The Single Secret to Succeeding
in the Christian Walk
Who Falls More?
Floyd Patterson, nicknamed the Gentleman of Boxing, was the youngest man to ever win the American Heavyweight Boxing Championship. In a recent interview with boxing historian, Bert Sugar, Patterson was reminded by Mr. Sugar that he had been knocked down more than any other boxer in history. The great boxer humbly replied, “Yes, but I got up more times than anyone.”
He didn’t win the championship by not falling down; he won the championship by getting up.
And so it is for the Christian. The single secret to succeeding in the Christian walk is to keep getting up. Solomon understood this point, and articulated it with typical accuracy in Proverbs 24:16, “For a just man falls seven times, and rises up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief.”
You will notice that both the righteous (“just”) and the wicked fall. So the difference between the righteous and the wicked is not that the righteous doesn’t fall, but that he gets up after he falls. But let’s take this a step further, shall we? According to this verse, who falls more? The answer is unavoidable, isn’t it? It’s the righteous man. The righteous man falls more precisely because he keeps getting up. It is axiomatic that you cannot fall down unless you were standing up. According to our verse, the wicked falls just once because when he falls he stays down. Unlike the righteous man, he doesn’t get back up.
Judas Versus Peter
Imagine if we traced the lives of Peter and of Judas from the time of the betrayal of Jesus in Gethsemane to the respective end of each of their lives. Who, over the course of his life, from Gethsemane on, fell more? Judas betrayed Jesus for a pittance and soon thereafter fell, dangling horribly at the end of a noosed rope. Peter fell, too; he denied his Lord thrice, then lived for many more years during which he fell again and again (see, for example, Galatians 2, where Peter reverts back to his bigoted ways in his relations with the Gentiles).
Peter had a lifetime to make mistakes, to sin, to fall. And to keep getting up. Judas fell that once, and didn’t get back up. So who fell more? Peter. Which will be saved? Peter.
So we repeat, with Solomon, “A righteous man falls seven times and rises up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief.”
That the righteous falls more (again, because he keeps getting up) than the wicked in no way condones or excuses sin. Rather, it puts sin (falling) in perspective. To not fall is better, far better, of course. (No bipedal creature would argue this point!) And what’s more, in the power of God (and His power alone), not falling is a present possibility! Hear the words of Holy Scripture: “Now unto Him That is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 24, 25).
But the earlier point still stands: If (not when) you fall . . . get back up. Because sinning is not inevitable for the committed Christian, but getting back up must be!
Proceed With the Process
Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone. This is not in dispute for the committed Protestant Christian. Justification is instantaneous— the moment a sinner accepts the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as his only hope, he is accounted as righteous. In the inimitable words of Ellen White in Steps to Christ, “If you give yourself to Him, and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ’s character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned” (page 64).
No one would seriously deny that Paul of Tarsus was the consummate champion of the Good News (Gospel) of righteousness by faith. Paul’s advocacy of the evangel of faith included the notion that salvation involves
an ongoing process. The following excerpts are representative, being some of the best known and best loved Pauline passages:
For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. Romans 1:16, 17.
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18.
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16.
Notice the phrases: “from faith to faith,” “from glory to glory,” and “day by day.” What grammatical and theological function do these phrases serve in each of these respective passages? The answer is incontrovertible. They each communicate a process. For Paul, salvation involved a process. The dictionary defines process as “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.” Salvation involves steps. Doesn’t the name Steps to Christ make very good sense? Indeed, it does!
The Christian Leap
I have never heard anyone refer to it as the Christian leap. But frequently and colloquially we refer to it as the Christian walk. Think of it: Just how far could even the most athletic among us leap? Fifteen feet? Twenty feet? The current world record for the long jump is held by American Mike Powell, who jumped 29.363 feet (8.95 meters) at the World Track and Field Championships in Tokyo, Japan, in 1991.
It is not easy to leap 29 feet. But it is quite easy for the average person to walk that distance. In fact, great distances can be covered by walking. I just recently finished a marvelous book called The Places in Between, in which author Rory Stewart documents part of his 6,000-mile walk across Asia. It took him 21 months.
The life of the believer is frequently and rightly called the Christian walk because it is just that—a walk. “For we walk by faith, not by sight,” said Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:7. Walking takes time, yes, but you can cover vast distances. So, too, with the walk of faith.
There is such a thing as instant lemonade. And instant tea. And even instant coffee. But there is no such thing as instant sanctification. Sanctification is the Biblical, theological term for walking with God. It does happen—praise God for that—but it does not happen instantaneously. Not according to the Pauline passages cited above, and not according to Ellen White:
There is no such thing as instantaneous sanctification. True sanctification is a daily work, continuing as long as life shall last. The Faith I Live By, p. 116.
Let us be growing Christians. We are not to stand still. We are to be in advance today of what we were yesterday; every day learning to be more trustful, more fully relying upon Jesus. Thus we are to grow up. You do not at one bound [leap] reach perfection; sanctification is the work of a lifetime. Selected Messages, bk. 3, p. 193.
Sanctification is the progressive work of a lifetime. Ibid., p. 202.
Not surprisingly for Seventh-day Adventists, Ellen White’s view of the processes involved in salvation squares perfectly with the apostle Paul’s.
Christianity does not take place in one fell swoop, one grand leap. Do yourself a favor and disabuse your mind of that un-Biblical notion. The Christian walk is just that, a walk. And walking great distances—like from unholiness to holiness—takes time.
And if you fall while walking, what to do? Simple: Get back up.
With a Trembling Hand
I cannot tell you how many times I have utterly failed—utterly let myself, my Lord, and my family down. It is too many to count—not that I’d want to even if I could. You know how it is: You’ve blown it. You said the wrong thing. Or you looked at that Web site that you swore you never would do again. Or you gossiped, after promising yourself you wouldn’t do it again. Or you . . . (fill in the blank).
It can be difficult at such times to believe that forgiveness is still there, still waiting for us to ask for it, still ready to be bestowed by two nail-scarred hands. There have been many times when, with trembling hand, I’ve opened the Bible hoping that it was still there. I arrive at 1 John chapter 1 half expecting verse 9 to be gone. I’m just sure that it’s going to skip right from verse 8 to verse 10…
But it’s always there. Every time.
And if it’s there, then I can still claim it. And I do! The one time that verse won’t be there for me is the time I don’t go there to claim it, to read it, to believe it. Praise God for verse 9!
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Read it. Believe it. Claim it. Live it.
And as if that weren’t enough, chapter 2, verse 1 is always there to encourage me along:
“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.”
I hear John saying, “In the unlikely event that one of you sins, Jesus is there for you. He is your Advocate. He is your Helping Hand. He is your Saviour. He’ll help you to get back up again.” Remember, not falling is better—far better—than falling and then getting back up! On your own you could never do it, “but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
And with God what is possible becomes probable. And what is probable becomes certain. “I can do all things through Christ Which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). “For it is God Which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (2:13).
Learning to Hate
God hates sin. I don’t entirely, yet. But I want to. And God wants me to. Each time I get back up and confess my sin and turn to Jesus, I am giving God permission to do something miraculous in my life. I am giving Him permission to supernaturally, through the power of His indwelling Spirit, create in me a God-given repugnancy for sin. I cannot manufacture a revulsion for sin. Naturally, every fiber and nerve in my body craves sin—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Only God can put an enmity for sin inside of me. And every time I get up and look with disgust at the vomit I’ve just been wallowing in, God is putting that enmity inside me by His Spirit. He’s helping me, teaching me, to hate what He hates, to loathe what He loathes.
Because sin killed Jesus. Don’t forget it. Sin isn’t cute. It isn’t funny. It isn’t small.
Sin is the most deadly cancer in the universe. A cancer so powerful that it killed God when it was placed squarely on His shoulders amidst Gethsemane’s olive groves. He limped painfully, barely making it to Calvary because of the terrible weight on His back. And it wasn’t the patibulum (Latin for crossbar). It was sin. The weight of the sin of the world.
The Bible says that Jesus hated sin. “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows” (Hebrews 1:9).
Part of getting up is asking God to give you power, grace, strength, and poise to not fall down again. To hate sin. To loathe the vomit of iniquity. To hate what God hates. To hate what pierced your Lord and King.
Because if you keep putting your faith in Jesus Christ, one of these times you’re going to fall for that sin (you know which one) for the last time. You’ll get up from it, and, in the power and grace of God, walk away from it. Forever.
Welch’s Is the Good Stuff
In In Luke 5, Jesus told a series of three parables in which He made the case for the danger and illogic of mingling the old and the new.
“And He spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.” Luke 5:36–39.
Scholars are generally agreed that Jesus is here speaking of the transition from a pre-Messianic to a post-Messianic economy in the Judaism of His day. The scribes and Pharisees could not fit the new wine of Jesus’ Messianic identity and teachings into the old wine of their narrow misinterpretation of the Jewish religion.
But there is also a very real sense in which Jesus is here speaking of the transition from old life to new life, old man to new man, in a personal, experiential sense. These parables are metaphors for the transition from old to new in the life of the believer.
Notice that Jesus is appealing to our common sense in each of the parables. He introduces each of them by saying, “No man” does such and such. The message is simple: Think about it; no one does this. Use your noggin, Jesus is saying.
Now look particularly at the last verse. Jesus uses the key word, “straightway.” The NKJV translates this as “immediately.”
A drunk can come to love Welch’s Grape Juice, but it doesn’t happen immediately. It takes time. It involves a process. (Sounds just like Paul and Ellen White!) The old wine represents the old life, the old ways, the old movies, the old Web sites, the old parties, the old drugs, the old sensuality, the old . . . (fill in the blank).
Jesus says that the man accustomed to the old alcoholic wine can grow to love the new and the fresh and loathe the old, but it takes time. It doesn’t happen “immediately.” But it does happen. It does.
I know. Because I am living it. And hopefully you are, too. Out with old (by God’s grace), and in with new (also by God’s grace).
Does Often Mean Often?
The book Steps to Christ has saved my spiritual life more than once. How can a book so small and so simple be so completely amazing? I don’t know, but it is.
I make an effort to read this book at least once a year (sometimes it’s closer to ten times in a given year!). It is just that powerful, and valuable. And simple.
Here is one of my favorite excerpts from this power-packed minivolume:
There are those who have known the pardoning love of Christ and who really desire to be children of God, yet they realize that their character is imperfect, their life faulty, and they are ready to doubt whether their hearts have been renewed by the Holy Spirit. To such I would say, Do not draw back in despair. We shall often have to bow down and weep at the feet of Jesus because of our shortcomings and mistakes, but we are not to be discouraged. Even if we are overcome by the enemy, we are not cast off, not forsaken and rejected of God. No; Christ is at the right hand of God, Who also maketh intercession for us. Said the beloved John, “These things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.” 1 John 2:1.—Page 64.
Read it again. And again, until these words pierce right into your heart. Believe them. They are true. And they are for you.
“Do not draw back in despair.”
“We are not to be discouraged.”
“We are not cast off.”
“[We are] not forsaken and rejected by God.”
The message is clear. (Could it be any clearer?) Even if you fall and fail (especially when you fall and fail!), go to the cross—to the Christ of the cross. Bow down. Ask for forgiveness. Trust Jesus. Take His hand. Get up. Repeat as often as necessary. Keep getting up.
Just like Floyd.
Pastor David Asscherick