I would venture that there is not a church in the world that doesn’t have a narcissist (as in certified, diagnosable Narcissistic Personality Disorder) somewhere in its walls. It could be the pastor, committee leader, elder, deacon, or even just a member. So the next question would naturally be: can a narcissist be a Christian?
Although we can have some idea, we can’t definitively tell if a narcissist is a Christian. Narcissists put on an act or figurative mask to hide what they’re really thinking and feeling. They could be intentionally doing evil to all they meet or be on their hands and knees begging for forgiveness and God’s mercy because they can’t escape the trap of narcissism.
Here are some of the questions that tend to trip people up when evaluating whether a narcissist could be a Christian:
- How can a narcissist be a Christian when instead of repenting, they project their wrongs on to others?
- How can they be a Christian when they are covertly destroying others, even loved ones, behind the scenes in elaborately crafted shenanigans?
- How can they be a Christian when they do such shady or even outright evil things and know exactly what they are doing in order to pull off sometimes elaborate schemes?
- How do they use Christian words and terms to hide what they are doing behind closed doors?
It is possible that they can be doing those things to put themselves in a better position in their job, relationship, or any other position that they need to be seen as better, smarter, more talented, or the most of whatever comparison. But behind closed doors, they could be pleading with God to help them because they are so trapped and unable to emerge from the Hell they find themselves in. Because their shame is so hidden, it is impossible for us to know how they feel about the choices they make, and things they say or do.
At the end of the day, there is no way we can know for sure. But we can focus on Scriptures that talk about how to discern, such as 1 Samuel 16:7. It says, “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
Let’s take a closer look at what we do with the question of whether a narcissist can be a Christian.
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What if a Narcissist IS a Christian?
We all have our issues. None of us is perfect, or even close. Our shortcomings certainly don’t mean that we are not Christian. The more important issue is our heart condition and how we respond to our sin. But in the case of the narcissist who professes to be a Christian, there are some issues that could make their profession of faith and narcissism incompatible. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Reconciling Christianity with a Narcissist’s Lack of Repentance
First, let’s talk about the issue of repentance. If narcissists refuse to take responsibility for any wrongdoing, and instead pawn it off on whoever else they can blame, it doesn’t allow them to ask forgiveness or repent from what they have done. It is actually still a position of rebellion, even if they repent before God behind closed doors. They have not made things right with the person they have wronged or the person they have blamed, if different than the one they wronged.
Unfortunately, even more than making God their right hand man, narcissists don’t see God as an authority to them. They see themselves as though they are on a team with God. This is a very dangerous position to be in, as nobody is equal to God in any way.
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Narcissists Make God Their Wing Man
Second, the spiritual narcissist actually uses God as a way to get what they want. There are several ways that they do this. Primarily, they convince themselves that they are on the same wavelength as God. So if they want to tell you that what you are doing is wrong, they will make it sound like they and God are both thinking the same thing.
Spiritual narcissists want you to believe they give you a message directly from God. That somehow they have a special inside line to God where He shares his thoughts and discusses them with the narcissist. When they use this tactic to manipulate others around them, it doesn’t allow anyone to have an argument or defense against it. Narcissists are so convinced of how much God is in agreement with them that if you counter in any way, you are countering against God Himself.
It would be very hard for a professing Christian to have such a limited view of their true place before God. Nobody that has an accurate view of God could think that they could know the heart and mind of God to such a degree as to tell others what God is thinking about them or wants them to do.
But yet, they may have convinced themselves that they truly are communicating the very words of God to others. So, the prevailing question becomes, can they actually be a child of God if they aren’t stopping long enough to realize the “words of God” are not actually from God, but from what the narcissist chooses to believe in his head. And we can never truly know the state of the narcissist’s heart. But God does know. And He can handle it all far better than we can.
Narcissists Use Top Notch Christian Service to Distract Others From Seeing the Truth
Another way narcissists use God inappropriately is to spend inordinate amounts of time in service so that people will notice what an amazing Christian they are.
This is not to say that someone who is very generous with their time in Christian service is a narcissist. What I am saying is that you can tell when the service takes ridiculous turns.
For instance, one time on the first Kids Club of the year at our church, the curriculum ended up in the wrong house and it was only a few hours before club started. The person whose house the curriculum was at and the person who was teaching that night were talking about how they were going to work it out to benefit both of them. My husband interjected into the conversation to tell them that he would go to the one house to pick up the curriculum and then drive it to the other person’s house–all right at that moment. All everyone else had to do was go home and enjoy their families. This took place with all of our kids ravenously hungry and tired in the car while he ran around town for over an hour.
Everybody thought he was amazing because of all of the sacrifices he made. And his family always came in last place so that he could show everyone else what an amazing servant of God he was.
Narcissists Use God as a Weapon
Narcissists will use God and the Bible as a weapon because what true Christian can argue against it? They will use Bible verses for control rather than enrichment. They will twist Scriptures to match their circumstances and what they are trying to convince you to do. And they will act horrified that you wouldn’t just simply obey without question because you should be eager to obey the Lord.
But they aren’t really looking for you to obey God and enrich your relationship with Him. They are looking for you to obey them. You are fulfilling their need to control and manipulate others. And if you don’t, you will pay the price.
Unfortunately, they have learned all the right words and verses to use to make it look like they are doing the work of God. Generally speaking, the entire church will see them as an amazing Christian and and great leader in the church. And it really isn’t their fault. They only see the public display. They don’t see all the red flags that we see behind closed doors when the narcissist is more interested in conquering people than making a great impression.
But behind closed doors it is a different story. They don’t feel the need to impress as much as the need to control. And usually when they are controlling and manipulating, the people they are doing it to are willing to submit to the abuse because they don’t want to rock the boat.
Narcissists Cause Chaos and Division in the Church
I used to love watching the show Survivor. It was fun to see the contestants try to find the balance between getting the others to trust them and sabotaging them to get the the coveted million dollar prize. I loved in the early seasons when a nice person could actually do that without selling their soul. If you sabotaged too heavily, the others would vote you out. If you spent too much time bonding instead of strategizing, you would get voted out by those that didn’t want you to win because you were well loved.
That very much feels like the game that narcissists are playing in the church. In the presence of others they are the friendly, serving, wise Christian. But behind the scenes, they are causing strife and discord in ways that people have no idea what is happening. Except it isn’t a game. And it certainly isn’t entertaining to the people involved, except maybe the narcissist.
Communication is severely lacking. The narcissist will tell one member one thing and another member something else. Nobody sees where the disconnect comes from. And because they see the narcissist as a sincere Christian, they don’t even think about the possibility that the narcissist could have caused the disconnect. The further down the road it goes, the bigger the chaos gets. To make things even more confusing, the narcissists feigns shock that there could even be such a division. And by that time, it’s too late to see where it all began.
The narcissist can then come in and “save the day” by making the “best and most godly decision” for the circumstances that the church now finds itself in. And, of course, they will make sure that they sacrifice just enough to make them look even more godly and wise. They are perceived as the hero, not the destroyer they actually are.
Putting it all Together
So, how do these examples all mesh with the narcissist professing to be a Christian? Unfortunately, they don’t mesh well. I can believe that narcissists think they are Christian. But if they can’t see their position before God, it is very difficult to believe they can really be relating to God as their Lord and Savior. If they feel too much shame to be able to repent with other people, how much more shameful would they feel to bow their knee before God to repent?
That being said, nobody knows what is in the heart of other people, so we cannot know for sure the eternal status of others. But Romans 16:17-18 says, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”
What if a Narcissist IS a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?
So, what if the narcissist is a professing Christian to the church and the world, but is intentionally only using the lingo and act to get where they want. They don’t in their heart believe that they are Christians. They just know it is the best way they can manipulate the world. It is the perfect cover.
For those people, the Bible has very direct words. Matthew 7:15-23 says this:
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”
The key words here are “you will know them by their fruits.” While as Christians we are not to be judgmental people, we do have to be discerning for our emotional as well as physical safety. And for that, we must be proactive to protect ourselves, our families, and our churches. But it is a very hard thing to do.
So What are We to Do?
The Bible speaks clearly on this too, though. 1 Timothy 6:3-5 says, “ If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”
We are not to allow those who use godliness for personal gain to continue to wreak havoc, whether it is in personal relationships or the corporate church. It isn’t godliness anymore when godly behavior is used to manipulate. Godliness only works when it is a product of relationship with God, not other people exclusive to God. Unfortunately, it isn’t an easy situation to deal with because we can’t tell (and shouldn’t always have to evaluate) whether someone’s godly behavior is out of relationship to God or selfish gain.
So…CAN a Narcissist be a Christian?
Truthfully, we cannot know for sure. Certainly, someone who ranks lower on the narcissist spectrum can be a Christian and you will see glimpses of true repentance and a desire to mature in the faith. But we do have a responsibility to protect ourselves and our relationships and to be healthy both physically and emotionally. And we need to do this in a way that is kind and not retributive. Letting a narcissist destroy the church from the inside out by allowing them to religiously abuse fellow members is never a good thing for the church.
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This book would be a game changer for anyone who reads it. It helps us to figure out what it is that makes people so difficult to love, many times when we just aren’t sure what causes those feelings in us. Then it shows us how to help get those relationships on healthy ground, at least onour part. We can’t force people to be emotionally healthy, but we can still relate to them on a healthy level. This is especially valuable to those of us who cannot necessarily walk away or isolate ourselves from the damage that is done to us by difficult or abusive people. It is one of my all-time highest recommended books. Click on it above and check it out!
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