Can I Find Freedom From Toxic People? With Gary Thomas [Episode 75]

Have you ever felt the guilt and responsibility of meeting the needs of unhealthy people?

I sure have!

Oh, girl, we try to make them happy, but when we try, we end up frustrated and poisoned by their toxic behavior. It’s exhausting and discouraging.

But it’s also a hard dilemma, isn’t it? Because we follow Jesus, it can be tricky to know when it’s okay to walk away from someone.

Sometimes, walking in the footsteps of Jesus means learning when to walk away from toxic people. [Click to Tweet]

Today on the 4:13 Podcast, author Gary Thomas is here to help. He gives you some very practical encouragement and biblical wisdom on how to find freedom from toxic people. You’ll learn when and how to say no to bad patterns so that you can say yes to the good that God has planned for you.

If you aren’t familiar with Gary, he’s the author of 19 books, including one of my favorites, Sacred Pathways. He has a master’s degree from Regent College, where he studied under Dr. J.I. Packer and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity degree from Western Seminary. You may have seen him before on CBN or heard his familiar voice on the Focus on the Family Broadcast and Family Life Today.

This is a sizzling hot conversation, and you’re going to get so much from it!

3 Common Characteristics of Toxic People

Gary says that toxic doesn’t mean a person is merely difficult, has a different style of relating, or doesn’t share your faith. All of those things can be true and that doesn’t make someone toxic.

How do you know if someone is toxic? Here are three common characteristics. [Click to Tweet]

Instead, toxic is a particular disposition that drains you of life, of joy, and of strength. Gary shares, “It’s like they resent you for being you. They don’t want you to do what they believe God has called you to do. You have to recover from your interactions with them, even if it’s digital and online.” He goes on to list three common characteristics of toxic people.

  1. Toxic people tend to be controlling. Gary explains that toxic people determine that you’re going to do what they want you to do. He says the reason this is so toxic is that God calls you to follow Him. He’s your God, not a toxic person. So, when someone is trying to direct you, in essence, they’re trying to become your god.
  2. Toxic people have a murderous spirit. Gary says that this murderous spirit isn’t necessarily about actual killing—although, we do see an example of this in Matthew 14:1-12 when John the Baptist is beheaded. Instead, you see this murderous spirit in what a toxic person does.

    A toxic person murders churches and families by tearing them apart. They destroy the workplace by setting co-workers against each other. They ruin reputations and peace. When someone leaves a trail of death, there’s nothing of God in that. God creates, and Jesus came to bring you life abundantly. It’s Satan—the thief—who comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy (John 10:10).

  3. Toxic people have rage, anger, malice, slander, filthy language, and lies. Gary points to the descriptive words of Paul in Colossians 3:8 and notes that all of us sometimes act in a toxic way. We may lie or slander or feel rage. But, unlike a toxic person, we regret our behavior and want to act differently. He says that a toxic person loves this kind of behavior. It’s delicious to them. They love to hate instead of love.

How to Know When to Walk Away from a Toxic Person

  1. Start with a good offense. Before you set up a defense against a toxic person, Gary explains that you have to understand what you’re defending yourself from. It is not against distractions or giving your time to others. As a Christian, you live to be interrupted by God and to put others’ needs above your own. Rather, you are defending yourself from those things that keep you from seeking first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33)—and this includes toxic people.

    Gary says that toxic people are never going to change. You can give them the purest work and the most persuasive argument, but they won’t receive it. Instead, they will resent you for it. Gary notes that when Paul wrote to Timothy, he carefully instructed him to invest in reliable and faithful people (2 Timothy 2:2). You can do the same.

  2. Learn from experience. Gary shares that he’s never had a positive interaction with a toxic person. No fruit resulted from these relationships or interactions. So, when it comes to toxic people, experience can teach you.

    And, sometimes it may be that a particular person isn’t toxic, but your interactions with them are toxic. In this case, it may mean deciding that it’s just not a good use of time for you to be butting heads with each other.

  3. Focus on where you can do the most good. For Gary, it was helpful to note the number of times in Scripture when Jesus let people walk away from Him or He walked away from them. While the 41 examples Gary found in the gospels are not all related to toxic people, they helped him realize that not every interaction has to result in resolution and agreement.

    When it comes to toxic people, Gary says you may never reach them, or perhaps you aren’t the best person to reach them. So instead of continuing to try, you walk away and focus on interactions that are healthy, fruitful, and productive.

3 Ways to Stop Being Toxic to Yourself

  1. Get in touch with how much God loves you. Gary encourages you to understand that God doesn’t just like you; He adores you. He created your body and your personality. He is passionate about your welfare and has walked with you through every hurt.
  2. Understand that negative self-talk hurts God. Gary says there are toxic things you’d never say to a friend or spouse or child, yet you tell them to yourself. He shares that God doesn’t want you to say mean things to other people—and you are one of those “other people.”
  3. Get away from yourself and into Jesus. Gary reminds you that your standing before God isn’t based on what you do. It’s not based on your wisdom, obedience, or strength. It’s based on Christ. So speak words to yourself that remind you of who you are in Christ. Gary says Colossians 1 is an excellent place to start.

Friend, there’s no toxicity in God. Walking with Jesus means that sometimes you do need to walk away. So remember, whatever you’re dealing with, however you’re feeling right now, you can do all things—including find freedom from toxic people—through Christ who gives you strength.

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