Jesus said, “Remain in me, and I in you” (John 15:4). The ideal Christian life is characterized by ongoing fellowship with Jesus. We should regularly listen to Him and learn from Him. Our conversation and conduct should consistently reflect His character to a lost world. Unfortunately, the ideal isn’t always realized. Because we live in an imperfect world, and because we are still imperfect people (1 John 3:2), we have a tendency to wane in our walk from time to time. James said it like this — “We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). We are all susceptible to spiritual failure. What can we do when we realize we’ve wandered?
Recognize the Lord’s correction.
If you come to the place where you realize you have spiritually slipped, recognize the correcting hand of the Lord. God has arranged society in such a way that sin is preprogrammed with negative consequences. Theft usually results in jail time, adultery involves shame, and substance abuse destroys the human body. On top of these natural consequences, the Bible teaches that God also works to convict His children of their sin. The Bible says, “The Lord disciplines the one he loves and punishes every son he receives” (Hebrews 12:5-7). If you have been apathetic or disobedient to the Lord, come to your senses. Observe the consequences of your sin. They hurt, but they are evidence of the Lord’s love. He’s trying to bring you back to your spiritual senses.
Humble yourself under the Lord’s leadership.
After you sense the sting of the correction, align yourself with God’s will. Get back under His authority. Repent of the things that have kept you from Him. Align your schedule, priorities, budget, and values with His will. Consider an example from Scripture. When the King of Egypt invaded Jerusalem during the reign of Rehoboam, the people recognized it as discipline from the Lord. They quickly repented of their sin and sought to realign themselves with the Lord’s Word. The Bible says, “The leaders of Israel and the king humbled themselves” (2 Chronicles 12:6). If you have strayed, maybe you need to make some changes. Line your life up under the authority of the Lord.
Return to your first love.
Spiritual repentance and renewal is never meant to be a thing of dry duty and obligatory observance. Submission to the Lord should be done in a Spirit of love. Remember, the greatest command in the Christian life is to love God with one’s heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-38). In returning to the Lord, know that the Lord is calling you to return to Himself. He loves you, and He wants you to love Him!
Realize that some sins have lingering consequences, but God gives grace.
Sometimes mistakes bring major, life-altering consequences. Scripture speaks of how the shame of adultery has a stigma that often sticks for the remainder of a person’s life (Proverbs 6:32-33). Although a person may be fully forgiven of a certain sin before the Lord, he or she may live with ramifications from it forever. If you find yourself in such a situation, don’t despair. Be mature, accepting the consequences your sin may entail, and endeavoring to please the Lord from this point forward.
Dr. Patrick Latham