This is the sixth installment of things overheard or beliefs commonly held about the Christian life that, upon further reflection, are not as true as they first seem.
Feel free to leave your own thoughts!
Breakthrough Should Be a One-Time Event
Before I introduce this topic, I must first share a little about my spiritual background. I was raised Catholic, but for the better part of my Christian life, I have been a part of churches that would be classified as non-denominational charismatic and even “faith-based.”
When we talk about breakthrough, we are talking about it in the broadest sense. Breakthrough is the act of experiencing freedom or fruit or power in an area of our lives where such freedom or fruit or power did not previously exist. For example, if we turn to the Gospels, we find many people experiencing breakthrough as a result of Jesus’ ministry. They were healed physically, and they were delivered from demons. As scripture says, Jesus went about the countryside healing all who were oppressed of the devil.
When we observe this in Scripture it seems to paint a compelling case for the fact that breakthrough can and should be immediate. Jesus did not tell anyone who came to him, “This will take some time.” This would seem to justify us taking a position that breakthrough should be a one-time event, not a process, and in fact, believing that it is a process could be viewed as a compromise of faith and even not Biblical.
The reason I mention my spiritual background is because this is exactly what has taken place in many charismatic churches, especially those whose focus is on miraculous signs and wonders. The idea is that if breakthrough to you is anything but a one-time event, then there is something wrong with your theology. And many churches have begun to regard with suspicion any ministry or methodology that suggests anything in the Christian life takes time or involves a process.
But the problem with such a position is that the Christian life itself is in fact a process. We are on a journey of being transformed, as in the following verse: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom 12:2). The process of transformation is further reflected in the following famous passage in Ephesians concerning the church, whose destiny is “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” As these scriptures suggest, transformation — unlike miraculous healing — is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.
It is suitable therefore to believe in the miraculous, but it is pure folly to assume everything in the Christian life should be instant, and disastrous to reject anything that might suggests it is not.
“But by acknowledging that Christianity is a process, are we not succumbing to doubt and unbelief?” someone may ask. “When someone asks for healing, do we tell them, ‘You may not get healed depending on where you are at in the process’?” The question here really is: How do we reconcile our commitment to the miraculous with the fact that Christian transformation is an ongoing process? For starters: Certainly not by rejecting one or the other. But this question is best answered by a story based on actual events.
A husband and wife heard about the miraculous power of God and asked for prayer. They both smoked and could not quit, and believed God could heal them of this addiction. The husband was healed instantly, but the wife was not. Until one day, God brought something to her attention. She had been harboring unforgiveness toward her own father who had been an alcoholic. But God showed her that his addiction to alcohol was just like her addiction to smoking. This revelation led her to forgive her father, and she was delivered from smoking addiction from that day forward.
The answer to the question “How do we reconcile the miraculous with transformation?” is this: With God, all things are possible. And He desires healing and deliverance for all. But God has chosen to withhold His healing power when an issue of the heart is present. Acknowledging this is not a diminishing of faith; it is expanding our faith to include a greater and deeper Biblical reality.
The ironic thing is that even churches most committed to breakthrough as a one-time event acknowledge — even teach — that unforgiveness is an obstacle to healing. What is not often acknowledged is that forgiveness is an aspect of transformation. That is, it has nothing to do with faith in God’s ability to heal; it has everything to do with the reality and necessity of the heart being renewed. By acknowledging a link between healing and forgiveness, we are acknowledging that transformation matters, and matters greatly.
But how long should transformation take? A few years ago, a prominent church on the cutting edge of signs and wonders hosted a seminar sponsored by their spiritual counseling ministry (ironically, called the Transformation Center). During the seminar, one woman shared how beneficial the program had been for her, and during her talk happened to mention that she had committed to spiritual counseling for a year. “But you did not have to,” one of the leaders interjected. Which was an odd comment. Later, it was discovered the leader had a problem with transformation taking that long — despite the fact that the woman who shared told story after story of how each session had a profound impact on her life. How long should transformation take? The Bible says it is an ongoing process. How about transformation should take as long as it takes.
It has been said that the key to wisdom is not having the right answer but asking the right question. The right question to be asked here is not whether breakthrough should be a one-time event or not, but whether the approach we are taking makes room for both the miraculous nature of God and equally, if not more importantly, the Biblical reality of ongoing spiritual transformation.
The folly of insisting breakthrough be instantaneous, and thus refusing to make a place in the church body — or in our lives personally — for ongoing process should be clear. When we do so, we end up rejecting an entire dimension (and in my opinion, the most vital dimension) of the Christian experience. Further, by rejecting the reality and necessity of spiritual transformation, churches who emphasize signs and wonders end up sabotaging the very miraculous culture they seek to preserve.
I welcome your thoughts.