In the weeks leading up to Easter (the season of Lent), we talked about toxins that can build up in our souls, and the need to “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). These contaminants can enter through our environment (the culture we live in), through the things we consume, or from our own tendencies—but they are always damaging to our relationship with God and our ability to enjoy the gift of life he has given us.
While there are many things that need to be regularly cleansed from our souls, we looked at five that are particularly insidious: entitlement, doubt, apathy, busyness, and unforgiveness.
Entitlement is the sense that God (or life, or the universe) somehow owes us a certain standard of living or quality of life. If life throws us some curveballs, we grow resentful and bitter, thinking we have been treated unfairly. This negativity (along with simply taking for granted the good things we have been given) steals much of our joy. When we’re entitled to life, we can no longer receive it as a gift. But the Scriptures teach that contentment and thankfulness in all circumstances is the best way to live (1 Tim 6:6-8, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Doubt is a healthy and normal part of the life of faith, so identifying it as a toxin can seem confusing. I don’t mean that all doubt is toxic. However, there are “pet” doubts that we keep around—even though we have had more than enough reason to abandon them. Generally we keep these pet doubts around because they comfort us in our disobedience. There are things that we know God is calling us to do that are hard, or painful, or embarrassing—but, in a nutshell, we don’t want to do them. So we keep a few pet doubts around so we can pull them out and use them as the “reason” we don’t do what we know God is calling us to do. Getting rid of these pet doubts means we get rid of our excuses and step out in faith and obedience, which is always necessary when relating to God (Heb 11:6).
Apathy comes from the Greek word that means “without suffering.” When we are passionate, we love to such an extent that it pulls us out of our comfort zones to a place where we suffer—emotionally, financially, even physically. No wonder we choose apathy, the way of safety and comfort! And yet, Jesus calls us to love God and love others as the most important thing we can do as his followers (Luke 10:25-28). But the kind of love he’s looking for is not lukewarm (Rev 3:14-20), but the kind that enters into the suffering of another and loves to the point of action and sacrifice (Luke 10:29-37).
For many of us, our inability to say “no” to the good opportunities that come our way actually kills our ability to say “yes” to the great life God wants us to live. Our out-of-control calendars rob us of the ability to enjoy each moment and set aside time with God. Like Martha, we ignore the fact that Jesus is in our living room because we are “worried and upset about many things” (Luke 10:38-42). It is significant that one of the Ten Commandments is to take a day of “ceasing” or Sabbath (Exo 20:8-11) each week—to create some white space, free from obligations and to-dos, in which we can just enjoy the gift of existence.
This is perhaps the most toxic enemy of our spiritual life, because when we refuse to forgive others it acts as a block to us receiving the forgiveness God wants to give us (Matt 6:9-15). As we understand that our debt to God has been fully and finally cancelled, the most natural thing in the world is to cancel the debts that others owe to us (Matt 18:21-35). Holding onto those debts means we are never truly free of the debt we owe to God, but actually carry the burden of both our own guilt, and the ways that others have wronged us. This unforgiveness can embed itself in our wounds and cause them to fester and go unhealed until it is dealt with. But an even greater reason for us to offer forgiveness to others is because Jesus has set the example for us at the cross (Col 3:12-13). We forgive, not so much because it does us good (though it does!), but because as those who have had our own unpayable debts cancelled, it is the only right thing to do.
What do you do if you see these toxins in your own life? The cure for entitlement is receiving everything as a gift. The prescription for doubt is stepping out in faith. The antidote for apathy is prayer; for busyness is Sabbath; and for unforgiveness it is letting go of your need for justice, declaring your forgiveness (sometimes over and over again, until it sticks).
If you’d like to explore these toxins and how to combat them in your own soul, you can check out our sermon series where we dive in deeper and offer some more practical ideas of how to cleanse your soul.
Do you have any further thoughts or reactions to this post or series? What are some other toxins you think are especially damaging to the soul? Comments welcome below!