I regularly come upon the phrase, “hack,” and people use it to denote a shortcut or way to bypass unnecessary problems or obstacles. One of my favorite websites, in fact, is dedicated to “life hacks”—articles that show you how to solve many common problems. I suspect that most people look for the most efficient ways to solve problems, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, one of my life mottos is, “Work smart, not just hard.” In other words, plenty of people work hard but that doesn’t mean they work smart. You can carry dirt into your backyard one shovel full at a time or you can get a wheelbarrow. You will work very hard in the first scenario and it’ll take a long time! You can still work hard in the second scenario but you’ll finish the job a lot quicker! How does this apply to the doctrine of sanctification?
Well, I once met someone who literally thought he could hack his way to greater sanctification. How so? I got in his car and I noticed that his stereo was missing and that his dashboard was utterly mangled in the process. I offered my condolences that this man’s stereo was obviously stolen. He quickly informed me it wasn’t—he told me he literally took an axe to his dashboard to hack out the car stereo. Somewhat surprised, I naturally wanted to know why he butchered his car to remove the stereo. He told me it was a stumbling block for his sanctification—he listened to the radio, which had sexually charged music, which caused him to lust. So, he hacked out the problem. Over the course of the evening I had to inform this man about several things.
Jesus did not ordain an axe as the means of grace. In other words, Christ has established certain means as the tools for growing in grace: word, sacraments, and prayer (Westminster Larger Catechism q. 154-55; Heidelberg Catechism q. 65, 116). There are no sanctification hacks—there are no other means by which we can grow in grace. To use a biblical metaphor, the only way we can sustain growth in sanctification is by feeding upon the manna from heaven, namely, Christ. I reminded this man of these truths. He could hack his car stereo out of his dashboard and still struggle with the sin of lust. Why? By hacking the stereo he wasn’t addressing the problem—his own sinful heart. We have to attack the root of our sin, which lies with our sinful desires, not with things outside of us. As Jesus taught his disciples, “For from within, out of the heart of a man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22). We, therefore, must address our hearts first, and only the means of grace have the power to quell and eradicate our sinful desires. Only Christ can fill our hearts with the desire to please and obey him.
Yes, there is wisdom in removing sources of stumbling from your path. I suggested to this man that he could have removed the fuse, disconnected the wire, or used the proper tools to remove his car stereo. Hacking it out with an axe was likely the manifestation of another sin—a lack of self-control and perhaps even anger. So, do you struggle with internet pornography? Get an app to help you with this. Perhaps it might be wise to disconnect your internet service for a time until you master this sin through the means of grace. Removing stumbling blocks, however, is very different than believing that sanctification is merely about clearing obstacles from your path.
In the end, there is no hack, no shortcut, no easy road for sanctification. Only by drawing nigh to Christ through the means of grace will bring us in greater conformity to Christ.