When we moved into our little yellow house over a year ago, we didn’t realize what kind of project we were taking on. We saw the wallpaper and shag-rug floors, the uneven stairs and shaky banister. Those are small aesthetic things, they’ll be easy and quick to fix.
But then we realized the wallpaper was glued onto bare drywall (which, in short, means you need all new drywall), the money for the new flooring didn’t come right away (and we lived with chipboard under our feet), and the living room alone took months to complete.
As I walked through my house with old shoes on, saw the drywall dust that littered my house like fluffy snow, and the various arrays of floral wallpaper, I battled frustration. I hated for people to come inside because I didn’t want them to see the mess our house had become—or how long it was taking us to progress through our renovations. I gritted my teeth in conversations hoping they wouldn’t ask how the restorations were going.
Some days, our progress was literally one piece of drywall screwed onto the ceiling, or one wall painted. Some days were spent solely cleaning up the mess from the day before or trying to find a tool that had gone missing in the demolition. Some things were out of our control, like windows arriving, and all we could do was wait in our little construction zone.
A year of living in these renovations and seeing rooms completed one piece at a time, I have learned not only patience but a lot about sanctification. In many ways this little house is much like my heart, and yours too.
When you and I became Christians, we started the long journey of sanctification. Sanctification is the process every believer goes through in which God makes them more like Christ. Growth in sanctification happens through facing temptation, enduring trials, and participating in the means of grace. All of this happens with time, and goes on until the believer takes her last breath.
Sometimes we like to think that sanctification is a perfect upward slope; a straight, diagonal line from the bottom of the graph (new convert) to the top (fully mature Christian). But that’s not an accurate picture. Or maybe you think of it as a tiny wobbly line in the beginning that suddenly jumps to the top. But that’s not what the Bible describes either.
A more accurate picture of sanctification is the steady progression of our house renovations. It has a start at the bottom, and slowly continues upward with bumps, dips, and jumps along the way. There were productive days of progress in making our house into the way we envisioned it, while there were days when it seemed we actually went backwards because the walls we spent hours de-wallpapering were the knocked down and replaced.
In the same way, our sanctification is a constant battle against sin, with both victories and losses. Paul himself writes about this struggle:
“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Romans 7:14-20 ESV
The Apostle Paul felt this struggle too. We all do. We have a heart changed by grace that wants to do what is right, but it resides in our corrupted flesh that is constantly pulling us towards sin. It is a battle, and it is one we fight in each day.
Because it is daily battle filled with little victories and losses, we can become discouraged as we look at our progress. As I added up what we accomplished on our house in a week (and some weeks that number was zero) I wanted to sit on the floor and throw drywall dust in the air.
I’ve also felt the same way about my sanctification. I couldn’t see much progress, and I felt like a failure. I didn’t want people to know about my struggle because I didn’t want them to know how little progress I made. I knew God could do the impossible, but some days it seemed that my heart was beyond changing.
In those moments we need to remember our hope. Our hope in God’s faithfulness—that he will bring us to completion. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV). We need to remember our eternal hope, that one day we will close our eyes for the final time and be brought into the presence of Christ, our bodies fully redeemed and freed completely from sin (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).
In our discouragement, we need to stop looking for large conquests over sin, but praise God for the little victories throughout our walk. Remember that it was by his grace that you are where are you today. Thank him for the courage to turn away from sin and pursue obedience. It’s hard to see the victories God has given you when you are in the midst of the battle, but in a moment of peace when we look back with new eyes, we can see how far we have truly come.
It was difficult to see how great our progress was on the house when we were submersed in the construction zone each day. But others were able to walk in with fresh eyes and see how far we had come. Sometimes we need a friend to remind us of the grace and faithfulness of God in our journey and point out how he has been at work.
Our sanctification is not a sprint to the goal, but a patient walk through thorns and fields, in which we are constantly moving, with stumbles in between, but by the sustaining power of God keep going forward.