Sandra and Tom plan to never enter a church again. They feel bruised and beaten emotionally and spiritually at the hands of a group of Christians. They feel their only hope of survival is to separate from the Christian church as they see it.
I hope God breaks through to Sandra and Tom at some point. I hope they come to realize that true followers of Jesus don’t beat people up! The Christian life may be challenging. God calls us to a higher plane of life than we ever dreamed possible. But spiritual abuse is not from God.
Unhealthy spirituality can be toxic – to your mental well-being, to your physical health, and to your relationship with God.
But how do you know if you’re experiencing one of these dangerous distortions of true Christianity? Don’t let one of these dangerous spiritual viruses infect your life:
1. Cheap Grace
Jesus offers us grace – overwhelming, undeserved, mind-blowing grace. And we all need that grace desperately. The good news is that no matter how low we have fallen, God’s grace is there to forgive and restore. We can’t do anything to earn that grace; it’s completely free. That’s the gospel.
But that’s not the end of the message of the gospel. The free gift of grace doesn’t only deal with our past: it also deals with our future. God loves you just the way you are, but He loves you too much to leave you that way.
God loves us enough to change us from the broken, angry, selfish, immature, violent, hate-filled, miserable, or addicted people we are when He finds us. He sets about transforming us into the glorious, courageous, loving, joyous, mature members of His Kingdom that He knows we can be. Cheap grace stops at the beginning, and ignores the reality and the necessity of the transforming power of God’s grace. (See Rom. 6:15)
The transformation process may take much longer than you wish, but God won’t stop if you won’t stop. Let Him change you!
2. Rigid External Perfectionism
The standard God sets is high. The problem comes when people demand a human brand of perfection of themselves and others. As a result they often become mean-spirited and angry, and overlook the inner aspects of character that God prizes most. They develop a hierarchy of sins, and heaven help you if you mess up in one of the “bigger” sin categories! Too often their own efforts to live perfectly break down, and some secret sin becomes exposed.
Jesus called people to a completely different type of life than religion provides. Religious rituals mean very little when placed against more important matters such as mercy, justice, and faith. (See Matt. 23:23) Godly outward behavior must flow from a transformed inner heart.
Perfectionism leaves you bitter, frustrated, or proud. God’s grace is the only remedy for perfectionism, or for any other spiritual dysfunction. Let Him change you –from the inside out!
3. Lack of Responsibility
Perhaps you know someone who has just one answer to every problem: “Pray about it.” That’s a good thing, right? The problem comes when we behave like the first of two little girls who were late for school. They were rushing to get there on time, but knew that soon the bell would ring, and they’d be marked down for being tardy. The first little girl said to her friend, “Let’s kneel down and pray.” The second little girl replied, “No, let’s run while we pray!”
God can and does do amazing, miraculous things. But He won’t take the fork out of your hand to keep you from overeating. He won’t make your credit card disappear to keep you from going further into debt. He won’t magically “Beam You Up” away from your workplace and home to spend time with your family. He values your will enough to give you the dignity of your own choices, even if they result in pain.
I hope you are like the second little girl, both running AND praying on her way to school. Pray, AND take the appropriate action to address whatever problem you are facing. (See Matt. 7:24-27)
Our prayers may often be answered by a change in our own understanding, our own heart, or our own behavior. Welcome that aspect of God’s intervention in your life just as much as His instantaneous miracles.
4. Playing Holy Spirit
If you’ve given God permission to do His work in you, at some point you will come to understand His ways of communicating to you through His Holy Spirit. It becomes a very precious and intimate part of your relationship with Him.
But it’s possible to confuse God’s voice with that of other people, or even of the enemy. There are those who claim to speak for God when they are speaking out of their own imagination, or worse. God does not look kindly on that behavior. (See Jer. 14:14).
When religious people try to manipulate and control you, that is a sign of distorted spirituality. You dare not give any human being the place that only God should hold through His Holy Spirit in your soul. If you sense leaders using religion to control and manipulate you, seek God’s will and move on.
Will Sandra and Tom recover from the religious bruising they have experienced? God’s grace is big enough for that too.
The good news: none of these spiritual viruses need lead to a terminal illness. God has the antidote ready for you. Give Him a chance!
Your turn: Have you felt burned by toxic religion in the name of Christianity? What has helped in facing those issues? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
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