Backsliding: How to and How Not to

Though the term “backsliding” is an Old Testament concept—the word never occurs in the New Testament—it connotes something that believers in this age can fall prey to.

There are many ways that a Christian can backslide today. First, you can lose your first love: “Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” (Rev.2:4). When that naïve, unabashed, and unashamed enthusiasm you had for Christ and His work just after you got saved diminishes because of the fear of man or the love of the world—that is what is spoken of here.

Second, you can backslide by falling into the belief that once you are saved you must keep your salvation by works. Paul wrote to backslidden saints trying to do just this when he said: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you that ye should not obey the truth before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you: received ye the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal.3:1-3)

Third, we can backslide by being removed from the simplicity of the Gospel of Christ. Again, Paul said in 2 Cor. 11:3 to a backslidden church: “But I fear lest by any means as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtility, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”

Fourth, we can backslide by simply failing to move forward for our Savior.  Gal.5:7 says, “Ye did run well: who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth.” We can never stand still as soldiers of the cross. If we are not progressing, we are regressing.

How do you know you are backslidden? Here are some symptoms:

  1. You have a light view toward sin; what you once hated, you now tolerate. What you once tolerated, you now enjoy.
  2. You have become accustomed to a “comfortable Christianity”—a Christianity that does not cost too much and that does not make extraordinary demands.
  3. You are more taken up with the personalities of men that with the power of God. What men have written about the Bible consumes more of your interest than what God has written in the Bible.
  4. You regard with too much concern the eyes of men and with too little concern the eye of God.
  5. You develop a harshness and bitterness toward those who differ with you, and you lose your tenderness of spirit. The attractions of this world and its gold, glitter, and glamor have a greater appeal to you than does the hope of heaven.

So, in case you are contemplating setting out to backslide, I will give you a few hints on how to succeed. Hopefully you will rather want to avoid this sin, so I will also give some advice on how NOT to backslide.

First, how to (but NOT recommended!): (1) Give up the practice of prayer. Do it gradually so as not to shock your conscience. (2) Quit reading the Bible; at first substitute other Christian literature; (3) Misuse opportunities of Christian fellowship (don’t break off all contact with other Christians immediately as it may prick your conscience); (4) Get as much spirit of the world into you as is possible. (5) As soon as is possible, resolve that you will one day change your ways—to fail to do this may result in an uneasy conscience; (6) Try to put out of your mind the idea that what you are doing grieves God greatly—say, “I’m only hurting myself and no one else.”

Now, some actions that guarantee you will NOT SUCCEED at being a backslider: (1) Keep short accounts with God, confess your sins, and forsake them (I John 1:9; Provs. 28:13); (2) Keep a right view concerning the world (I John 2:15-17); (3) Die daily to self (Luke 9:23); (4) Do not harbor a root of bitterness, (Hebs. 12:23); Make restitution when possible; (5) Guard your mouth against evil speaking (James 4:11); (6) Be constant in prayer and Bible reading (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 119:9-11); Beware of unbelief (Hebs. 3:12).

The English evangelist J.C. Ryle said, “It is a miserable thing to be a backslider. Of all the unhappy things that can befall a man, I suppose this is the worst.”  Worse than a stranded ship, an eagle with a broken wing, a garden covered with weeds, or a harp without strings.

There is hope, however, for the backslider: “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely.” (Hosea 14:4)

Have you ever heard the Rattlesnake Parable?  It goes like this: “Once upon a time there was a family of wayward church members who had been active at church but had long since lost all interest and had fallen away. The family included the father and three sons, Jim, John, and Sam.

The deacons of the church had talked to them about their backslidden condition; the pastor had visited them as well as many other church members, but all to no avail.

One day when the boys were out in the pasture, a big rattlesnake bit John, and he became deathly ill. The family took him to a physician who examined John and found his condition to be critical. When he had done all he could do, the doctor said, ‘I am sorry; all you can do now is pray.’

So the father called the preacher and told him of John’s condition and asked the pastor to pray for John’s recovery. Here is how the preacher purportedly prayed, ‘O wise and righteous Father, we thank Thee, for Thou hast in Thy wisdom, sent this rattlesnake to bite John, in order to bring him to his senses. He has not been inside the church for years, and it is doubtful that he has in all that time felt the need for prayer. Now we trust that this will prove a valuable lesson to him and that it will lead to genuine repentance. And now, O Father, wilt Thou send another snake to bite Sam, and another to bite Jim, and a real big one, Father, to bite the old man. We have been doing everything we knew to do for years to restore them, but to no avail. We thus conclude that the only thing left that will do this family any good is rattlesnakes; so, Lord, send us bigger and better rattlesnakes. Amen.”

The storyteller concluded: “I have never known of any preachers to pray for the Lord to send rattlesnakes to bite backslidden members. But I have known a number of them to run this story in their weekly church bulletins.” (Copied, The Harbinger)

The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing.” (Zeph. 3:17)

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