Cleansing the Temple From a Religious Spirit – Intercessors for America

I listen for the voice of God when I pray and study His word, but often He chooses to speak through people, even without their knowing it. My husband and I were talking together recently, and he happened to mention the biblical account of Jesus cleansing the temple. “Since we believers are now the temple of God,” he said, “I wonder what Jesus needs to throw out in our lives.” In saying this, my husband was actually declaring something I had been praying about for some time. I pray for and about many things, but my intercession is very often for the Church. This article is a plea for our self-examination and repentance.

Join others crying out to the Lord day and night.  

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:12–13).

That is a picture of righteous anger. The temple was to be for the worship of God and for prayer, but something had changed, and not for the better. There was no longer any reverence for God’s house, which is why it was now being treated like a common marketplace. I’ve seen so many Christians use this verse to judge and attack churches by accusing those churches of this very same thing. The hearts of those Christian may have been sincere, and only God knows. But it seems to me that they missed a deeper story within this story. Yes, many churches are in need of housecleaning from such things as faulty theology, false teaching, and coverups of evil, but there is much more to the situation. Have we forgotten that, even apart from any physical building, we ourselves (our very bodies) are now God’s temple (see 1 Corinthians 6:19–20)?

Let’s be perfectly frank: We Christians have become expert at finger-pointing, shaming, and calling out the sins of everyone but ourselves. When we do this, we are no different from the Pharisees who thought they were a cut above everyone else. Remember the woman caught in adultery? The Pharisees were experts in exposing the sins of others to parade their own righteousness. These Pharisees were demanding judgment on that woman, but what was Jesus’ response?

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her (John 8:7 NIV, emphasis mine).

Now, Jesus was not condoning the woman’s actions. But He did forgive her, urging her to “go and sin no more.” Jesus asked her: “… Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10 NKJV). Here he called the Pharisees “those accusers.” Have you ever wondered why Jesus Himself did not accuse her? The Scripture says she was caught and dragged out in the very act of adultery. So, there’s a great chance she was “indecent” — meaning that she was already physically exposed and uncovered. Jesus is not the accuser, but the Bible does call Satan “the accuser of our brethren” (Revelation 12:10). Do you see the difference?

For too long we have been the Pharisees — merely exposing sinners, while doing little to try and restore them to God and to cover their shame as Jesus did. He never condemned sinners; He spoke the truth and let the Holy Spirit bring conviction of their sinfulness. Satan condemns, but the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, convicts us of sin, of righteousness, and of coming judgment (see John 16:8). Condemnation drives a sinner further from God, because he believes the lie that he is doomed and without hope. That is what Satan wants people to believe. Conviction brings awareness of the sin at hand in order to bring about the repentance, change, and freedom God desires. It’s the kindness of God that draws us to repentance (see Romans 2:4).

In Matthew 7 Jesus addresses the issue of judging others, and though there is, of course, a legitimate time for judging, the judgment is ultimately His to hand down, not ours. The implications are clear: Before we open our mouths to pass judgment, we would be wise to make sure there isn’t hidden sin in our own lives; otherwise, we’re nothing more than hypocrites.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7: 3–5 NIV).

The Jews were often condemning gentile believers, believing that they were better than the gentiles — but Paul confronted them for their hypocrisy. Again, judging someone’s sin while being guilty yourself will only open you up to God’s judgment.

You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things. And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things. Since you judge others for doing these things, why do you think you can avoid God’s judgment when you do the same things (Romans 2:1-3 NLT)?

Church, let’s raise the standard. I don’t mean through legalism or rules that are impossible for anyone to attain, ourselves included. The standard is righteousness, because the Lord is righteous. Our self-righteousness and pitiful attempts at holiness are nothing more than filthy rags. Holiness is not about what we do, it’s about who we are. We are blood-bought sons and daughters. Holiness is not about being perfect — and thank God for that. Holiness is a deep reverence for God that springs from our relationship with Him. It’s about drawing and being near to God. The closer we get to His presence, the more our sin loses its appeal and hold over us. I want to be closer to God and to know Him better every day, but I do have bad days, just like anyone else. I have regrets, just like anyone else. I’ve made many mistakes as a Christian, as perhaps you have too, but I get back up and press on toward Christ’s high calling. I have counted the cost and found that nothing can or ever will satisfy me as Jesus can. Let’s ditch the hypocrisy and come clean before God.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8 ESV).

Brothers and sisters, are we walking in love toward one another? Or have we been the Pharisees, ready to cast those first stones? Love covers sin. Jesus covered our sins and past shame with His blood. He is ready also to pardon us when we fail, time and again, if we confess our sin (see 1 John 1:9). There is no greater expression of love than what Jesus did on the cross for you and me. When our sin is exposed, though, Satan hopes we will remain bound by shame and that we’ll try to hide from God. This is what Adam and Eve did when they perceived their own nakedness and ran and hid. When we try to hide our sinfulness this way, we’re making a fake covering, as Adam and Eve did in attempting to use fig leaves — an insufficient cover. But the Lord Himself provided the covering for their sin, which was a prophetic picture of Jesus, who is Himself our covering now.

We Can’t Fool God 

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness (see Matthew 23:27–28 NIV).

This was a harsh rebuke to the Pharisees, even though they dressed the part, spoke the words, and did the works. The Scripture says they loved the praises of man more than the praise of God (see John 12:43). That is “religion,” which adores the spotlight. It puts the praises and honors of men above the honor of God. On paper, religion looks spectacular, but in reality, it’s all a facade. It has a form of godliness, but denies the power of God (see 2 Timothy 3:5). Jesus even referred to the Pharisees as “the blind leading the blind.” That’s what such religion does to people: It creates unrepentant and hardened hearts; you are no longer sensitive to the Lord’s will or His ways; you become spiritually blind.

What about us? Are we perfectly polished on the outside? Our social media posts may be full of scriptures, and we might never miss a church service and continue faithfully to give our tithes and offerings — and still remain filthy inside. God cares more about our inner condition than about our outer appearance. The Pharisees couldn’t fool Jesus, and neither can we.

… For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV).

Exposed on Purpose

But everything exposed by the light becomes visible — and everything that is illuminated becomes a light (Ephesians 5:13 NIV). God does allow sin to be exposed, but He does not do this so that we can judge; His purpose is that we might repent and be restored to Him. That’s exactly how I became a Christian. I was exposed before a holy and righteous God, and I came to see that I did not measure up. All my good works were but filthy rags. I was a sinner in need of a Savior, and there was no way to forgiveness, mercy, and a new life but through that Savior, Jesus Christ.

My writing this is not as someone who is “super-spiritual” — hardly. I consider myself the chief of sinners. I was delivered from legalism, which is demonic. And I have no intention of returning to any of that. As someone who has been delivered, I can say that everything Jesus said concerning the Pharisees in Matthew 23 is true. As someone who was once hyper-religious, I can testify that such an attitude lays a burden on others that no one can bear. I used to think my family avoided me because I was so “spiritual,” but in reality it was because I was an obnoxious, judgmental know-it-all. I practically beat them over their heads with my Bible every chance I got. I set a standard that no person could ever reach, not even I myself — but I made sure they never saw that part. My zeal became a religion, and I became a pharisee of pharisees.

My deliverance came about when I backslid and became like the very people I had been judging. I had refused to humble myself, so the Lord had to humble me. My fall occurred in the sight of all my family and friends. Satan then had me so bound up by shame that I ran from God. But He faithfully came after me. He forgave me. I then humbled myself and repented of the mess I had made, and He restored me. I learned, up close and personal, that “mercy triumphs over judgment.” My lesson as a Christian is that repentance is hardly a “one and done” deal. No, it must become a way of life. You must make repentance your very best friend if you desire a clean heart and a restoration to the joy of salvation.

What happened when God delivered me? Well, three of my four siblings came to the Lord, because they saw the true change that God had made in my life. My dad, from whom I had been estranged for most of my life, came to the Lord. And God began to heal my relationships. All of this happened because I had first allowed Him to heal me. This is what He desires for His Church. Let’s do away with the Christian slogans, let’s get real, and let’s be vulnerable with one another. Being a Christian is hard, but we never have to go it alone. Satan is the accuser, and yet we have been doing his work for him! Let’s let Satan do his own work. As for us, let’s confess our own faults and pray for one another, as we are told to do in James 5:16. That’s what we need now. So, ask the Lord to expose in your life whatever has to go, and I promise you that He will do that. But His exposure leads to freedom, not to bondage. Christ died so that we might be set free from the power of sin.

And once God does begin to expose and uncover everything, as He says in His word will happen (see Luke 8:17), I pray that our posture will not be one of haughty pride, but of deep humility and repentance. Where does 1 Peter 4:17 say that judgment begins? We must stop holding only pastors, leaders, and our fellow Christians accountable. Let’s remember that we, too, will be held accountable before God. We are all called to be above reproach (see 1 Timothy 5:7). We are all called to be part of a pure and spotless bride (see Ephesians 5:27). We are all called to love the Lord first and to love others as ourselves (see Matthew 22:37–40). Seek the Lord prayerfully about whatever needs to be tossed out of your life, because you are His temple.

Let’s pray this way:

Father, I come before You to ask for forgiveness. Forgive me for falsely holding myself to a higher standard than others. You said that we ought to esteem others as better than ourselves. Forgive me for the times I’ve been self-excusing and self-righteous, like a Pharisee. Forgive me for when I’ve opened my mouth to pass judgment but have not examined my own heart first. Forgive me for when I’ve accused others in anger rather than getting down on my knees in prayer. “It’s me, Oh, Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” 

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me, and know my anxious thoughts, and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in Your way everlasting. Examine me, my Lord. How can I know all the sins that lurk in my heart? Cleanse me from my hidden faults. Holy Spirit, I invite you to cleanse this temple; reveal to me anything I have not surrendered. Reveal the hidden sin in my heart, sin that I’m not even aware of, so that I may repent of it. I praise You, Lord, that once I do repent, I am cleansed from all unrighteousness, according to Your word. I praise You for a fresh start in Your tender mercies that are new every morning! I praise You for Your kindness that leads me to repentance, and that this repentance leads in turn to times of refreshing. Come and have Your way in my life, and set my feet on the right path if I have strayed from Your word. Deliver me from any stony, religious heart, and give me a heart like Your own. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Is the Lord convicting and drawing you through what you’ve read here? Return, and let Him restore you!  

IFA contributing writer Gloria Robles is a passionate intercessor with a prophetic voice for today. For more from Gloria, go to Spotify or Anchor and listen to her podcast, Something To Share. Photo Credit: Unsplash.