1. They do not believe in Christian liberty
2. They meddle in other people’s affairs
3. They draw people after themselves
4. They will add to God’s Word their own man-made commandments
5. They will often claim authority through revelations
6. They will prove to be cruel and hard task-masters
7. They fight against those who will expose them
So I am not going to pretend that this doesn’t come out of personal experience. One of the things I can’t stand are subtle or overt rebukes against people without actually directing it toward those people. In fact, that is a pretty clear sign of manipulation itself. Instead of coming right out and saying what is going on and what needs to be addressed, everything is cloaked with a sense of “teaching” and “speaking the truth.”
I’ll illustrate. Let’s say someone gets angry at me and calls me a nasty name. Well then, when I am with a group of friends and this person is among them I begin talking about how unChristian it is to call people nasty names, how Christ said that if we are angry with our brother then we should repent. Now, am I technically wrong? Not really. But I am using this social setting to belittle this person and guilt them into feeling bad for their actions, when I really should just speak of it plainly.
So I am not going to be underhanded, I am writing this openly to those who have spiritual manipulated me and tried to control my life. You know who you are, and I am about to expose the sinful way that you are acting. Out of love for you I am not going to refer to you by your names, but I will by the Spirit and with the authority of Scripture expose your spiritual manipulation (and all the other people who act as you do).
1. They do not believe in Christian liberty.
“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4)
Sure, they will say that we are free in Christ, that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But this liberty is nothing more than lip service to the truth of being free. We are not free to sin, but free in matters of conscience. We are free to move where we wish, marry who we wish, work where we wish, and follow Christ as He leads (all inside the confines of the Bible of course). But that is not how those who exercise spiritual manipulation function. They are what Jeremiah calls “lords of the flock.” Those who lord it over God’s people.
2. They meddle in other people’s affairs.
“Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler (as a busybody in other men’s matters, KJV).” (1 Peter 4:15)
At the heart of spiritual manipulation is meddling in the lives of Christ’s disciples. I like this quote that I once read (and will paraphrase), “The difference between the church and a cult is simple: the church makes disciples of Christ, a cult makes disciples of itself.”
It is their way or the highway. And in the end every member of a spiritually manipulating group is conformed to the leadership’s image. People lose their distinctive personalities. If the leader likes something, then so will their disciples. If Disney is hated by the leader, then the Holy Spirit hates Disney too. Everything is remade in the image of the spiritual manipulator.
The tragic thing is that spiritually controlling groups often “suffer” and are “persecuted” for meddling in other people’s business. These manipulators then point to their “suffering” saying it is proof that they are truly Christ’s disciples because He said that we would be hated for His sake. But the stark reality is that they are suffering for their own folly and meddling. They have taken the place of the Holy Spirit in other people’s lives and they need to repent. Now.
3. They draw people after themselves.
“From among your own selves [the overseers] will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:30)
The ultimate goal of spiritual manipulation is complete loyalty and trust in a leader or group of leaders. They are drawing the disciples of Christ after themselves, so they have to have some distinctive teaching. They are masters at twisting the Word of God, taking it out of context and using it for their own ends.
Remember, whenever someone other than the Lord Jesus Christ is being exalted (when you find yourself speaking about a single leader or discipler more often than anyone else) then begin to examine yourself. Have you given into idolatry and are following after a person and not the God-Man Christ Jesus? It is so subtle, because often you will be doing so in the name of Christ. Everything will seem to be about Him, but pay attention to who it is you obey most. Do you obey the Scriptures? Do you read them in context and then from that solid foundation of true teaching listen to the Holy Spirit within? Or do you listen to another human being above the infallible Word of God?
4. They will add to God’s Word their own man-made commandments.
“This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:8-9)
“Why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?” (Colossians 2:20-22)
One of the clearest signs of spiritual manipulation is legalism. Legalism can refer to trying to be saved by keeping the law of God. That is not what I am talking about here. The legalism I mention is adding to God’s Word man-made commandments. I’m going to step on some toes here.
No matter how authoritatively you state something, it does not mean that it is binding on other Christians. If you think you possess some sort of authority as a spiritual discipler (one who disciples others) I have news for you: your authority is limited by the Word of God. When you step outside of that authority you have taken the place of Christ and are acting outside of the Holy Spirit (even if you say “Thus says the Lord.”)
Many need to repent of misrepresenting the Lord and His voice. The sum of His Word is truth. And if you command anything His Word does not command, then this is the warning I have for you,
“Do not add to His words, or He will rebuke you, and you will be found a liar.” (Proverbs 30:6)
5. They will often claim authority through revelations.
“Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head.” (Colossians 2:18-19)
[I know that this one doesn’t apply to everyone, but just because it might not fit your situation, doesn’t mean that you’re not under spiritual manipulation. Most of these signs can apply to cessationists just as much as Charismatics]
Though visions and dreams may be of God, those who manipulate are masters at using them. They will turn your dreams back on yourself. They will speak of their many revelations and the feelings they have within themselves. When they don’t want you to do something they “won’t have a peace.” Or they may not “feel released by the Lord.”
Many Christians have the bad habit of playing the Holy Spirit. Some of these manipulators take it upon themselves to teach their disciples the way of suffering. But the issue is that this is not the true path of the cross. In their mind, you must pass many spiritual tests. Of course, these tests are defined by their revelations, their teachings, and their special prophecies. Only through them can you become a mature Christian.
Something will be on the line, spiritually speaking. If they don’t threaten you with a loss of salvation, then it will be the threat of falling short of God’s best. You will remain fleshly, immature, carnal, powerless, if you do not obey their teachings. You will never fulfill God’s plan for your life apart from their spiritual wisdom.
6. They will prove to be cruel and hard task-masters.
“The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.” (Ezekiel 34:4)
Unlike Christ, whose yoke is easy and burden is light, these self-professed spiritual leaders “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger (Matthew 23:4).”
The distinction is clear in Scripture: Christ’s rule through His Word is life-giving. However, the addition of man-made commands brings death. As John so well put it,
“This is love for God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)
Under the guidance of Christ and His Spirit the soul finds rest and nourishment. But when a disciple is bound and enslaved to the rule of a fellow human being, his soul becomes desolate and he is weakened. The spirit of a man is crushed under spiritual manipulation. Many people take years to recover.
This was what Jesus confronted His entire ministry. Spiritual leaders who had oppressed the people they were meant to be caring for. The crowds were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” in Jesus’ day. Notice that our Lord did not blame the scattering of His flock on the sheep, but on the shepherds. And throughout Scripture it has been so. The teacher is warned that he will judged with greater strictness. And all who wish to call those who have been burned by the church rebellious need to take a good hard look at their churches and ministries to see if they are guilty of leading with harshness and force (manipulation).
Some spiritual manipulators may not take the title of shepherd or leader. That doesn’t matter. The action of teaching and preaching is an act of authority. Even me writing this out is something I will held accountable for by Christ. But I will stand before Christ in that day, knowing that I have defended His flock with the truth.
[On a side note, if you are offended by my strong words, thinking I am disparaging all leadership, then don’t misunderstand me. I know what the Word teaches, we are to have overseers and leaders in the church. But these are guides and teachers, those entrusted with the task of maturing God’s people in the faith. They must be held up to the strict standard of God’s Word, if they are not, then the sheep will continue to be scattered and abused].
7. They fight tooth and nail against those who will expose them.
“I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have first place among them, does not receive us. This is why, if I come, I will call attention to the works he is doing, slandering us with malicious words.” (3 John 1:9-10)
Notice who is being rejected here, John the apostle! Here we see the pride of spiritual manipulators. John was going to expose Diotrephes, which is why he was slandering the apostle with malicious words. He wanted the first place and because of that he couldn’t have anyone redirecting the disciples back to Christ (which is what John did his entire ministry). John had had a true revelation of Christ, an infallible one to share with the church.
One of the worst tricks they pull is that they will accuse you of slandering them. You can be as polite, courteous, and understanding as can be, but if you don’t agree with their manipulation, and if you have the audacity to call it out for what is, then you are slandering them and need to repent. The hypocrisy of this power play is so incredible that you may feel that you’re going crazy. You’re not. No matter how well you cite a spiritual manipulators words or actions you will not win, because they are not interested in repenting, they will only say whatever they can to bring you back under their control.
And that is why those who spiritually manipulate will hate what I have written here. They will see it as an affront to their work. As long as they can redirect the attack back onto me then they will succeed in getting the attention off of themselves. But the issue is their actions. Remember that. They will try to discredit me as unspiritual, carnal, fleshly, what have you. They will say I don’t take the Scriptures seriously (and then quote a few verses out of context). They will say I don’t recognize spiritual authority (when, in fact, I do very much so).
My beloved brothers and sisters. I have written tonight with passion and love. My stance and heart is the same as Paul’s (though I am no Paul),
“[These people] slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” (Galatians 2:4-5)
The truth of the glorious gospel is too great to be lost. And this truth is that you have been set free. No cult, controlling group, or manipulator may hold you back. Do not be the disciples of other people, but be a disciple of Christ! And those who truly lead, will lead you to Christ. They will direct you to the Word of God.
I will say this: forgive and pray for those who have spiritually abused you, but do not let them continue. Instead, submit to God, and obey Him rather than man (Acts 5:29). Come out of your mental and emotional prison cells. I pray that you may start where I did. With this simple passage of Scripture,
“If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)