The Confusion of Spiritual Abuse

This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you.
Galatians 5:9-10 NLT

One of the most difficult things about spiritual abuse is the confusion that results.

I trusted my pastor because of his position to lead me in the right direction, but as Jesus warned us, if the blind are leading the blind they are going to both wind up in the ditch – and I fell into a very deep one.

I don’t say these words to be critical of myself or anyone else spiritually abused.  I was blinded by confusion, pain and despair, desperately looking for answers and another person to accept me and love me.

My former pastor spoke with such compassion, love, and understanding.  He affirmed me in ways I’d longed to be affirmed my whole life, and he also knew the Bible so very well. 

And where things really get confusing for me now is that I actually learned a lot about the Bible from him.

One small example of his teaching that that helped me so much and continues to help me were his teachings from Galatians.  These verses had unsettled my heart and caused me to question my salvation for a long time.

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:19-21 NKJV

I was so beaten down with shame from all the years of sexual abuse.  Self contempt ruled my life and these verses just reminded me of what a bad person I believed I was. 

One night at an in home bible study that my former pastor taught, he pointed out that the New King James Version of the Bible was most accurate in it’s wording of these two verses when other Bible interpretations were not as clear.  Paul has just gone through a list of the works of the flesh. Just the mention of the words adultery, fornication, uncleanness, and lewdness brought overwhelming shame to my heart and visions of sexual sins I’d been caught up in in the past.  These are the sins that were the least likely to be talked about at church.  Not having the freedom to confess these sins to others just caused the shame to continue to grow in the dark, especially the adulterous battles I’d fought and lost with this pastor who was teaching.  Ironically, he was always eager to hear my sexual sin confessions.

I still remember the sweet momentary relief I felt when my former pastor pointed out the word practice.  He said only those who practiced these sins, which meant had a habit of, would not enter the kingdom of Heaven.  It gave me relief because I was making every effort not to practice sexual sin.  So maybe I was ok.

In case your curious here is the actual definition of the word practice from Strong’s Concordance:

4238 prássō – properly, the active process in performing (accomplishing) a deed, and implying what is done as a regular practice – i.e. a routine or habit (cf. R. Trench).

While his pointing out the truth of these verses brought a sense of relief, they also provided justification for the occasional sexual sin I fell into with him.  Because as long as we didn’t practice this sin and make a habit of it then it meant we were still ok with God.

So I clung to this half truth for relief, and he reminded me over and over again that God forgave us and that His mercies were new every morning.

My former pastor used the most precious gift of grace that God gives us to justify his self-destructive practices.  He kept our focus on controlling the sexual sin, because as long as we were so focused on this sin and controlling it, it was easy not to look at the real habitual issues that were at work – idolatry, jealousies, selfish ambition, heresies, envy, and the like (i.e. deception).

Satan loves to get us distracted in any way he can.  He doesn’t care if you are able to defeat sexual sin if he can keep you trapped in another one.  Sexual sin is certainly damaging, but it’s also an outward sin that we can see.  Other sins like idolatry, envy, selfish ambitions, and jealousy are often hidden from us.  They eat away at our souls and consume us like a cancer.  Satan will do anything to keep us trapped in a sinful lifestyle even if it means keeping our focus on overcoming another sin.   One of his favorite tricks is to disguise himself as an angel of light.  If we miss this, then as Michael Youseff says in his teaching in Knowing Your Real Enemy, then he’s two-thirds of the way there.  It’s interesting to note that my husband had taught a Sunday School lesson using Dr. Youseff’s teaching a little less than a year before I met my abusive pastor.  If only…

My former pastor, though he taught the truth, also led me down a very dark path.  Today, when I hear the sermons that he used to teach in the very same way, I find myself wondering if any of it is true. 

I have to remind myself that God once spoke through a jackass.  His words are still true no matter who speaks them.  However, applying this truth isn’t easy at times, especially when my mind gets caught up in the overwhelming emotions of PTSD.  And that’s why I need help.  I thank God for my counselor, Sharon Hersh and for the new friends I am making at Celebrate Recovery.

If you or someone you love is suffering as a result of spiritual abuse, I encourage you to seek help so that you will know that you are not alone.  Organizations like Celebrate Recovery are a great place to go to find others who will listen to your struggles with a compassionate ear.  Trust is so very hard I know.  Also because so few people are talking about spiritual abuse it’s going to be easy to feel like you are all alone.  But you aren’t alone.  Please know this and don’t give up.  God isn’t like your abuser.  He is good and what you read and hear from His word is true no matter who you heard it from.  He is a God and the only perfect Father who loves you dearly and Who you can trust to see you through. See my resource page for encouragement.  I also highly recommend G.R.A.C.E (Godly Response Against Abuse in a Christian Environment) as a tremendous source of help if you or someone you know has been effected by spiritual abuse. 


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