Recently an elder said to me, ‘We never hear sermons on backsliding these days’. Let me hasten to say that it was an elder from another congregation! Still it made me think. Never was there more danger of backsliding than today. Temptations abound, Satan is as active as ever and the Christian life generally is at a very low ebb. Could you be a backslider? Remember it starts small and grows little by little. Often we have gone a considerable way downwards before we realise what is happening.
1. What is backsliding?
The Christian life begins with the new birth and should be a steady progress from then until we enter heaven. Like a baby growing, we should put on weight, exercise our limbs, crawl, struggle to talk and begin to serve. Sometimes the Christian life is compared to a pilgrimage or race. Our duty is to keep going and not to stop or turn back. It is like climbing a mountain and if we stand on the scree we will slide back down again. If a plane, when flying, tries to stop or go in reverse it is sure to come tumbling out of the sky. A healthy Christian life is one of steady progress. Backsliding is turning away from God into sin.
- Old sins of the unconverted past can become a temptation. Perhaps you had a fondness for alcohol. Beware of the drinks with friends, or, even worse, on your own, which can lead to disaster. How many Christians have made shipwreck through drinking! Some have a past life of foul language and bad temper. It is crouching at the door, ready to return. Others have been immoral. It is especially dangerous for them to play with danger. Satan can take advantage of you and you fall before you realise what is happening. Internet pornography has destroyed many. It is so easy in the privacy of your own house to be sucked in and gripped with disastrous effects on your health, your family and your soul. Even those with a good-living past can fall.
- Covetousness is a strong temptation for some. They find greed, the love of money and of material things becoming an addiction. Judas, who kept the purse for Jesus and the disciples, began to steal from it and became an extreme example by betraying our Lord for thirty pieces of silver. Could money be starting to become your god?
- Worldliness is something that the Scriptures highlight as dangerous. ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him’ (1 Jn 2:15). Paul wrote: ‘Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world’ (2 Tim 4:10). All around us there are many worldly people and they want us to be like themselves. It is easy to follow the crowd.
- Pride is the commonest sin. In its many forms it clings to Christians all their lives. We are proud of our gifts, our looks and our achievements. God hates pride because it is a form of self-worship and takes the glory from Him. Pride often comes before a fall. We think we are doing so well, fail to pray for grace and God leaves us to ourselves to show us what is in us and so we fall into sin.
2. What is the cause of Backsliding?
- Neglect of Christian devotions: Backsliding first begins in the ‘closet’. We become neglectful of secret prayer. Less time is spent in private reading and meditation of the Scriptures. We find ourselves busy and we make excuses and so forget that secret prayer and the study of God’s Word is more important than our daily food.
- Neglect of the means of grace: Church services and especially the prayer meeting/Bible study are a means through which God’s grace and salvation reaches our souls on a weekly basis. Carelessness in attendance is both a sign and a fruit of backsliding.
- Sabbath wasted: The Lord’s Day was instituted at creation for the benefit of man’s body, mind and soul. We need the rest, but we should also remember that the day is to be kept holy. If it is used simply for sleeping and blethering it is abused. God has instituted the day for the health of our souls. Neglect it and you will backslide.
- Christian fellowship is vital: Christianity is a social religion. The idea of the hermit is a heresy. We are to love one another, share together, support each other, enquire for the spiritual health of one another, and so we encourage one another on the road to heaven. The loner quickly becomes the backslider. ‘If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another’ (1Jn.1:7). Sometimes unhealthy Christians choose to move to a big church in order to be anonymous and to escape the attention of the fellowship.
- Failure to watch: Sometimes we are tempted to make excuses for our sins. We might argue that everyone does things like this, or that we are hurting no one, or that it is impossible to be perfect, but when we begin to tolerate what we think of as ‘little sins’ we are in great danger. There is no little sin but a sin against a little God.
- Self-reliance is dangerous: We are all far weaker than we realize. We think we would never steal or commit adultery or break the Sabbath. Beware, sin is easier than you think.
- Worldly friends: Few of us are aware of the influence that our friends have upon us. ‘Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners’ (1 Cor 15:33). Bad companions lead astray. Worldly Christians are even worse than the openly ungodly. You grow like the people you live with.
- Trials and persecutions: Trials come to us all but if we react angrily instead of coming humbly to the throne of grace to obtain mercy and find grace to help in our time of need, we are on the slippery slope. Let us be like Job who cried out, ‘Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him’ (Job 13:15).
3. Examples of Backsliding
- David is a sad example of backsliding. The man after God’s own heart fell badly. Instead of going out with the army, fighting the Lord’s battles, he was lazing around at home. Rising from a siesta in the afternoon he spots Bathsheba washing herself. Instead of turning his eyes away and busying himself with something else he allows himself to focus his attention on her, lusts, sends for her and commits adultery. Failure in duty, idleness and letting a look become a sinful desire led to the backsliding.
- Peter is a warning of self-reliance. He compares himself favourably with others. Thinking that no matter what others did he would not let his Master down, he did not watch and pray and so denied his Lord three times.
- The Church at Ephesus shows how over a period of time deterioration in our relationship to God can develop. We read (Rev.2:1ff) how that church was very busy doing good works, was orthodox in the faith and was strict in the exercise of church discipline, but gradually she lost her first love. Have you lost your first love? Do you love the Lord more today than you ever did? You really should.
4. Pain brought by Backsliding
- Backsliding leads to sin and shame: God leaves you to fall. You are disgraced in the eyes of the church and of your God. You are left feeling guilty.
- It is a bad witness: You are a stumbling-block to the unconverted. They trip over you and perish. hey say ‘If that’s a Christian I don’t want to be one of them!’ Or on the other hand they argue that all Christians are hypocrites. They see salvation and the new birth as a myth.
- Chastisement is very painful: When God corrects us for our backsliding with the rod of His discipline it hurts. In Hebrews we read: ‘Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby’ (Heb 12:11). God does not spoil His children. His correction hurts. Some Corinthians had died under it: ‘For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep’ (1 Cor 11:30).
- Others are also hurt: The sword did not depart from the house of David forever as a consequence of his sin (2 Sam. 12:10). When he wrongly numbered Israel many thousands died (1 Chron. 21).
- It grieves our Lord: Our fellowship with the Saviour is broken and there is nothing that the true Christian enjoys more in this life than the presence of Christ. If we can sin and backslide and continue untroubled it is a sign that we were never truly converted.
5. But there is Hope
The devil wants us to think that there is no way back. We have offended God so badly that there is no mercy for us. We have sinned against light and committed the unpardonable sin. If we have depressive tendencies Satan will play on these. Some Christians have been known in despair to take away their own life. The evil one whispers that you might as well carry on sinning. No! Do not listen to the old enemy. God says: ‘I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him’ (Hos 14:4). Remember when the shepherd lost one of his sheep how he left the others behind and searched diligently for it. When he found it, he gently placed it on his shoulders, carried it home and called his neighbours together to rejoice with him. When the prodigal returned he received a great welcome. ‘O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips’ (Hos 14:1-2). The sooner you return the better. Think of the infinite value of the sacrifice of Christ.