“The way of the transgressor is hard” (Proverbs 13:15)
What started this was a note from a fellow who took issue with something I said about the church. He had no use for the church, he said. Every church he’d ever attended preached a shallow message, the sermons were mind-numbingly boring, and the people were dull and listless. After venting, he wondered if I’d be interested in some essays he’d written about the church. I declined.
In our exchange, I said, “Could I tell you something that happened to me? IEven though I’ve been preaching for over half a century, at least twice during that time, I have gotten out of fellowship with the Lord. What we call “backsliding.”
And when that happened, I noticed something surprising. I became negative about my fellow church members and critical of the other ministers. Then, when I humbled myself and repented, I saw them in a new light and found myself loving them. That was a fascinating thing to learn.
This was as gentle a way as I could find to tell the man that my money is on his being in rebellion against God. In his backslidden state, he is down on the Lord’s people.
Backsliding. Interesting term, isn’t it? It says what it is, and needs little explanation.
You’re saved, you love the Lord, you’re doing well, and then you fall into sin one way or the other. Perhaps you slipped or you plunged headfirst, knowing full well what you were doing.
Now, look at you. God seems so far away, and the closeness you once had with Him a distant memory.
You remember with longing when you felt so close to the Lord, so clean and pure, and so happy in Him. You delighted in reading His word and perhaps in teaching it. You loved gathering with the Lord’s people and singing the hymns and praying together.
But not now.
You are miserable. You put up a false front and act like all is well. But something in your heart has died. The light has gone out.
What’s wrong? You have fallen into sin. The joy has disappeared, replaced by guilt and anger.
A backslidden state is a miserable place to visit but not a very nice place to live.
When this happens, a hundred things take place in your life. None of them good. Here’s my short list of the bad things that occur when we are backslidden….
1) The rebel is holding Jesus in contempt.
The Lord takes your rejecting Him personally. Your turning to sin is an insult.
When Israel fell away in Old Testament days, the Lord sounding like a spurned lover, said, “What fault did you find in me? What did the idols offer which I cannot give?” (cf.Jeremiah 2:5)
When David sinned with Bathsheba and tried to cover it up by having her husband killed in battle, he drew further and further away from God. Eventually, the Lord sent the Prophet Nathan to confront him. God said, “Why have you despised the commandment of the Lord? You have despised me!” (2 Samuel 12:9-10) The Lord said, “I’ve given you everything! And if that was not enough, I would have given you even more!” (12:8)
2) The rebel loses his love for Jesus.
The Lord Jesus means less and less to me as I drift away into sin.
“I have something against you,” said the ascended Lord to the church at Ephesus. “You have lost your first love.” (Revelation 2:4).
3) The rebel’s enjoyment in Bible reading evaporates.
In my rebellious state, I have to make myself open the Word. Reading it becomes a chore.
One of the most striking things about the Psalms is how frequently they praise the Lord’s word and in what glowing terms. “Better than gold” and “sweeter than honey!” (Psalm 19:10) More to be desired than wine. On and on. Psalm 119 gives us 176 statements of praise to God for His word. But only the faithful can say, “Amen.” Those in rebellion move quickly past those passages if they read them at all.
One evidence you love the Lord is an appreciation for His word. You love to read it and meditate upon it (see Psalm 1:2). When we backslide, reading Scripture is so painful we stop it altogether.
4) Prayer is uphill, difficult, and increasingly rare for the rebel.
Distancing ourselves from the Lord makes prayer all the harder. And less meaningful. The prophet told Israel, “Your iniquities have built barriers between you and God…and He does not hear you” (Isaiah 59:1-2).
In his rebellion against God, King Saul sought out a witch to consult. He said, “God has departed from me and does not answer me any more…” (I Samuel 28:15). In the absence of prayer, we resort to every imaginable substitute, from witches to horoscopes to Tarot readers to gurus, and from fake preachers to holy hunches. It’s a sad sight to see a backslidden believer trying to find his way without God.
Jesus said, “Men ought always to pray and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). When we backslide, prayer is the first casualty.
5) The rebel resents reminders of his spiritual status, and his need to repent and return to the Lord.
Friendly reminders that we need to return to the Lord feel like pokes in the eye with a sharp stick.
When the wife points out that he no longer reads the Bible, he explodes at her. A friend from Sunday School calls to say they have missed him and he grows angry. Had no one called, he would have used that against the church. Anger is ruling his life.
6) Guilt nags at the rebel and interferes with his sleep.
Think of King Saul in rebellion against God. “The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him…. Then David would take a harp and play on it” to soothe Saul’s troubled mind. (I Samuel 16:14ff.)
“The Lord chastens whom He loves” says Hebrews 12:6. Furthermore, “If you are without discipline”–that is, if the Lord is not chastening you for your rebellion–“then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (12:8).
So, the guilt is a good sign, even though it hurts like crazy.
Guilt-ridden church members become tyrants when placed in positions of leadership in the church. Woe to the godly shepherds sentenced to work with backslidden leaders. Likewise, woe to the godly laypeople who must follow a backslidden preacher. If that doesn’t drive them to prayer, nothing will.
7) The rebel becomes critical of other believers.
When I’m close to the Lord, I love the brethren (see John 13:33-34). But when I’m in rebellion against Him, I find fault with them and criticize everything they do.
8) The rebel becomes negative toward pastors and ministers.
“They’re all hypocrites.” “What right do they have telling us what to do?” “He’s human like the rest of us; who died and left him in charge?”
However, when we repent, the Lord within us begins to love the other believers and other ministers afresh. The change is as dramatic as one’s original conversion experience.
9) The rebel can wax eloquent on the faults of the church.
No one denies that the church has its faults. It’s composed of flawed humans and “He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). But the believer who is yielded to Jesus holds these faults in perspective.
The rebel loses all perspective and has a field day pointing out the flaws of God’s church. Perhaps he thinks it diminishes his own iniquity when he smears the church. This has been a tactic of the enemy from day one.
10) The rebel rationalizes his own wrongful desires which previously he would have shunned.
When I’m in a backslidden state and cold spiritually, I find myself justifying some things which I would not have done previously. “A little beer never hurt anyone.” “What’s wrong with going bar-hopping one night a week. Everyone does it.”
11) The miserable rebel makes everyone around him just as miserable.
“The latter state is worse than the first,” says scripture in several places to describe the backslidden. I take that to mean this guy is more miserable as a fallen Christian than he ever was in his unsaved state. If you’re going to serve Christ, the only way to do it right is total commitment, now and forever.
12) The rebel looks for excuses to stay home from church. Worship has lost its meaning to him.
It’s a miserable existence, as we said above.
But on the other hand….
After he humbles himself and repents, and after he is back in church serving the Lord and enjoying the close fellowship with Him and His people, the believer looks back and wonders: “What was I thinking?” “Why didn’t God strike me dead?” “How did my wife and children put up with me?”
After he humbles himself and repents, the believer loves his brethren and is careful in criticizing anyone. He knows his own humanity and is so appreciative of the Lord’s mercy. “He has not dealt with me according to my sin, nor rewarded me according to my iniquity” (Psalm 103:10).
After he humbles himself and repents, the believer is so grateful for the lovingkindness of the Lord. He looks for the fallen around him to show them the love of God too, the same kind he received. He becomes gracious toward sinners rather than judgmental. He knows what they are experiencing, and his heart goes out to them.
This is why–in one sense–every believer needs to backslide just a tad once in a while to receive reminders of his own mortality and humanity, lessons of God’s incredible grace and mercy, and promptings to be compassionate toward the fallen.
Yikes, did I say that? Please don’t hold me to it literally, but understand the sentiment behind it.
Don’t ever backslide. The way of the transgressor is extremely hard.