For a long time, I committed more “fits” than “starts.”
For those not familiar with the idiom “fits and starts,” it refers to irregular intervals of action and inaction, as in “His presidential campaign is proceeding by fits and starts.” The expression began in the late 1500s with “as by fits.” The noun fit meant a paroxysm or seizure. Start was added about a century later, according to The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms.
Many of the folks I’ve known during my lifetime have fallen more into the fit category, me included. From infancy, people had told me the story of Jesus dying on the cross. How could they not? My dad was a preacher, which meant Mom and I went to church every time the doors opened. But hearing just meant I knew some Bible stories.
A few months before my ninth birthday, Dad took me into his home office and told me why I needed to follow Jesus as my Savior. I understood — and decided I would.
Things progressed well, until I hit middle school. That’s when things changed. Not all my friends followed Jesus in my new school. Nor did they make any effort to obey all the commands my parents had taught me to obey. They pressured me to follow suit, but I stood strong. Then adolescence took over.
My fourteenth birthday brought more changes. By this time, I had decided I wanted to delve into some of that behavior and those attitudes my middle school friends had invited me to indulge in. Now I was in another school with a much rougher crowd. I had only two or three friends who traveled the way my parents and church taught me to go. I chose the wrong path.
High school was a blur. Still is. I continued going to church; I had no choice. And I even kept reading my Bible and saying my prayers. But the fits caught me, and the starts became almost nonexistent. Occasionally, I’d feel bad about the things I did, but God’s still small voice grew stiller and quieter.
Finally, in my mid-twenties, I tired of the fits and decided to start — again. Of course, God hadn’t left me. I had moved, and, as always, He waited for me to come back. When I did, I discovered open arms, forgiveness, and second chances.
I wish I could say my journey from then to now has been consistent starts, but it hasn’t. Yet I feel as if I’m in good company. The greatest missionary who ever lived said, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15).
Many Bible scholars believe that Paul’s words reflect his personal experiences after he met the risen Christ on the Damascus Road, not before. Which is significant. If Paul was speaking of afterward, then his life as an apostle was also characterized by fits and starts. Although he took the gospel message to the known world, Paul didn’t always trust, didn’t always get it right, and didn’t always obey. Still, God used him through the fits.
The theological word for the process of fits and starts is sanctification. As Paul taught, it is not a process we can do by ourselves; sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in us (Romans 8:1, 2; 15:16; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). Two important elements go along with the word and its meaning.
Sanctification isn’t automatic; it requires our participation. In fact, if we don’t put in any effort — if we don’t walk in the Spirit — we’ll find ourselves doing more fits than starts (Galatians 5:16). The writer of Hebrews alluded to this when he wrote, “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food” (Hebrews 5:12).
This Spirit-led process begins the moment we choose to follow Christ and continues throughout our lifetime until we draw our final breath, or until Christ returns, whichever comes first. Paul writes of progression sanctification: “Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1; cf. vv. 2-10).
While we may not arrive at perfection this side of Christ’s coming, there should never come a time when we stop striving to grow spiritually, to know more about God and His ways, and to get closer to Him.
Unbelief is the only sin God won’t — and can’t — forgive. Christians don’t have to worry about committing it, because we have already believed. Satan would love nothing better than to convince us our fits have disqualified us from God’s service. Our place is on the shelf. Our service is over. We’re a failure. Such messages never come from God. On the contrary, John encourages us, “My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous” (1 John 2:1).
When we choose to follow Christ, He clothes us in Christ’s righteousness and forgives all our sins. Our part is to confess and start — and keep starting in spite of the fits.
So, don’t let the fits get you down. They are a part of our fallen nature and of the journey. With the Spirit’s leading, you can enjoy more starts than fits.