Wednesday, May 16, 2012

You're not a leper: Putting little satans to death

There are days I feel like a leper.

You know, one of those people who walk around shouting, “Unclean! Unclean!” And wearing a placard that warns others of their untouchableness.

Or like I’ve got an indelible scarlet letter tattooed on my forehead.


Because I’ve got a messy past. I’ve made mistakes. Big ones and little ones. (You can click here to read some of the details.)

Forgiven, but not forgotten

Psalm 103:8-14 (NIV,) says,
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (emphasis mine).
Even knowing this is the reality and that I’m not a spiritual leper, I still feel like one from time to time. I’m pretty sure there are others like me, too.

Unfortunately there are people who put themselves above the Lord, kind of like Satan tried to do. These “little satans” busy themselves, tirelessly gathering our scattered sins, real and imagined, from the four corners of forgiveness.

They then put them on display, taking on the role of curators to our pasts. They tell their tales about us endlessly to any who will listen. And many will listen, rapt and unquestioning, shaking their heads as our past sins are recounted, point by well-embellished point, as if they are ever-present and never forgiven.

A trip is not a fall

In the church I grew up in, there was always a lot of talk about backsliders. These were people who confessed Christ and then screwed up. Kind of like you and me.

Often, these failings weren’t that big of a deal, but that made no difference. In the minds of those casting stones, once a backslider, always a backslider.

For example, if someone went down to the altar on Sunday night, cried out to the Lord, gave their life to Him, and then laid their pack of cigarettes down promising never to take up the “filthy” habit again, there were raucous shouts of “Hallelujah!” and “Praise Jesus!” from every pew.

But then, later that week weakness would have its way with the confessor, they’d light up, someone from the church saw them or smelled the smoke on them, and the stones would fly! The smoking confessor was now a spiritual leper.

It didn’t make any difference if it was one fault or a series of faults or that decades passed with no repeat of the faults, the verdict was irreversible and eternal. That you eventually became smoke free -- literally or figuratively -- had no bearing on your sentence.

Many “backsliders” came and then mostly went from our church. Even those, like I was, who were brought up in this milieu, eventually stepped away.

Either they did something that got them labeled as a spiritual leper, or they feared it was only a matter of time. The stone-throwing, finger-pointing, accusatory little satans were always watching, waiting, hoping for a target.

After all, we’re all made of dust and, along with Paul, “know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19, NIV).

The reality is that failure, big or small, is only a matter of time for all believers.

I’ve let go, now you let go!

I have Facebook friends who are always posting cute little mini-quote-posters that say things like, “Your past doesn’t define you; let it go.”

I have! But there are little satans who won’t!

As a result, their devilish sin-mongering pulls our pasts into the present and displays it as if it’s something new. The consequences are real: Damaged reputations, broken relationships, lost jobs, divorce, estranged families, and on and on.

Why do these little satans do this?

There are many reasons; anger, pride, jealousy, small-mindedness, revenge, greed, manipulation, control, power-mongering, poor self image, and more.

But what’s underneath all of these reasons is the reality that they remain unforgiven themselves.

And they remain unforgiven because they refuse to confess their own sinfulness.

They refuse to confess their own sinfulness because they don’t view themselves as sinners.

“They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good” (Titus 1:16, NIV).

Little satans are simply doing the work of their father who is not God.

John calls them out saying, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44, NIV).

And he is the father of little satans.

Putting little satans to death

Smokey Bear reminds us, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires!” The same is true when it comes to dealing with little satans.

James warns, “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell….It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness” (James 3:5-9, NIV).

Whenever we encounter someone who is using their tongue to burn down the life of a repentant believer, here is how to respond:

  1. Refuse to listen. This is easier said than done, because these people are persistent in peddling their lies. But if you can walk away, do so. Most likely they will pursue you because they hate to be ignored. Perversely, lying about another person makes them feel powerful and valuable. They feel it’s their mission to warn the world about the one they are accusing. The reality is that they are the ones the world needs to avoid! 1 Timothy 4:7 cautions that we are to, "Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales…" (NIV). And Ephesians 5:11 exhorts us to, "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them" (NIV).
  2. If you’re cornered, ask probing questions. These little satans are never satisfied with sticking to the facts. If they did, they’d run out of stories to tell. Instead, they incessantly embellish, twist, and add to their “facts.” Their tales will easily fall apart under meticulous questioning. Listen carefully if a question does catch them up short; they are very skilled at shifting their stories to reclose the gaps. The truth is that they hate to be questioned and may simply walk away from you instead of giving you answers. Never take anything they say at face value.
  3. Remind them of God’s truth! Take them into the Word and show them again and again where it says we are forgiven if we confess our sins (1 John 1:9); we are all sinners (Romans 3:13, 1 John 1:10); gossip is wrong (Proverbs 11:13, Romans 1:29, 1 Timothy 5:13); they are emulating Satan by being accusatory (Revelation 12:10); Jesus commands us to forgive others without qualification (Matthew 18:21); unforgiveness leads to harsh judgment (Matthew 5:22); denying the work of the Holy Spirit in their life or the life of those they are accusing grieves the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:32); and, the true mark of a Christian is to forgive, love, and protect our fellow believers (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Ephesians 4:2, Hebrews 10:24, 1 John 4:7).

If you have been marked as a spiritual leper, know that you are not. God loves you. His goal is not to pound you down but to build you up. Jesus doesn’t go around accusing, He stands beside you encouraging. The Holy Spirit has come not to condemn you, but to bring forgiveness to fruition in your heart and life.

Billy Graham states, “If we have no mercy toward others, that is one proof that we have never experienced God’s mercy.”

Those who show no mercy, who withhold love, who hoard the forgiven sins of others to put on display do not belong to God. They belong to Satan. And we are to have nothing to do with Satan and his ilk.

Has someone ever made you feel like a spiritual leper?


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