Probably one of the most heart breaking events that occurs all too often within
the Church of Jesus Christ, is the “Backsliding” of believers. What
are some of the reasons or causes of backsliding? They are innumerable. The
wasting away that occurs in the heart of the backslider may be nearly imperceptible.
It may begin with a general feeling of spiritual indifference (Amos 6:1). As we
fail to focus upon spiritual things, the flesh seeks fulfillment. Satan is sly,
and his tactics are subtle and he will find ways to tempt you into returning to
the pleasures of your previous sin filled life.
Scripture likens the backslidden condition to a disease (Isaiah 1:5, 6),
for which God has a cure (Jeremiah 3:22; Hosea 14:4-7). As with most natural diseases,
certain symptoms are typical of the condition: a spiritual lethargy, a calloused
attitude toward sin, worldliness, a spiritual love grown cold, lack of prayer or
decreased hunger for the Word, and a general feeling of apathy toward lost souls.
A dominant characteristic of the backslidden condition is stubbornness (2 Kings
17:14, 40). Backsliding is essentially a heart condition. Though its manifestations
may be primarily external, the root of the problem lies much deeper. And, even as
many health problems can be caused by neglect as well as abuse, the Christian who
neglects the Bread of Life can hardly expect to grow in the nature and admonition
of the Lord. Scripture cites several safeguards or preventative measures against
- Prayer. Mark 14:38; Luke 22:46; 1 Corinthians 10:12; Ephesians 6:18; 1 Peter
5:8, 9; Jude 20, 21
- The Word of God. Matthew 8:24, 25; Luke 4:4, 8; Ephesians 6:17
- The prayers of others. Luke 22:31
- Diligence to spiritual things. Hebrews 6:11; 2 Peter 1:5-7, 10
- Walking in the Spirit. Galatians 5:16; Luke 4:1-14
- Abstinence. 1 Peter 2:11; James 1:27
- Godly living. Romans 6:19-22; 2 Peter 1:7, 8
- Self-examination (good, to a degree). Deuteronomy 4:9; 2 Corinthians 13:5
- Submission to the discipline of the Lord. Hebrews 12:8
- Good preaching. 1 Corinthians 15:2
- Exhortation of other believers. Hebrews 10:25; 1 Timothy 4:6
In the beginning of backsliding, your prayer life may be pushed aside for other
interests. What seem to be innocent pastimes such as sports, hobbies, television
become more prominent in your life than seeking the face of God. As you fill your
life with worldly things your hunger for the Word diminishes. Attendance at Church
functions slackens off, and relationships undergo extreme stress as the conviction
of the Holy Spirit becomes increasingly uncomfortable. In time your sense of guilt
and hypocrisy exceeds your concern for your soul and pushes aside your fear of God.
An overall feeling of lostness and lack of purpose causes your abhorrence of sin
to disappear. You ignore God’s calls to return (2 Kings 17:14-15). You hear the
call once again to worldly pleasures.
It then becomes a simple task to justify actions that you never would have considered
acceptable when you acknowledged and listened to the Holy Spirit. Your calloused
heart becomes stone; your conscience, “seared” (1 Timothy 4:1, 2). Now, the
farther you stray, the more distant the voice of God becomes and the more difficult
it seems to find your way back.
Following Christ is not an easy task. In fact it is probably one of the hardest
tasks we have to perform while on this world. Salvation is easy, it is free, and
all we have to do is put away our pride, humble ourselves and accept the gift from
God. But that is where far too many Christians stop. They rest in the knowledge
that when they die they will go to heaven for they have accepted Jesus and invited
the Holy Spirit into their heart. But what they are actually doing is failing in
their Christian Stewardship (Luke 9:57-62).
Even as individuals vary in their degrees of spirituality or commitment (Colossians
1:23), some are more prone to backsliding, by reason of choice and personal weakness.
Like a garden that must be carefully tilled and weeded (Hosea 10:12; Matthew 13),
your spiritual life require diligent attention (2 Timothy 2:15, 21; 2 Peter 1:5-7).
A stewardship of neglect and laziness can wreak havoc in your spiritual life as
Backsliding is, as the word implies, is a sliding back – not a jumping off, but
rather a coasting downhill. You cannot ascend the mount of God in neutral. Spiritual
growth requires a conscious effort, or it will be only “natural” that you
succumb to the ways of the flesh. The backslidden condition may be manifested externally
(such as in cursing, drinking, lying, etc.; but it occurs first in the heart (Proverbs
14:14). But the condition may also remain hidden behind a façade of spirituality
and religiosity. The wayward heart, however, does not long tarry near the altar
of God, but squirms under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and writhers in discontent.
Backsliding begins in your heart and mind (Proverbs 14:14; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Colossians
2:8), however, the condition eventually becomes evident externally. Jesus said that
a person's inward spiritual condition becomes obvious by the fruit he bears. Paul
said it is possible to profess the truth verbally ("with their mouth")
but deny the Lord in our actions (Titus 1:16). If your life fails to measure up
to your profession of faith (1 Timothy 5:8), your actions will declare your words
obsolete (1 Corinthians 13). Even the term "believer," as used
in the New Testament, is not a noun but a participle: "one who is believing."
If you fail to explore and learn the Word of God you are like a child that God has
given the ability and talent to become a great virtuoso and who refuses to learn
and rehearse. The talent lays fallow and wasted.
Christianity is not a one-time trip to the altar, but a daily walk with Jesus
Christ, seeking God's face daily and daily crucifying yourself to
"self" so that it is not "self" that lives but
rather Christ that lives in you and through you. (Galatians 2:20). The words, walk,
seek, and crucify are not passive words. They are action words. Being
a Christian requires daily action and devotion to God's Word. You must remember
that you are merely on this earth and not of this earth. You are passing through
this earth and you must put on God's Armor daily to battle the call of the "natural"
world, the world of temptations that surrounds you and tries to engulf you in natural
ways. You must become "supernatural", above the call of Satan and
his minions. The Christian life involves hard work. It requires you to give up whatever
endangers your relationship with God, to run patiently, and to struggle
against sin with the power of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 12:1).
Backsliding, which is a failure in Stewardship, often carries its own punishment
(Proverbs 14:14; Jeremiah 2:17, 19; Romans 13:4). And its effects often extend far
beyond the experience of the offender alone. Causing a brother to stumble is a serious
offense. The Biblical view of a Steward is that of a person who is set over a household.
As it is developed in the New Testament, however, that household may be the home,
the village, the city, the nation or the church. As stewards we are to provide for
the well being of all who dwell in their "households" as well as for ourselves.
We will be held accountable not only for our own relationship with God, but for
our conduct before men as well. Our life is "an open book," Paul
writes, "known and read of all men." People who do not hear what
we say cannot help but observe the way we live. "Your actions speak so loudly,"
the saying goes, "that I can't hear a word you're saying." Therefore,
we are to "love not in word, but in deed..." (1 John 3:18). Anyone
who has experienced the Presence of God will never find lasting satisfaction outside
of His will. This accounts for the inner frustration and bitterness of soul accompanying
the abandonment of one's soul to the unruly state of life without God.
While the spiritual condition of an individual within a church may reflect upon
the leadership, this is not always the case. Even some disciples of Jesus (perfect
teacher that he was) "went back and walked no more with Him" (Matthew
26:56; John 6:66) Some fell away but returned – including Thomas, who had his moment
of unbelief (John 20:27-29); and Peter, who denied the Lord in the face of persecution
(Matthew 26:70-74; Mark 14:72). "Satan hath desired to sift you as wheat,"
Jesus told Peter; "but I have prayed for you, that you do not fail."
(Luke 22:31, 32)
Paul, too, expressed concern over believers in the early church that they remain
in the faith (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). At times, entire churches are mentioned as
having backslidden: The Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 12:20, 21); the Galatian
church (Galatians 1:6; 3:1; 4:9-11; 5:6, 70); the churches of Asia (1 Timothy 5:15;
2 Timothy 1:15; Revelation2:4, 14, 15, 20; 3:2, 3, 15-18). The New Testament mentions
many backsliders by name: Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:19, 20); Phygellus
and Hermogenes (2 Timothy 1:15); Demas (2 Timothy 4:10). Yet, even of those who
followed, some, "having loved this present world, turned aside"
and fell away (1 Timothy 1:18-20; 5:15; 2 Timothy 1:15; 2:17, 18; 4:10-16).
Although the spiritual welfare of God's flock is primarily the responsibility of
the shepherd, or pastor, every believer ought to have a burden for the backslidden.
We are our "brother's keeper" (Genesis 4:9) and should "bear
one another's burdens" (Galatians 6:2). Besides exhorting one another
daily (Hebrews 10:25), we ought to pray regularly for our brother (Psalm 80:3; Psalm
85:4; Lamentations 5:21). "Behold, Satan hath desired to have you ... but I
have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not. And when thou art converted, strengthen
thy brethren," Jesus told Peter (Luke 22:31-32).
However, prayer cannot replace the loving confrontation. "The truth shall set
you free," Jesus said. "If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which
are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness..."
(Galatians 6:1) "If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be
a good minister" (1 Timothy 4:6) – even if the words are rejected (Ezekiel
3:19, 21; Hosea 8:1). A reward awaits those who retrieve a fallen soul: "...he
which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death,
and shall hide a multitude of sins" (James 5:20).
In attempting to bring back a backslidden brother, however, we must make sure we
ourselves are strong enough in the faith to stand secure: "...lest you also
be tempted" (Galatians 6:1). Those who have forsaken the Lord tend
to bring others down (Proverbs 28:10; Matthew 18:6; 1 Corinthians 15:33). Therefore,
we are specifically exhorted to avoid those who have completely hardened their hearts
through sin (Proverbs 28:14; Isaiah 26:3, 4; 1 Corinthians 5:9-11; Colossians 1:21-23;
Jude 22 23) – although our attitude toward them should remain one of mercy: "Count
him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thessalonians
Forgiveness: The Call to Return
God promises to receive those who return with repentant hearts (Deuteronomy 4:29;
1 Chronicles 28:9; 2 Chronicles 7:14; 2 Chronicles 15:2; Jeremiah 31:20; 36:3).
His patience toward those who "keep on backsliding," however, is
limited (Jeremiah 15:6; Proverbs 24:16; Hosea 11:7). Their backsliding is "perpetual...
they refuse to return" (Jeremiah 8:5-7). Some are reprobate: beyond
any place of repentance (Isaiah 1:5-6; Jeremiah 6:30; 15:1; Ezekiel 22:18; Hebrews
10:26-29, 38, 39; 1 Corinthians 5:10-13; Hebrews 6:6; Revelation2:4, 5, 21-23; 3:2,
3). But if they are rejected of God, it is because they have rejected Him. His desire
is always for their return (2 Chronicles 30:6; Isaiah 31:6; Jeremiah 3:4-22; Hosea
Must believers repent? The primary difference between the righteous and the wicked
is that "the just man," though he may "fall seven times,"
gets up again (Proverbs 24:16). He doesn't remain in his sin. Moses fell. David
fell. Peter fell. The churches in Revelation fell and were exhorted to repent (Revelation2:5,
16; Revelation 3:3, 19). Scripture – written to believers – repeatedly warns against
backsliding (Psalm 85:8; 1 Corinthians 10:12): "Watch..." "Be
sober." "Take heed..." "Beware..."
What does God require of the backslider who desires to return? "...only acknowledge
thine iniquity" (Jeremiah 3:13, 14; 12:13), and change your ways (Job
22:23; Psalm 51:3-4; Isaiah 1:16-20).
Complete restoration is possible. God is merciful and ever ready to forgive (Nehemiah
9:17; Isaiah 54:6; Jeremiah 3:12-14; Ezekiel 34:23; Micah 7:18; 1 John 1:9). He
may withdraw His Presence, to stir our hearts to return; but he never abandons His
own. He still calls the backslidden his "children" (Jeremiah 3:14), his
people" (Psalm 106:40; Ezekiel 37:23b). The initiative, however, is ours: "Return
unto Me, and I will return unto you" (Malachi 3:7; Jeremiah 3:12-14). "Break
up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the Lord..." (Hosea 10:12;
2 Chronicles 30:9 and Jeremiah 4:1).
The road back to God is never long. As the father of the prodigal "ran to meet
him," God always meets us at least half-way. Deciding to return, however,
has often proven most difficult. While falling asleep is a gradual process, waking
must be sudden – usually by an alarm, or a shaking. Recovering from a spiritually
backslidden condition is no different. Depending on the degree of our backslidden
state, God often must use extreme measures to bring us back. He strives with the
backslidden (2 Kings 17:15), and lovingly will use anything: sickness, misery, grief
to get us to return. (Psalm 107)
To the backslidden: It is not too late! Find a pastor or group of true believers
and ask them for help. Remember, God loves you always. If He called you once, He
is still calling you, come back, repent.
To believers: Prepare the table!
If you need help in finding the way or a true believer to help you, contact us or
click on the image below, 'Father, I Repent' and we will welcome
you and feed you.
The Prodigal Son Returns
The Prodigal Son by Brother George
I had the privilege not long ago of hearing Brother George Chavanikamannil, from
Good News for India,
speak at our church. He shared with us the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) in
a context that I had never heard before. It provided a whole new perspective on
the story and its meaning. Please take the time to listen as Brother George tells
of our role in winning back the backslidden.