I believe that the season of exodus and healing from deep religious deception is one of the most dangerous a person will ever face. That may seem odd. You would think it would be more dangerous in the deception. You could liken it to a boat that is moored in the wrong place; we’ll call it Deception Dock. There can be a lot of negative results for being stuck in the wrong place, but at least the boat is anchored and still. Realizing this requires lifting the anchor, setting off, and braving sea and storms to reach the safety of Truth Harbor. Unfortunately, what you need most to successfully do so is your navigation systems, which is exactly what was being messed with every day you spent in Deception Dock. While there, you learned that north was south, slow is fast, and stars are pretty fireflies. So once you get out there on the open sea, it is really easy to get lost and drown.
I know that sounds dramatic, but I don’t think I’m overstating it.
I know the torment and confusion of abused trust. I know the anger and self-doubt and fear and condemnation that storm against the little boat. I don’t think there’s any route you can take to completely avoid these attacks, as long as the “prince of the power of the air” is still at work. But here’s a start on what I can offer as far as wisdom for the journey. Keep in mind that I write this with born-again believers who were truly adherents and proponents of deception in mind. It is not for people who are unconcerned with whether or not they obey Jesus Christ, whether or not nominally Christian. And also, not for someone who merely brushed deception, attended one conference, etc. This is written for the person who truly desires to obey God, but who has given themselves from the heart to a false form of worship or perverted understanding of the true God.
Also, the purpose of this post is to address the position of the heart, rather than specifically tracing the path from false into true. It is meant to be read alongside all the other posts that deal with specific doctrinal issues and deceptions.
1. Get low.
Most people who exit and try to keep their faith will deal with their deception as a matter of bad theology rather than sin, but deception is sin, and the right response to sin is repentance. A purely theological handling is only minimally beneficial. Humility is the MOST important factor in whether you come into safety. Let every step of this process humble you. We can blame an organization or Mr. Big Teacher or even the enemy for our deception, and all of that definitely has some validity. But ultimately, ultimately, the real reason we were able to be deceived was our pride. The temptation after being so violated in trust is to lose the ability to trust, God and others, but especially God. But when you stop trusting God, all that means is you turn to trust in yourself, which leaves the pride fully thriving. To put this in perspective, you were not burnt by trusting in Him, you were burnt by trusting in something that was NOT Him. If I can be straightforward about who is trustworthy and who should be eyed with suspicion, you were the one who walked into the trap, not God. Whatever trap you fell for, there was something illegitimate and sparkly in there that you wanted. Identifying that lust and repenting is going to be way more helpful to you than identifying every shred of false theology. Those who take that approach may end up with better doctrine, but aren’t humbled before God and more than likely are just going to end up turning from one man’s opinion to another’s. We would all like to think that there’s a bad person or people who come up with heretical doctrine and we aren’t one of them, but the Bible actually says that heresy is a work of the flesh. So if you have a flesh nature, you’ve got a heretic inside, and he’s the one you need to hunt. Gal 5:20, James 1:12-14
2 Be Thankful.
Getting out of deception is not a re-education, it is a matter of salvation. Though this may feel like resounding failure, like you have been tricked and abandoned, and it may leave your soul wanting to cry out, “Where are you, God? If you love me, how could you let this happen?” Please let me tell you the truth: the whole world is deceived and “even, if possible, the elect.” But the Lord Jesus Christ loves you and came to rescue you out of the pit! He was never confused any moment that you were doing all the crazy things you were doing. He always saw you, always was faithful to you, and always planned to rescue you. If you are like me, you might look back and see how much he had to take you through to soften your heart so you would respond to His truth. I remember the time when my pride was in full swing and I would not hear a thing! Thank God for all the pain it took to bring me to my knees. Thank God! Start thanking Him and don’t stop! In the swirl of the confusion and pain of exiting, one thing you need not endure is feeling far from your Savior. The first thing to see as you come out of the swirl is that it is not your general smartness that is leading you out, it is a rescue operation planned by Jesus Christ and executed by His Spirit within you, as a regenerated believer. To say this a different way, although you may FEEL vulnerable and adrift and afraid, you’re as safe as a babe in arms the moment you trust fully in Him. He was always our hope, not our religious activities or great theology. He’s a SAVIOR.
3. Be honest.
Part of getting low will mean that you are honest about the ways in which you DID whatever was DONE to you. If others deceived you by dancing around and participating in discussions and fervent conversations that turned out to be false, be honest if you did the same for them! If you taught deception, or recruited for it, run to make it right as best you can. That is called repentance. This is not only in hopes that you might be used to rescue the perishing, but to break the leash of that master that, as I said above, got you here in the first place. Imagine that pride had you on a leash and led you into a decade of loss. Then imagine that you realize where you are and want to leave, but stay on pride’s leash, following him to your next destination. Loss upon loss! Do whatever you need to do to break down that pride. I found in my exit that the Lord had me humble myself not once, not twice, but over and over before people in deception who had little or no intention of humbling themselves the slightest bit in return. Praise God. It was worth it. Because none of those people are my enemies or have the power to destroy me. Pride is my enemy, and has the potential to destroy me. On the other hand, I have seen people take up a mocking, superior attitude about those who were sitting next to them in deception when they’ve only barely taken one step out. Their freedom is very limited and even short-lived.
4. Be gentle.
Especially with yourself, and those with you in the journey out. If my words above seem harsh, don’t mistake my tone. Remember how gentle Jesus is with the humble. He told us His eyes are on the haughty to bring them down, but that He would save the humble (2 Sam 22:28), giving them grace. Humble yourself, and come into the joy of being treated gently. Hear Him say to you, “28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Mat. 11:28-30 Let Him wash you clean. Then wonder at how gently He leads those who don’t resist Him out of the labrinth of their own error. It takes a long, long time to get through the millions of ways that one’s thinking gets warped by false teaching. It is not as simple as just replacing one doctrine with another. It’s healing broken trust, restoring shattered hopes and dreams, for those who are the deepest in, it can even mean that they need their reason for living restored. Rediscover the kindness of our Lord and Savior, the forbearance He showed when you were in error, and His patience with your process out. He is Lord, and He will lead you from one layer of repentance and renewal to another, steadily and gently, if you’ve humbled yourself and put your trust in Him. If we resist humility, we feel foolish and embarrassed and have to rush to get ourselves “in the right” as quickly as possible, looking for a safe systematic theology rather than laboring to come into to truth.
5. Be urgent.
Do not go numb, do not go passive, do not go hopeless, do not go cynical. Peter told us in the Word that our adversary is a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Somehow we manage to read the Bible over and over without thinking it really means what it says! You were nearly devoured, friend, and you probably are deeply connected to many others who are living in the lion’s mouth. Do not be limp and passive! I have observed over and over that those who do not testify to truth or love enough to tell others the truth when they discover it, do not hold on to it. Within a matter of time, they end up fuzzy and unclear on the very truths that broke their chains. Which leaves them susceptible, of course, to more chains. If you try to hold on to relationships you made while in deception, valuing your comfortable connection with those folks above their souls, don’t pretend that it’s because you “love.” If you love, you will tell the truth. Pay the cost of knowing Christ. Testify to His salvation. If they utterly resist you or try to draw you into useless debates, excuse yourself and retreat to prayer. But do not maintain fake, complacent relationships out of self-protection. People who do so are in unbelief that there is such a thing as truth, that they were in error, and that they are being saved from it. They have not really repented.
6. Embrace the gospel.
In a sense, that’s all I have been saying. Did you notice? Read the five points above again, and ask yourself if they sound familiar. They are! It’s the gospel! It’s what you would tell an a lost person to DO if they BELIEVED the truths about Jesus that you share when you witness. Let’s shine a little light on the situation…you mean you are at the end of yourself, found out that all your best efforts amount to nothing, found out that in your flesh is no good thing, found out that the thinking you felt to be completely right was laced with deception and completely untrustworthy, and have discovered that the reason you could be so deceived is because you, in yourself, are utterly devoid of truth and prone to self-deception? That all your ideas of living an excellent, great life are just a joke because you’re so corrupt through and though? Well, that’s true of every human being that ever lived…but you’re being given the grace to actually REALIZE it? You mean you have no more hope in yourself? You couldn’t figure it out and get it right? You tried really hard and failed? Hey, you sound like someone who’s ready for the gospel!!! Yep, if you’ve ever preached it to an unbeliever, THIS is exactly what you were asking them to swallow…not merely the four spiritual laws, but true repentance! Coming to the broken place, crying out like the publican (Lk. 18:13), “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” For many of us who were raised in church, maybe “always been a Christian,” the reality of the gospel has been obscured and ethereal, or maybe just a head knowledge. But, friend, the gate is the same for you as it is for me as it is for your unsaved neighbor: utter, complete, and unmitigated failure and need. We NEED His salvation. We CANNOT do it on our own. Our best religious efforts truly ARE like filthy rags. He knew that the whole time. We were the ones who were unclear. Nobody finds true repentance from the top of a lovely mountain or in the thrill of an ecstatic conference, realizing in their own rightness that God is right, too, and so they should be friends. That’s not true conversion. True repentance, salvation (get this! Jesus said it, not me! Mat. 9:17, Mk. 2:13, Lk. 5:32) is for people who actually NEED TO BE SAVED, and it often finds them in a dark, dark hour of self-revelation. If you are tasting that, whether for the first time or the seventieth…embrace it. It is the path to every good thing in Christ. Does it sound like I’m telling you that for as awful as this moment of awakening from deception is, you might be on the brink of discovering the greatest joy you have ever known? Then you’re hearing me rightly. Shall I testify some more? He is SO GOOD.
Whew! There is nothing I like better than preaching the gospel. May you find what I have found and be filled up to the brim!