Stairway to Heaven | How Faith is Like Climbing with Your Legs

I turned down my first invitation to go rock climbing. Boldly, I declared “Foolishness.” I had no framework to base my decision on so I defaulted to ridicule the sport. My assertion must have seemed most peculiar in view of my status as an accomplished off-road motorcycle racer.


Today when I invite people to join me on the rock, I often encounter the same kind of resistance. For some, it seems impossible to ease preconceived notions. Other people remain convinced getting fit precedes the journey. Still others reject the unknown.

The same can be said of those who deny Jesus as the Savior to the world. Like I once did, they too declare the notion as foolishness. Many choose to ridicule what they do not understand.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:18

To receive Christ as Savior is not unlike how a climber chooses to put on a harness, tie in the rope, and climb “On Belay.” Jesus went out ahead of us and “put the safety rope in place” by dying a heinous sacrificial death on our behalf. In Christ, or on belay, we cannot fall to eternal separation from God (Ephesians 1:7).


And, in truth, we climb a stairway to heaven when we choose to also live our everyday lives by faith in the Son of God. I lead small groups in the wilderness on rock climbing adventures. I’ve observed a similarity among first time rock climbers and new Christians. Both develop enthusiasm to climb “on belay” and yet go about the activity with much struggle, exertion, and frustration.


A rookie climber often mistakes pulling themselves up the wall with the strength of their arms as the right way to climb. Their efforts cause them to tire quickly and become discouraged when they’re unable to reach the summit in their own strength. Similarly a new Christian goes about trying to earn the favor of God unable to attain perfection – as required from a holy God (Romans 3:23).


In the wilderness, I encourage new climbers to look at the rock in a slightly different way. If they climb with their feet taking small steps of faith up the wall using their hands for balance (rather than brute strength) it’s easier to climb on.

Likewise, I encourage new disciples of Jesus Christ to look at their faith in a right manner. God is pleased with them when by faith they believe in Jesus (Hebrews 11:6). It’s only by Jesus’ merits we are declared righteous (Romans 1:17, Galatians 2:16). This comforting truth allows the budding disciple to find encouragement to press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of in them (Philippians 3:12).

As each of us take small steps of faith in this life, we “climb” the stairway to heaven because the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). And, by His love WE are saved (Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:9-10).


  • Study John 14:27. Use this opportunity to consider how you “climb.” Do you tend to focus your efforts more on reaching the summit or on the individual steps of faith? Jesus is the not only the summit but He is the peace we encounter each “step” of the way to the summit.
  • Study Matthew 11:30. Consider how you might use this spiritual metaphor through “opportunity teaching[1]” to ease the burden of “rock climbing” and help your campers to rely more on Christ in their everyday lives.
  • As outdoor leaders, consider how you might use rock climbing and this spiritual metaphor as an evangelism tool.


This blog post is adapted from Edy Sutherland’s book The WHEE Factor. The “On Belay” chapter parallels our journey of faith with the sport of rock climbing. Learn more about Edy and The WHEE Factor by visiting her website

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One thought on “Stairway to Heaven | How Faith is Like Climbing with Your Legs

  1. Has anyone seem this analogy play out with a group you were leading in rock climbing. It’s amazing how common it is for new climbers to use their arms and wear themselves out. This reminds me of the burden it is to base our walk with Christ on works rather than grace and faith… when we climb with our legs and just use our arms to balance, this can be a great analogy for understanding why leaning on the grace of Christ is so vital for abiding in him. Any thoughts?

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