You know, Simon & Garfunkel were on to something there. Something that has become an epidemic in the Modern church and the Modern Christian. Today, the average Christian thinks they’re cruising down the Spiritual Highway on course to reach their destination, all the while not taking seriously that “Slipping” and “Sliding” they know is happening. Yes, God has a plan, but we’ve become far too comfortable with a little “Slip Sliding Away” from that plan.
To what am I referring? “My righteous one will live by faith; and if he shrinks back, I will take no pleasure in him.” (Hebrews 10:38) At some point, Christianity took this “shrinking back” and rebranded it under the term “backsliding.” Hand in hand with this seemingly inconsequential change, what is clearly a major offense to God has been minimized.
Personally, I cannot think of a time in my life where I have heard, “Ya, John Doe is backsliding,” where it carried the appropriate weight. While the statement is never given to offer approval of someone’s actions, it is also not given with the sense of dire cost that goes with it. “Therefore, beloved, since you already know these things, be on your guard so that you will not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure standing.” (2 Peter 3:17) In apparent obliviousness to Scriptures like this, it seems that this is considered the normal “Roller Coaster” of a Christian’s life. “No one is perfect… so everyone backslides… it’s not good, but what are you going to do?” The Truth Is, today, backsliding is never actually taught with the appropriate condemnation but is, rather, met with casual acceptance. “As obedient children, do not conform to the passions of your former ignorance.” (1 Peter 1:14) What is backsliding if not this?
In 1 Timothy 5:11-12 we find instruction that helps bring context to the internal, spiritual problem behind backsliding and makes clear why God would say it threatens our “secure standing.” “…refuse to enroll younger widows. For when their passions draw them away from Christ, they will want to marry, and thus will incur judgment because they are setting aside their first faith.” Here Christ, through Paul, is instructing Timothy not to take in young widows to be basically nuns in service to the church. The reason being that such an act is a commitment to devote themselves to Christ “first.” If, then, this widow were to fall in love and decide to marry, she would have to set “aside” her commitment to Christ in exchange for a commitment to man. Paul tells Timothy not to put a young woman in such a position because the choice to actively move Christ down the priority list “will incur judgement.” This “active spiritual choice” is one every Christian makes every time they backslide.
In today’s permissive and tolerant world, such a position might be considered severe or even the bias of an “old white male.” But to have taken a dismissive position would have been to actively “put a stumbling block” in a faithful Christian’s way. This points to yet another patch of ice on that Spiritual Highway. In the effort to ease the guilt of personal backsliding, Christianity will blow-off the backsliding of their “brother or sister,” thereby putting, or at least leaving, an obstacle on their Spiritual Highway. In so doing, the sin of backsliding is compounded.
“…make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” Romans 14:13
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire congregation of the Israelites and tell them: Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy…You must not lie or deceive one another. You must not swear falsely by My name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD… You must not curse the deaf or place a stumbling block before the blind, but you are to fear your God… Directly rebuke your neighbor, so that you will not incur guilt on account of him.” Leviticus 19:1,2,11,12,14,17
“But Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me. For you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’” Matthew 16:23
“Now if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. If you did not warn him, he will die in his sin, and the righteous acts he did will not be remembered. And I will hold you responsible for his blood. But if you warn the righteous man not to sin, and he does not sin, he will indeed live because he heeded your warning, and you will have saved yourself.” Ezekiel 3:21,22
Here we see that the choice to minimize the act of backsliding in our fellow Christian is a serious one, both for them and for us. But let’s get back to the “weight” of backsliding and all that actually encompasses.
“If indeed they have escaped the corruption of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, only to be entangled and overcome by it again, their final condition is worse than it was at 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. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” 2 Peter 2:19-22
Think about that for a second – “…it would have been better for them not to have known the way…” to and through Christ in the first place than to have known it and then chose to “turn back” (backslide) from it. How does that make sense? Remember, the “world” is the fallen world of Satan. It is the world contrary to God. It is the world that rejects His creation. It is the world that rejects His Son’s sacrifice. It is a world that denies God. The only way to be saved from the cost of that rejection is to choose God and deny His Adversary…Satan. “…whoever chooses to be a friend of the world renders himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4) So, doesn’t that make sense? It would be better to have never known that choice, and paid the price, then to have known the choice, understood the choice, made the choice and then turned back and consciously rejected Him. At that point what more could be done to save us?
“If we deliberately go on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins remains, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume all adversaries. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think one deserves to be punished who has trampled on the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” Hebrews 10:26-29
Well, I think we’ve debunked the Modern idea that a “little” backsliding is just a slip or tripping on the crack in the sidewalk. Backsliding is an offense to God. But, is backsliding only backsliding when we move backward?
“…whoever knows the right thing to do, yet fails to do it, is guilty of sin.” James 4:17
“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” Revelations 3:15,16
I think the case can be made that backsliding is actually the lack of an “active” move forward. Failing to accelerate straight down that Spiritual Highway. The Holy Spirit says in James that it is not just doing the wrong thing that is a sin but knowing the “right thing” and then not pursuing it also leaves us “guilty of sin.” And Peter agrees:
“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.” 1 Peter 3:10,11
From James and Peter, wouldn’t you say it is the obligation of a “faithful” Christian to pursue what is right? Wouldn’t you say that any Christian not faithfully pursuing their obligation is a “backslider”?… Me Too! In fact, I think that Christ, through John, sets the bar even higher. Revelations makes clear that not only are we to pursue our obligation faithfully, but we are to pursue it with Heat. Heat? Heat… Excitement… Enthusiasm… Ambition… a boil of the soul you might say.
Backsliding…Slip Sliding Away alright. Sliding away to the same condemnation as if we had never made an obligation to Christ in the first place. Slip Sliding down that Spiritual Highway, getting nearer to our destination having convinced ourselves we’re not really sliding at all, just slipping a little. From this position, having “the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” “the knowledge of the Truth,” “no further sacrifice remains.” That sure seems like a dire cost to me. So, whether “shrinking back” or rebranded under the term “backsliding,” we had better take it seriously.
© Scott A Caughel 10/28/2019