Backsliding is something that can touch each and every one of us. We all have it in us to get complacent, thereby letting down our guard, and before we know it, one week of missing church turns into a month and that month may become a year or more away from church. It’s during that time that we can become, or start doing, the very things we promised God we would never be or do again. Oh, what potentially destructive consequences are associated with backsliding!
Let’s just take a very simple four-point look at this subject. I want to look at it in a simple way that makes it easy to see and understand these four areas of backsliding. First we’ll explain some of the several dangers associated with backsliding. Then, there are many reasons people backslide, but this week we’ll look at two less obvious ones. The third point is the escape plan for backsliding and what we have to look forward to once we return to the fold. Lastly, there are several practical ways to prevent backsliding.
Proverbs 14:14 reads, “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways: and a good man shall be satisfied from himself.” Anyone who backslides will run the risk of reaping what they sow. Conversely, anyone who stays in good fellowship with the Lord will be satisfied by doing the right things. Proverbs 14:16 goes on to say, “A wise man feareth and departeth from evil: but the fool rageth and is confident.” Notice that the Bible says a man who avoids evil is wise but describes someone who runs headlong into sin as a fool. Proverbs 14:35 gives us an indication that God won’t tolerate backsliding: “The king’s favor is toward a wise servant: but his wrath is against him that causeth shame.” I don’t think there’s any question that backsliding can dishonor and bring shame to the cause of Christ
The foundational text for this study of backsliding is found in Jeremiah 1-3. It’s in this book that the word “backsliding” appears several times to describe both Israel and the tribe of Judah. Israel had already fallen into the hands of the Assyrians and God had sent Jeremiah to prophesy to the tribe of Judah of their impending destruction if they would fall away from God. Jeremiah, several times, warned Judah to remain faithful to the Lord, but in the end, they did not. God’s wrath was poured out on them in the form of a seventy-year captivity at the hands of the Babylonians.
DANGERS OF BACKSLIDING
Because of Judah’s backsliding, God caused there to be no rain, thereby creating a drought in the land. There was pollution in her natural resources, and much of the land became inhospitable (Jeremiah 3:1-5). So the first danger we see in backsliding is the loss of God’s blessings on our lives. To change the context, let’s suggest money is getting tight and we withhold our tithes for one week. God doesn’t chasten us, so we give it a go again by skipping out on our tithe another week…and then another…and so on. Well, maybe now we’ll begin experiencing some financial difficulties, loss of benefits, or a layoff.
Similar to the loss of blessings will be the loss of God’s provisions. Proverbs 13:25 says, “The righteous eateth to the satisfying of his soul: but the belly of the wicked shall want.” Look at that verse in the context of Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things (food, shelter, and clothing) shall be added unto you.” That is a conditional promise that if we seek God first, and stay faithful to Him, He is obligated to provide our necessities. If we backslide, God is not obligated to do so. Naomi lamented that she had “gone out full” and the Lord had “brought her back home again empty.” She was not where God wanted her to be and was not doing what God wanted her to do, and she goes on to explain that God had dealt with her “very bitterly” (Ruth 1:20-21).
Another risk in backsliding will be the increase of destructive events or episodes in our lives. “Evil pursueth sinners: but to the righteous good shall be repaid” (Proverbs 13:21). We will forfeit the benefit of God’s protection once His mercies run out. If you want to explore the world of drugs…you risk an overdose or incarceration. If you want to run around being promiscuous…you risk an unplanned pregnancy or the catching of a fatal sexually transmitted disease. If you think belonging to a gang is more exciting than being a member of a church…you risk being killed in a turf war battle.
There is a further serious danger of backsliding. Consider the risk of being a stumbling block to someone else, and bringing them into the sin you’re involving yourself in. In Jeremiah 3, it’s recorded that Israel had already been in a state of severe backsliding and refused to return to the Lord, and the Bible explains that Judah saw Israel and her backslidden ways (Jeremiah 3:6-7), but God held Judah more accountable than Israel because they willingly went along when they should have known better (Jeremiah 3:10-11). But suppose you are backsliding and you take a brand new Christian, a babe in Christ, down with you. Here’s a case of a new convert being led into sin by someone who is backsliding, but the new convert may not recognize the error of the older Christian’s way. How serious does God take that? Matthew 18:6 sounds pretty harsh, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones (children in this context but newborn babes in Christ is a valid spiritual application) which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the sea.” Real-life application: Don’t tell a new convert that it’s OK to gamble as long as you tithe on your winnings. That person may ultimately develop a gambling habit and life will become difficult for him simply because a backsliding Christian told this new convert that gambling under certain circumstances was acceptable.
The last danger we find with backsliding is that in the end, our vices will not deliver us from the problems we experience because we’ve gotten involved in sin. Unwanted pregnancies lead to the temptation to get an abortion. Gambling debts lead to the temptation to steal. And because gambling more won’t guarantee us getting out of debt, we find ourselves deeper in debt with no logical way out. Desperation will lead to irrational decisions that will put us further from God (stealing, abortion, etc…).
WHY DO WE BACKSLIDE
I’ll give you two reasons (among many) as to why people backslide. The first reason is that we forget what it was that God had done for us. Israel had been delivered from the hands of the Egyptians (Exodus 1-15) and eventually brought to the land that God had promised them. During that journey God had provided Himself to personally guide Israel as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God’s presence was with them intimately and continuously. He parted the Red Sea, protecting them from the Egyptian onslaught. He provided water from a rock in the desert because they were thirsty. When they were hungry, He provided manna on a daily basis for them.
The temptation to backslide is because we get complacent with what God has rescued us from. Let’s suppose we were drug addicts. We were dregs of society, homeless, thieves, destroying our bodies for the pleasurable feelings the drugs provided. We had no real friends. We had no direction in life. We were driven everyday by one, and only one motivation…the next high. It consumed us. Where would I get it? How would I get the money to get it? We were low. Then, somehow, God reached down and saved us from all that. We then went headlong into the Bible and developed a relationship with this newfound Friend who did such a wonderful and marvelous thing in our life. But a few years go by…we get comfortable…the bad memories aren’t so vivid any longer, and we get complacent. We let our guard down. We approach God half-heartedly pretending to be as spiritual as we once were, as did Judah, “And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 3:10). Judah’s heart was not fully dedicated to God at the time of her backsliding.
But here’s another equally interesting reason why we backslide, and it goes along the same lines as being complacent and forgetting from whence we came. Judah, in Jeremiah 3:6-11 saw all that happened to Israel as a result of her backsliding, including the point when God divorced Himself from Israel (vs. 8) and still couldn’t see the personal application. Consider this. We see commercials all the time depicting beautiful looking people enjoying beer and other forms of alcohol. We also know that there are many downsides to alcohol…we know this…yet we are easily swayed by what the media portrays, and we begin desiring to drink socially. Never thinking that all it takes is having one drink too many (albeit unintentionally) but then getting into an accident and killing someone and going to prison. We also know there are health risks involved with alcohol. We see what we want to see when we make the decision to backslide. We may also forget all the bad that was associated with our former sinful lifestyles, but we remember vividly the sensual feelings of the sin (drug-induced high, past immoral experiences, an alcohol-induced buzz, etc…). Judah saw and was aware of all of Israel’s problems, but she backslid anyway, and Israel’s problems became Judah’s problems too.
Here’s the good part. God promises forgiveness of sins and promises blessings. We all know 1st John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He will forgive us when we come humbly with a contrite heart bent on repentance, as the Prodigal Son did in Luke 15. In Hosea 14, God offers Israel an opportunity to repent and promises to heal their relationship. God offers His love to them, as well as revival and growth. But God puts restrictions on them. He conditions restoration with the desire to see Israel turn away from their idols, their reliance on the Assyrians, and the risky faith they placed in the Egyptians. Just as we saw that our vices can not deliver us from the consequences they produced, as neither the Assyrians nor the Egyptians and their idols could deliver Israel, God offered Israel His protection and provision, thereby delivering them from the bondage they found themselves in because they backslid.
A backsliding Christian can regain their grip by yielding to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and reaching out to God for help out of whatever predicament one may find himself in. But there are some keys to staying out of the world once have been rescued from it.
CREATING A NO-FAIL ENVIRONMENT
Let’s take a very literal look at 2nd Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” OK. Spiritually speaking, “old things are passed away” cannot mean that the old man is replaced with the new man. Both the old and new man exist simultaneously, as Paul laments in Romans 7:13-25. But two very practical applications can be made as they pertain to 2nd Corinthians 5:17. First, our “old” desires should be replaced with “new” desires. We should desire the things of God (His Word, prayer, going to church) over the things of the world. Second, once we are restored from backsliding, we need to do away with the “old” and bring in the “new,” the way God expected Israel to do that in His plea in Hosea 14.
What do I mean? If you’re cell phone is filled with numbers of friends you used to “run” with…ERASE them. Cut off all ties. Let God be the one to bring them into contact with you when you are stronger so you can witness to them. Once you erase their numbers…CHANGE your number. Change your e-mail address. Don’t frequent the same places or partake in the same activities that will put you in contact with people who will bring you down…those are the wrong people to hang with. Once you do that, find an accountability partner. Iron sharpeneth iron (Proverbs 27:17). Surround yourself with people who will make you better. Proverbs 13:20 explains, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise; but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.”
There’s no secret formula. It will take work and determination. Keeping ourselves from backsliding is not going to be a passive act. We must take an active part in keeping ourselves on the straight and narrow. But the Bible is filled with countless examples of the blessings of obedience vs. the difficulties that come with disobedience, so much so that if you’re contemplating getting involved in something that could lead you away from God, the Bible provides a great opportunity to study it out and to do your own risk-benefit analysis…and the conclusion will always be the same…obedience brings blessings!