Once upon a time, a friend told me that he would never again go to church, because he was so turned off by “organized religion,” and I was dumbfounded. Up until that point, all of my life experiences with “organized religion” had been good ones. Church was, and always had been, a huge part of all of the good things in my life, I had never been hurt by church, and I couldn’t comprehend how someone could be in church and not see the good in it.
But that was before I met a whole church full of abusers.
And I’m so sad to say, I see what he meant.
If my ONLY experience with “organized religion” had been THESE PEOPLE, I get it… I would never again darken the door of a church. Like, never, ever, ever. And if THIS is your experience, I GET IT NOW, and I’m so sorry.
Spiritual abuse is a real thing, I found out through some of the most painful experiences of my life.
I never would have believed that church could be BAD until I experienced it.
And I have to tell you… those people, the phonies, the spiritually abusive ones? THEY AREN’T JESUS, AND THEY AREN’T ANYTHING LIKE JESUS. And I would love it if you’d give Him another chance, because Jesus is pretty wonderful.
So how do you spot the REAL ones?
This is a question I’ve been pondering lately, because I have SO MANY Jesus-believing friends who come in so many different flavors.
- Some of them homeschool, some put their kids in private school, and some in public school.
- Some of them wear head coverings and old-fashioned clothing. Some of them wear skirts, and some of them wear pants.
- Some of them vote Democrat because they believe it’s the Christian thing to do, and some of them Republican, because they believe it’s the Christian thing to do.
- Some of them drink, and some of them would never.
- Some of them wear makeup, and some of them don’t. Some of them cut their hair, and some of them don’t.
- Some of them only use the King James Bible, and some of them like The Message.
And I could go on and on.
I don’t have all the answers to those things, and I’ve spent the majority of my adult life struggling with some of those issues and trying to figure out what it’s supposed to look like for me and my family, and the bottom line is this…
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
We don’t all look alike, or act alike, or make rules for our own families alike, but even non-believers can all agree that those are good character qualities in people.
The opposite of those things? Indifference, especially to widows and orphans. Doom and gloom, because the future is scary. Anxiety, because you can’t measure up. Demanding, because there’s an agenda. Lack of trustworthiness because they don’t keep their word. “Me first” self-indulgence that harms other people. Those things don’t come from Jesus.
This list is not the be-all and the end-all of what being a true believer looks like by ANY means, but just a few things that came to my own very limited mind from my own place of being really hurt by the spiritual abusers, and grief that so many phonies are leading so many astray. This is not about judging people, but for those who have been harmed by phony Christianity, so they will know to look for these people instead:
- Grateful and humbled that we’ve been rescued from darkness. There has been redemption and salvation, and we are GRATEFUL, because life was really dark before we had Jesus. What I had to offer was a pile of filthy rags, and I needed saving. The phonies seem to have an arrogance that implies they earned salvation because of their own goodness, and YOU are the one who needs saving… not them. See Colossians 1:13.
- Conviction of their own sins. This is a tricky one because, of course, we ALL sin, ALL OF US. All of us struggle with very human things that are not godly. But the difference is that there’s CONVICTION… that guilty feeling that I SHOULD NOT HAVE DONE THAT. True believers aren’t the ones who have a year-long affair with a coworker while leading the office Bible study and pointing out what’s wrong with YOU, so if you’re avoiding church because of hypocrites like her, chances are she’s not real. Real believers can’t continue in known sin indefinitely, and at SOME POINT there will be major remorse, regret, and repentance. The Holy Spirit can’t live in us and just let sin continue without causing pain inside that causes us to STOP DOING THAT. Or at least, to feel bad about it, or feel bad about the hurt their sins cause others, sooner or later. This isn’t a license to judge the ones who are sinning, by any means, because did I mention that we all sin? But don’t let the sinners keep YOU from finding the real Jesus. The phonies don’t feel bad about the hurtful things they do, but they’re quick to make YOU feel bad about what YOU do.
- Concern for others. That’s why after the hurricanes, the churches are the ones sending water and food and taking care of people. Maybe atheists do this too; I have no idea, but I do know that God’s people are sharing with people in need and practicing hospitality. God’s people take care of their widows and orphans. And not just the widows who bring their checkbook. The phonies collect tithe checks to buy things for themselves, and aren’t as concerned about the widows and orphans.
- Servants. Believers are about willingly sacrificing their time and resources for the good of someone else. They’re the ones driving the bus that picks up the homeless people for church, or doing other equally selfless things when there is zero benefit in it for themselves. The phonies are all about themselves.
- A new self. There is a distinct change between what they were before Jesus, and what they are now. Colossians 2:10 The phonies don’t look any different from lost people.
- Streams of living water. I can’t really explain this if you’ve never experienced the ‘living water,’ but joy, peace, and love are flowing, and there’s a sense that THIS IS ALIVE. If you’ve been to a dead church that seems pointless, dreary, empty, and dead, you know the difference. Needs are met, blessings are flowing, and people are coming to know Jesus. The phonies do a lot of rambling that sounds religious, but their words are hollow and dead and deceptive. Phonies love to bog you down in an avalanche of scripture for the purpose of making themselves look religious. Colossians 2:8. Colossians 2:23.
- Honesty. True believers are NOT CHARACTERIZED BY LIES. I think we all must lie, cheat, and deceive at times, at least to some extent, some of the time… I’m not sure about that. But I do know that when true Christians speak, I trust them. I don’t catch them in lie after lie after lie. They are not generally deceptive people. The Bible is clear on what being a liar means, and where liars go, and that what is in a person’s heart is what comes out of their mouths. The Holy Spirit and lies don’t coexist. The phonies are characterized by fudging on their taxes, cheating on their wives, and not being trustworthy people. Luke 6:45. Matthew 5:18
- Humility. Christians believe that HE is greater, and WE are less. We believe it all belongs to God. Any goodness in us is NOT from us, but from HIM. The phonies are pretty proud of themselves, and when they do anything good, you can bet you’ll know about it.
And how do you know you’ve just encountered a phony? You are worse off because you knew them, and you leave angry, jaded, and bruised. They put on a show, and then pass the offering plate, but the show on Sunday isn’t the same show on Monday. If they sin, they blame Satan or other people, but if YOU sin, it’s all you.
And I’m so sorry if that’s been your experience with religion.
That’s not at all like the Jesus I know. Please seek the REAL Jesus, because He is everything that is wonderful.
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:8
We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13