The Bible occasionally describes the Christian life as “a walk.”
- So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).
- For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
- But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
“Walking” describes the purposeful and active process of learning to live by the power of God’s Spirit and within God’s will. And like anyone learning to walk, we can easily trip …
What does it mean to stumble?
If you’ve heard the term “Christian walk,” you’re probably familiar with the idea of “stumbling.” For practical purposes, we can think of stumbling as a decision or mistake we make that has the potential to derail us.
For instance, Christians in Corinth had run into a problem. Meat that was sacrificed to idols was being sold. Believers disagreed about whether it was acceptable to eat meat that had been offered to false gods. Paul argues that since the gods behind those idols don’t really exist, a Christian doesn’t need to worry about it. But he adds that some believers struggled with their own experiences with idolatry, and for them, eating that meat might cause them to violate their own conscience.
For that reason, Paul offers this principle: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9). Paul doesn’t want us to put things in someone’s path that could become an impediment.
The folks who have faith to eat this sacrificed meat might cause them to do something they believe to be wrong. They might stumble by violating their conscience and eating that meat (which Paul says isn’t that big of a deal), but then it’s a little easier to do something else that violates their principles later.
While a stumble isn’t necessarily a fall, it can easily become one. So we need to be adept at recovering when we make mistakes or find ourselves being disobedient.
Here are a few things you can do to ensure that a stumble doesn’t become a complete wipeout.
1. Confess and seek forgiveness
In all things, Christians want to maintain their connection to the Lord. Thankfully, Paul promises that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38a). But sin has an almost anesthetic quality; it causes us to lose our sensitivity. If we’re not careful, we become desensitized to the Spirit’s prompting.
We tend to be pretty tender when we stumble, and we want to capitalize on that sensitivity by turning to the Lord as quickly as possible. The quicker we run to Jesus, the more likely we are to leave our stumble in our rearview mirror.
2. Confide in someone close
James links the act of confession with healing (James 5:16). When we talk about our struggles with one another, we open ourselves up to accountability. The people close to us have insight into how they can pray for and encourage us. But that’s not the only reason we confess to one another.
When we’re honest about sin, we disempower it. That’s why John reminds us “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.” Sin grows in the dark, but withers in the light. When we drag sin out of the dark, it loses a lot of its power to influence us. It’s most dangerous to us when we try to manage it in secret.
3. Craft a plan to avoid hazards
If you had an electrical cord that you tripped over every time you walked through your living room, you’d hopefully figure out a way to move it. Eventually, you’re going to end up hurting yourself. When you recognize an area in your life where you’re prone to stumble, it’s smart to consider how you can avoid similar situations in the future.
When you’ve found a pastor or close friend you can confide in, develop a plan for not repeating the same mistake. It’s a critical element in demonstrating true repentance.
Learning to walk in the Spirit
We’re all learning to walk in the Spirit, and an important part of that is figuring out how to avoid the pitfalls in your path. If you’re interested in walking in the Spirit, check out this Leader Impact video on the topic.