But to the wicked God says, “What right have you to tell of My statutes and to take My covenant in your mouth? For you hate discipline, and you cast My words behind you. When you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you associate with adulterers. You let your mouth loose in evil and your tongue frames deceit.” Psalm 50:16-19
I have no reason to believe that abusers are believers. I view them as spiritual actors operating with one foot in the world and the other in the church, exploiting the perception of faith for the sake of image and self-protection. Abusers choose to cleverly assume a false identity, claiming a title that brings with it a presumption of innocence, legitimacy and authority. Presented with their good side, the unsuspecting are inclined to presume that the profession of faith is genuine. We generously choose to give a fellow “believer” the benefit of the doubt. To be sure, the image of faith carries with it many benefits, a presumption of positive moral standing, of good will and intent, of respectability.
For the abuse victim living with such a one, life is confusing, as this wicked man knows how to pick and choose the Scriptures and he knows how to speak with credibility, shaming his victim into submission by callously twisting the Word of God. The abuser’s words are exacted to serve his self-serving pursuits while denigrating any doubters. He is indeed a clever illusionist. But we must acknowledge how passionately God feels about those who profess God’s word with their mouths while profaning His name with their lives.
The Almighty One says to the liar and the hypocrite (my paraphrase from Psalm 50 noted above): “You wicked man. You have no right to use My Word and the authority of Scripture to portray yourself as a follower of Mine. You speak under pretense, as one who has a clean heart and godly authority, but you are a schemer and a fraud. I know the truth about you; that you despise discipline and do not apply to your own life the very things you impose upon others. You pride yourself on your craftiness believing that I am unaware. You may deceive others and even yourself, but I see it all.”
Those who dare to question the motives of such smooth-talkers are deemed harsh or critical or even envious. So we are encouraged to look the other way, quell our instincts, and give these people a wide berth to fail. “He is imperfect, but his heart is good. He is trying,” some will contend. Yet in truth, these wicked ones are vipers at our feet, ravenous wolves living among us who deliberately disguise themselves as harmless sheep, and they are not “trying,” they are merely dabbling. Their faith goes no deeper than a paper nametag that reads “Christian.” There is no heartfelt conviction that governs their lives, only shadow play, cheap lipstick on a pig.
The Word warns us to watch out for men such as these. If their speech does not line up with their lives, then just behind that framed smile you will find a hypocrite. If the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness and self-control, then why would these attributes suddenly vanish when no one is looking? The truth is that the man is a capable deceiver, but the Spirit does not reside there.
What about love? The Apostle Paul writes,
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” I Corinthians 13:4-7
Now stop right there. As abuse victims, we are quick to presume that the aforementioned Scripture applies to us, but not our abusive spouses. We will find ourselves under a heavy weight of obligation to “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things,” which can be twisted to accommodate all of the lies, manipulations and torment to which we are subject at the hands of our abuser. No, love in the faith is universal and mutual. This kind of belief system actively operates in both parties in a godly marriage. Ask yourself: Is he kind? Is he trusting or jealous? Does he look out for my interests and elevate truth and righteousness as the highest values? Or is he boastful and harsh; does he keep a record of wrongs and exhibit a measure of pride when he knows he has inflicted harm?
John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” left no room for such hypocrisy.
“Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning.” I John 3:7-8a
John also wrote that we should “test the spirits” to see if they be of God or not. (I John 4:1) We are called to discern truth from lies and good from evil. Actions – and not merely words – serve to testify to our spiritual understanding.
“The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” I John 3:24
“…keeps His commandments…” John is referencing more than talk. John is referencing a lifestyle.
Let’s look at a few more Scriptures that make the point that we must discern others’ character beyond what is seen:
“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’” Matthew 7:16-23
In terms of appearances, the people described above have done the right things; however, they do not know God but rather “practice lawlessness” behind the scenes. An imposed measure of confusion, fear, anxiety, loneliness, worthlessness and other similar evidences in the lives of those around him constitute bad fruit falling from a toxic tree. It’s that simple.
The Apostle Paul adds, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:7-8
Physical, emotional and verbal cruelty, dominance, control, manipulation, criticism, coercion, shame, lies, and deceit – all of these attributes and behaviors constitute evidence of ungodliness and the absence of a genuine, faith-based relationship with God. Appearances mean nothing when contrasted with actions that negate them.
Yet, these many centuries after Asaph penned Psalm 50, we are still slow to identify these “immoral pretenders” in our midst, many of whom we might find serving in ministry, professing authority in God’s name. “Do not judge lest you be judged,” we are told. That is not the whole story. We may judge if we would subject ourselves to the same measure of judgment, for the Scripture continues, “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Mathew 7: 1-2) Our Lord clarifies this, saying, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”(John 7:24) So see behind the nametag and take a good, hard look at the heart.
Sadly, these who exhibit an added-on faith may be elders and study leaders and generous contributors whom others may feel obligated to trust even when presented with evidence that contradicts outward perceptions. I fear these people are accepted in the body far more often than we would like to believe.
At the same time, I am grieved to read the testimonies of faithful followers who have been shamed and shunned and abandoned by pastors, family members, church brethren and friends for calling attention to the falsehood. For the one who has made the courageous decision to identify and escape a pretender-abuser, the church’s condemnation constitutes a secondary form of abuse, a whole new depth of disillusionment and sense of abandonment put upon a victim by the very people she trusted would rise to her defense.
But our Father-God sees and knows the truth. It is He who keeps an account and judges rightly. Consider the psalmist’s prophetic call of God to repentance and judgment spoken over the boastful charlatans who claim an allegiance they do not possess:
“These things you have done and I kept silence; you thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes. Now consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you in pieces, and there will be none to deliver. He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; and to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God.” Psalm 50: 21-23
Take comfort, dear friend. The silence of God will one day be broken, and the Faithful One will come to your defense. Until that day, hold fast to the truth and speak it, seek out the support and encouragement of those who know your story – those who have gone before you and have experienced wholeness and peace given perhaps not by the church, but graciously extended from the very hand of God.
You are also justified in marking those who continually trespass against you and trust that you are under no obligation to play their game or put up with their stuff, no matter what other people say. Trust the Spirit who has revealed to you the people around you who are patently unsafe no matter how their nametag reads.