Sometimes Paul the missionary/theologian/letter writer can be downright wordy, composing complicated, run-on sentences. Other times, he is laser-focused and to the point. Romans 3:23 is of the latter variety. Paul states a universal and painful truth about human nature: “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

No one has to teach us how to sin. It comes naturally.  No instruction manual is necessary. We are flawed.  Basic systematic theology affirms that the freedom our creator has granted to us, the free will instilled in us, includes the option to go our own way – and that means we can disobey God. To do so has consequences, but the choice is ours to make.

We can use our flawed human nature as an excuse: “I’m only human,” we say. It is true that we are “only human;” but we are nonetheless created in the image of God and are accountable to God for every thought, word and deed, no matter how wise or ill-advised it may be. We are most grateful for Paul’s affirmation in Romans 6:23: “…the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Let us go a step further. Yes, we are flawed; yes, we make unwise choices; yes, we disobey the One who made us; and yes, we make excuses for ourselves. But we need not be toxic. Toxic individuals are those who not only are flawed – as we all are – but who inflict others with their negative attitudes and actions. Their influence degrades the quality of life of those with whom they have contact.

Toxic individuals instill fear, prejudice, hatred, paranoia and resentment in their sphere of influence. Such persons spread a cancer of suspicion and ill-will in others. Toxicity, left unchecked or unchallenged, can jeopardize trust-based relationships in a family, a place of business, a church, or even a nation. Toxic individuals certainly need help, and they most certainly do not need to sit in places of leadership at any level.

To be human is to be flawed. That is a timeless scriptural truth. God can and does forgive and redeem our flawed, sinful nature. To be toxic is to allow our flawed nature to take on a life of its own, making everything and everyone around us worse because of our influence.

Are you a sinner? Flawed? Of course you are. We all are. Welcome to the club. Receive the grace of God.

Are you toxic? Seek the spiritual and psychological counsel you need. Are others around you toxic? Get out from under their pall of influence as quickly as you can. Surround yourself, as best you can, with those who edify you and who create the greater good for all.

Your life reflects the choices you make. Choose wisely.

Written by Bert Browning

Originally published in the 2018 Summer Quarterly Explorer