The process of allowing God to transform you into the people He envisioned you becoming is a lifelong challenge. Often, we believe we have dealt with our sin issue by saying some words that invite Jesus to be our savior, and after making that decision we move on to face the other challenges of life. We feel comforted in believing that our place in heaven is secure and that we no longer have to fret about Satan’s impact on our eternal life.
Unfortunately, it seems that there is a lot of misunderstanding and unfinished business related to our salvation. (And yes, this topic is fraught with theological landmines, so I will attempt to tread carefully.) My research suggests that millions of Americans “say the prayer” that they assume guarantees them eternal salvation. But the research also confirms that a large share of those people does not develop a real “relationship” with Christ, they have not really broken ranks with sin, and they are not truly living for God’s purposes. Millions of people who have said a salvation prayer missed the primary caveat of that offer: you must be broken of sin, self, and society in order to truly be freed to become a follower of Christ.
The data indicate that very few people – barely one out of ten adults in the United States – could be considered to have been broken by their understanding of and distaste for their offenses against God. And a huge majority of Christians believes that you can be saved without experiencing such brokenness.
Sadly, they are wrong. There is no salvation without brokenness.
The Bible leaves no doubt as to the necessity of brokenness. Consider some of the evidence:
- King David lived life to the fullest –sometimes too full. Among other sins, we know that he suffered from lust, engaged in adultery, and was guilty of murder. In order to grab David’s attention and teach him the seriousness of what he had willfully done, God allowed David’s marriage to dissolve, his baby died, and his older children rebelled against him. David was a man after God’s heart, but God had to break him. (2Samuel 11-15)
- The apostle Paul was a brilliant scholar and skilled debater. But he suffered from hatred (of Christians) and pride. God loved Paul enough to break him through blindness, beatings, imprisonment, mistrust, questions about his standing as an apostle, and public humiliation. (Acts 9, 2Cor 6, 12)
- Jonah was a reluctant and disobedient prophet. He heard and refused the call of God, preferring to let his enemies experience God’s harsh judgment. Jonah’s self-centeredness and lack of compassion toward fellow sinners resulted in a life marked by emotional turmoil, physical peril, and public rejection. (Jonah 1-3)
- Moses was a highly educated orphan, raised in a privileged environment to prepare for leadership. But after breaking away from his Egyptian setting, he returned to lead God’s people. Unfortunately, in one particular circumstance he disobeyed God and beat a rock with a stick, ostensibly taking credit for a miracle God performed by generating water from that stone. That act of defiance displayed the level of pride and anger residing within Moses. In response, God allowed Israel’s leader to complete the work of leading the Jews to the brink of the Promised Land but banned Moses from entering it. (Numbers 20)
Note that in each case God’s response was more than simple punishment. It was actions intended to break the heart of the sinner and cause them to reform their relationship with God.
Personally, it was God’s reaction to Moses that finally awoke me to what was going on. For years I had felt that Moses got a raw deal. Sure, he hit a rock with a stick because he was tired of people whining. That hardly seems worthy of depriving Moses, the diligent leader who had to put up with doubters and complainers for years of miserable trekking through a desert based on little more than pure faith, the joy of experiencing the place God had reserved for Israel. What would motivate God to react so sternly to such a minor miscue? To my human mind, the punishment did not fit the crime; it seemed way over the top. From my arrogant, self-absorbed perspective, it seemed blatantly unfair.
But that punishment was simply a necessary means to a glorious end. That in-your-face response by God finally pierced the spirit of Moses and enabled him to receive an incredible gift: brokenness. Through the ensuing brokenness, Moses was able to know God more genuinely, deeply and completely. He was able to walk more closely with Him and serve Him more appropriately. He transitioned from self-centered leadership to God-centered service. And he was able to accept the loss of a prized earthly reward in exchange for an invaluable eternal reward.
Oh, and don’t let me forget to mention that Jesus Himself was broken. He had to experience that devastation, not because of anything He did, but because of our sin. But even the holy Son of God was not spared the pain and suffering inherent in being separated from intimacy with God because of our offensive choices. As much as anything, the fact that our holy and righteous savior was broken is the ultimate sign to us, God’s offenders, of just how important it is for us to abandon anything that stands in the way of our complete reliance upon God for true life.
Almost every great biblical hero was broken by God through multiple life crises or harsh circumstances designed for that purpose. There is no getting around the reality: even the best of us needs to be broken, fully and completely detached from our dalliance with sin, self, and society.
If you examine the individuals involved in all these instances, you’ll see that God does not force us to accept brokenness. He always allows us to choose. But if you are wise, you will discover that you either allow God to use circumstances to wake you and break you, or you may count on continuing to fight Him and suffer.
Most people never realize that brokenness is actually a gift from God that demonstrates His awesome and unyielding love. We typically examine the circumstances designed to guide us from a casual acquaintance to an intense and intimate lover of God and foolishly conclude that they are harmful to our well-being. In reality, they are God’s means of bringing us to our knees before Him, in full-on repentance, enabling us to see the truth of who we are, who He is, how we treat Him, and how compassionate He is.
In our culture-aided confusion we focus on the deprivation, sacrifice, pain, suffering, hardship, and persecution that God injects into our experience. We mistakenly assume that once we believe nice things about God and invest a few personal resources in the development of our faith, the appropriate response by our Father should be affirmation, comfort, pleasure, rewards, and happiness.
But that’s only because we understand neither the nature of God nor the beauty of brokenness.
So if you are serious about honoring and loving God, eliminating your gnawing sense of spiritual discontent or incompleteness, and living your life to the fullest degree, then you have no choice but to embrace brokenness and to trust God alone to bring you through it.