In this digital age, our lives seem to revolve around our mobile devices. We use them to listen to music, stream podcasts, play candy crush, and post pics of our best life (or the life that we want people to think we have). As such, everyone has learned how to swipe right as we scroll through Instagram and other social sites. Swiping right is also a thing when it comes to dating sites. If you like what you see, you swipe right and put that person in a category that lets them know you are interested in them, and potentially want to allow them into your life in a very personal way.
Let’s face it, swiping right has become a thing. However, in life and specifically in relationships, often the most important thing is not swiping right but swiping left. Many times the trajectory of our lives is dramatically affected by our ability to recognize the kinds of people we need to move on from. You see, God sends relationships into our lives to assist us, but the enemy uses them to twist us!
God-sent, God-meant relationships come through divine appointments and propel us, push us, shape us, and make us more like Christ. These Godly relationships keep us on track and speak words of life that correct, empower, and encourage us. Ultimately, they strengthen our relationship with God and secure our safe arrival at our God-given destiny. Indeed, God uses relationships to make us and assist us – for we were created for relationship with God and one another.
Our enemy the devil knows this, and since he is the thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy, he also uses relationships to twist us and prevent us from becoming the Christ-like new creations that we are destined to be. In fact, the enemy tries to use the very things that God has intended to bless us, to break us instead.
When it comes to matters of the heart, we are especially vulnerable. Just like God-sent, God-meant relationships can bring us much joy and happiness, devil-sent, devil-meant relationships have the potential to bring intense and lasting pain into our lives. Thankfully, God has given us all the direction we need in His Word to determine in the early stages whether a relationship is God-sent or hell bent.
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Lessons One: The Original Toxic Relationship
A toxic relationship is when a person comes into your life and causes your other healthy relationships to become strained, and your relationship with God to become distant.
When Satan came to tempt Eve in the Garden, he intended to destroy her relationship with God and crush her destiny. He had an ulterior motive and a personal agenda. He hid the truth, poisoned her thinking and abused her naiveté. Fortunately, Satan rarely changes his tactics, so that we can learn several lessons about how to recognize a toxic person from this encounter, as well as how to receive God's healing antidote.
The account is found in the book of Genesis. God created Adam in His image and in His likeness, and gave him power and dominion over the planet. God also created Eve and placed them in godly relationship, so that together, they could be and do and fulfill everything God intended for them. Eventually, the serpent came into their lives to cause their God-given relationship with each other to become strained and their relationship with God to become distant.
In nature, there are both harmless and poisonous snakes; the way to distinguish between the two is to carefully search for certain identifying characteristics:
- The head—most poisonous snakes have triangular shaped heads
- The colors—most poisonous snakes have bright colored markings
- The eyes—poisonous snakes have vertical eye slits, rather than round pupils
In the same way we identify poisonous snakes by certain characteristics, there are certain characteristics of a toxic, destiny-destroying relationship that will help tip you off, and enable you to block that person from having further access into your life.
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Lesson Two: Look for Disguises
You may be in a toxic relationship with someone if you discover they are pretending to be something they are not.
“Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made” (Genesis 3:1).
Notice that the devil used the cunning serpent as his disguise to get access to Eve, who was obviously not alarmed by the serpent. As a matter of fact, it appears likely that they had a familiar relationship prior to the account in Genesis 3.
Eve shows no fear of the serpent; nor is she startled by the fact that the serpent talks. Moreover, it’s probable that the serpent walked uprightly at this time. Things were a bit different before the fall of man!
And so the devil comes disguised as something that Eve is comfortable with, in order to engage Eve in a dangerous relationship. Scripture warns us that this is the enemy's usual M.O.
“... For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
In your life, that may mean a toxic person:
- Pretends to be educated, and is not
- Pretends to have money, and does not
- Pretends to come from a good family, and does not
- Pretends to have high morals, and does not
- Pretends to have your best interest at heart, and does not
- Pretends to love God, and does not
The best way to uncover the truth about a person is to go slow and look for fruit. Go slow enough to meet that "good family" they say they have. Listen to their conversations to confirm that they are actually well-educated. Take is slow enough to confirm that high-paying job truly exists. Spend time observing their character displayed in a wide range of circumstances and situations. Meet the friends, and make sure their spiritual walk matches their spiritual talk. When it comes to relationships, "disguises" are a tell-tale sign that the relationship is devil-sent and will eventually poison you.
This doesn't mean they must be 100% perfect! However, a sincere person pursuing a God-sent relationship with you will not try to cover up personal flaws. They will respect you enough to be honest and transparent about themselves.
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Lesson Three: Watch for Deceit and Mind Games
If you are always second guessing yourself, feeling confused and can’t think clearly... you might be in a toxic relationship!
“... lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
The word “devices” comes from the Greek word noéma, which means “mind games.” This is one of the primary signs that a relationship is devil-sent and ultimately toxic to you.
“And he said to the woman, ‘Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’” (Genesis 3:1).
Satan twists God’s word in an attempt to cause Eve to doubt God’s goodness. Whenever you encounter a person who twists the word of God to their advantage, and causes you to doubt, that’s a tell-tale sign they are toxic relationship sent by the devil to destroy your life.
How might they do this?
Well, the Bible says you shouldn’t judge... so you shouldn’t say that what I’m doing is wrong.
I love Jesus even though I don’t go to church. You don’t have to go to church to have a relationship with Jesus.
I know I keep doing that... but if you were a real Christian, you would forgive me and give me another chance.
The Bible is true, but let’s be honest... it was written a long time ago and so there are things in there that are just outdated, old-fashioned, and no longer relevant.
Everybody has sex before marriage now... as long as you’re an adult.
Toxic people play mind games. They twist the Word of God in order to get you to doubt God’s goodness, and to compromise His standards in your life. In other words, they will imply that there is something wrong with what God said, or what someone who loves you said, or with how you were raised, that you know is right, or your work ethic, or any number of things.
Moreover, toxic people may blatantly lie in such a way, that you think they are telling the truth. They are cold, confident, and don't even blink!
Eve says to the serpent:
“We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’” Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:2-4).
Look at the confidence of that lie: bold-face, over the top confidence, as if he really knows something! Confidence that gives her the impression that she’s just naïve, that targets her mind, and casts doubt and confusion.
Finally, a toxic relationship will cause you to question the motives of God and those who love you.
“For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).
Like the serpent whispering in Eve's ear, a toxic person insinuates that God is holding out on you, trying to control you! It's really not a boundary for your protection; it’s a boundary to control you. Who is God to tell you what to do and what not to do? You should make your own decisions! After all, you get to say what’s right and wrong for your life. No person, not even God, gets to define right and wrong for you.
A toxic person will target you with deception and mind games, causing you to question the motives of God and your loved ones. The sad reality for Adam and Eve was that they were already like God, because God had created them in His image and likeness!
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God's Healing Antidote: Know the Word and the Goodness of God
“And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die’” (Genesis 3:2-3).
When the serpent first approached Eve with a distortion of the Word, Eve added to, and took away from, what God had actually said. She left out the part where God said, “freely” eat (Genesis 2:16-17), and added the part, “nor shall you touch it.”
Eve lost sight of the fact that God was generously giving them hundreds of trees in the garden to eat from. God's word is there to remind us how good God is to us, that God is for us, not against us, that He has our best interest at heart. He has given us His Word to guide us, protect us, help us, and empower us.
And when you confidently remember what our God is like, you won't be duped by anyone who would try to convince you otherwise. When you really know the Word and stay with the Word, it’s an antidote to every toxic relationship the devil tries to send into your life.
God's truth has the power to repel the deception of the enemy and unmask his disguises. When Jesus was tempted by the enemy in the wilderness, He said, "It is written...", "It is written...","It is written...". He stayed with the Word and the Bible says the enemy left Him.
Friends, when the enemy sends a toxic relationship to get you off track, stick with the Scripture and keep it in your heart, because no serpent in the garden can stand to be exposed by the Word of God for long!
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Frank Santora is Lead Pastor of Faith Church, a multi-site church with locations in Connecticut and New York. Pastor Frank hosts a weekly television show, “Destined to Win,” which airs weekly on the Hillsong Channel and TBN. He has authored thirteen books, including the most recent, Modern Day Psalms and Finding Christ in Crisis: Lessons We Learned From Covid. To learn more about Pastor Frank and this ministry, please visit www.franksantora.cc. Photo by Michele Roman.