The Daily Work of Sanctification

My son and I are both so tired of the conversation that seems to be on endless repeat between him and me lately. With remote schooling, we keep stumbling into new circumstances to talk about having integrity and not taking the easy way out. I am frustrated that I cannot seem to instill within him biblical principles like being trustworthy matters and hard work reaps benefits laziness never will.

As he sits right next to me now to finish his homework for the day – a punishment most devastating to him – I grab my Bible and journal to continue reading through Proverbs. I am in Proverbs 2, which begins:

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding. Proverbs 2:1-2

Oh – I like this proverb already. This is just what he needs to hear. I am half-tempted to start reading it aloud. But he’s wearing headphones, and I’ve probably said too much already, so I keep reading to myself. The proverb continues,

“And if you call out for insight, and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:3-5

The first thing I notice is all of the active verbs that come before understanding the fear of the Lord, so I write them down in my journal: accepting, storing up, turning an ear, applying your heart, calling out, crying aloud, looking for, searching. Understanding the fear of the Lord and finding the knowledge of God does not passively happen to us. Spiritual growth takes work. I will make sure to remind my son.

Then I write something that surprises me: I want growing in the Lord to be easy.

Wait, I thought this proverb was for him? I realize I might have written – I want parenting to be easy.

I feel the same way about both, and both are harder than I thought they would be. And they are interconnected; so many of the spiritual lessons I learn happen through the daily, arduous act of parenting. As I read what I have just written, the irony of what I am trying to instill in my son hits me – hard work reaps benefits laziness never will. 

I put my pen down because I need to sit with this idea for a minute. I don’t like the thought of my spiritual life involving hard work; something rubs me the wrong way about it. Growing up Lutheran, I hear the phrase “grace, not works” ringing loudly in my head and yet Proverbs 2 tells me I have my own work to do in this spiritual journey.

But as I take a moment to let my son pick which subject he will work on next, I remember we have the free will to make choices, and our choice to receive salvation found in Christ is different than being sanctified by Christ. I did not need to work hard to earn my salvation. Salvation comes from a choice I made to simply believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior (Acts 16:31), and He gave me that gift fully and completely.

Spiritual growth, however – this process of sanctification and becoming more like Christ – does not happen fully and completely based on one choice. Sanctification is an ongoing, daily exercise of free will to continue to choose to follow Christ’s example. I choose to store up His commands and apply my heart to understanding. In the same way my son starting a Latin class, or even sitting in one, does not make him understand Latin until he puts in the work of listening to instruction. In class he must mimic the teacher and practice through repetition – understanding the fear of the Lord takes hard work and learning and practice. Yes, there is still grace in sanctification, but there is also work.

These battles that seem endless are a necessary part of this process both for him, and also for me. God has ordained that my son and I will work side by side – accepting, turning an ear, applying our hearts to understanding.

We need these repeated opportunities to choose to follow Christ’s example of integrity, or to choose not to, so that we can continue to be transformed into His image. We need these opportunities to follow Christ’s example of patience and love in teaching because, Lord knows, they do not come naturally to me. There is no shortcut for this process. Spiritual hard work reaps spiritual benefits – laziness never will. 

No matter our circumstances, we must choose to do the work.

But our hard work is not for nothing. As I have said to my son ad nauseam (which is Latin meaning “to a sickening or excessive degree”): “I’m not going to tell you the answer, and no, you may not ask Alexa. So where do you need to go to find it?” (Answer: always look for the bold words in the textbook). Our textbook, the Bible, promises that when we seek the Lord as one searches for treasure, we too, will find understanding and knowledge. Proverbs also says this:  

“For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:6

May my son and I continue daily, over the course of a lifetime, to make the choice to do the work and seek His wisdom.

Elise Knobloch
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