Autocorrect and Indwelling Sin

It’s a simple formula: overconfidence in phone-typing ability leads to an increased typing speed, which then leads to typos processed by a confused autocorrect program that turns “I’ll be praying for you tomorrow” into “I’ll be partying to your Oreos” (and much, much worse).

Entire profanity-clad websites have been devoted to the emotion surrounding this experience. We want to cuss. We blame the phone. Like a tennis player who looks at his racquet after he volleys one into the net, we say, “I hate autocorrect!”

It’s understandable because it’s such a common experience. But is it fair to blame the software? Is it really in our right to demand such advanced phone-based syntactical software that Siri should be able to decipher “Betheee un 5 mons” as “Be there in 5 mins” instead of “Bee sting on 5 moms”?

No. Autocorrect is a word-by-word vocabulary (not syntax) recognition program that is intended to smooth out typos. It’s not a mind-reading device that compensates for fry-grease-laden fingertips.

Rethink Your Self-Hatred

Have you ever found yourself, in the midst of failure and frustration in the Christian life, saying, “I hate myself”?

It’s understandable because it’s such a common experience. But is it fair to direct such burning animosity at ourselves on account of an inevitable Christian experience (Galatians 5:17)?

We expect ourselves to perform the miracle of sanctification at the snap of a divine finger. When we try and fail, we end up frustrated at the results — something far from what we intended. Sometimes sanctification just doesn’t go the direction we push it. Memorizing Psalm 139 turns into memorizing Psalm 139:1a. A holy dating relationship turns into a source of deep shame. Our “hurrah” accountability group results in close friendships becoming awkward, forced, and distanced. “Memorize” becomes “Memorial.” “Dating” turns into “Daring.” “Accountability” came out “Accident okay.” And we enter a cycle of rushing, jumping, performing, and feeling anxious about not doing any of them quite well enough. And we think that’s sanctification.

Our first reaction? Predictable. Delete furiously, become frustrated, and count it a loss — of time, energy, and ultimately our measure of self-worth. “I couldn’t do it. I thought I was a better Christian than that.” You’re not (Jeremiah 17:9). But the beauty of God’s sovereignty is that we can rest in the fact that he doesn’t expect us to be further than we are in this moment, and the call to holiness includes resting in timeliness — it includes divine patience and understanding.

God’s patient timing doesn’t undermine the call to Christian obedience (Romans 6:16). It doesn’t undo the call to live holy lives (1 Peter 1:15). God’s patience with your intermingled sin in your sanctification process doesn’t render useless “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6) any more than a failed autocorrect renders useless a phone. But it does change our perspective on our failures — it changes how we perceive our failed inputs (sin) into a holy program (sanctification).

Slow Down

What’s the solution to chronic autocorrect mishaps? It’s pretty simple: Slow down. You will type more accurately, be less frustrated, and the end result will likely be the same, only with far less anxiety and impatience.

Slowing down your sanctification doesn’t mean you’re backsliding, in the same way that slow, intelligent repentance takes deeper roots than rash and uninformed repentance (see Jonah 3:6–10; Proverbs 19:2). So, here are two ways to slow down in your sanctification, and hopefully begin hacking away at a lot of unnecessary anxiety.

Be patient with yourself. It is worth quoting John Murray at length here:

The law of growth applies, therefore, in the realm of the Christian life. God is pleased to work through the process, and to fail to take account of this principle in the sanctification of the people of God is to frustrate both the wisdom and the grace of God. The child who acts as a man is a monstrosity; the man who acts as a child is a tragedy. (Collected Works, 2:298).

Murray makes an insightful point in highlighting that sanctification is not merely about obedience, but wisdom — and yes, the two are different. The one who takes obedience seriously does not presume that he is able to obey immediately. If “righteousness and peace and joy [are] in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17), then behind that truth operates the greater reality that “those who plan peace have joy” (Proverbs 12:20). Growth requires time, and productive time a plan. And in any good plan for growth over time the respect for process (not policy) is seriously and practically taken into account.

Be patient with God. Of course, sanctification isn’t all about having the right mindset. It is a miraculous work of God. Every millisecond we shave off the time between elicited temptation and repentance is an apocalyptic breaking-in of Christ’s resurrection power (Romans 8:2, 10). But we are between the times (Galatians 1:4; Hebrews 6:5), which is why Peter says to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15) and to “not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

Yes, sanctification is a matter of urgency (Titus 3:14). But it must also be a matter of patience — or it will be stunted, at best, and the source of unduly self-hatred, at worst.

Get Back Up

The next time you’re tempted to say “I hate myself” because of the lingering sin in your life, take a deep breath, regroup, read Psalm 139, and get back in the game. “The righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity” (Proverbs 24:16). The righteous fall. Falling is not the defining issue. The wicked listen to the accuser (Revelation 12:10) and don’t get back up. The righteous get back up.

Rest in the patience of God, brothers and sisters, and be patient with yourselves. God’s timing in sanctifying you from your sin is not meaningless. He has a sure and steady plan for your deliverance through your effort (Ephesians 5:27). You will overcome by his grace.

is a Ph.D. student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and philosophy professor at Moody Bible Institute.