There he is, the man known as Sluggard. He chooses rest over plowing and planting (Prov 20:4), a nap when his shift is about to begin. He fakes fear of lions to excuse himself from responsibility (22:13; 26:13). His laziness dominates him so much that he fails even to take care of himself. His house lays in disarray, the yard in chaos. In the task of nourishing his own body, he collapses lifting the food back to his mouth (19:24). What a pitiful man!
The sluggard lacks motivation. He needs incentive and drive to put in God-honoring effort. Otherwise, he will be left without sustenance (21:25). For the saying is trustworthy, “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (2 Thess 3:10). He would be wiser if he would simply look down at the ant every now and again (Prov 6:6), to see how he marches in rank, gathering food in the summer for the coming season of need. How they—the tiny among God’s creatures—employ great concentration to carry up to fifty times their own body weight.
It is true, God provides the seasons, the rain, the sunshine, and even the growth of crops. Still, man does not reap provisions for life apart from putting in time and sweat. We must cultivate, sow, and tend.
All of us can attest the difficulty of manual labor in this fallen world. At the fall, God cursed the efforts of man with toil, thorns, thistles, and sweat (Gen 3:17–19). Life outside of Eden is hard. And we are now inclined to laziness. But do we recognize the similar effects on our spiritual vitality? The strain of the fall wears on our spiritual discipline just as it does our physical work.
Paul exhorted the Philippians to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Salvation is a gift of God’s grace. There is nothing we can do to work for our salvation. Yet, as Paul explained, there is much we must do to work out our salvation.1 God produces the new life, then we develop, nourish, and mature. Energy must be spent. We must resist and strive and labor. Growing believers exert spiritual sweat for their sanctification. The Bible speaks of the soldier, athlete, and farmer to describe the requirements and commitments necessary for the Christian life.
And, just like the fall wears on every member of our material bodies (muscles, bones, joints, tissues, organs, etc.), so too it pounds on the faculties of our immaterial personhood (mind, heart, and will).2 Therefore, we must strive to put forth God-honoring effort in each of these three facets of our being.
Battling with Your Mind, Heart, and Will
The Bible is filled with exhortations to exercise our mental capacities. In 1 Corinthians 14:20, Paul urged the church to mature in their thinking: “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.” We all must develop in our thought life, by constantly setting our mind on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth (Col 3:2). Sanctification demands growth in the knowledge and understanding of our minds.
Elsewhere, the people of God are called to have an “ambition” to be pleasing to the Lord (2 Cor 5:9). Literally, they are to “love the honor” of pleasing Him.3 This is emotional fortitude for the glory of God. We all know what it is to be ambitious in life. We set our aim on all kinds of accomplishments: sports, education, career. Here, we are called to have that same affectionate ambition to bring honor to Jesus Christ. Sanctification demands emotional fervency directed towards Him.
Finally, Romans 7 paints the portrait of a great battle in a person’s will—the fight of what one wants to do and what the flesh produces. One almost gets exhausted just reading Paul’s description of this epic battle. “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want” (v. 19). Sanctification demands ceaseless progression of our will in overcoming the desires of the flesh.
Sanctification is a grind. It is a long, wearying struggle against sin. A similar fatigue to that which hits us physically also hits us spiritually. One of the difficulties in overcoming spiritual lethargy is that the toil, thorns, thistles, and sweat impeding our sanctification are often not as easily recognized as the physical ones.
The following are 11 inhibitions that instigate spiritual lethargy:
Pride and Self-Centeredness
As is the case with all sin, spiritual laziness finds a root in our pride. Failing to exert the effort demanded for godliness often stems from “thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think” (Rom 12:3; cf. Phil 2:3). When our minds are captured by exaltations of self, there is little room left for devotion. Raising our own self-importance inevitably lowers the priority of pursuing Christ.
Toleration of Pet Sins
In Hebrews 12, the author exhorts his readers to run the race set before them, with endurance, fixing their eyes on Jesus. The race is grueling. It demands stamina. If there is any hope of finishing, we must “lay aside” those sins that so easily entangle us. Having died to sin and raised to newness of life, Christians have a new orientation, away from sin and toward holiness. Still, "acceptable" sins linger in our flesh—not acceptable in the eyes of the Almighty, but in our own estimations. These are sins that we more easily fall into than others.
Such sins, if left alone, will pry us from Jesus
Sin is not the only weight that hinders our run. The author also identifies “encumbrances.” He broadens his warning with the universal qualifier “every.” This is a category of hurdles that are not sinful, but still deterrent. Spiritual laziness is often a matter of distracted attention. It's the exertion of energy toward what is good, but not best. This is an important word for men going into ministry. Your sermon preparation, preaching, and counseling must not replace time alone with God. Work hard to preserve the latter, without neglecting the others. Do not allow busy service to distract you from sitting at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:38–42).
Leading up to Paul’s exhortation to be ambitious for God’s honor, he acknowledged the difficulty of our earthliness. It is important to admit our limitation, “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). One of the difficulties in striving for eternity is that we are not eternal. Being finite, we must cast our minds towards the infinite. This is difficult. A lack of eternal perception could be a cause for sluggishness. When we realize God is incomprehensible, we often simply give up.
Gaining knowledge and understanding of God is a spiritual endeavor (1 Cor 2:14–16). Not every person is born with the same abilities and mental fluidity. Many fight with the frustration of reading their Bibles with little perceived benefit. In defeat, many Christians push aside this "duty." If this is you, take heart. Though the climb may be steeper for some than others, the Spirit of God comes alongside of you.
Often, for those who have had to work the hardest, the Word means the most
You do not need to be Sherlock Holmes to detect the correlation between bad company and the corruption of good morals. The ambitions of the wicked are for ill-gotten gain, perversions, and folly. Solomon warned his son, “If sinners entice you, do not consent” (Prov 1:10). They will lead you astray. Spiritual fidelity to the Word is put in direct contrast to walking, standing, and sitting in the presence of sinners (Ps 1).4 In the heat of the battle, you need fellow soldiers around you (Heb 10:23–25). Ask yourself: who am I being influenced by?
Fear of Man
Imagine the man trying to till the field with one foot caught in a trap. He limps around, encumbered by pain and bondage. Thus it is with the person who is captive to the evaluations of others. “The fear of man brings a snare” (Prov 29:25).
Always trying to please others leads to little work in the heart
You cannot give your attention to internal transformation when you are consumed with external perceptions.
In this success-driven culture, disappointment looms behind every challenge. Believe it or not, even the apostle Paul was akin to failure. He knew his infirmities. He called out his own imperfections. But rather than allowing unmet aspirations to overcome him, he pressed on. He looked forward (Phil 3:12–16). Whether it is a sincere aching to rid yourself of that besetting sin or wanting to see more fruit from your labors, you must handle setbacks with perseverance.Physical Exhaustion
The person who runs himself into the ground with busyness can hardly expect to find the energy necessary for spiritual vibrancy. While we are dealing with the difficulties that wear on us spiritually, we must recognize the connection to our bodies. A physically tired person is unlikely to be mentally alert, emotionally stable, or volitionally elevated. Do not work yourself to death at the cost of becoming slothful in devotion.
God is sovereign, not you.
He can give what is needed, even while you sleep (Ps 127:2)
Much like physical fatigue, emotional affliction attacks our souls. Elijah, immediately following his victory on Mount Carmel, fell into depression under the threats of Jezebel and Ahab. He cried out, “It is enough now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). It is difficult to even move when your spirit has been beaten down. If this is you, cast yourself upon Jesus. Be not ashamed of your burdens. He calls all who are weary and heavy laden to come to Him. He is gentle and lowly in heart, offering you rest (Matt 11:25–30). You will not endure in your own strength.
In conclusion, we are brought full circle to our effortless reception of salvation. This article would be incomplete as an imperative for you, the reader, to reject spiritual lethargy and to dig in with intense effort. In Paul’s urgent plea for the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, he also came full-circle: “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). Sanctification demands spiritual effort and sweat. But, any progress in godliness is produced completely by the grace of God at work in us. If you are trying simply to pick yourself up by the bootstraps, it isn’t going to work. Self-dependence is vain. You will collapse. You must continually turn to the Lord for mercy. Plead with Him to provide the strength you need to grow in holiness. Ask Him for spiritual wisdom, right desires, and the ability to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. Work out what Christ has already worked for.
 The same root of εjργέω is used for Paul’s rejection of justification by “works of the Law” (Rom 3:20; Gal 2:16). Here, the compound κατεργάζομαι is used, which focuses on bringing the work to completion.
 There are three essential components of personhood: 1. thoughts/cognition/intellect, the ability to think; 2. emotions/affections/feelings, the ability to respond; and 3. volition/desires, the ability to choose. See, John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 334–35; cf. 418.
 “Φιλοτιμέομαι,” in William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1059.
 Of course, this is not a condemnation of having non-Christian friends. We are to be in the world but not of the world (John 17:15-16). We are to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). How can we be salt and light in the world if we segregate ourselves and hide from them? Still, we must be surrounded by godly examples, imitating them as they imitate Christ.