II Peter 2:20-21: “For if, having escaped the world’s impurity through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in these things and defeated, the last state is worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy command delivered to them.” CSB
OBSERVATION: Is there a “bite” to backsliding? Can a Christian return to their former way of life with no consequence? How does the enemy target us for backsliding?
First, what is backsliding? Webster’s Dictionary of 1828 defines it this way – “To fall off; to apostatize; to turn gradually from the faith and practice of christianity. Jer 3. Hosea 4.” Hence, backsliding is the gradual turning away from our faith in Christ toward the things that we practiced and adhered to before we knew Christ. For those who grew up in the faith it can be defined as gradually leaving the truth that has been planted deeply in one’s heart, replacing it with the wisdom of this world and the practices of the current sinful culture.
We can get a deeper understanding of backsliding by looking at the first chapter of I Peter.
- “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. By these he has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.” 2 Peter 1:3-4 CSB
Backsliding is turning from His divine power and neglecting the very great and precious promises He has given us that enable us to be transformed into His image and to escape the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.
How can I know if I am backsliding? One of the easiest ways to test my heart is to examine my personal tolerance. Tolerance is the buzz word of our culture. The world is calling us to exercise tolerance for any and all behavior, regardless of its morality. Yet, this tolerance is one sided. It embraces all forms of activity that the Bible deems as sin, yet it vehemently condemns anyone who upholds the moral principles of the Scriptures. If I find myself becoming more tolerant of what the Bible calls sin, and less tolerant toward those who stand up for Biblical values, I am in the process of backsliding.
So, what is the “bite” of backsliding for the believer. The backsliding Christian will find themselves growing more and more isolated from the values they once embraced, the people they once called dear, and more and more drawn to those who are practicing the things that they once believed were wrong. And, in this separation they will become increasingly unhappy, angry, and cynical. They will develop a short fuse, be quick to judge others who oppose their new views, and inwardly they will truly be miserable.
Why? Because they know the truth! For a truly born again believer, when they begin to backslide, two things happen. First, their conscience is placed into conflict. Deep in their heart they know they are wrong, but their mind is battling to try and justify their new actions and beliefs. Second, the Holy Spirit begins to work overtime to bring conviction to their lives to turn them away from the pathway of error and back to the light of life, back to Jesus Christ their Lord!
The“bite” of backsliding is worse than the conviction they felt before they believed. This is because before they believed their were truly ignorant to the truth and the consequences of sin. Yet, now, having been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, their actions run against the grain of their true self. And, the Lord is jealous for their love and affection and will do everything to bring them back to Himself. This puts the backslider in a precarious place. Peter says it would have been better not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from it. Then he uses some very graphic terminology.
- “It has happened to them according to the true proverb: A dog returns to its own vomit, and, “A washed sow returns to wallowing in the mud.” 2 Peter 2:22 CSB
I have experienced the “bite” of backsliding in my life. I know what it is like to awake in the mud of sin and brokenness, even thought I had been washed clean by the blood of Jesus Christ. I have wrestled with God and the truth that He planted in my heart. And, in all of this – I was miserable! There has been no greater misery I have experienced than when I was in a backslidden state. It truly is like the dog returning to its own vomit. The temporary joy one once experienced with sin can no longer be found. It is replaced by an ever growing remorse, inner conflict of the soul, discontent, and angst. Is there any hope?
I love the letter to the Church of Laodecia. If ever there was a picture of backsliding this is it!
- “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” Revelation 3:15-17 CSB
A church that was once on fire had become tepid in its faith and focused on the world. They increasingly grew out of touch with their true condition. They were trying to convince themselves everything was ok, but in reality they were wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked (spiritually and emotionally). Yet, the Lord does not leave them there. He calls them back to Himself!
- “I advise you to buy from me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be zealous and repent. See! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:18-20 CSB
Jesus’ call to the backslider is the same as His call to the lost sinner. “Be zealous and repent!” If you think about it, backsliding is the flip side of repentance. To repent means to make a 180 degree turn. When we came to Christ we turned from our sin and the world to embrace the cross. Backsliding is a gradual turning away from the cross and back to our old sinful lives. So, the cure for backsliding is simple – TURN BACK TO JESUS! It really is that simple!
What we find when we do is a wonderful truth. Jesus has never left! He has staked out the door of our heart and is waiting for us to simply turn back to Him and open the door. When ever I feel the pull of backsliding in my life all I need to do is turn to Jesus and open the door. And, His wonderful promise of restoration is mine for the asking.
- “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
The lie of Satan is that we have backslidden to far to return. He tries to convince us that God is too disappointed and ashamed of us to allow us to return. The enemy of our souls is only trying to keep us in a state of misery and brokenness – because he knows that Jesus is knocking at our door. Just as salvation began with a decision and a simple step, so returning from our backslidden condition begins with the same. When I turn to the Lord in sincere repentance, when I open the door of my heart, He always comes in! Just as in the parable of the prodigal son, the Father is waiting, looking, and ready to run to restore us!
I have feasted at the banquet table of the Lord. I have also wallowed in my own mire. One brings joy, peace, and fulfillment. The other, misery, confusion, and anger. Lord, help me always to choose to sit at Your table. Help me to turn to You each morning, open the door, and walk in the power of Your grace! Keep me from the “bite” of backsliding!
In Jesus Name!