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Spiritual Abuse and the Gospel

by Hillary McFarland

What is good news?

Good news brings joy.
Good news brings relief.
Good news gives us something to anticipate, to talk about and plan for. It gives us hope. If you are in jail and receive word that you are to be released, that is good news! If you are hungry and someone announces, "Dinner is served," that is good news! Good news addresses the heart of your need. It is the answer your soul craves...even, sometimes, when you don't know you crave it. 

Good news transforms you.

The word gospel means good news. Glad tidings. Good message. This is what Jesus came to preach to the poor. He came to preach a good message to those in need of a good message! (Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4:19-19) He came to meet needs, to proclaim salvation! And He came in grace and truth.

Recently I talked about the good news of grace. While reflecting on life, the gospel, my purpose to not take sides but to be at Jesus' side as He ministers to those He gives me in need of glad tidings, grace, healing, and liberty, I came across the following passage which reveals so clearly to me the heart of issues that arise through speaking and writing about spiritual abuse, authoritarianism, and patriocentricity. I cannot emphasize the following words enough:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel [good news!] contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Gal.1:6-10, ESV) (emphasis added)
In Christ is simplicity. Do not be deceived by those who would distort the gospel! 

I shared this on Facebook last night but it is an important reminder for all those who are passionate against spiritual abuse:

One feature of spiritual abuse is the often-unintentional quenching of the Spirit in the lives of those within one's care. Author Frank Viola (Pagan Christianity, The Jesus Manifesto) has compiled a list of what the Holy Spirit does in our lives. This shows why quenching the Spirit, and ultimately, spiritual abuse, are such grave matters. See 50 Things the Holy Spirit Does.


  1. More and more I am seeing the spiritual abuse that I have encountered all through my life. Many take the Gospel of freedom and make it heavy, burdensome and guilt-ridden. SO thankful that I am learning more and more everyday of true freedom and the true Gospel. I read your article last night about the work of the Holy Spirit. I woke up this morning with that on my mind and it was one of those "AHA!" moments. By imposing rules and manipulating and controlling it absolutely quenches the Spirit Who is able to guide. I am learning His voice...and I might add His voice is NOT the one that is constantly clubbing me over the head! Thank you for your ministry...He is using it greatly in my life.

  2. Thank you so much for posting this, Hillary! God is not a God of bondage... that's what He wants to FREE us from! Not worrying about how we live or dress or what we listen to... only loving Him and following in His steps. :-) You are a treasure, Hillary. :-)

  3. R. A. Torrey has some splendid writings on the Holy Spirit as well, for those interested.

  4. And ya know..that part about 'another gospel than what you have received' is used to keep people in bondage to the 'gospel' THEY were taught..which is actually the burden. But they don't know it. I think pointing out the guilt-ridden heaviness is key when telling the truth. The Gospel frees us. But those under the Law don't understand the freedom, they think we toss all our boundaries out the door. Discipleship is not about just teaching biblical history, it's a daily life journey of living out the gospel. The Gospel ...when we look at that word as a Proper noun, then it shows a different perspective. The Gospel IS Christ.

  5. I was thinking a lot about this yesterday as I watch true followers of Jesus going through difficult sufferings and enduring with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit and not blaming God or something went wrong with their "faith formula" as I've often been taught. Then I see the hyper faith people claiming that they have all their prayers answered and plenty of things and money cause they are doing the formula right.
    It makes me wonder who they really are and it's not my place to judge, but Jesus did reject some in the bible that said "Lord, Lord, we did miracles, cast out demons, healed the sick and all those things!" And He says~ "Depart from me, I know you not!"
    Wow, the other gospel is prevalent and not safe for any of the sheep to digest. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Encouraging as always, Hillary. :) I needed to read this today.

  7. Thanks Hillary. These is a message in due season for me:

    "For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?"

    Precious words of life. Ah. Mmmm.

  8. Thanks for this writing. It is something I am just beginning to process and understand.

    Thank you!

    ~ Ali

  9. Hillary,

    Do you have a post you have written that I should go back and read....for someone who is just trying to understand and process their spiritual abuse. I just don't know what to read or where to go to begin healing. It is so confusing and hard to talk about. Most can't relate to my life. I'm in my mid 30's married and have 3 kids and I really don't have anyone in my life that understands how I was brought up. I grew up in a cult like church. My parents were greatly impacted by they unwritten rules of this group in how they raised me. I want hope and healing but, honestly I'm discouraged. I know formula aren't the answer but, can you give me some good resources you think I should read or a recommendation on where I should go to counseling? I tried christian counseling two different times but, only went to 1 appointment each time..didn't feel like I could relate to my counselor. I want help just don't know how to get it.

    ~ Ali

  10. {{Ali}} Bless your heart...I am praying for you and yes, I will get together some resources that I hope will be helpful for you, hopefully this evening. A few articles on this site that you might find helpful (although they come from more of a familial perspective, the principles remain the same) are:




  11. Ali, you might also find the following book helpful:

    The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, by Jeff VanVonderen and David Johnson


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