A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

What is a Christian (And Why this Question is Vital in Exposing Abuse)

Gal 2:19-20 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

If you have spent much time at all here in our little blog community reading the posts and interacting with others, you already know that one of the greatest problems facing Christians who are abuse victims is the deception of their abuser. By deception, I mean the abuser’s ability to lie, to wear a saintly facade, and to deceive others into believing that the abuser is just one fine Christian. By these diabolic means, the abuser gains allies to side with him against his victim.

You also know that one point that Christian abuse victim’s wrestle with as they are targeted by the crazy-making, Jekyl-Hyde flip flops of their abuser, is trying to discern if he is a Christian or not. This issue often keeps victims tied to the abuser. After all, if he is truly a brother in Christ, then surely the abuser is not his real persona. Somehow, in some way, fingers crossed, the victim thinks that the lights will come on one day for him and he will be freed of his old abuser ways. It is very difficult for victims to come to the conclusion that this person they are married to, whom they have seen pray in such a holy-sounding manner, who possesses all kinds of Bible knowledge, who perhaps serves in a church as an officer, is in fact not a child of God at all.

You see then that this question — “So what is a Christian, anyway?” — becomes a vital one to have the answer to. Scripture gives numbers of descriptions of genuine Christians, and describes qualities that are true of EVERY Christian without exception. We certainly cannot list all of them here, but I want to zero in on one particular truth which, if applied as a test to anyone who claims to be a Christian, will certainly expose what that person is or is not.

This test concerns a person’s relationship to the Law of God.

The Apostle Paul, as quoted above, states that he (and every Christian) has died to the Law, through the Law, SO THAT he might live to God. As a result of this death, Christ now lives in him and in fact, is his life. This is profound and I do not claim to understand every aspect of it, but I do get some of it and here it is.  A Christian is a person whose relationship to God is no longer defined by the Old Covenant of the Law which curses and pronounces an eternal death penalty upon everyone under it, but has died to that old principle and now relates to God by an intimate union with Jesus Christ. That is to say, a Christian is a person who is not working and working to merit God’s favor (and perhaps even boasting that he can do so), but who already possesses God’s favor because of Jesus Christ and now is impelled to obey God out of love for Him.

As a result, Paul can say the following about the Christian as compared to the unsaved man:

Rom 8:1-14  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.  So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

See it? Paul is not talking here about a Christian who sometimes sins (in his remaining sinful flesh) and who characteristically obeys the Spirit of Christ. You can read about that kind of tension in the Christian over in Galatians 5. No, here in Romans 8 Paul is talking about a Christian vs. an unregenerate person. So that these are descriptions which are absolutely true of every Christian (he is led by the Spirit of God and walks according to the Spirit) and of every unsaved person (he lives according to the flesh).

A Christian is a person in whom Christ’s Spirit dwells and who is being led by the Spirit. A Christian is a person whose MIND is SET on the Spirit, who is so led by the Spirit in him that when his flesh rises up to embrace temptation, this new dominating principle in him, the Spirit, springs into action working to put to death the deeds of the flesh and to obey Christ instead. Sometimes, sadly, the Christian fails and yields to temptation. He sins.  BUT that same Spirit in him urges him to repent and produces godly sorrow that leads to that repentance. The Christian cannot enjoy sin over the long haul. The Christian is a person who walks in the Spirit, whose life is characterized by a habitual love for God and obedience to Him.

This is why I maintain that an abuser is not a Christian — at least an abuser as we have defined him on this blog. Any person whose life is characterized by a selfish entitlement to possess power and control over another (“I will be like the Most High”) and who can utilize all kinds of evil, deceptive tactics against a victim to get that power and control with no pang of conscience is patently not a person who is led by the Spirit of Christ, who is not a person who walks in the Spirit of Christ, and who is in fact hostile to God — cannot be a Christian. The thing is impossible.

So there it is. In unguarded moments when a person is “himself’ what is the self that you see? Someone who evidences the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, etc), or who walks in the deeds of the sinful flesh?  “Walks” is a key word here.  Every Christian sins.  Every Christian yields to his or her flesh at times. But the Christian is not characterized by the flesh. They are led by the Spirit and they walk in the Spirit.

Finally, here is another helpful truth that every Christian who is an abuse victim can know with certainty about their abuser who claims to be a Christian:  He is under the law in his relationship to God. He is dead to God. The Spirit of Christ is not in him. And therefore his religion will be and can only be an external sham. He is a person who draws near to God with his lips, but his heart is far from God. He is hostile to God. And as a result, he is hostile to those whom he abuses.

19 Comments

  1. thepersistentwidow

    Excellent insight, Jeff! This is the crux of the problem in so many evangelical churches, for whatever reason, they are unable or unwilling to judge the fruit of unbelievers.

    I was reading this passage recently which is helpful in recognizing true faith:

    “..faith that which the Holy Spirit creates cannot help but do good works. This faith justifies because it clings to the gracious promises of Christ. It justifies because it lays hold of Christ. This faith is active in good works because it is genuine faith. There is no need to urge believers to do good works. Their faith generates good works automatically. Believers engage in good works-not from a sense of duty, in return for the forgiveness of their sins, but chiefly because they cannot help but do them. It is completely impossible for geniune faith not to gush forth from the believer’s heart in works of love.” Walther’s Law & Gospel pg.230

    Luther writes: “It is absolutely impossible for these two things to coexist in a person, that is, to have faith in God while at the same time having a wicked intent, or, as it is also called, an evil conscience.”

    Churches that call abusers Christians are either shamefully uneducated or dishonest in spiritual matters. For both reasons, they are without excuse, and such a church, along with the abuser, should also be examined in light of the above passages.

  2. This question–right here– has given me such a headache. One of my kids doesn’t like to hear it (after all, no matter how big a ratfink, he’s still her biological father ), other Christians think I’m judging, and I used to beat myself up roundly for even thinking such a thing.

    But as the wife of a man who routinely bullied and emotionally and verbal tortured his family, I needed clarity. Is this man a believer or not?

    Right before leaving, during those last blistering days, he stood on the porch calling me a hypocrite and much, much worse, saying he would destroy both me and my mother, spewing hate and vileness all over the place. In the next breath, he tried to play the god-card (read that: trying to verbally beat into submission using my faith as if *he* defined what I could and could not believe and obedience to God meant obedience to him). I heard myself saying, “You and I do *not* serve the same God!”

    Okay so I may have yelled that, just little. Point being, it was true. One of us was serving a god who delighted in pain and destruction, trying to kill the spirit of everyone around him. One of us served a God of love and mercy who believed we are to be His reflection to those around us. And I had to hear it, even if I was the one bellowing it across the neighborhood.

    Here’s another point– the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control). This guy did not have a single one. But on the flipside, he surely did have the works of the flesh (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). And not one or two, or once or twice, but a lifestyle of continuous, day to day choosing to live like the devil.

    Here’s the thing: When I say, “I do not believe this man is a Christian,” I am not passing eternal judgment on his soul or damning him to hellfire. I *am* releasing myself from treating this one as a brother in Christ and speaking truth out loud so that (hopefully) he will hear and perhaps repent, alerting others to the very real possibility of being deceived if they keep hanging out with this liar.

    After all, if everyone keeps saying what a fine Christian man he is, will he ever come out of this delusion? Is that love?

    Speaking the truth is hard but truth is God’s path. Ultimately that is the only loving, kind thing to do.

  3. Reblogged this on Speakingtruthinlove's Blog.

    • Allie

      So true. We are shamed into never saying anything negative- or feel guilty about it. But how will someone ever see themselves, if no one has the guts to tell them?

  4. Nutshell

    I’m afraid that the evangelical church has preached the whole “wives submit” and “women are to be silent in the church” beliefs without adequately teaching ALL the scripture (undue emphasis put on one side only) that Christian (well at least they think they are) men genuinely believe they have the biblical right to control their wives and spiritually and emotionally abuse their wives but they don’t view it as abuse!! (Because after all, scripture gives them the authority to control). The church needs to address exactly what abuse is but I have NEVER heard abuse talked about from the pulpit.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Nutshell – You are very correct. If you didn’t know, I have 21 sermons on abuse that you can listen to at sermonaudio.com/crc Just go to the sermon series menu and you will see the series title there.

    • IamMyBeloved's

      Nutshell-They do preach this lopsided belief, but the truth is that men are called to “lay down their lives” for their wives, not lord it over them or force submission or control them. A man who has to force his wife to submit to him, shows that he already has a very serious problem. You notice I said “he” has a problem – In fact, the exact opposite of what they teach is the truth. If men would genuinely lay down their lives, the whole aspect of marriage could change. But instead, they live the age-old lie, that men are superior to women and “entitled” to submission and lording it over and controlling their wives. They teach that God has put His big stamp of approval on their ideas and doctrines, so women should be in fear of violating the truth as these men tell it. The teaching I have heard about men laying down their lives consists of something like this. Men are the breadwinners and heads of the home and therefore are entitled to dictate every minute of the day to everyone in the home. They are dominion takers and because of that, they need to have power and control over E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Women, on the other hand, should be so thankful that they are married to this great man, that they should even polish his shoes and have them waiting on the bed for him when he gets home, besides doing every other thing there is to do in life for her man and the children, including looking like she spent the day in a salon upon his return home from his daily expeditions; while he goes out and takes dominion by traveling the world wide spending his contributors’ money and then charging those same contributors for videos and CDs of his trips. *sigh* Forgive me for being so facetious.

      Very sad, because in doing this, the Word is being blasphemed. The truth is that the man is the head of the home and he should tremble and fear God in being elected as such and do as God commands and lay down his life. The woman is called to submit, but not to sin, nor lording over, nor abuse of any kind. If a godly man would lay down his life as God calls him to (albeit not perfectly) the woman would naturally submit and cherish and respect him, as he sought to fully obey God, just as she wants to do. God did not make the impossible for us. He made something beautiful – but sin and abuse has tarnished it so badly, that it is barely recognizable for some of us.

  5. The church is an excellent stomping ground for abuse. People don’t expect it there and if they do suspect it, often choose to ignore it. I left an overseas missions agency that appeared to care more for the offenders than the molested victims. I cannot say personally whether or not an abuser is a Christian. I do know that they are not filled with the Spirit. I know too that by the time a pedophile is arrested, he has had over one hundred victims. I also feel that Christians need to wake up and realize there are often molesters or perpetrators of physical abuse right there in their midst. I can post things on my facebook about nature and animals and get tons of likes, yet any time I post or retweet something dealing with abuse in the church, my post receives one or two likes.
    So thank you for having the courage to stand and cry for justice in the church setting. I do appreciate it!

    • Isn’t it amazing how people want to see all the silly stuff, but when it comes down to the serious nitty-gritty, they reject it as too negative? They don’t care, nor do they even care that they don’t care.

      I’ve heard time and again, the excuse of too much negativity, or that they don’t understand that stuff, so don’t want to see it. It is all bread and circuses in our culture it seems. You see it in the church too. They want their cute skits and uplifting music. They want positive preaching that makes them feel they are the best christians around, but do like Jeff and preach a serious sermon on a less than positive topic, and you have an instant recipe for decline in attendance!

      As a song writer I know once said, we are “rushing helter-skelter to destruction with our fingers in our ears”!

  6. Brenda R

    This is so true. Anyone who could do any of the things that are within the definition of abuse without immediate insight to the wrong they are doing cannot be God’s child. There may be sins that God brings to the service slowly through a closer walk with him that we need to change, but abusing another person would have to be immediate. Not seeing it would have to mean that something is missing…..God!!

  7. fiftyandfree

    The anti-husband used to constantly watch profoundly disturbing “torture and kill” movies, and when I asked him how he could possibly stand to watch the victims suffer, he told me matter-of-factly, and with astonishing smugness, “I don’t identify with the victim. I identify with the torturer.” I nearly jumped out of my skin. Yet, he insisted that he was a Christian. In my mind Christians do not, cannot, identify with such evil. He was drawn to all manner of evil; satanic movies and games, vampires, living dead, etc.

    In addition he was filled with hate. He hated all minorities and used derogatory terms to describe everyone from children to the elderly, the handicapped, and of course all non-whites. He also hated me but would not admit it. (He hated anyone who required or asked anything of him, and who would not serve and please him continually).

    He lied constantly, effortless, and without remorse.

    My counselor suggested that the anti-husband had a “dark side” but I think it was much worse that that. He WALKED in darkness, embraced darkness, exuded darkness. I’m quite sure that my counselor has a much better understanding of the situation now than he did nearly three years ago, thank God. Because when he suggested that my abusive anti-husband simply had a dark side, I was terribly confused.

    • Katy

      I wrote a couple of posts on how the Abuser is a picture of Satan — and when you compare these two pictures side by side (the Abuser/satan on one side, and a true Christian on the other) – the contrast is so OBVIOUS to anyone who wants to SEE.

  8. As I See It Only

    It is very encouraging that the people that post on this blog understand the fundamental truth that an abuser cannot be a Christian. Christ exudes love, abusers exude anti-love and are therefore anti-Christ. It is simple logic. It is also true, then, that churches that abuse are not actually churches of Jesus Christ, but of anti-Christ. This too is simple logic. From what I find in Scripture, we are to name it as such and stay away from anyone that claims to be a Christian yet bears fruit of anti-Christ. Simple logic. To preach forgiveness in this context is to preach the doctrine of demons. Great job, everyone. I value you all as wise friends.

  9. Well said and I agree. I also like to use Romans 1 to help victims see the evidence that their abusers are not Christians. Some victims like to read in verse 32 that their abusers are “worthy of death.” Others still hang on to the desire to please the abuser.
    Romans 1:28-29

    And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting: being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness,, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness, they are whisperers,

  10. 10 are free

    I struggled with this question for a long time during my marriage (I finally left him after 21 years of physical, mental, emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, and spiritual abuse) It was difficult for me to come to, but I eventually felt there was no way that my husband could be a believer. It was a hard pill to swallow, as I would never have knowingly married someone who was not saved. My husband had been in church and a Christian school all of his life, and he knew how to play the game. He knew all the right things to say, and I was easily fooled. I wish I had known then what I know now.
    I felt guilty for judging him as unsaved, (after all, I would be very offended should anyone make the same judgment about me) and yet I felt his behavior left me with no alternative. After all, who can know the heart of a man…only God, right? And yet where were the fruits of a saved life? Eventually, I voiced my opinion of his lack of salvation, and eventually so did every other spiritual leader, counselor, and even our children. He would adamantly deny that he was not saved.
    And yet, I never saw any evidence in his life of the Holy Spirit working or moving. I never saw any evidence of a relationship with Jesus Christ. I never knew him to desire to serve or minister, other than to participate when I did. I never knew him to share his faith with anybody. In fact, he would hide it.
    He didn’t drink at work events and he told me that most people just thought he was a recovering alcoholic. He preferred to let them think that than explain it was a religious conviction because he was a Christian.
    I asked him if knowing he was going to stand accountable before God for the way he conducted his marriage and fatherhood was any incentive to do the right thing, and he told me “No. It’s not real to me and it doesn’t really mean anything to me”.
    I asked him if he ever felt any sort of guilt or conviction over the way he had treated me or the children, and he told me “No, I’ve never felt that.”
    After a particularly painful incident, I lay in bed next to him sobbing, while he ignored me. Later, I asked him that when he hears me like that, and he knows it’s because he’s hurt me, what does he feel? What does it do to him? He told me that it doesn’t do anything, and that he doesn’t feel anything.
    During marriage counseling, my Pastor advised me to quit bringing things to my husband’s attention that were causing damage to me, our relationship, or our children, and just be quiet and let the Holy Spirit work on him. I tried that for years. The only thing that did was create a license for my husband to continue with no accountability and nobody standing up to him. There was never a situation where the Holy Spirit worked on him…at least outwardly in regard to his behavior.
    It was not uncommon for him to tell me that he saw me as his enemy and that was why he treated me the way he did.
    He felt it was his right to punish me. I have been told countless times that he did cruel or hurtful things in order to punish me, to hurt me, to pay me back, to put the screws to me, to make me pay, etc.
    And yet, even with that type of behavior, he still maintained his insistence that he was saved. That is, until just a few months ago, after a particularly vile phone call, where he then sent letters to me, our church leadership, and had one read in front of our church congregation, like a golden ticket, saying just what everyone wanted to hear. He acknowledged that possibly he had not been saved before, but now he was for sure. He even got baptized again. Of course, only I knew the true conduct that just occurred and has continued, so I still cannot help but question his salvation. He has since stolen money we had set aside in a joint account for property taxes and emergencies, (though did eventually return it and claimed he didn’t know how it could be stealing since it belonged to both of us) He accused me of having an affair and lied and told me that his counselor (who has never met me) thinks I’m having an affair, told me again that he was going to kill himself, demanded again that I submit to him and reconcile, and again told me that I got what I wanted out of my marriage…the kids…and that I was just using him. He reminded me how my marriage vows meant nothing, and demanded that I attend couples counseling with him and give him access to my Facebook. In that same conversation he snarled at me that everybody tells him how different he is. Maybe that is because they don’t see him when he is with me. He has continued to send pressuring and manipulative e-mails, pressuring me about reconciling, sending me articles and links about the damage that divorce does to children, questioning my Biblical justification regarding not reconciling with him and on and on it goes.
    And yet, it would take time right? Is it fair to expect him to radically change, instantaneously, after living this way for almost 50 years? How do you change everything about yourself? How you think? How you conduct yourself? Your sense of entitlement and selfishness and all that goes with it? I have to believe that even with Christ, it would take years and lots of hard work.
    I find it really doesn’t matter to me anymore. No amount of change he could ever claim, or pretend to have made, and maybe even truly have achieved, could ever make me venture a toe into those waters again. I can forgive him, but I could never trust him with myself of my children, ever again. I have tried explaining this to him, but it just goes in one ear and out the other.
    He keeps telling me that I’ve chosen not to reconcile based on my emotions and my feelings, and I that is not a Biblical justification. If I say anything regarding his abuses, he will just say that I abused him too.
    So glad to finally have found freedom from the torture in the love of my Heavenly Father. I am saved and I know it. For my husband, that is between him and God….I am out of it!

    • Jeff Crippen

      10 Are Free- Freedom! And from so many things. Thank you for sharing and for giving us a perfect example of the main point of this post. Galatians 5:1. Many blessings in Christ.

  11. Jean

    I am so glad I found this post! In this post you said “one of the greatest problems facing Christians who are abuse victims is the deception of their abuser. By deception, I mean the abuser’s ability to lie, to wear a saintly facade, and to deceive others into believing that the abuser is just one fine Christian. By these diabolic means, the abuser gains allies to side with him against his victim.” Is that really normal? Are there really others out there who feel this way, and speak about it? Because I have felt so alone in this.

    • Still Scared( but getting angry)

      You are not alone. the ex-idiot has all convinced he is a believer and yet, no fruit ever and actions to the contrary.

  12. fiftyandfree

    You are definitely not alone. The anti-husband told me he was a Christian when we were dating and he “talked the talk” well enough to convince me and my friends and family, but the truth became very evident once we were married. Now he’s dating and he’s told the poor woman that he’s a born again Christian and that he speaks in tongues – something he described as stupid when we were married. The only reason he suddenly speaks in tongues is that his girlfriend goes to an Assembly of God church. I pray every day that she sees the truth before it’s too late for her.

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