By Norman E. Fultz
One of the most discouraging things faced by those who are involved in trying to build up the church is facing the problem of backsliding members. It’s not new. It’s an ancient problem as we shall see.
To call one a “backslider” is not the most complimentary thing he could be called. Many folks who are in reality backsliders do not like to be so designated. They choose a milder term to describe themselves or another who has lapsed into sin. “Erring” and “out of fellowship” are frequently substituted, for they do not sound so harsh; but the consequences of the condition are not changed by softer terminology. Webster defines the term “backslider” as “to slide back; to lapse morally or in the practice of religion.” A backslider is a starter who didn’t finish. It means one who reached plateau and slid down. It means one who began but did not continue. It means a failure, or at least about to fail. No, it isn’t complimentary!
Some will jokingly call themselves backsliders, but backsliding is not a laughing matter. It is a serious situation. The kingdom of Judah in Jeremiah’s day is a good illustration. While there are many references in the Old Testament in which God’s people are called backsliders, for now consider just Jeremiah 2. Look at some of the figures God uses to depict the condition.
They had been given a good land, but they defiled it (Jer. 2:6-7). Even their pastors had transgressed, the priests did not know the Lord, and the prophets prophesied by Baal (v. 8). While nations who worshiped idols were not known to change their gods, God’s people “changed their glory for that which does not profit” (v. 11). In short, they had “forsaken” him (v. 19). Yes, truly backsliding is serious.
Backsliding results when the heart is not right (Prov. 14:14). The heart is not fully committed to God and his ways (cf. Matt. 22:38), and the affections are not properly focused (cf. Col.3:1-3). The heart is the seat of action (Prov. 4:23). Thus, when the heart is not right, the actions will reflect it.
Are there present-day backsliders? There were some in the days of the apostles. Peter spoke of some becoming “entangled again” in the rudiments of the world (2 Pet. 2:20). Paul called some by name (2 Tim. 4:10; 2:16-17), and James said Christians could be guilty of spiritual adultery and become enemies of God (Jas. 4:4).
We frequently find those who have “quit the Lord,” turned back to the world, and sold their spiritual birth-right. Many cease assembling with the saints (Heb. 10:25), live unbecomingly (Phil. 1:27), leave their first love (Rev. 2:4), and become lukewarm and indifferent (Rev. 3:15-16). In short, they have lapsed in the practice of the religion of Christ. They are backslidden!
How great is the mercy and longsuffering of God! He appeals to the backslider to return to him. “Return, ye back-sliding children, and I will heal your backslidings” (Jer. 3:22). “0 Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. …I will heal their back-sliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him” (Hos. 4:1, 4). And again, “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved” (Jer. 4:14). And in the New Testament the appeal is,”Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works” (Rev. 2:5). And even to those backslidden into self-satisfied indifference, the Lord pleads, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone will hear my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20).
God’s plan makes a way for all people who would be saved; so, dear backsliding brother or sister, he will save you if you will repent and return unto him. Otherwise you will be lost forever in the devil’s hell.
Guardian of Truth XLI: 2 p. 1
January 16, 1997