When I came home the other day, I found a card stuck in my door from a local church. The church was advertising a deliverance prayer meeting. I kind of smirked. Not that I didn’t appreciate the intent behind the motives. The motives are good – addressing sin and struggles, to walk in the way of the Lord. However, the problem is that it is supposed that by bringing whatever ails us to the altar, that automatically sets our sanctification straight. This is especially true if there is some heavy emotion involved. I have heard this far too often, because of emotional altar experiences, that person has been delivered and set free.
But how do we know this? The only way to tell if a person has been delivered and set free, so to speak, is that they show it. And by delivered and set free, it typically means behavior, issues or thinking that are contrary to Scripture. I actually think the language should be revamped (what would this even mean to the unchurched?). We are already delivered and set free in Christ (Col. 1:13-14). The problem is that our Christian walk may not automatically align with this reality. Prayer is good and needed, definitely. But alignment takes time and opportunity. It takes being confronted with situations that would bring out sinful or choices.
The truth is that sanctification is a process. Growing up in Christ is a process. We don’t get there with a magic bullet of altar crying but by a transference of affections from self to Christ and a transformation of thinking that complies to His Lordship. While I do acknowledge there are times, when we are jolted out of patterns of bad behavior or thinking, for the most part it is trek through peaks, valleys, deserts, and fire. There are ups and downs, failures and victories on the path of progressive sanctification.
Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe in the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Our sanctification is a direct result of the Holy Spirit’s work. I am not opposed to emotional scenarios the Lord invokes that serve as the catalyst for change. Paul indicated that it is godly sorrow that brings forth repentance (2 Cor. 7:10-11). There are times when the Lord moves so powerfully in our heart that provokes change.
Shortly after my husband passed away, I got into a relationship I had no business in. After some months of this nonsense, through some casual comments from my fellow worship team members, the Lord brought conviction on my heart so strong that resulted in 4:00 am laying on the floor weeping. Later that day I broke it off. Well see, what mattered was what I did in compliance with what I needed to do. This is why we can’t gauge progress by an emotional altar experience.
The bigger reality is that the relationship was only symptomatic of deeper issues that needed to be addressed that had been there kind of laying dormant for so long. No amount of emotional experience could suddenly wave a magic wand and make those issues disappear. It took time, and trials, and disappointments, and confrontation with scenarios that pushed on my buttons. It took prayer and godly counsel as the Holy Spirit worked in my heart concerning these issues. It took transformed thinking that comes through a steady diet of Scripture and thought re-alignment. The other day, I was powerfully struck by how much has changed over the years though at times it seemed like I was not making any progress. This is the work of sanctification from the Lord not an emotional experience.
To be sure, we are transformed by the renewal of our mind (Rom 12:3). It is re-orienting our thinking from ways of self to ways of Christ, being rooted in his identity. To think we can suddenly stop thinking in ways that are contrary to our Christian identity severely underestimates the woo-ing of our flesh and past experience on Christian progress. This is especially true where there are deep rooted issues that need addressing. It takes confrontation with those scenarios to know if we are really maturing in the faith. And we know that maturity is present when we make choices consistent with our identity in Christ.
The writer of Hebrews makes the point that maturity takes the practice of honing discernment so that we can live out godly wisdom.
Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Heb. 5:14)
While he puts this in the context of growing to teach others, the point is still the same – it takes constant practice.
When believers are conditioned to expect that their sin struggle ceases because of an emotional altar experience, it may very well circumvent the real sanctification process of applying godly wisdom when those times of confrontation hit. It also produces an all-or-nothing attitude that ultimately will discourage those who find they still struggle after the deliverance experience.
If you are in Christ, know that he will perfect that which concerns us (Phil 1:6) because it is God working in us both to work and will for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). There will be bumps, delays, and even set-backs along the way. But he is faithful to preserve his own (Jude 24) even when it looks like a slow process.