Counterfeit Grace, Guilt, and Shame – The Lies Satan Tells

In this month’s issue of Kaleidoscope, we’re looking at lies that cleverly masquerade as truth, lies brought to us by none other than the master of deception—Satan.

As many of you may know, I’ve been writing professionally for decades, primarily in the genre of inspirational non-fiction. What you may not know is that after 34 published books, I’ve found myself gravitating toward a very specific audience—an audience with whom I feel a deep connection. These days, my focus is on ministering to parents of troubled adult children.

Specifically, parents in pain who are caught up in the drama, chaos, and crisis that surrounds the lives of troubled kids. Crossing all socio-economic lines, these are loving, generous, and caring parents who are struggling to effectively help (and not negatively enable) their drug-addicted, emotionally ill, and/or mentally ill adult children. Many of them are grasping at straws, desperate to know which way to turn—yet fearful of the truth and the consequences. Many lack the resources (financial and emotional) or the knowledge to know what to do. Sadly, many are not only in denial about just how damaged their kids are but about the part they play in the relationship dynamic.

In short, many of these parents are running on what I call the vicious gerbil-wheel of insanity—repeating the same behavior over and over but expecting different results.

This cycle of dysfunction and denial is one of Satan’s most effective tactics to keep us in bondage.

What is a Troubled Adult Child?

We aren’t just talking about out-of-control, rebellious kids. The issue is no longer a strong-willed, button-pushing child who wants to see how far he or she can go. The truth is, many of the adult children we are desperately trying to “help” are suffering from substance abuse disorders and/or mental and emotional illnesses—serious problems that often go undiagnosed and untreated, or because of the stigma still attached to these labels are frequently ignored.

Our challenging adult children have become troubled adult children, and they are fighting addiction, depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorders, anxiety disorders, PTSD, and schizophrenia, to name a few. Many have been in and out of jail or prison more than once, and the ramifications of both incarceration and a criminal record have severely impacted their ability to reintegrate into society. Let’s not forget those adult children who have serious anger and denial issues, some of whom are antisocial to a psychotic and dangerous degree. Angry, bitter, and aimless, many of our adult children cannot hold jobs, and quite often their financial struggles lead to disastrous choices.

Others have been so damaged by life that they want only to end theirs. In desperation and despair, some have frequently threatened and even attempted suicide; sadly, many have succeeded.

Drugs, alcohol, unemployment, crime, abuse, and anger cloud their judgment—and guilt, fear, shame, unreasonable expectations, and frightening consequences cloud our own.

Orchestrated by the master of chaos, it’s a vicious cycle of insanity that must stop.

A Frightening Fact

As Christians, we understand the impact of Satan’s power to corrupt and destroy a human life, and nowhere is that more prevalent than in our country’s devastating epidemic of drug addiction.

Heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, opioids, and “club drugs” have turned our children into strangers. They will do almost anything for that next high—that next fix—and it seems nothing we say or do can break through the demonic hold of drugs.

We live in a world entirely different from the one in which most of us grew up. Today, parents around the country are barely hanging on to their sanity as they struggle to effectively help adult children who are dealing with serious, life-threatening issues brought on by a scourge blanketing every city in every state with death and destruction.

Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans younger than 50. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 64,000 Americans lost their lives to a drug overdose in 2016, including 15,446 heroin overdoses. The total is more than 20 times the number of Americans killed on 9/11.[i]

How did this happen? What went wrong? We’re hard-working, honest, God-fearing Christians who have always tried to do the right thing—the best thing—the most helpful thing.

This isn’t how life is supposed to be.

Change Starts When We Stop Believing Lies

When I wrote Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children in 2009, there were few (if any) resources that addressed the growing epidemic of parental enabling from the perspective of a mother whose adult son was addicted to heroin, often homeless, and in and out of prison on a regular basis. It’s hard not to come to the rescue when the child you love is a self-destructive addict.

Yet how we “rescue” is critical. And when God showed me that all my “helping” was really “handicapping,” I knew it was time for me to make changes. Changes that started when I began to identify and overcome the lies that kept me and ultimately, my son in bondage. Lies that Satan has successfully used to keep parents like me trapped on what I call a vicious gerbil-wheel of insanity—running fast but getting nowhere.

Lies such as we’re bad parents if we don’t bail our kids out of jail, or pay for rehab, or buy them a car, or pay their insurance. Or, that it’s our fault if our child (fill-in-the-blank). Or even lies that justify violence and stealing, like he didn’t mean to do it, or she’s really a good kid, it’s the drugs, not her. Satan has successfully used lies to convince us that it’s our duty as Christian parents to come to the rescue of our children whenever they’re in trouble—no matter what. And if we don’t, then we must be unloving, selfish, and judgmental monsters.

This tactic of self-blame and guilt is exactly what the enemy wants. Satan wants nothing more than to break our hearts because when he does, he breaks the place where Christ dwells within us. Folks, this is a battle for our hearts and minds. Jesus will never leave us, but when we believe Satan’s lies, we push Christ out by accepting responsibility for the actions of our troubled adult children instead of allowing them (and maybe even us) to experience the spiritual and life growth lesson(s) God wants to teach us.

God knows what he’s doing.

We are not God.

The Battlefield in Your Brain

In his book 30 Days to Overcoming Emotional Strongholds, Tony Evans shows how destructive negative thoughts and emotions can be, and he provides a strategy for taking control of them:

 One of Satan’s favorite strategies is to plant his thoughts in our minds, disguising them as our thoughts. We accept them as true and begin to act on them. This is the same strategy he used with Eve in the garden when he twisted God’s truth and enticed her to sin.

But if Satan is responsible for these sinful thoughts, how can we be blamed for thinking them or acting on them? The answer is that you and I are responsible for what we do with these thoughts once they enter our minds.

When a thought enters your mind, luring you into an emotional stronghold of worry, doubt, anger, hate, or shame, you have two choices. You can reject the thought, or you can adopt it and make it your own. By rejecting it, you tear down the stronghold and put an end to the false way of thinking. It can’t dominate or corrupt your emotions any longer. [ii]

Created to Love

We were created for one essential purpose, and that is to love and be loved by God.

When we stop letting ourselves be consumed by the problems of our troubled adult children, we can grow closer to the Lord and develop a life-giving relationship with Him, a relationship that ultimately will change our heart. And with this changed heart, we will be better able to love others—especially our struggling children—with His love.

I have a plaque hanging by my front door that continually reminds me how I need to view not only those closest to me but also, when possible, the world in which I live.

It reads, Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.

If our hearts aren’t open, we probably won’t see the situations, circumstances, and internal illnesses that have transformed our adult children into people we barely recognize. Sadly, their words and actions keep us on the defensive and blind us to what’s really going on under the surface. Clearly, Satan has devised a brilliant strategy for not only keeping our kids in bondage but also keeping us parents from identifying the real issues at hand. And the more Satan convinces us that it’s “all our fault,” the more we perpetuate the vicious gerbil wheel of insanity that keeps everyone in bondage.

Counterfeit Grace—aka: Cheap Grace

It’s been said that nothing ruins the truth like stretching it. The doctrine of God’s Grace is a biblical truth, but it can be distorted when it is not kept in balance with other biblical truths.

In his article titled What is Grace? Pastor, teacher, and author John MacArthur addressed the conundrum of grace in a way that really made sense to me—speaking to both my head and my heart.

Many years ago, Dietrich Bonhoeffer coined a term that has come to characterize much of evangelical Christianity — it’s the term “cheap grace.” Cheap grace is, in reality, a self-imparted grace, a pseudo-grace, and in the end the consequences of living by it are very, very costly.

Cheap grace is not at all a reference to God’s grace; it’s a contemptible counterfeit. It’s a grace that is “cheap” in value, not cost. It is a bargain-basement, damaged-goods, washed-out, moth-eaten, second-hand grace. It is a man-made grace reminiscent of the indulgences Rome was peddling in Martin Luther’s day. Cheap? The cost is actually far more than the buyer could possibly realize, though the “grace” is absolutely worthless.

Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and Nazi resister. He was hanged in 1945 by SS guards, but not before his writings had left their mark. Bonhoeffer’s theological perspective was neo-orthodox, and evangelicalism rightly rejects much of his teaching. But Bonhoeffer spoke powerfully against the secularization of the church. He correctly analyzed the dangers of the church’s frivolous attitude toward grace. After we discard the neo-orthodox teachings, we do well to pay heed to Bonhoeffer’s diatribe against cheap grace:

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian “conception” of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure the remission of sins. The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. In such a Church, the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace, therefore, amounts to a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. “All for sin could not atone.” The world goes on in the same old way, and we are still sinners, “even in the best life,” as Luther said. Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin.

Cheap grace has not lost its worldly appeal since Bonhoeffer wrote those words. If anything, the tendency to cheapen grace has eaten its way into the heart of evangelical Christianity. While verbally extolling the wonders of grace, it exchanges the real item for a facsimile. [1]

In the same article, John MacArthur goes on to say that, “This bait-and-switch tactic has confounded many sincere Christians. Many professing Christians today utterly ignore the biblical truth that grace “instruct[s] us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12). Instead, they live as if grace were a supernatural “Get Out of Jail FREE” card, a no-strings-attached, open-ended package of amnesty, beneficence, indulgence, forbearance, charity, leniency, immunity, approval, tolerance, and self-awarded privilege divorced from any moral demands.”


I couldn’t help but think of my son’s choices, my choices, and the entire context of our relationship as it related to those words; “amnesty, beneficence, indulgence, forbearance, charity, leniency, immunity, approval, tolerance, and self-awarded privilege divorced from any moral demands.” I came to realize that when we choose counterfeit grace over God’s grace, Satan will continue to reign over our lives.

How many good Christian parents accept counterfeit grace in their own lives as well as in the lives of their loved ones?

I’ve been learning to “walk the talk” as a Christian since my mid-thirties when I gave my life to the Lord. It’s been a series of tough choices, drastic changes, and miraculous blessings. Without a doubt, the person I am today is far removed from who I was back then. I’ve been blessed with and discipled by Godly mentors and teachers. As an author and speaker, I’ve had opportunities to cross denominational boundaries and share my testimony in environments that have opened doors to hope and healing—for myself as well as for others. God has been working on me for a long time, but that hasn’t always translated to my ability to actively disciple my son.

For the longest time, I didn’t want to “preach” at Chris when his choices were less-than Godly. I didn’t know what to say to him. I had lived a life void of spiritual boundaries and Scriptural truth for so many years, I felt ill-equipped to speak up. This was a clever lie Satan used to maintain the dysfunctional status quo.

Christopher accepted the Salvation of Christ at age 31 while in prison. It’s been many years, but it seems he’s always kept one foot firmly planted in the sinful ways of the world, and the other gently skimming the fertile soil of faith. We can’t ask Christ into our lives and continue to make choices that are anything but Christlike. There must be a discernible difference between a “Before Christ” and “After Christ” life.

God’s Word is clear when He teaches us that we can’t live fully for Him when we live in both worlds. I want so much for my son to experience the true freedom that comes when we live in obedience—according to God’s plan and purpose for our life.

Yet for the longest time, I felt powerless to do anything except pray.

And while prayer is indeed powerful, there are times when it must be supplemented with action and accountability.

I want my son to make the connection that as a Christian he has been called to a higher purpose. That as a Christian he has been grafted into a family of believers that extends far beyond his reach—a family where he will always be accepted but one that has established guidelines for living in peace and harmony and walking in obedience.

And so, I now tell him we will never be perfect, and the process to change behavior, break habits, and learn new ways to approach old situations isn’t easy.

However, “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 NIV).

Saying Good-bye to Satan’s Lies

We must rid ourselves of the counterfeit grace, guilt, and shame that Satan has used to keep us and those we love in bondage. When we put our hope in God, we will never be disappointed. Hope is always based on the guaranteed promises of God, and hope is something we can give to our struggling adult children. “[God] helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 GNT).

Hope and healing can miraculously replace fear and pain when we make the transition from “This isn’t how life is supposed to be,” to “This is how it is, now what does God want me to learn and do as a result?” Real change begins when we can see our troubled adult children for who they really are as God’s children, love them unconditionally, and speak words of hope and encouragement into their lives.


About Bridges and Boundaries

Allison Bottke’s Bridges and Boundaries column is about building healthy connections in challenging relationships. The bridges that connect us, and the boundaries that define us. Those we make with others, ourselves, and yes, even with God. The truth is, there are times when setting healthy boundaries is the only way to build a sturdy bridge between God and those we care about. For more information on Allison’s soon-to-launch SANITY Support Podcast or on her books in the bestselling Setting Boundaries© series, visit her website at

About Allison

With over a half-million of her books in print, Allison Bottke is the bestselling, award-winning author of more than 32 non-fiction and fiction books, including the acclaimed God Allows U-Turns compilation book series, the God Answers Prayers series, and the bestselling, award-winning Setting Boundaries series. Book one in her current series, Setting Boundaries with your Adult Children, has hit #1 in the “Parenting” category several times, and after a decade is still being heralded as a landmark resource for parents and grandparents. The long-awaited follow-up to that book, How to Connect with Your Troubled Adult Children, Effective Strategies for Parents in Pain released in 2019 to critical acclaim. This new book addresses many of the hot button issues affecting families today. Issues such as drug addiction, emotional and mental illness, financial problems, incarceration, and more.

A frequent guest on national radio and TV programs around the country, Allison has been featured on James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, the 700 Club, the Dr. Laura Show, and others. She is also a frequent guest on Good Morning Texas. Her SANITY Support with Allison Bottke Podcast will launch in late 2019.

In 2013, Setting Boundaries with Food won the prestigious Selah Award for Best Book of the Year. And in 2014, Allison was honored with the annual Author of Influence Award at the Roaring Lamb Christian Writers Conference for her body of work and ongoing desire to assist men and women around the world in their efforts to achieve success in the field.

As a collaborative editor and ghostwriter, Allison has also helped over a dozen writers to become published authors of their own non-fiction books and memoirs. Such as Fox News Anchor Christine Devine, Operation Care Founder, Susie Jennings, and Courage for Life Founder, Ann White.

Allison was instrumental as the Developmental Editor of Dr. Victoria Sarvadi’s ground-breaking memoir, Just a Little Girl, and has remained as the in-house writer and editor for Dr. Sarvadi’s numerous outreaches that fall under the auspices of The Nathaniel Foundation, a philanthropic organization founded by Victoria and her husband, Paul Sarvadi.

Allison lives in the DFW Metroplex area.

[1] The Cost of Discipleship [New York: Collier, 1959], 45-46).

[i] James Winnefeld, “A Scourge That Spares No Family,” The Week, January 12, 2018, 41.

[ii] Tony Evans, 30 Days to Overcoming Emotional Strongholds (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2015), 9.

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