Some people will undoubtedly be startled to realize just who the backslider is. A prevalent idea in most Christian circles is that only the believer who is guilty of committing the grosser sins is backslidden. The things pointed out in this booklet will be a revelation to many.
The Backslider Identified
The moment the word “backsliding” is mentioned, we immediately think of a certain kind of people – those who once joined the church and seemed to have a testimony but who now absent themselves from Christian circles. The moment I talk about such people, I receive many letters from people who say, “That’s what we love to hear. We want to hear you talk about some of these sinners and their sins.”
This may seem a little personal, but do you realize that you, too, may be backsliding? Backsliding starts in such a subtle way that most of us are not aware of it, and some may be backslidden and not realize it.
Meaning of Backsliding
We need to know what is meant by backsliding. I am not going to talk about the so-called great sinners – those who fall into deep sin; I want to talk about the kind of backsliding which is altogether too common among Christians.
Leaving Our First Love
The Lord defined backsliding in Revelation 2:4, where He said to the church of Ephesus, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Leaving one’s first love is backsliding.
Notice that the Lord did not say they had lost their first love. He said they had left it, implying that it might be regained. That first love is what draws believers into close fellowship with Christ and devotion to Him, not merely to a religious life.
How great is your devotion to Christ? Is there such an intimate relationship between you and Christ that no matter what comes, you go to Him about it? If it is a cause for joy, you share it with Him; if it is a heartache, you seek His comfort. No matter what it is, you talk to Him about it. Does that characterize your life? If it does not, could you not be counted among those who have left their first love?
Occupied with Service
Many Christians are occupied with their past accomplishments, with their present work or with future plans. These things are not wrong in themselves, but if they are allowed to take the place of Christ in the lives of His people, this means they have left their first love.
Most of us follow a prescribed program of work. On Monday we do a certain thing; on Tuesday we have a Bible Club meeting; on Wednesday we have prayer meeting; and on Friday we attend choir practice. We’re involved in this program here and that committee meeting there. Do you realize that just following a plan of work can endanger one’s spiritual power? There is nothing wrong with a program; in fact, it is good, and sometimes necessary, to have one. But if we emphasize the program of service instead of Christ, Christian activity replaces spiritual fellowship, and we have left our first love.
Example of Martha
Martha was occupied with doing things for Christ, but she missed being like Him. There was nothing wrong with her serving, for that is part of the Christian life. But she became encumbered and irritated by it. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and meditated and manifested her first love for Him.
Is God now speaking to you? You know that Christian service for service’s sake generates spiritual pride; that, in turn, becomes a substitute for a pure spiritual life. No genuine servant of God has ever departed from the faith without having first departed from his private devotional life with Christ. Once fellowship is gone, departure from the faith may easily follow.
Christian activity that robs one of personal fellowship and usefulness really pleases Satan. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments,” said Jesus (John 14:15). That does not mean that we keep the commandments as a set of rules that weigh us down; we keep them because we love Him and want to please Him. His commandments are not grievous. They are commandments of faith, and our keeping them is shown through action motivated by love.
Listening to People Rather Than to God
We reveal how little our love is by the fact that we would rather listen to people than to God. If God speaks, we know we must do what He says or suffer the consequences. But when people speak, our consciences are not aroused to the same degree. Our attitude of heart toward what God says reveals where our love is.
Occupied with Things
Many Christians do not hear the Lord’s voice because they are taken up with mere things. They would not think of committing what they consider to be the gross sins, but they are so occupied with mere things that they forget Him.
We can become so devoted even to personal convictions that we do not hear God. We should be like Samuel and say, “Speak, for Your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:10).
We ought to read and reread 1 Corinthians 13. We may have some special experiences which, in our backsliding, we think are from God, but are not. These may hide the fact that we have been drifting. We may have a zeal for orthodoxy, and yet the zeal itself maybe very unorthodox. It is possible to contend for the faith and to become contentious for the faith, which shows an attitude contrary to the true life of faith.
Some have a zeal for denouncing sin, a zeal for the truth, which may not be motivated by love but is rather an expression of hatred. We should stand for truth, but to be contentious and to fuss and rave and fight over it is not good. Zeal which is not motivated by love and energized by the Holy Spirit is worthless to God.
However “busy for God” a person may be, if he has left his first love, if his fellowship with God is gone, he is backslidden.
Looking to Works to Produce Maturity
Another phase of backsliding involves going back to works in an effort to produce maturity. Do not misunderstand: True, genuine love for God will produce works; if it does not, it is not genuine. Some people do good works but not as a result of love for Jesus. They do them because they believe this is the only way they can keep their salvation and stay on good terms with God. Such thinking is wrong.
If I stayed on good terms with my wife only by giving her all the money she wanted, would that be real love?
Love makes a great difference in our actions. It wants to show itself by doing certain things for the one who is loved. Works should be the result of the indwelling life and love. But if we look on works as the means to maturity, we are backslidden.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” Christ is eternal life and Christ is all. If we do not stay within His love and let that motivate us we are backslidden.
“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ” (Gal. 1:6). That is the way Paul had to address the Galatian people. He also said, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:1-3). God is saying that if you are attempting to be made perfect by the energy of the flesh you are a backslider.
Refusal to Obey the Truth
Another definition of backsliding is found in Galatians 5:7: “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” Not obeying the truth is backsliding. Christ is the truth, and the Word is the truth. We will obey Him when we are motivated by love.
What, then, is backsliding? It is shown by a believer’s leaving his first love, going back to works in an effort to produce spiritual maturity, and even refusing to obey the truth.
Through John, Jesus said, “you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4). He did not use the word “lost.” If you lose something, you do not know where to find it. But when you have left something, you can rethink your steps during the day, or whatever time is involved, and recall where you left it.
In order to be restored from backsliding you must remember from where you have fallen and go back there. Jacob was instructed to go back to Bethel. The Prodigal Son went back to his father.
The Christian goes back to the place or the time of backsliding and repents, but restoration will come only upon confession. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Signs of Backsliding
There are a number of signs of backsliding. These do not necessarily involve the committing of “great sins,” but they indicate backsliding the same.
Losing Conviction of Sin
Do you remember the day after you were saved? Do you remember how happy you were, how you rejoiced, how much you loved Him? Do you remember your new attitude toward sin? You hated it. You abhorred it. You could not see why everybody did not turn to the Lord.
Is this somewhat changed now? Have you grown bolder regarding sin or the temptation to sin than you were just after you were born again? If so, you are on the way of the backslider. The big sins, of course, you shun; but when temptation in little things comes, your conviction is dulled and you seem to feel that they are not so bad after all. When that is the way we feel about any sin, regardless of how small it is, we are backsliding. In God’s sight sin is sin. Anything which is contrary to godliness is sin.
Comparing Ourselves with Others
We often compare ourselves with each other rather than with God. Instead of guarding our personal relationship with Him, we are likely to watch another Christian. If he does something wrong, we may do it too and excuse ourselves by saying that he is a good member of the church, a deacon, a Sunday school teacher, a Sunday school superintendent or perhaps even the pastor. We judge ourselves by other people. When we do that, we are backsliding.
Lazy in Service
When we settle down to a course of Christianity that calls for little effort on our part and leaves out what is difficult and costly, it is a sign that we are backsliding.
When one is really in love, nothing is too hard if only it will please the one who is loved. And when a person is really in love with Jesus, he will work because of love for Him. But when a person begins to feel that such service is costing too much money or too much labor or too much time that person is backsliding.
No Room for Christ
Someone once told me “You’re not leaving much room for excusing sin.” I do not intend to leave any room for sin. I may appear to be a little hard, but I am no harder on anyone else than I am on myself. I have searched my own heart concerning these things. I know that I have fallen short in many ways, and I have judged myself before God. I realize that what I am saying is very personal but it comes right from my heart.
You and I should make room for Christ. We allow too much place and time for self and selfish things. And if anything interferes with them we say, “The preacher is too hard on us. I don’t think I’ll listen to him.” That is a sign of backsliding.
Putting People’s Word First
Did you know that when your Christianity consists primarily in conversing with people and reading their books rather than talking with God and studying His Book, you are in grave danger? When you would rather read what other people say about the Word and talk about the Bible than talk to God and study His Word you are backsliding.
Here is a warning especially for ministers or Christian workers: When you delight more in public ministry than in secret prayer and in the Word you are backsliding. It is easy for any of us to become so engrossed with the ministry that we have little time for prayer and the devotional study of God’s Word.
That is a danger for all Christian workers. The Devil would like to see us so wrapped up in giving out the Word that we neglect our spiritual lives. “Watch” is the key word here. It is so easy to backslide at this point.
Men Pleasers, Not God Pleasers
When we pay too much attention to people and too little to God we are backsliding. I see this fault on every hand. It hurts me when I find people more concerned about what their boss will say or about what other people will say or think than about what God is thinking.
Let me illustrate what I mean. A person may be gifted with a good singing voice, yet when he sings, he is more concerned about how his voice sounds and whether or not his friends and loved ones will appreciate his singing than about what the Lord thinks of what he is doing. That person is backsliding. Is that your problem?
This can happen to us who are preachers. We can become more concerned about what our congregation thinks of our sermons – if they are logical and homiletical, if the illustrations fit, if the enunciation is good and if the emphasis is always in the right place – than about what the Lord thinks. If we are more concerned about our reputation as preachers than about what God thinks of us, we are backsliding.
This principle can be applied to every Christian’s work too. Are you more concerned about what people will think of you than about what the Lord will think of what you are doing? You are out of fellowship with God when you regard the opinion of people to be more important than God’s opinion of your work, wherever you may be.
Have you been withholding your testimony for Jesus recently? Perhaps you have not witnessed for Him for weeks. Does that lack of testimony bother you at all? If not, your spiritual hearing is probably so dull that God cannot get His message through to you. Your conscience is so calloused that you are insensitive to His touch. That God may awaken you out of your backsliding is my prayer.
Growing Harsh and Bitter
We are backslidden when we grow harsh and bitter toward those who differ with us instead of feeling tender toward all who love the Lord. Many people write us kind letters, and I thank God for that. However, I cannot always agree with some of the things some of our friends write. I read a lot of letters, even those that are critical about doctrinal matters. Although I cannot always agree with the person writing, I try to find out what is on his heart. If the letter is written from his heart, I will do my best not only to read it but to apply it. If the letter is harsh with me, and if I in turn react by becoming bitter toward the person writing, then I need to be careful, for I am on backslidden ground.
Losing Heavenly Values
You are backsliding when the hope of heaven and the love of God do not interest you. This is a serious matter. When you are thirsting for some worldly enjoyment, when you grow more eager for the things of the world than for the things of God, you are drifting from God.
When you resist God’s dealing with you and say, “After all, I’ve got certain rights of my own,” you are backsliding. You are not your own. From the time you were born again you have belonged to Him; He purchased you. Let me say it again: If you have lost interest in heaven and love of God, you are far away from God.
World Grows Sweet
When the world grows sweeter to you and death and eternity are distasteful subjects, you are estranged from God. He may have to shock you to bring you to your senses. He may have to do a very serious thing in your home. He may have to take a loved one away – your wife, your husband or your child – to arouse you if you have strayed so far from Him.
Causes of Backsliding
There are various causes of backsliding. One of them is found in Matthew 5:8, where we read: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Heart purity pleases God, but an impure heart is one of the basic reasons for believers’ getting out of touch with Him. An impure heart thinks evil, imagines evil, suspects evil of others and assigns evil motives to others.
When a person’s heart is impure, he will begin thinking evil of other people. Perhaps he will want to avenge himself because of something that another has done to him. But God says, in effect, “Vengeance is Mine” (see Deut. 32:35). The attitude of heart that seeks personal satisfaction for wrong does not please God.
Do not let those thoughts and desires into your heart; if they are present, ask God to remove them.
What is evil surmising? Perhaps we see a person doing certain things which on the surface look questionable. We then attribute evil motives to him and consider him guilty of wrong acts. But since we do not know his heart, we do not have all the facts.
Believers must stop jumping to conclusions on such meager evidence. Evil surmising, which is suspecting evil of others, is often the sin at the root of misunderstanding, hatred, confusion and fussing and fighting among church members. It begins in an impure heart and ends in backsliding.
You may see two people talking together. As you walk by them, they stop speaking for a moment; then after you pass, they begin talking again. By their behavior you are sure they were talking about you. Of course they were! Why would they have stopped talking as they did, if they were not? So there you are – suspecting evil.
You say, “How can one help being suspicious in a case like that? The evidence seems so clear.” You can help it. I have tried it, and by the grace of God, I know that one can be delivered from imagining evil. Just ask God to help you put it out of your heart, and He will give you grace to do so.
Suppose, however, that it is true. That is another matter. Leave it with God. I would rather not have thought evil of people and once in a while missed seeing the wrong that was there than to be guilty of having thought evil when the people were innocent. Thinking evil, surmising evil, suspecting evil and assigning evil motives to people all come from an impure heart and lead to backsliding.
Let us look at another cause of backsliding – worldliness. There are as many interpretations of what worldliness means as there are Christians. Each one has his own definition of it. One will say that to wear makeup is worldly; another says it is not. One will say that certain hairstyles and types of clothing are worldly; another says they are not. One will say that going to certain places is worldly; another says it is not.
God’s Word says, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Did you note that it said, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world”? Not all things in themselves are worldly, though certain things carry the marks of the world.
Worldliness does not necessarily consist of things. Worldliness is an attitude of heart. God says, “Do not love the world” (1 John 2:15). Anything that is not done to the glory of God belongs in the category of worldliness.
Let me illustrate this point. One day in a young people’s meeting I used this same definition for worldliness. Afterward my son said to me, “Dad, if I accept your definition of worldliness, I could never go to a basketball game or anything of that nature.”
I said, “Son, let us look at this in the right way. You are looking at the thing rather than at the principle. What would be your motive in attending an athletic contest? Do you recall when you and I went to a game recently? In my heart I did not care to go; in fact, I did not even want to go. I did not care for it, but I was so tired and worn out mentally that I needed some kind of recreation to relax me, so I went. My mind was so completely released from tension that after the game was over I was ready to work again. In that case, then, it was not worldliness. But if I had gone to the game because I loved it, because I was so attracted to it that I just had to go, then it would be classified as worldliness.”
What, then, is worldliness? It is anything which is not done to the glory of God. God says, “Do not love the world” (1 Jn. 2:15). Worldliness is an attitude of the heart. In loving things that are not glorifying to God, we are loving the world. Worldliness is one of the basic causes of backsliding.
People ask me this question: “Is there anything wrong with playing cards? Is that worldly?”
I use three verses of Scripture as a test for that and all similar questions:
“Do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31); “In everything give thanks” (1 Thes. 5:18); “Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17).
Test card playing or any other activity by these three verses. If you can do it to the glory of God, if you can pray before and after, thanking God for the wonderful privilege of glorifying His name in doing it, and if you can say that you are doing it in the name of Jesus, go ahead and do it. If not, put it where it belongs; classify it as worldliness. Worldliness is backsliding. You can test anything by these verses and classify it accordingly.
Root of Bitterness
Another cause of backsliding is a root of bitterness in the heart. Many people carry a grudge. They cannot seem to forgive the other person. Here is what God’s Word has to say about this: “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:14-15).
Please keep in mind that this was spoken to Christians – people whose sins were already forgiven as far as condemnation was concerned. But God says to them, “I cannot have fellowship with you; I cannot walk with you; I cannot fill you with My Spirit. I cannot work through you; I cannot accept your so-called love if you are carrying a grudge in your heart against another person. If you do not forgive him, I will stand aloof from you. You may cry when you need Me, but I will not hear (Isa. 59:1-2). When you are in desperate need, I will not listen to you. Why? Because you will not obey Me and be forgiving toward your neighbor. As I have forgiven you, you should forgive him (Eph. 4:30-32). But since you will not do this, I will simply have to withhold Myself from you.”
That is why so many Christians are backslidden today. You say, “Mr. Epp, if you only knew how mean that person was!” That may be true, but just think how much it cost God before He could forgive you! Think how long you rejected God’s love and held on to your sin, and yet God, in all of His compassion and love, forgave you. Remembering these facts should soften your heart.
Consider these verses: “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matt. 5:23-24).
“You want to bring a gift or you want to work for Me,” says Jesus, in effect. “Wait a minute! You know that your brother is holding something against you. Maybe you have forgiven him, but he is not willing to forgive you. Go to your brother and be reconciled to him.”
But you say, “Suppose he will not be reconciled?” Then Romans 12:18 is your answer: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” In other words, do everything you possibly can to effect reconciliation.
During the early years of the Back to the Bible ministry, I remembered that a certain person was bitter toward me. I felt that it was without cause, and as far as my heart was concerned, I did not hold any bitterness toward him. I wrote him a letter and told him that I wanted the matter settled and all forgiven. In this particular case the man would not be reconciled. He continued to hold the grudge against me. As far as I know, he has not changed his attitude toward me to this day. But I did everything within my power to rectify the matter. Having a root of bitterness is a cause of backsliding.
The moment a Christian becomes self-centered and thinks, “I will do this just for myself,” he is on the road to backsliding.
The Bible says, “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” (Matt. 19:19). This is a good way to prove your unselfishness. Put yourself in your neighbor’s place and put him in your place. Pretend he is the Christian and you are the unsaved person. How would you feel if he never came and told you about Jesus?
We read in Luke 9:23: “And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’” What does He mean by that? It is interesting to note what some people think He means.
“Oh, I’ve got such a heavy cross to bear,” one says as he pities himself. He thinks people are not treating him right and calls that his cross. Or maybe he is not making enough money and says that is his cross. He may not have enough to eat and thinks that is his cross.
Taking up the daily cross does not involve such matters. It means denying self but not denying Christ.
Have you denied Him today? “Oh, no,” you say, “I haven’t denied Him.” Wait a minute! Perhaps you did not say no to Jesus with your lips, but are you completely His? If you are not, you have denied Him.
You are not your own; you have been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20). You belong to Him. If you are not completely surrendered to Him, you are denying Him. The Bible clearly says that if you deny Him, He will deny you. That denial has nothing to do with salvation; it has to do with the rewards, the joy and the inheritance that He is going to reserve in heaven for you if you will deny self and take up your cross.
No Restitution Made
Another cause of backsliding is failure to make restitution. But someone objects, saying, “Is it not sufficient for us to recognize the fact that we have sinned, confess it to God and then believe that He has forgiven us?” That is true in part, but unless we make the matter right with the person we have wronged and make restitution, we are still in a backslidden condition.
Evil speaking, or gossip, is a cause of backsliding. In Ephesians 4:31 we read: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” In other words, the Lord classifies gossip with bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and such things and says that they should all be put away.
Gossip has become one of the major sins of today. You may have heard that many times, but what are you doing about it?
I have been told that I am a little hard on people. Frankly, I do not think I am. But I am very deeply concerned when a Christian applies the Bible’s exhortations to some other believer, thinking as he does, “That is just wonderful for that person over there; she is always gossiping.” She may be; however, I am not addressing her but you.
Do you remember the gossip you passed on? You heard something “on good authority” about another person, and you passed it on. You say you are sure that what you heard is true. If you think what you heard is true, the first thing to do is obey Galatians 6:1. If you are spiritual, go to the person at fault and seek to restore him, but do not talk about him.
If I asked, “Would you be willing to murder a person in cold blood?” you would immediately answer, “Why, of course not!” Yet you are murdering a person’s character by gossiping about him. You do not mind picking up some story about the preacher or the deacon and repeating it. You just know it is true! You may even have seen it with your own eyes. Nevertheless, telling someone else about it, you are helping to murder that person’s character.
Before God this is a grievous sin. That is why I speak so strongly on this subject. Anybody who indulges in gossip, even though what he says is true, is backsliding.
Let me tell you what I once did to stop gossip. It might not be considered tactful, but it was effective. Two preachers, very good friends of mine, had something against each other. They were angry, and they began writing letters to each other, sending me copies. Finally, I could stand it no longer. I wrote a letter to each of them, saying, “You are my friends, but I want to tell you something: I have hung a sign on my ears that says, ‘No dumping here,’ and I mean business.”
I still tell people that. When they begin telling me something about another person, I say, “My ears are for the purpose of hearing what the Lord has to say about souls who are in need. They are not a dumping ground for the trash that you hear about somebody else. Don’t talk to me about it.” It has helped.
Many Christians are not spending enough time in prayer! We do not take things to God. When we hear something evil about someone, why not talk to God about it? One of two things will happen: Either God will reprove us for listening to it or, if the person is guilty, our prayers might be helpful in restoring that person. Remember that you are a member of the body of Christ, and so is that other Christian. You are both members of His body. Why not live in that unity to which God has called you?
In Proverbs 16:18 we find another chief, cause of backsliding: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” Pride is the archenemy of the soul, and many have fallen by the wayside as a result of it.
Pride expresses itself in many different ways. Someone divided the subject of pride in this way: pride of face, pride of race, pride of place and pride of grace. Let us examine these divisions in the order given.
Pride of Face
A girl who has a beautiful face may become proud of her looks. Then instead of following the Lord, she may give her life to the Devil’s cause, since he seemingly offers her great opportunities. He says to her, “You’re a beautiful girl; you’ll make a great name in show business or some other field.” So she gives herself to worldly goals, but she soon falls by the wayside. This kind of pride can show itself in many other ways, but it is all the same kind of pride.
Pride of Race
Then there is pride of race. Are you proud because you belong to a certain race? God can bring us low in this world, and in heaven there will be no racial discrimination whatsoever. People make distinctions here, but God shows no partiality. Let Him speak to you now about this.
Pride of Place
This kind of pride has caused thousands of people to fall. It centers on the position you wanted to fill. Perhaps you felt hurt because you were not elected president of the ladies’ aid society or the missionary committee. You thought that you should have been given that office, but you were passed by. You would not accept a lower position, and so you refused to have anything to do with God’s work.
Pride of position brings jealousy. How easily our feelings get hurt when we discover that others can do something better than we can! Perhaps they can speak better or sing better, or maybe they are in the limelight more than we are. Soon jealousy, caused by pride of place, fills our hearts, and we are backslidden.
One phase of this pride which is prevalent today is pride of denominational place. There are many divisions in this country now, but belonging to a certain one is no excuse for pride.
God is not going to ask whether you were a Baptist, a Methodist or a Mennonite or if you had any other denominational affiliation. He is going to look into your heart and evaluate your relationship with Him.
God can use somebody who is in a denomination that does not even hold the truth, provided that particular person is born again and walks before God in lowliness of heart and is not proud of his position and place. On the other hand, some may belong to a denomination which preaches the Word and is fundamentally sound and true, but they themselves are so proud of their place and position that God cannot use them.
Pride of Grace
Let me give an illustration of what I mean by pride of grace. In the Bible we read about a woman who was caught in adultery, and the Pharisees brought her to Jesus. Why do you think they did that? They were a self-righteous group. They did not consider themselves to be as bad as she was, so they tried to hide their own guilt by showing their zeal for the Law. Christ soon revealed their hypocrisy. He said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). One after another they walked out of His presence. They were convicted of their sin.
Maybe the Lord needs to speak to you just like that today. You are so proud that you will drag a person who has fallen into deep sin before Jesus and say, “Look here, Jesus, what are You going to do about this sinner?” The Lord Jesus Christ will puncture your hypocritical balloon, and you, too, will leave in shame.
Is there still a place in your heart for the Lord? The Pharisees walked away from Him. They would not have any more to do with Him because He pointed out their sin and pricked their consciences. Perhaps you are so proud that you will not listen to a preacher simply pointing out your sins.
Neglect of God’s Word
A frequent cause of backsliding is neglect of God’s Word. The Word was given to guide the consciences of people, but this guidance can occur only as we give His Word a place in our hearts. Read His Word daily, and let God speak to you through it. You will find that it will humble you before Him. It will bring you low, but it will also bring you to a place of usefulness.
Still another cause of backsliding is unbelief. In Hebrews 3:12 we read: Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.” How great is your God? He is very small in the eyes of many people. We do not trust God; we do not believe Him.
“Oh,” you say, “He helped Elijah do great and marvelous things on Mount Carmel. He was all right for Paul and Peter, but I do not think that means He will help me.”
Many people do not believe 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That is why they are backsliders; they do not believe God.
Two Extremes in Backsliding
I would like to bring to your attention two extreme kinds of backsliding. These are seen in the story of a certain man who had two sons. The younger son said, “Father, I would like to have everything that belongs to me now. I would like to go and have a good time in this world.” So he took all of his inheritance and spent the money on riotous living. (The Lord is not talking about salvation here. He is talking about backsliding – about those who take what is theirs and throw it away on the world.) Finally, he came to the end of himself. Only then could God bring him back. He decided to tell his father, “I have sinned against heaven and in your sight” (Luke 15:21). So he went home to his father. He did something about his condition. He confessed his sin and was forgiven and reinstated.
In the eyes of many he was the greater of the two backsliders. But consider the other son. He stayed at home. He was religious and was heir to a share of his father’s wealth. Yet he was so self-righteous that he would not come back to God. He said, in effect, “Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.” The father dealt graciously with this son, but he would not come back. He stayed outside the fold of fellowship. He was a self-righteous backslider.
He was like a lot of people who belong to a church and who have never committed so-called gross sins, yet they are backslidden. But they will not confess those little sins which have robbed them of fellowship with God. The great sinner who confessed his sin found mercy; but many insist on staying outside and will not take the mercy the Lord offers. May God help such people to return to Him.
The Return of the Backslider
God’s everlasting mercy extends to the lowest of sinners. Notice just two Scripture verses which emphasize this point. In Matthew 18:12 we read: “‘What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?’”
This verse presents the wonderful mercies of God. If you have fallen into sin, keep this one thing in mind: The Lord is seeking for you today and desires your return to Him. This is His promise: “the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).
God’s will for the backslider is revealed in Matthew 18:14: “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.” The Lord wants us all to return to Him.
Recall once more the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. The younger son went into a distant country and lived in a manner which brought disgrace on him and his family. He was finally brought to the end of himself and was thoroughly ashamed of what he had done. He no longer had a “give me” attitude. The selfishness that had caused his downfall in the first place had become repugnant to him. He wanted to return to his father with the plea for forgiveness on his lips. He knew his life needed changing. And so the Prodigal Son returned home, no longer trying to get what he could get for himself but submitting to his parent. The father had waited long and eagerly for the return of his son. When he saw his boy in the distance, he had compassion on him and ran to meet him. Forgiveness and acceptance were in the kiss which the father gave him.
Someone has said that this is the only place in the Bible where God is pictured as running. God is eager and ready to receive His wayward child back into fellowship. In fact, another of the parables says that the Shepherd goes after His sheep until he finds it (see Luke 15:4).
All of this is given to assure us that the backslider is not lost. He is a son who has strayed, a son who has disobeyed, a son who is out of fellowship, a son who is miserable, but still a son. When he comes to himself, realizes his backslidden condition and wants to come back into fellowship, God will receive him.
Job passed through an experience of this nature, although he does not fit the category of one who went into a distant country and lived in a shameful manner. Nevertheless, he was self-righteous and lacked humility. He found ready acceptance into fellowship with God when his eyes were opened to his own unworthiness. He declared, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).
Confess Sin to God
We see in these examples what a backslidden person can do. Can he reclaim the ground that he has lost? Yes. Can he do it by works? No. Then how can he do it? We are told how in 1 John 1:9 – we are instructed to “confess our sins.”
The word “confess” carries the idea of agreement. When we confess our sins, we agree with God concerning them. We come to Him and give assent, not by saying, “Well, I guess I have sinned, Lord,” but by saying, “I know, Lord, that I have sinned.” He then “is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). That is His promise.
“Return, O faithless sons, I will heal your faithlessness” (Jer. 3:22). You must do something about it. Let God see that you are not going to continue to cover up your sin, for “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Prov. 28:13). Come! Turn back to Him!
Four Things to Do
Look now at 2 Chronicles 7:14: “and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Although this verse specifically refers to Israel, it applies in a general way to all believers.
If you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, there are four principles you can derive from this verse.
- You are to humble yourself. It takes humility to admit that you are wrong. This is one of the hardest things to do, and yet it is not so hard if you will give God a chance.
- Tell Him about your backslidden condition as you pray. Confess your sins to Him. He knows all about them already, but He wants you to agree with Him concerning them.
- To seek His face is to seek restoration to His fellowship. The psalmist brought the two thoughts of prayer and fellowship together when he wrote: “Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice, and be gracious to me and answer me. When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to You, ‘Your face, O LORD, I shall seek’” (Psa. 27:7-8). So confess to Him in prayer and seek His face. Remember His promise: “the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).
- Repent [have a change of mind] about your wicked way and turn from it. Repentance is [mentally] turning from your sin and [the fruit of genuine repentance is] turning to God.
“Then will I hear from heaven” (2 Chron. 7:14). God will hear you. You can believe Him. How simple it is! If you will do these things – humble yourself, pray, seek His face, [repent and] turn from your wicked way to Him – He will hear. He says that He will forgive and cleanse. His Word is true. The moment you do these things, you can thank Him for forgiveness and reinstatement into His fellowship.
Do Not Make God a Liar
You say, “Don’t I have to wait and see if He will do it?” He has promised that He will do it. If you turn to Him, believe that He will forgive you, for He said that He would.
“Oh,” you say, “but my sins come to my mind again.” That is the Devil throwing them in your face, not God. God has buried them once and for all.
This is what God says to do, so believe Him. Every time the Devil reminds you of them, quote 1 John 1:9. God says He will forgive. He has done it, and that settles it. Do not make God a liar. If you have done so, confess that too.
A woman once wrote: “You know, I have sinned, and I have confessed my sins over and over again; but God will not forgive me.”
I wrote back to her: “Will you please confess to God that you have made a liar of Him? In 1 John 1:9 He said that if you confess, He will forgive. The moment you confessed your sins, He forgave you. But you made a liar of Him, and your sin now is the sin of unbelief, confess that you made a liar of Him, and believe that He has forgiven your past as well as your present sins.”
She replied with the sweetest letter. She said, “I did just what you said. I see now that my sin was the sin of unbelief. I believe now, and I know that Jesus has forgiven me because He said so in His Word.”
Do not let the Devil confuse you through your feelings. You may not feel forgiven, but believe God and settle the questions of forgiveness and restoration once and for all.
One other aspect of confession has troubled God’s people. The question is often asked, “Should I make a public confession of my sin when I return from being backslidden?” That depends on the nature of the sin.
For example, if you lost your temper in a church meeting and said things which should not have been said, then you certainly owe an apology to those who were present. You should ask their forgiveness. If the backsliding was not something that involved the whole church but only one other person, then it should be confessed to that other individual. Wrongdoing should be frankly admitted and forgiveness should be sought. Where stealing is involved, restitution should be made as soon and as completely as possible. Where backsliding has injured others, it is not sufficient to confess only to God. We must make things right with those we have wronged. When that is not possible, leave the matter entirely with God.
Another approach to the question is given in Isaiah 1:16-20. After God had told Israel of their terrible backsliding, He then spoke to the remnant that was still true to the Word. Even they had become more concerned about pleasing themselves than about pleasing God. So He told them: “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil” (Isa. 1:16). This is the same thing we read in 2 Chronicles 7:14. Be humble before Him, pray, confess your sins, turn from your sins to Him, and He will heal your backsliding.
In other words, the blood is provided to wash you from your sins (see 1 John 1:7). Confess them, for God says He will cleanse you. “Learn to do good; Seek justice, … ‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow” (Isa. 1:17-18).
Perhaps you feel your sins are so great that God can never forgive you again, or you may feel that you have committed the unpardonable sin because you have fallen back so far. Remember that no Christian can commit that sin. The Devil may throw that fear in your face, but rebuke him in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Satan is a vanquished foe. He has been denied power over you. If you will claim the power of the blood over the Devil and say, “I know that by the power of the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ you, Satan, have been defeated, and I count you a defeated foe,” he has to flee.
Listen to what God has to say. Regardless of how great your sin is or how great you think your sin is, God says, “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ … ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool’” (Isa. 1:18). That is God’s invitation to you.
He also says, “’If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.’ Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isa. 1:19-20).
Low Christian Standards
My heart is grieved when I see the low standards of Christians living today. Have you been touched by God’s Word? Maybe God has not been able to speak to your heart. Yet He says, “Come back. There is an abundance of mercy.”
You may not think that the Lord has been speaking to you. You feel you are all right. But are you meeting God’s standard: “until Christ is formed in you”? (Gal. 4:19). In other words, God’s standard is as high as Christ Himself. This is always His standard. He never lowers it, but the standards of present-day Christians have sunk to an all-time low.
Most people measure themselves against each other; therefore, they think, “I’m all right. I’m just as good as that church leader.” Do not measure yourself that way. Heed this verse: “For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding” (2 Cor. 10:12).
God’s High Standards
Here is God’s standard of measurement: “But HE WHO BOASTS IS TO BOAST IN THE LORD. For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends” (2 Cor. 10:17-18). Let God speak to your heart. Come back to Him. There is still room with God.
God’s standards are beautifully described in Ephesians, where the Lord said that we should seek that unity which the Holy Spirit will finally accomplish in us (Eph. 4:13). I do not claim perfection. I cannot. Nor do I prescribe a certain standard of man-made rules. I have to say with Paul, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me” (Rom. 7:18). Paul said in Romans 12:3 that no man should “think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” So I cannot prescribe a standard, but God can; and He has given one.
We read: “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). I know I can turn my life over to Him and let Him control it and rule it.
Will you give God a chance in your life and return from your backsliding? Turn once again to Him and find mercy. Let Jesus Christ be formed in you.
God does not ask believers to imitate Christ. He has something better for us. We have been made partakers of His nature. He now lives in us. Will you give Him a real opportunity to live out His life in you?
Theodore H. Epp, The Good News Broadcasting Association, Inc., 1956.
Edited by Campus Christians