Sanctification (the gradual and continual process of God forming us into the character of His Son Jesus) is functionally like walking up a down escalator. You have to keep moving forward sometimes just to stay at the same place.
Growing in godliness is not something that is ever static or unchanging. It is something that needs continual effort and intention. This doesn’t mean that it is always “trying harder” per say. It means simply that is requires continual movement and intentionality.
I say this because the moment you stop, whether that be the disciplines of prayer, community, bible reading, fasting, etc. you start slowing drifting backwards and losing ground. I think that there is this ongoing myth that growing in godliness is like mountain climbing where we reach certain spots (plateaus) where we can just sit back and “kick it for a while.”
While there are times of seemingly little to no growth and other times were it seems like we are making huge progress in short bursts of time, there is always movement.
Why is this? I think it is because as human beings created in the image of God, we are always worshiping something. Our hearts are always being captivated by something and wanting to “worship it” so to speak. Like a garden hose that is constantly left on, we are always watering/worshiping something.
When I say that sanctification is like walking up a down escalator, what I am acknowledging is this worship piece. Even though God is unbelievably captivating and satisfying, we are prone to wander. We are prone to be satisfied with lesser things. And so we instill disciplines into our lives in order to continually reorient our affections and praise toward the One who is truly worthy of it.
Rather than being taken by the latest song, movie, get rich quick scheme, or even subtler things like the praise of others, the success of promotions and recognition, the return of romantic love by a significant other, our hearts must be on guard to not be too captivated by these things.
And so, we gather regularly with the people of God to worship the One who is truly worthy of worship. We place ourselves under the teaching of God’s word so that we can be anchored in the truth of who God is, who we are, and why that continually matters. We set aside time each day to hear from God’s Word directly and be shaped by it. We pray because we long to spend time with the God of the universe. We periodically fast from good things like food, drink, media, so as to make sure that these good gifts from God don’t get too strong a grip on our lives.
I am always taken by this quote from D. A. Carson. It reminds me that growth in godliness really is like constantly walking up a down escalator. (DA Carson, For the Love of God, Vol 2)
People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.