We need to give ourselves to what Horatius Bonar calls “daily littles.” He writes, “The Christian life is a great thing, one of the greatest things on earth. Made up of daily littles, it is yet in itself not a little thing, but in so far as it is truly lived…is noble throughout” (God’s Way of Holiness, 127). If we want to persevere to the end, we need to maintain this dual perspective: (1) the Christian life is “a great thing,” and (2) the Christian life is made up of “daily littles.” Holiness happens one step at a time.
The road to heaven is flanked with dangers—and not always the dangers we expect.
Many of us set out on this journey expecting threats to come from the world: its comforts and pleasures, its false stories and faux moralities. Many of us also anticipate danger to come from suffering: sudden losses, broken dreams, persecution in its various forms. But perhaps fewer of us are aware of another threat, less familiar but just as dangerous: the slowness of our sanctification.
John Piper once said in an interview,
I have dealt with more people—I’m not sure if this is true, but it is close—who are ready to give up their Christian faith precisely because of the slowness of their sanctification, rather than because of physical harm that’s been brought to them or hurt that’s come into their life. They’re just tired.
Some of us consider leaving the road to heaven not mainly because we are tempted by the world, nor because we are tried by suffering, but because we are just plain tired. Tired of daily self-denial. Tired of taking two steps forward and one step back. Tired of walking on a road that feels endless, toward a city we cannot see.
Disillusioned and exhausted, many sit down on the path, not sure if they will get back up again.
Ten Million Steps
Why does the slowness of our sanctification come as a surprise to so many of us (myself included)? Where did we get the idea that holiness would come swiftly?
From any number of places. Perhaps our high-speed culture has shaped our expectations more than we realize. Perhaps our own pride has caused us to misjudge our powers of endurance, much like Peter’s did long ago: “All these may grow tired, Lord, but not I!” (see Matthew 26:33). Or perhaps we have heard a few too many Christians talk about “the secret” or “the key” to overcoming some sin—suggestions that, nine times out of ten, oversimplify our complex struggles.
Wherever we got the idea that the path of discipleship would be faster, we did not get it from the Bible. In Scripture, we see that mature Christlikeness does not happen in a month, a year, or a decade, but over a whole lifetime. Holiness has no ten-step plan—only a plan with ten million steps, a plan that ends only when we die.
Take the Long View
The pictures of growth that God gives us in his word bid us to take the long view of sanctification. They shift our expectations from the fast to the slow, from the immediate to the gradual.
We are farmers planting crops (Galatians 6:7). Grace grows in our souls much like God’s kingdom grows in the world: the seed slowly sprouts to the sky, the crops slowly fill the field (Mark 4:28). We plow and sow, water and watch, and bear fruit only “with patience” (Luke 8:15).
We are children growing up (Ephesians 4:14–15). Like all children, our bones grow slowly. We move from milk to solid food on our way to looking like our elder brother (1 Peter 2:2; Romans 8:29). One day we will be like him, but only “when he appears…because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).