Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings ... (Jer. 3:22 KJV)
In the Old Testament, the word 'backslider' or 'backsliding' has been mostly used to refer to the Israelites during times of rebellion (Jer. 3:6, 8, 22; 8:5; 31:22; 49:4; Hosea 4:6; 11:7).(1)
According to Diane S. Dew, "the word 'backslide' literally means 'turn back'(from God, 1 Ki 11:9; from our first love, Rev. 2:4; or from the gospel, Gal 1:6, 7; 3:1-5; to Satan, 1 Tim 5:15; to evil, Psa 125:5; or to the world, 2 Tim 4:10)".(2)
The Old Testament describes the backslider as one who has wandered (Jer. 2:20; 31:22), 'played the harlot' or committed adultery (Jer. 2:20; 3:6; 3:8), 'slidden back as a backsliding heifer' (Jer. 8:5; Hosea 4:6), 'turned into a degenerate plant of a strange vine' (Jer. 2:21), turned his back to God and not his face (Jer. 2:27; 32:33), 'turned to his course as the horse rushes into the battle' (Jer. 8:6), gone after other gods (Jer. 11:10), returned to his old ways (Prov. 26:11) and broken God's covenant (Jer. 11:10).
In the New Testament, metaphoric descriptions of the backslidden state include: shrinking back (Heb. 10:38), falling away (Heb. 6:6), forsaking the Lord, forsaking our first love (Rev. 2:4), departing from the faith, serving two masters (Mt. 6:24), putting a hand to the plough and looking back (Lk. 9:62), turning aside after Satan (1 Tim. 5:15),
The church is likened to a bride awaiting the Groom, Jesus Christ. The Bible also describes Jesus Christ as our Husband (2 Cor. 11:2, Hosea 2:16, Jer. 3:14). This is why God described the Israelites as 'harlots' or 'adulterers' whenever they turned to follow other gods (cf. Isa. 1:21, 22; Deut. 31:16; Hosea 1:2; 2:2; Jer. 2:20; 3:6, 8). In the same way as Christians, when we turn away from following the Lord, it is like being an unfaithful wife. We commit spiritual adultery when we turn against God in disobedience.
Condition of the Backslider
Backsliders were once holy unto the Lord but now have turned totally from the Lord (Jer. 2:3). They were an encouragement to things of God but now have totally gone back to the world and its pleasures; they have gone far from the Lord (Jer. 2:5). In other words, they have turned aside from following God's way -- they have taken a different direction (Deut. 9:16, Num 32:15). Their allegiance to God has totally changed and they have diverted their affection and devotion for God to the world and the devil. The backslider can be said to be living a 'divorced life'.
Diane Dew describes a typical condition of a backslider:
It may begin with a general feeling of
spiritual indifference (Amos 6:1). As we
fail to focus upon spiritual things, the
flesh seeks fulfillment. Initially, the
prayer life may be crowded out with other
interests ... As we fill our hearts and
lives with junk food, our hunger for the
The believer does not get up suddenly and backslide. Backsliding is gradual. Over a period of time, the believer may have become lukewarm in prayer, and the study of God's word and its obedience. The issues of life and the cares of this world may have induced busyness in the life of the believer to the detriment of the quality time he/she needs to spend with the Lord. Gradually, the believer draws away from God and from the fellowship of the brethren, and then backsliding sets in.
Sometimes, at a point in time in one's spiritual life, a believer may take the things of God for granted because of the spiritual height he has attained. As he moves in the power of God, he may tend to trust in and give glory to himself instead of God. He may not pray and study the word of God as before. He may not uphold the importance of seeking God's will and direction in prayer as he used to. Eventually, he rests on his laurels and becomes complacent. These open doors for temptations to strike, and if he does not recognize his condition and repents, he may fall into spiritual bankruptcy.
Some Causes of Backsliding
Why do Christians backslide? Why do some believers begin well but fall away in the end? Let's examine some of the reasons why believers backslide.
1. Inconsistent fellowship
The first step to backsliding is to consistently fail to fellowship with God through His word and through prayer. As food satisfies our hunger and water quenches our thirst, so do the word of God and prayer satisfy our souls.
As a Christian, the word of God helps you to identify God's will for your life (Hosea 4:6a). It is also a weapon for spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:11-17) and for fighting temptation (Lk. 4:1-12). It keeps you from sin (Ps. 119:9, 11) and builds up your faith in Christ (Rom. 10:17). Prayer is very important in the life of a Christian as a tool for communication and spiritual warfare.
These (studying the word of God and praying) are crucial in the spiritual growth of the believer and are also the building blocks of the new believer's faith and growth in Christ. Without the word of God and prayer in the life of a Christian, the believer's foundation in Christ becomes weak. Thus, when temptations or trials arise, the believer may give in to the cares of this world. To build a strong Christian foundation, the believer must not only pray and study the word of God, but must do what the word says (James 1:22, Mt. 7:24-27).
In Hebrews 10:25, we are admonished to fellowship with other brethren and encourage each other. The Christian life cannot be journeyed alone. One needs the support of other believers who would provide advice, counsel and encouragement in times of trial, persecution or temptation. When the believer draws away from the fellowship of the brethren, he exposes himself/herself to worldly influences and to the attacks of the enemy.
2. Poor Christian foundation
When the believer becomes born-again, it doesn't end there. The believer must involve himself in certain acts of worship; he must go a step further in order to grow in the Christian faith. Just like a new born baby, the new believer needs to be nourished properly in order to grow and mature. This spiritual nourishment involves prayer and fasting, the study and application of God's word, sharing of personal testimony and fellowshipping with other saints.
Failure to do these consistently mostly results in a poor Christian foundation and this could easily lead to backsliding. The believer must build a solid foundation (Mt. 7:24-27) and must develop a fertile heart (Mt. 13:1-23).
Disobedience comes in three forms: not doing what you are asked to do at all (Matt. 21:28-31a), doing what you are asked to do at a later time (delayed obedience) and doing a part of the whole assignment (selective obedience, 1 Kgs. 13ff). Many people in the Bible experimented with all three kinds of disobedience and it brought them various consequences (Deut. 28:15ff) including a break in fellowship with God.
Spiritual bankruptcy occurred in King Solomon's life when after being warned (1 Chron. 28:9), failed to heed God's command. He went on to marry strange women and despite all his wisdom, they turned away his heart after their gods (1 Kgs. 11:1-3). This was a man full of wisdom and one God had appeared unto twice (1 Kgs. 11:4). No matter how wise or Spirit-filled filled you are, if you fail to keep yourself pure and flee from sin you will fall off.
In 1 Samuel 15, King Saul failed to yield totally to the commands of God and he suffered for it -- he was rejected as King over Israel. Many Christians behave like King Saul -- partial obedience to God's word, mission and vision, revelation and direction. Partial obedience or selective obedience is still disobedience.
When Samuel told Saul that "to obey is better than sacrifice" (1 Sam. 15:22b), he didn't mean sacrifice is unimportant. He was telling Saul that total obedience is a sacrifice in itself. He was drawing Saul's attention to the wrong motives for making the sacrifice. You deceive yourself when you justify disobedience in the name of 'sacrifice'.
Anytime you disobey God's word, you hinder His plan and will for your life. To build a strong Christian foundation and endure in the Christian faith, the believer must not only pray and study the word of God consistently, but must do what the word says (James 1:22; Mt. 7:24-27). In Paul's second epistle to Timothy, he notes that it is only by putting into practice God's word that the believer matures (Heb. 5:14).
Another cause of backsliding is LUST. Demas, a companion of Paul (Col. 4:14, Philemon 24) deserted him (Paul) whilst in the ministry of the Lord "because he loved this world" (2 Tim. 4:10). Would you seek to please the devil by quitting or seek to please God by remaining in the ministry and trusting Him to see you through in spite of the challenges that might come your way?
Backsliding occurred in the life of King David after responding to the lust of his eyes. He slept with Bathsheba and killed her husband, Uriah (2 Samuel 11). If all that David had had been too little, God could have given him more (2 Samuel 12:8). Yet, because of the lust of his eyes, David sinned against God.
Scripture has proved that ignorance leads to destruction: "My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6a). False knowledge (which is also ignorance of the truth) of the word of God and the lack of sound doctrine are dangerous steps to backsliding.
When you are dull of hearing and ignorant about the word of God, you will be carried away by every kind of doctrine and false prophecies (2 Tim. 3:6-7). No wonder, today, many Christians, especially women, are being swayed by so called 'prophets of God'. Lots of money is being extorted from these ignorant believers who are running after signs and wonders.
Sometimes, a believer may not necessarily backslide because of ignorance, but because of failure to learn from life's experiences. In the course of one's spiritual journey, the individual Christian may encounter moments of trial, temptation, failure, persecution, sorrow, joy, success, disappointment, all geared toward building the believer in the faith.
However, if the believer does not learn from these experiences, especially the ones that seem to be negative, but allows the pressures of these experiences to cloud his focus, he may fall away (Mt. 13:20-22). The Israelites went through a lot of experiences in their walk with God, but because they were unwilling to learn from these experiences, they continued to rebel against God and they faced dire consequences (cf. Heb. 11:7-19).
6. Complaining and Murmuring
The Israelites complained to the extent that they asked, "Is the LORD with us or not"? When complaining and murmuring make you ask such a question, you gradually draw away from fellowship with God and with the body of Christ, and then backsliding sets in.
Whenever you complain, you put the Lord to a test (Ex. 17:2) and this is sinful (Hebrews 3:7ff). Since sin hinders fellowship with God, complaining and murmuring destroys your spiritual life and draws you away from God. If you do not take care, complaining and murmuring could make you blaspheme against God or say something you wouldn't have wanted to say (Ex. 17:3). It may make you take unnecessary action, just like the Israelites nearly stoned Moses (Ex. 17:4).
One reason Christians complain is because of unbelief. When the thirst of the Israelites became overwhelming (Ex. 17:1-7), Moses sought the Lord. He was told to strike the rock of Horeb with his staff. Moses believed and obeyed, and water gushed from the stone. Sadly, Israel would not consistently follow Moses' example of faith. The Bible says that "... the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith" (Heb. 4:2). The consequence was that they did not enter into the Promised Land (Heb. 3:16-19, Ps. 95:9-11).
7. 'Serving Money'
Backsliding also occurs when we place premium on God's provisions in our lives than on God's pre-eminence. It is easy for us to say "I love God", "I surrender all", "I give my all", when we don't have much. It's when God begins to pour out His provisions upon us that it becomes difficult.
We become preoccupied with business meetings, family issues, academic work, career and finances to the detriment of the quality time we need to spend in communing with our God. We only approach God when we are facing a problem. After getting a solution to our problem, we go back to our old way of living. We become slaves to the very things we are supposed to rule. We become servants of the very things God has given us control over.
Do you remember the story of the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-22? This man after asking what good thing he had to do to gain eternal life, and being convinced that he had met the first requirement (obeying the commandments) inquired of what still he lacked: "Jesus answered 'If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me'" (v. 21).
At this requirement, the man's face fell. He became sad because he had great wealth (v. 25) and probably couldn't afford to give them all away so cheaply. The wealth of the rich young man prevented him from following Christ. Jesus is not saying that it is evil to be rich. He is saying that our devotion to Him must not be shared by anything or anyone. He says, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money" (Mt. 6:24).
A lot of Christians have backslidden because they allowed marriage, childbearing, relationship, education, career and other provisions of God to take first place in their lives rather than God who provided these things, thus, breaking God's command to "... seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Mt. 6:33).
These people forget that the provisions are temporary, thus, turning their desires from heavenly things to earthly things, resulting in loss of focus concerning their Christian journey. Consider many Christian women who were barren and in dire need of children, or those who wanted a breakthrough (such as job opportunity, promotion, admission to school, etc.) in their lives; they never missed an all-night prayer meeting or a 'spiritual encounter' meeting.
But when they got what they were in dire need of, what has become of some of them? Do you even see them at normal Sunday services? Others who were strong Christians attained so much earthly knowledge that they came to the conclusion that God does not exist. All these people have turned from worshiping their Creator to worship the provisions in their lives. Isn't that foolishness? If you are worshiping and serving the very thing you have been given authority over, isn't that weird? It is not surprising the Bible describes them as fools (Ps. 14:1).
Another cause of backsliding is pride. An example of a man of God who allowed pride to cause his downfall is King Uzziah. The Bible described him as one who "did what was right in the eyes of God ..." (2 Chron. 26:4 KJV) and "... set himself to seek God ..." (2 Chron. 26:16 KJV). Due to this, God prospered him and helped him defeat his enemies. But the Bible says that "when he was strong he grew proud, to his destruction ..." (v. 16). He decided to burn incense, a duty solely for the priests, thereby incurring the wrath of God.
If you are a Christian and you think you have got enough 'spiritual power' and so you can show disrespect to authority, you are mistaken -- don't allow pride to lead you to your downfall (Jas. 4:6). A meek and a teachable spirit provide great opportunities for mentoring and coaching.
If you preach because you want people to say you are a better preacher than your colleague, you are on your road to backsliding. You have refused to give God who has given you utterance glory. You have committed 'spiritual plagiarism'; you have stolen the words of God and made them your words. You have made people believe that the words came from you and not from God -- you have allowed pride to set in. Beware! For "When pride comes, then comes disgrace ..." (Prov. 11:2).
9. Wrong Choice of Object of Confidence
One major cause of backsliding lies in people's choice of their object of confidence. In Exodus 32, the absence of their leader Moses led the Israelites into corrupting themselves by making an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They did not realize that it was God working through Moses. Even if Moses was not returning, they failed to acknowledge the many miracles God had worked in their lives.
In Lamentations 4:20, the Israelites failed to place their confidence in God. Instead, they placed their confidence in their king, Zedekiah (cf. 2 Chron. 36:11-23). They rejected the directives God was giving through His prophet Jeremiah. Eventually, God punished them, and Zedekiah, their object of confidence was captured.
Paul identified this kind of problem in the Corinthian Church. In his first letter to them, he rebuked the believers in Corinth for making their leaders the objects of their confidence and worship, resulting in strife and division (1 Cor. 3:1ff).
Some Christians have backslidden because their pastors have left the church or because the people who led them to Christ have shrunk from the faith. These people compare pastors and make an 'idol' out of their choice. Some born-again Christians use those who introduced them to Christ as a standard of Christian living instead of God. Who is your object of confidence? Is it your pastor, prayer secretary, the one who led you to Christ or GOD?
Return to the Lord(4)
It is very important to deal with backsliding at its very early stages before it gets out of hand. To be able to deal with backsliding, one needs to be decided, willing, committed and obedient. One needs to come to the realization of his/her spiritual state and be willing to move from there. That was what the prodigal son did -- when he came to his senses, he set out and went back to his father (Lk. 15:17-20). God longs to see you return to Him (Hosea 11:8). The following steps would guide you to return to your first love, Jesus Christ.
1. Humble yourself
Stop pretending you have it all in when you know that you have gone far from God. Instead of hiding behind your past successes, humble yourself, acknowledge your faults and admit your need for help.
2. Turn from your sins
God wants you to come back to Him in repentance for He is ready to receive you (Isa. 1:16-18; Lk. 15:11-32). Return to God for His pardon and forgiveness if you sincerely know that you are drifting off His grace, and thus re-establish the broken fellowship. Repentance is surely a great step to the regaining and the restoration of your 'life' onto eternity (Rev. 22:14).
Forgive yourself and any other person(s) who has/have hurt you. Forget the negative past -- do not let it hold you back. Don't let your past torment you for your sins are forgiven (1 Jn. 1:9).
4. Trust in the Lord
Go to God in prayer and trust Him to restore unto you the joy of His salvation. That was David's prayer and he was answered (Ps. 51:12). Trust in His forgiveness and cleansing (1 Jn. 1:9).
5. Destroy the idols
Destroy those things that made you backslide (Mk. 9:43-48). Lose yourself of any 'weight' that impedes your spiritual growth (Heb. 12:1). You must desire to regain your stand in the Lord. Let this desire encourage you to say NO to those 'weights'. Many pledge to lose weight but they remain the same. It requires action; the Bible says "put off" the old nature and "put on" the new man (Eph. 4:22-24). Those are calls to action!
6. Seek the counsel of a mature believer
Find someone you can trust and share with him/her your problem -- someone who can help you in prayer and encourage you to stand firm. It could be your pastor, cell leader, or a brother or sister within or outside your congregation. The Apostle James admonishes us to "... confess (our) sins to each other and pray for each other so that (we) may be healed" (Jas. 5:16a). You may not be able to bear all the guilt alone. A problem shared is a problem solved. Beloved, it is important to stay in fellowship often with other believers. You can't make it alone as a Christian. You need the support and prayers of other believers.
7. Don't give up -- persevere!
You should understand that your zeal for the Lord diminished gradually; it was not an overnight process. Likewise, regaining your spiritual height won't occur overnight. You would have to persevere and fight on. To be able to persevere and regain your spiritual height, you need to meditate on God's word and apply them to your life daily (1 Tim. 4:15-16 NKJV). You need to continue in the healing and restoration process. There should be consistency in the study of the word and in fellowship (with God and other believers) -- there need not be a break. As you do these, you need to take heed to yourself lest you fall again.
Above all, "look unto Jesus the author and finisher of (y)our faith" (Heb. 12:2) by "cast(ing) all your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you ..." (Ps. 55:22).
(1) Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (R). Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
(2) Diane S. Dew, 1991, 'The Backslider in Heart' in "Essentials of Revival", www.dianedew.com. Visited on 27/03/09.
(4) See my article, 'Return to the Lord: Dealing with Lukewarmness & Backsliding' for a full discussion on curing backsliding. Available at www.faithreaders.com
Copyright(c)2010 by Michael Okyere Asante
In reprinting, no part of this article should be altered in any form.