The bane of the church in this or any century has always been the backslider. This is the person who came to a knowledge of the truth, turned away from the world and its ways, was added to the body of Christ, the church, submitting to the calling of the gospel. ‘Having done all this, he then “slides back” into the world of sin from which he had escaped and becomes again entangled therein.
That his kind was anticipated can be seen from a glance at the parable of the sower. In it, Jesus said, “Some will fall by the wayside… some into thorny ground… some into good and honest hearts.” He told of those who would spring up quickly, but having no root would wither and perish.
Jesus warned that anyone who put his hand to the plow and then looked back was not worthy of the kingdom. Truth and love go hand in hand, and their companion is fidelity but there seems to be something in some of us that slows us down in our zeal for the Lord, and makes us long once again for the “fleshpots of Egypt”.
Taking safeguards against this should begin as soon as one emerges from the waters of baptism, for it is then that the devil is most interested in our case and most determined to prevent our further loyalty to the Lord. When he finds his efforts unproductive, he will have to slow up a bit. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you”.
For too many, however, the flatteries of Satan are too hard to resist. First, they weaken a little, then more, and finally are out—gone—lost again in the world and its allure.
The warnings against backsliding are numerous in Scripture and the state of the backslider is painted for us in graphic detail as a horrible example. To the Galatians, Paul wrote, “I marvel that you are so soon removed
from him that called you into the grace of Christ”. And again, “but now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” (Galatians 1:6; 4:9).
Paul had one to defect from his own camp. He wrote sadly, “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” The church at Corinth early became riddled with corruption. The writer of Hebrews warned, “Take heed lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.” And, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” And yet again, “It is impossible for those who were once enlightened and have
tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” (Hebrews 8:4). Thus, it is possible for one to put himself beyond the point of no return. “If any man turn back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” (Hebrews 10:38).
Peter’s earthy description, of the backslider is calculated to produce revulsion. “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.
It has happened unto them according to the true proverb, “The dog turning to his own vomit again, and the sow that had been washed to wallowing in the mire.” Peter has included in this picture two of the beasts most contemptible to the oriental mind. The point of the proverb is that each had departed from that which was foul; now both had returned to it. They reverted to their old nature.
The warning of Jesus was, “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed when he cometh in the glory of his Father and with his holy angels.”
What causes backsliding? The answer is rooted in human nature. The call to take up the cross also calls us to rise
above our human natures and take on the nature of Christ. Unlike Moses, who forsook power, prestige and “the pleasures of sin for a season,” in order to suffer with the people of God, we are prone to coddle and satisfy our baser desires. The lust of the flesh inevitably runs counter to the demands of the spirit.
Then, there is the “comfortable pew” syndrome. “For the time will come,” wrote Paul to Timothy, “when they will not endure sound doctrine, but will, of their own lusts, heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and will be turned aside from the truth and unto fables.” This happened in the same century in which it was written and has been going on ever since. The plain preaching of the gospel truth is a bit too hard for some to swallow because of the restriction on hedonism it places on their lives.
As a matter of fact, there are many who would like to live with one foot in the world and the other in the Church, an impossible stance. It’s like the old woman who said she would not mind flying, so long as she could keep one foot on the ground! It just cannot be done. Jesus said, “He that is not with me is against me: he that gathereth not with me scattereth”. We are either in or out, but never a little bit of each.
It should be noted that it is possible to backslide without ever leaving the pew. It is an inside job, taking place in the mind of the individual. He may present a warm body to fill the pew, but is in no way spiritually involved in the worship to God that is going on all around him. He is like “the little man who wasn’t there”.
If any Christian should find himself separated from God, he should make no mistake about who moved. It wasn’t God. Remaining loyal to God and to the cause of Christ is a fulltime job, demanding our constant attention. As it is with the price of liberty, the price of salvation is eternal vigilance.
The backslider is in a dangerous position, as one would be in the same room with a ticking time-bomb. The danger increases with each passing day, because he gets nearer and nearer the day of reckoning and has not repented. He should remember the words of John, “Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ hath not God.” (2 John 9). He should heed the warnings in the book of Revelation about the lukewarm church at Laodicea. It was neither hot nor cold, so too nauseous to be retained. The Lord said, “I wil spew thee out of my mouth.”
The return of the Lord will be sudden, and the swiftness of his judgment devastating. No one knows how much or how little time he has to make amends in his life and to prepare to meet his God. There is also the likelihood of one’s own death happening even before the end of the world. In the Judgment, he will have only two alternatives, – acceptance or rejection.
Judgement is coming. While we wait for it, let us be sure we continue faithfully to serve the Lord. With the sudden coming of the Lord, no time will be available to get in step with the Lord.