It was the fall of 2016. I had been on my “journey to grace” for less than a year. I had just begun to scratch the surface of deconstructing all the false doctrine I’d been taught and trying to pick out little bits of truth. It was a daunting task and I felt so very overwhelmed and lost.
I had also taken a break from church for a couple years and was starting to really miss the routine of a weekly Christian gathering. While lamenting my loneliness to my mother, she suggested Bible Study Fellowship — a world wide Bible study independent from any specific denomination or church. I was hesitant as I had never been apart of a group Bible study before, however I decided to go ahead and take the leap and check it out. I found a large group of over 400 women at a church just 10 minutes from my house. We would start out each week by meeting in smaller groups of a dozen or so and then later would all gather together to hear an inspiring lecture by a gifted speaker. That year we studied the book of John and I was completely blow away at how that was indeed the very book I needed to read at that time of my life.
During our 9 month study I went through a total transformation. My small group even saw the massive change in me and quickly became some of my biggest cheerleaders as I went through the process of discovering the true Gospel for the first time.
The last day of class was called “Share Day” and instead of having a lecture, we all gathered together and anyone who wanted to take the microphone for a few minutes and publicly share their testimony could do so. I prepared a written testimony ahead of time and after taking several minutes to gather my courage, I stepped forward to the mic and publicly spoke out about my cult experience for the very first time.
It was an unforgettable experience. When I finished reading there was not a dry eye in the house and all 400 + women rose for a standing ovation. I had taken the brave step of showing my pain for the first time, and I discovered that as I watched that crowd of teary eyed women, my shame melted away and in its place, joy and thankfulness filled my heart. Beauty for ashes. I’d heard the saying hundreds of times and finally understood. After Share Day completed I found myself bombarded with dozens of women coming up to hug me, thank me, and encourage me. It’s a day I will never forget and it’s the day I decided God was indeed calling me to start sharing my story with those that needed to hear — and this blog is that result.
And so, my dear readers, I would like to share with you the testimony that I read that day.
Bible Study Fellowship Testimony May 10th, 2017
I grew up in a church-going family. My mother is Christian and I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was 10 years old. Unfortunately, soon after, my family become members of a Fundamentalist Patriarchal Christian Cult.
The cult was highly legalistic and based on a moralistic system of “do more, try harder”. The cult leader always seemed to receive these special revelations from God and gave us endless rules and checklists on how to be the perfect Christian. We didn’t do these things for salvation, as the ministry did teach salvation was by grace through faith, but instead we tried so hard to be the perfect Christian so that God would be pleased with us, would love us more, and would bless us. We were taught that material success was the measure of how good a Christian you were. If we just did enough. Prayed enough. Memorized enough scripture. Witnessed enough. If we did enough, we would have perfect health, financial abundance, and total success. Of course, the cult leader was seemingly the only one to have achieved this kind of success and the rest of us felt like constant failures and that God was disappointed with us.
On December 15th, 2015, I decided to take my first brave step away from the cult. I started seeing a counselor for the first time and after several months of working to forgiving the people in my life that had abused me, I was finally ready to start examining the doctrinal errors of the cult that I had spent so many years in. That’s when my world really fell apart. For the first time, I realized that nearly everything I’d been taught by this leader had been lies. I felt like I lost my identity. I would spend hours on the floor of my room curled up, shaking and crying, all the while I asked God “who are you?” and I told Him I felt like a lost sheep and I begged him to find me. I was thrown into constant emotional turmoil, and when I finally got the courage to see my doctor she believed was suffering from PTSD.
In September, I discovered BSF. I’m telling you, BSF could not have come at a better time in my life. Because of the spiritual abuse I’ve suffered, the Bible had become very triggering for me. Prior to this past fall, I would not have been able to handle a Bible study. The book of John was miraculous timing as well because, at the time, my two main questions were “who exactly is God and Jesus?” and “what is the depth and scope of what Jesus did for me on the cross?”.
Each week as I studied the Word, it was like a healing balm to my wounds. I have developed such a hunger for God’s Word and He has opened my eyes so that now I can read it through a new lens. These last few weeks of study have been my favorite. Reading through the Gospel during Easter has been amazing and this Easter was by far the most significant and meaningful I’ve ever experienced. For the first time, I finally understand the true depth of the Gospel.
The four main things I learned this year are:
- Jesus is Truth. I can’t tell you how many times I asked God, myself, and my counselor, “What is truth?”. You see, when you’ve been deceived with what you thought was truth, for so many years like I was, you get to the point you worry that you’ll never find out what truth really is. But now I know. Jesus is truth. His Word is truth. I can trust Him. And, as I continue to seek Him and dive into His word, I can trust that the Holy Spirit will guide me to truth.
- Jesus is the Vine and my Shepherd. Jesus being the Vine, means, I don’t have to try to hold on to him. HE holds on to me! And Jesus as the Shephard, means, I am never truly lost. He will always call out to me and I will know His voice and will know where to go. He will never let me get lost in the wilderness.
- While on the cross, Jesus bore and absorbed God’s wrath for me upon Himself. That means there is none left for me! When God looks at me, He is not disappointed or angry. Disappointment is a human emotion. Jesus died for me when I was at my worst. He loves me, cherishes me, and is pleased with me.
- Jesus removed the stain of my sin and clothed me in his robe of righteousness. When God sees me, He sees His Son and what He did. He loves me so! There is nothing more I can do to make Him love me anymore or any less. He already loves me as much as anyone possibly could.
It’s been a slow process, but finally, my heart is just now changing to where I want to be like Christ simply out of thankfulness for what He did for me, NOT just to seek His approval or make Him love me anymore. I mentioned before that last year I felt like I lost my identity. But, in these last few weeks, I finally realize that I never lost my identity. My identity has been and will always be in Christ. I’m just now, for the first time, discovering it, and living it.
~ Emily Jaeger