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Religion At Its Worst

SPIRITUAL ABUSE - Afflicted by Religious Authority

“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

Matthew 6:5


Think about it. Who in our society offends us the most?

Is it the robbers, the killers, the rapists—the flagrant law breakers?

Now think about Jesus. Who offended Him the most?

It was the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day—the legalistic law keepers. They upset Him the most.

Why the Pharisees? 

After all, they went to the temple, paid the tithes, read the Word, kept the Law, prayed the prayers. So, why the prominent law keepers? 

Although they were representatives of the house of God, they did not represent the heart of God. Christ called them “hypocrites.” And He made it plain: They will be rewarded here on earth, but certainly not in heaven.

The practice of spiritual abuse has persisted ever since the serpent in the Garden of Eden distorted and outright lied about God’s words to Adam and Eve. In doing so, he managed to create doubt in their minds regarding the character of God and His relationship to those He had created. The result, of course, was that they found the thought of becoming like God more appealing than remaining dependent on God. That thought led them to trust Satan’s words rather than God’s words, and their descendants have struggled with this same problem ever since. 

Something just doesn’t seem right. Have you ever thought that about a church or spiritual leader? Sadly, spiritual abuse occurs far too often. Some seek to gain control by manipulating Scripture and twisting truth.

When the Word of God is misused or the character of God is misrepresented, people inevitably suffer. The Women of Faith resources are able to help you identify spiritual abuse and take positive steps to break free from it. Learn how to discern the difference between performance-based religion and resting in God’s grace. Find freedom from the guilt and shame of man-made rules and discover the joy of a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. 

God desires to give you hope as you face life challenges, problems and difficult trials. The good news for us, God specializes in redemption and transformation. He takes that which was lost and restores it. He takes that which was dead and gives it life. He takes that which had no hope and rewrites its story. This is our God! As you pray today, ask God boldly to transform the thing inside you that you want to see changed forever!  

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Psalm 147:3

The serpent skewed God’s Word and seduced the first couple into taking the fatal bite!  The serpent said to Eve,“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’ … You will not surely die . … For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3:1, 4



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What Is Spiritual Abuse?

  • Spiritual abuse is the mistreatment of a person by someone in a position of spiritual authority, resulting in diminishing that person’s spiritual vitality and growth.
  • Spiritual abuse is the use of religious words or acts to manipulate someone for personal gain or to achieve a personal agenda, thereby harming that person’s walk with God.
  • Spiritual abuse is often broadly defined as any misuse of Scripture whereby truth is twisted and which may or may not result in harming a person’s relationship with God. The victim in this case may not be an individual, but truth itself.
  • Spiritual abuse is putting confidence in your position of authority and your perceived right to use those under your influence to accomplish your own personal agenda. However, God alone has the right, the wisdom, and the power to accomplish His plans and purposes for those He has created.


Heart of Legalism 

  • Looking to your own 
  • Efforts to 
  • Gain the 
  • Acceptance of the 
  • Lord 

“The people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.” 

(Romans 9:31–32)


Heart of Spiritual Abuse 

  • Acting spiritual to 
  • Benefit oneself by 
  • Using 
  • Self-centered 
  • Efforts to control others 

“Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.’” 

(Luke 22:25)

What Is Legalism?

  • Legalism is a system of living by the law in order to make spiritual progress and earn God’s blessing.
  • Legalism is a strict adherence to a code of “dos and don’ts” as a means of earning the approval of God.
  • Legalism is a misuse of the law, resulting in
  • Legalism is any attempt to gain or maintain God’s favor by human effort.

“Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. ... Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by faith.’”

(Romans 10:3–4; Galatians 3:11)


How to Apply Guidelines in Spiritually 

Abusive Situations 
  • Submit yourself to God’s authority. You are accountable to God first and to human authorities second.  “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). 
  • Talk about your concerns with spiritual leaders who are not involved in your abusive situation. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2–3). 
  • Consider how the spiritually abusive attitude of others is impacting your spiritual life, your relationships with family members and friends, and your sense of personal value. “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them” (Romans 16:17). 
  • Separate yourself from abusive situations and seek out people who are encouraging.  “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). 


How to Know If You Are Spiritually Abusive

  • Am I ... self-sufficient?

“Do I think I am right in God’s sight because I am self-disciplined—using the right words and doing the right works? Do I go about doing things focused solely on my ability to ‘get the job done’—rather than on God’s ability?” (Romans 4:2)

  • Am I ... self-serving?

“Do I desire to please myself more than I desire to please God?” (Matthew 6:2)

  • Am I ... self-righteous? 

“Do I take great pride in all of my righteous deeds, yet forget to give total credit to God for giving me the ability to do what I do?” (Matthew 6:1) 

  • Am I ... self-focused? 

“Am I more focused on what I have done well than on what others have done well? Am I taking credit for accomplishments that should be credited to God?” (2 Corinthians 3:5) 

  • Am I ... self-promoting? 

“Do I work at trying to promote myself, or do I let God promote what He finds good in me—if He chooses to? Do I try to manipulate circumstances so that people will focus on me?” (Proverbs 27:2) 

  • Am I ... self-protective? 

“Do I let others know the real me, or do I put up barriers to keep others at a safe distance? Do I admit that I struggle with certain areas in my life, or do I put up a false front?” (Matthew 23:28) 

  • Am I ... self-important? 

“Do I feel important because I religiously follow traditions, man-made rules, and standards?” (Galatians 4:8–11) 

  • Am I ... self-centered? 

“Do I find it hard to accept another person whose thinking is different from mine?” (Matthew 12:1–2, 7–8)

How to Move from Legalism to Grace 

  • Give up trying to please God through your own efforts. (Romans 8:1–2) 
  • Realize that God’s love is a free gift ... complete and unconditional. (Romans 7:6) 
  • Accept that Christ, through His Holy Spirit, is living in you to empower you to please God. (Galatians 2:20)
  • Commit to reading God’s Word. (Romans 12:2) 
  • Experience the freedom of trusting God to fulfill His plan and purpose for you. (Philippians 1:6) 


How to Thank God 

Thank God for His ... 

  • Saving Grace (Ephesians 2:8–9) 

“Lord, thank You for the gift of salvation—a gift I do not deserve.”

  • Sustaining Grace (Ephesians 1:13–14) 

“Lord, thank You for giving me the gift of eternal life that is guaranteed.” 

  • Sufficient Grace (2 Corinthians 12:9) 

“Lord, thank You for the gift of Your power—all that I need when experiencing difficulty.” 

  • Sanctifying Grace (Romans 6:14) 

“Lord, thank You for the gift of Your grace to live a godly life.”  

  • Satisfying Grace (1 Peter 1:3–4) 

“Lord, thank You for giving me the gifts of a living hope and an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade.”

Questions and Answers

Question:  “Is the law wrong?”

Answer:  No. The Law is the revelation of God’s perfect standard of righteousness.

“The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” (Romans 7:12)

Question: “According to Scripture, was the law abolished?” 

Answer:  No, Jesus didn’t abolish the law; He fulfilled it. This means the standard still exists, but the methodology for attaining that standard has changed from self-effort to Spirit-empowerment ... from works to grace. 

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17) 

Question:  “What does ‘Jesus fulfilled it’ mean?” 

Answer:  The Law was a covenant, an agreement, a contract. Just as a builder is under a contract to build a house, once the house is complete, the contract is fulfilled. The builder does not continue to work at building the house any longer. Likewise, Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the contract (the Law) through His teaching and actions. He accomplished what we could never do by our own efforts. Then the Law Keeper became the sacrifice for us, the lawbreakers. 

“Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4)


Key Verse to Learn

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)


Key Passage to Read

The Book of Galatians




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God desires to give you hope as you face life challenges, problems and difficult trials. The good news for us, God specializes in redemption and transformation. He takes that which was lost and restores it. He takes that which was dead and gives it life. He takes that which had no hope and rewrites its story. This is our God! As you pray today, ask God boldly to transform the thing inside you that you want to see changed forever!

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