My wife took a hard tumble recently at a local gas station. When filling up her car, somehow she tripped over the hose and went sprawling. She emerged from her fall with a badly skinned knee, a bruised palm, and a sore shoulder. It could have been much worse.
Stumbling can be hazardous, both the physical ones and their spiritual counterparts. A well-known evangelical leader has been in the news lately for allegedly taking a tumble spiritually. It’s sad and disappointing. It serves as a reminder to us that we’re all susceptible to tripping over temptations, giving in to ungodly desires, and otherwise falling off the pathway of obediently following God’s will for our lives. However, if this particular case proves to be true, it appears to be less of a one-time, sudden stumble and more of an ongoing downward spiral into sin and immorality.
Concerning physical falls, we’ve all probably stumbled at some point due to a careless moment, overestimating our abilities to do something, or a sudden unavoidable obstacle getting in our way. Occasionally having such an experience is understandable. However, if someone was regularly stumbling and falling, we’d have them checked out by a doctor to see what was wrong. Likewise, we’re all going to have moments when we stumble spiritually. Yet that shouldn’t be our regular or daily experience. If it is, then we need to do some evaluating of our spiritual health.
Too often believers today are being taught that such incidents of spiritual stumbling comprise the normal way of life for a follower of Jesus. It’s suggested that not only do we sustain such falls regularly, but we should expect them. What’s especially dangerous is the idea that we shouldn’t be very concerned about those falls when they happen, because we’re forgiven.
First of all, let’s call those spiritual stumbles what they are – sin. They’re not just mistakes. They’re not some harmless weakness on our part. They’re sin. Yes, the Bible teaches that we all sin and, thankfully, we have forgiveness available to us through our Advocate, Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, such forgiveness is granted only to those who confess their sins, repent, and submit themselves to the Lord. It’s possible for hearts to become so hardened that they have a difficult time bringing themselves to that humble place where God’s forgiveness is granted. So let’s not presume upon God’s grace or take any fall into sin lightly.
Secondly, we need to put more emphasis on the fact that God not only forgives our sins when we stumble, but He can also enable us to resist those sins in the first place. God is not just the God who picks us up after we stumble and fall. The Bible also declares that He is the great God “who is able to keep you from stumbling” (Jude 24). Temptations aren’t irresistible. With every temptation that comes our way, God makes a way for us to escape its clutches (see I Corinthians 10:13). As believers we are no longer slaves to sin. “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life” (Romans 6:22).
We need to see ourselves less as weak, helpless victims of sin and more as those who are set free by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit to overcome sin in our lives. We don’t have to live a life of constant spiritual stumbles and falls. We can stand. We can walk in the Spirit. And instead of the devil tripping us up, we can tread on Him and “trample … over all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19).