You’ve probably heard a pastor remark during a particularly pointed exhortation, “I’m preaching to myself.” That line is often used to reassure listeners that, “Yes, what I’m telling you is a hard word, but it’s one first and foremost for me.”

I have always respected this attitude but recently came to appreciate it in a deeper way. Scrolling through Instagram, my eyes fell on a scripted quote overlaid neatly on a soft-focus photo: “You will never turn from a sin you don’t hate.”

It felt like divine timing. The message came not long after I had committed a familiar sin, one of those I had hoped was behind me. A believer for over four decades, I was keenly aware that the Lord’s patience should have run out on me by now on this particular weakness. How was I still battling it?

The answer was spelled out before me: I didn’t hate it yet. Not like I should. Not completely enough to extinguish it once and for all. Like Lot’s wife, I had turned back toward something I should detest, something from which I had been dragged free. With my conviction and confession still fresh, God chose to deliver a miniature sermon to me via Instagram. Using, of all things, my own words.

The sentence was mine, written in my books and taught by my lips for years, properly attributed for all to see. In the strange alternate universe that is social media, I was literally preaching to myself.

It is the great liability of a teaching ministry: knowing you will likely out-teach your own ability to obey, knowing there will be days when you will not practice what you have preached. But it’s also a liability of the Christian life. Paul exhorted his listeners to follow him as he followed Christ while also acknowledging he was still at war with sin.

All who faithfully proclaim the Good News of Christ must do so circumspectly, balancing a healthy fear of hypocrisy and a healthy fear of leaving God’s truth un-uttered. Silence is not an option for the Christ follower. Hypocrites habitually preach what they have no intention to practice, but the average faithful person preaches knowing that even a habitual obedience is not a perfect obedience.

There will be days when our past words exceed our current deeds. Lord, help us. Sanctification, while certain, is not sudden. But we wish it could be.

We love a quick fix. When I was growing up in the ’70s, it was the nose wiggle that could instantly clean a messy house on Bewitched. I loved those camera trick scenes. These days, it’s before-and-after pictures on social media. Swipe to see a closet go from chaos to order. Swipe to see a room go from filthy to spotless. Swipe to see a face go from blemished to flawless. We know that in between the first and second frames, hours of work have been spent, but we care more about how it all turned out than the process of getting it there.

It is the great liability of a teaching ministry: knowing you will likely out-teach your own ability to obey.

If only the Christian life could be like that. Positionally, we go from wretch to redeemed in an instant. But practically, we “work out our salvation” over the course of many years.

Sanctification is not a swipe but a slog. It rarely looks like an immediate ceasing of a particular sin. Instead, we become slower to step into the familiar traps and quicker to confess when we do. Slower to repeat, quicker to repent. This becomes a mantra of hope. Our hatred of sin is learned across a lifetime.

Reading my own words in an Instagram square, I knew this to be true. Yes, I had turned again to an old, familiar sin, but I couldn’t remember the last time it had happened. Across many years, a sin that had been frequent had grown seldom. Thanks be to God! Jesus taught that those who mourn their sin would be comforted. There is renewed grief in our confession of a repeated sin, but there is real comfort in seeing the distance stretch between those confessions.

That widening distance tells me that the grace of God is indeed teaching me to say no to ungodliness and training me to lead a self-controlled, godly life (Titus 2:11–12). I am being transformed. And the God who is accomplishing this transformation is so patient with me. There is indeed a wideness in God’s mercy. Even when—no, especially when—I am preaching to myself.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Beginning of Wisdom
The Beginning of Wisdom offers a Bible teacher's perspective on spiritual growth and scriptural study in our churches, small groups, and families.
Jen Wilkin
Jen Wilkin is a wife, mom, and Bible teacher. She is the author of Women of the Word and None Like Him. She tweets @jenniferwilkin.
Previous Beginning of Wisdom Columns:
Issue: