perfect love able to cast out all of our fears and wash away all bitterness and resentment.
This seems too simple, but that is why Paul said: “But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (II Corinthians 11:3). Salvation is simple. Deliverance is simple. Yet there is a major strategy of the enemy to dilute the power of the gospel by having us add to it, which is how Eve was deceived. We add to it because we just do not think it will be acceptable unless it somehow seems brilliant or abstract. That is precisely why we must become like children to enter the kingdom.
The Lord commanded the man and woman not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil because they would die. When the serpent asked about this command, Eve replied that they could not eat from the tree “or touch it” (see Genesis 3:3). However, the Lord had not said anything about refraining from touching the tree. Adding to God’s commandments is just as destructive as taking away from them. Anyone who thinks that he can so flippantly add to the Word of God does not respect it enough to keep it when the testing comes. If Satan can get us to either add or subtract from the Word, he then knows our fall is imminent, just like it was for Eve.
Although there are many “Christian” philosophies and therapies that seem wise, most are in fact attempting to be substitutes for the Holy Spirit in our lives. Some people do need counseling, and there are outstanding Christian counselors who do lead people to the cross. But others are simply leading people into a black hole of self-centeredness that will consume them and try to suck in everyone else around them, too. In spite of the Christian terminology, this philosophy is an enemy of the cross of Christ.
Basically, the religious spirit seeks to replace the Holy Spirit as the source of spiritual life. It does this by seeking to replace true repentance, which leads to grace, with a repentance based on our performance. The effect of this is to replace true humility with pride. True religion is based on loving the Lord and then loving our neighbors. True religion will promote discipline and obedience, but these are founded on love for the Lord rather than the need or desire for recognition or acceptance. The wife who keeps herself in shape because she loves her husband will be easily distinguished from the one who does it because of her own ego. The former will carry her beauty with grace and dignity; the latter may be physically appealing, but it will be a seductive appeal that is a perversion of true love.
The religious spirit is basically a manifestation of the “good” side of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. When Adam and Eve ate of that tree in the Garden, the first result was that they looked at themselves. Self-centeredness is the poison that made that fruit deadly, and it is still the most deadly poison the serpent seeks to give us. In contrast with the religious spirit—which causes us to focus our attention on ourselves and base our concept of the Christian life on performance—the Holy Spirit will always lead us into a life that is Christ-centered.
The Holy Spirit produces fruit by joining us to the Lord and applying the work He accomplished for us on the cross: “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18). However, we must understand that this is the cross of Christ, not our own cross. We are called to deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily, but we are not to glory in self-abasement or try to live by the virtue of our own sacrifices. Rather, we are to glory in what Jesus accomplished and the sacrifice that He made (see Philippians 3:3).
We have our standing before God solely on the basis of the cross of Christ. Our ability to come boldly before the throne of God has nothing to do with whether we have had a good or a bad day, or how properly we have performed all of our religious duties. Our acceptance before God and our ability to come into His presence is based on one thing only—the sacrifice that Jesus made for our justification. This does not negate the need for personal holiness. As James asserted, “Even so, faith, if it has no works, is dead...” (James 2:17). If we are joined to Christ, we will not go on living in sin. However, we do not become free from sin in order to abide in Him, but by abiding in Him. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If He is not our Life, then we do not really know the Way or the Truth either. It is the religious spirit that tries to keep Christianity in the realm of the Way and the Truth, while keeping us from the essential union by which Jesus becomes our Life. True Christianity involves not just what we believe, but Whom we believe.
True worship does not have as its purpose to see the Lord; rather, worship comes from having seen Him. When we see Him, we will worship. When we see His glory, we will no longer be captivated by our own positive or negative qualities; our souls will be captured by His beauty. When the Lamb enters, even the twenty-four elders will cast their crowns at His feet (see Revelation 4:10). That is the goal of true faith— to see Him, to abide in Him, and to reveal Him.
The world is becoming increasingly repulsed by religion. However, when Jesus is lifted up, all men will be drawn to Him (see John 12:32). Because the whole creation was created through Him and for Him, we all have a Jesus-size hole in our soul. Nothing else will ever satisfy the longing of the human heart or bring us peace, except a genuine relationship with Christ Jesus.
When we are truly joined to Jesus, unstoppable living waters begin to flow out of our innermost being. As more and more people are freed and this water begins to flow in them, it will become a great river of life in the midst of the earth. Those who drink from this river will never thirst again—they will have found satisfaction for the deepest yearning of the human soul. The more that we get free of the religious spirit, the purer and clearer these waters will be.