Monday, February 16, 2009

Retrogression or Backsliding--the Death of a Christian

Backsliding is a term I heard in church often when I was a growing up. It means to "turn back or turn away from." Throughout this article I am going to use the word "retrogression" (The act or process of deteriorating or declining), interchangeably with the word backslide. I believe retrogression helps define what is taking place when a Christian backslides. This brings up the perplexing question, why do Christians become backslidden? The answer lies in the fact that we all still possess the old nature that is “corrupt through deceitful lusts” (Eph. 4:22; Rom. 7:13-24; 1 Cor. 3:1-3). I am a saint, but I still sin. That makes me a sinner-saint. Because of my operative dual natures I have a propensity to misstep at times in my pursuit of fellowship with the Lord, this results in a lack of spiritual vitality and ineffective Christian service (Jn. 15:4-8). There is no other way to live the Christian life except by maintaining intimate fellowship with our Lord. If we do not maintain that vital contact with Him we cannot sustain spiritual growth and effectively minister in His name. Unbelief (Heb. 3:12), bitterness (12:15), love for the world (2 Tim. 4:10), love for money (1 Tim. 6:10), adherence to worldly philosophy (Col. 2:8), legalism (Gal. 3:1; 1:6; 5:7), indifference and spiritual coldness (Rev. 2:4; 3:16) are other causes for backsliding. Backsliding grieves the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30), and it displeases our Lord (Heb. 10:38). There are natural consequences that follow this sin (Lev. 26:18-25). How can we prevent backsliding in our spiritual life? It is essential that we “abide” in Christ (Jn. 15:4-7), remain spiritually alert (Eph. 6:18), put on the full armor of God (v. 10), be prayerful (1 Thess. 5:17), etc. Seek to love the Lord God with all your mind, heart and personal being every day. Gradualism is an enemy to our Christian walk. Generally it’s over time we slip, we get careless in our thought lives, we fail to confess sin, and we become bitter over a perceived slight or hurt. However we can thank God that He patiently perseveres with His saints. Just as we are to persevere in doing His will, we can be thankful that He has made a wonderful covenant with us in the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. The grace of perseverance is one of the great benefits of the atoning death of Jesus Christ for our sins. The solution for backsliding is found in the abiding love and mercy of our God of grace who remains faithful to His promises. Let's do a Biblical study on this timely subject. In this article I am going to attempt to unpack a number of Scripture passages on the subject of backsliding. To begin please Read Ruth 1:1-16. This narrative begins with a wealthy man names Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilian. The events of this account take place during the time of the Judges when "every man did that which was right in his own eyes" Judges 21:15. Because the people of God had departed from the Lord, God sent a famine into the land. Elimelech's name means "My God is King." He should have known God would take care of him in Israel; however he fled the famine and went to Moab. As you probable recall, Moab was an incestuous son born to Lot's daughter. In Psalm 108:9, God called "Moab my wash pot" meaning Moab is my "garbage can." Elimelech and Naomi's two sons were weak and sickly. Mahlon means "unhealthy" and Chilion means "puny." How would you like to grow up with names like that? Note the progression of backsliding. First, let's examine the cause of backsliding. He saw his circumstances as being bigger than God, Ruth 1:1. In a time of crisis the question always comes up, "how big is your God?" In Elimelech's mind, his God was really small. Moreover the Law of God obligated Elimelech's neighbors to take care of him, (Lev. 25:35). God would have provided for him. However he, like many of us, wanted Independence, he wanted to be in control of his own life. We learn he "went out full," Ruth 1:21, and died outside of the will of God. The place of safety is in the will of God, God never told Elimelech to leave Judah. Second, observe the course of backsliding-away from God. When God sends a man into a wicked place He makes it crystal clear he is supposed to go there. Some years earlier the Moabites had hired Balaam to curse Israel, Numbers 22:1-8. We must note if it is wrong to go some place, then it is wrong to take the first step that leads to that place. One son didn't convert his wife, for she returned to her pagan gods, Ruth 1:15. The gods of Moab were very much like Baal, the "god" being worshipped back in Israel. Third, the curse of backsliding is always the judgment of God. If Naomi had returned upon the death of her husband she could have saved the lives of her sons, Ruth 1:3, 5. Her husband Elimelech lost his life, Ruth 1:3. She lost her two sons, Ruth 1:4, 5. This came about because of violation of God's Law, Deut. 7:3, 4; 23:3. Backsliding caused Naomi to lose her joy, Ruth 1:20, 21. Naomi means "Pleasant one." If you can live in sin and enjoy it, you're not saved. The most miserable creature on earth is a backslidden Christian. Naomi went from being "Pleasant" to "bitter." Fourth, note the cure for backsliding-return to the Lord. The key to the book is found in Ruth 1:7, in the word "return." The cure for backsliding is always to return to the Lord. Naomi returned to Bethlehem, Ruth 1:6. In Ruth 1:11 she tells her daughters to stay in the land. She learns that God had taken care of His people in the crisis, Ruth 1:6. When she and her daughter-in-law return the whole town came to see them, Ruth 1:19. Fifth, note the cost of backsliding. She lost her husband, 10 years of her life, her joy and her two sons. Backsliding begins by a person trying to serve two masters. The backslider is often blind to his own spiritual state. The marvelous thing is, God is able to make beauty out of ashes. Boaz the great, grandfather of King David was born of Rahab. Obed, the grandfather of David was born of Ruth. Continuing with our study lets take as an example the prophet Hosea. God told Hosea to marry a prostitute, in doing so God, through the prophet's life, and his love for his wife, described the undying love of He has toward a people whose hearts had wandered far from His ways. God's heart is expressed through the life of Hosea. We learn of the deep, inner longings and desire of God's heart to court them and win them back by His love. "I will heal their backsliding," He promises; "I will love them freely..." (Hosea 14:4) The word "backslide" literally means "turn back" or "turn away" (from God, 1 Kings 11:9; from our first love, Rev. 2:4; or from the gospel, Gal. 1:6, 7; 3:1-5; in doing so we turn to Satan, 1 Tim. 5:15; to evil, Psa. 125:5; and to the world, 2 Tim. 4:10). The Bible describes the backslidden state as: attempting to serve two masters, this impossible task will always lead to forsaking the Lord, which results in our going our own way, and leaving our first love, in time we end up forgetting God, and slipping away from his love and truth. The retrogressive believer ends up turning aside ("like a deceitful bow," Jer. 14:7), and growing cold in his heart toward God, in time if one's retrogression is left unchecked he will depart from the faith. God says this is liking our "putting a hand to the plow and looking back" (Luke 9:62), in the end we become like the "salt that has lost its savor" (Matthew 5:13), and in our sinful state we are like "a dog returning to his vomit" (Prov. 26:11), our fruitlessness makes us as "a dead branch" because we become disconnected from the Vine (John 15:6; Hebrews 6:8). In America, good Bible centered materials are readily available, there is an abundance of excellent, Bible teaching churches, Christian book stores abound, and Christian radio and television programs are easy to find. In the midst of all these spiritual provisions how does a believer become retrogressive? Does the backslider wake up one morning and say "I think I will commit adultery today? No! What happens, takes place over time, (the power of gradualism), he may become careless in his thought life, and he stops taking "every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." He begins to entertain fleshly desires, thinking a little fantasizing really can't be all that bad, after all I am only human. King David watched a young woman taking a bath and instead of turning his head, he was captivated by her beauty. We all know what came next and the price he paid for the sinful events that followed. What characterizes a backslidden/retrogressive condition? Sin always brings decay on account of death. Sin always kills something, "the wages of sin is death." The deceptive part is this decay is a slow process. If it came as a shot in the arm or a kick in the shin, we'd recognize it for what it is. But the evil one is crafty, and his ways are subtle. The backslider begins to dry up spiritually, but his heart does not perceive what is happening. He may have a feeling of indifference toward the things of the Lord (Amos 6:1). He simply may no longer set his heart on that which is spiritual. He loses his appetite for the things of the Lord. The flesh always seeks fulfillment, and not always with that which is evil. Good things become the enemy of the best when they take the place of our occupying ourselves with God. Work is necessary and can be satisfying, sex in marriage can be delightful, food is to be enjoyed, sleep is needful, and refreshing, and exercise "profits a little." But when these things begin to crowd out fellowship with Jesus, we are in spiritual danger. We are called to live balanced Christian lives, and proper balance always puts Christ first. For we know that we must make caring for the inner man a priority. King David knew this when he said "in your Law I will meditate day and night." How easy it becomes for our prayer life to be crowed out with other interests, even good, innocent pastimes, like hobbies, sports, entertainment. When we fill our lives with that which does not feed the soul our hunger for God and His Word will diminish. As a pastor, I have been amazed at how little it takes for a believer to slack off in their church attendance. I believe I have heard some of the lamest excuses known to mankind. "When my business takes off, I will have more time for church." "They only have dog shows on weekends, you do understand, don't you pastor?" "We paid good money for our place at the lake and we really need to be there on the weekends." I have also watched the transverse take place; I have seen people in sin actually get really busy for God. They think in their continuing state of hypocrisy that God will somehow give them a pass; however their interpersonal relationships undergo extreme stress, as the conviction of the Holy Spirit presses them to repent and turn back to the Lord. In time, ignoring God's call to repent, and return (2 Kings 17:15), one's zeal for the Lord and concern for lost souls subsides; this is due to a sense of guilt and hypocrisy. Given enough time, the fear of God will depart and a complete re-ordering of priorities in one's life occurs. This results in a feeling of being lost and lacking purpose which results in great discontentment of heart. The day comes that the retrogressive believer realizes his abhorrence of sin has dissipated. That which he once despised is now tolerable. At this point it becomes easy to justify actions, that in the day he walked with the Lord, he never would have considered acceptable. And since his sensitivity to spiritual things is not what it used to be, he may sense very little guilt. His calloused heart becomes like stone; his conscience, "seared" (1 Tim. 4:2). The farther he strays from the Lord, the more distant the voice of God becomes, and the more difficult it seems to find his way back. This begins a pattern of lying, lying to God, to others and to himself. Even while struggling in a retrogressive state, the backslider may verbally identify himself with the Lord (Hosea 8:2; Elk. 6:46). The obvious inconsistencies in his life, may trouble him (Hosea 6:4); but more likely he will be blind to his own spiritual state (Hosea 7:9; Rev. 3:17, 18). An over-confidence in one's former standing with God (as opposed to confidence in God) can falsely convince an individual that God will overlook his present lifestyle (Hosea 7:2). Some have a propensity to come up with all the right words; their lips speak of that which sounds "spiritual," but their heart is far from God. And "they keep on backsliding." Given time they become "bent to backsliding" (Hos 11:7). In spite of their great words, their condition is that of a "perpetual" backslider (Jer. 8:5; 14:7). "Their hearts are always going astray ..." it will take a powerful work of the Holy Spirit to turn them back to God (Hebrews 3:10). We know that individual believers will vary in their degrees of spirituality and commitment (Col. 1:23), and we have seen that some are more prone to missteps, by reason of choice (personal weakness). These believers need to build higher walls of protection around their lives. Past areas of failure need constant vigilance for they constitute a possible future battle ground. The former alcoholic needs to stay away from the bar, the repentant adulter must not flirt with the opposite sex. Their hearts are like a garden that must be carefully tilled and weeded (Hosea 10:12; Matthew 13), their spiritual lives require diligent attention (2 Tim. 2:15, 21; 2 Peter 1:5-7). In all of our lives spiritual neglect and laziness, can wreak havoc on our spiritual development. Backsliding is, as the word implies, a sliding back – not a jump off a cliff, but a sliding downhill. We cannot ascend the mount of God in neutral. Spiritual growth requires a conscious effort, or it will be only "natural" that we succumb to the ways of the flesh. Our Christian walk is somewhat like riding a bicycle; we either keep those pedals moving we will coast to a stop. The retrogressive condition, while not sudden in onset, may escalate rapidly. All it takes is "a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest..." (Prov 8:10; 24:33). "A little leaven ferments the whole lump" (Gal.5:9). "... The little foxes... spoil the vines." (Song of Sol. 2:15) Satan tempted Jesus when He was physically weak (fasting), and we can count on him to attack us at our weakest times, in our weakest areas. For example an honor's student might not be tempted to cheat, but rather to become proud of his achievements. The problem with glorying in the grades is that it robs glory from the Lord, He is the One who gave the ability to get the grades. The Christian might never be tempted to murder, but faces countless opportunities to hate or speak evil of his brother, which amounts to murder, according to Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. The backslidden condition may be manifested externally (in cursing, drinking, lying, etc.); but it begins in the heart (Prov. 14:14) Often concealed in secret (2 Kings 17:9), the backslider's condition may remain hidden behind a facade of religiosity. That is why we must pray "Search me O' Lord and see if there is any wicked way in me." We can believe all the right doctrines, and give the outward appearance of being "spiritual" among men – yet still have a heart filled with lust, jealousy, bitterness, etc. The wayward heart, however, does not spend time at the altar of God, but chafes under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Although backsliding begins in the heart and mind (Prov.14:14; 2 Corin. 11:3; Col.2:8), the condition eventually becomes evident externally. Like a drunk, you cannot hide forever what is taking place on the inside, in time it will show itself to everyone around you. Jesus said that a person's inward spiritual condition becomes obvious by the fruit he bears. The Apostle Paul stated it is possible to profess the truth verbally ("with their mouth") but deny the Lord in our actions (Titus 1:16). If our lives fail to measure up to our profession of faith (1 Tim. 5:8), our actions will declare our words null and void (1 Corin. 13). It is interesting that the term "believer," as used in the New Testament, is not a noun but a participle: A participle is a verbal-adjective, meaning "one who is believing." Christianity is more than a one-time trip to the altar, or a raised hand in the morning service, the Christian life is worked out in a day-by-day walk of life and faith in Jesus Christ. Here are some examples of backsliders in Scripture. It doesn't long when reading the Bible to find an example of a retrogressive believer. Israel's propensity to backslide is well documented, as are those of many Old Testament individuals: take as an example Lot, Gen 19:1-22; Saul, 1 Sam 15:11, 26-28; Amon, 2 Ki 21:22, 23; Rehoboam, 2 Chron. 12:1, 2; Asa, 2 Chron. 16:7-9; Joash, 2 Chron. 24:24; Amaziah, 2 Chron. 25:27; etc. Sadly the Scripture tells us that "when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God... And the Lord was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice." (1 Kings 11:4, 9; compare. vv. 4-40; Neh. 13:26). David was a man of faith, a "man after God's own heart." However from the life of David we learn how yielding to one sin, lust, can quickly lead to adultery, and even murder (2 Sam. 11:1-5, 13; 12:1-13). The Scriptures are clear that consequences of our actions can remain, even though an offense has been forgiven. David suffered tremendous grief at the death of the son born of an ungodly union. His great anguish of heart, came to one who experienced the Presence of God but abandoned His ways, his turmoil is expressed in Psalms 51:1-19 and 61:10-12. The destruction in the lives of his sons brought further anguish to his life. Yet the Lord was full of grace and mercy on his behalf. The spiritual condition of an individual within a church may reflect on the leadership, (should the leadership be corrupt) "like priest, like people" however this is not always the case. Even some disciples of Jesus (perfect teacher that he was) "went back and walked no more with Him" (Matthew 26:56; John 6:66) Some slipped away but returned – including Thomas, who had his moment of unbelief (John 20:27-29); and Peter, who denied the Lord in the face of persecution (Mat 26:70-74; Mk 14:72). "Satan hath desired to sift you as wheat," Jesus told Peter; "but I have prayed for you, that you do not fail." (Luke 22:31, 32). The spiritual status of the early church believers was of great concern to the Apostle Paul. His burden was that they remain in union with Christ (1 Corin. 5:1-13). At times, entire churches are mentioned as having backslidden: The Corinthian church (2 Corin. 12:20, 21); the Galatian church (Gal. 1:6; 3:1; 4:9-11; 5:6, 70); the churches of Asia (1 Tim. 5:15; 2 Tim. 1:15; Rev. 2:4, 14, 15, 20; 3:2, 3, 15-18). The New Testament mentions many backsliders by name: Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:19, 20); Phygellus and Hermogenes (2 Tim. 1:15); Demas (2 Tim. 4:10). Yet, even of those who followed, some, "having loved this present world," "turned aside" and became retrogressive (1 Tim. 1:18-20; 5:15; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:17, 18; 4:10-16). There are conditional Aspects of Christianity. These are found in the "if" clauses. "If you continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel..." Colossians 1:23 Life is filled with choices. Daily, we make decisions that may draw us nearer to God, or cause us to drift away. We also have an enemy, whose purpose it is to render us sterile for the work of the kingdom. His desire is to discredit and disprove both the work and the Word of God, by loading down, with worldy cares, (Luke 22:31) and wearing down (Daniel 12:7) the saints. Satan seeks to rob us of our spiritual strength, by tempting us to exert our efforts elsewhere. If he cannot convince us to commit an obviously outrageous offense, he will crowd our lives with other interests: "the cares of this world." Satan is the master of diversion. Scripture speaks as much of backsliding as it does of getting saved – and this should not come as a surprise. Once an individual begins walking with Christ, his problems do not cease. Quite the opposite is true. Beware of a "gospel" that teaches "come to Jesus and all your troubles will vanish." I came to Jesus and He gave me bigger and better problems. As an unbeliever, we were just where Satan wanted us. We posed no threat to his kingdom. as a result he basically left us alone. After all we were doing his will anyway. In order to deceive and mislead the elect, however, Satan will work overtime. Obedience to Christ is not optional for the sincere believer. Obedience has never been an elective in the course of Christian living (Mat. 19:17; Jn. 8:31). While our salvation is completely unmerited, many promises of God are conditional upon our obedience to His Word: "If you..." (Deut. 7:12; 11:13, 22, 27; 28:1, 2, 9, 13; 30:10; 1 Sam. 1:19, 20; 12:14, 15; 2 Chron. 7:17, 19; 1 Kings 9:4; Jer. 22:4, 5; 1 Corin. 10:12; 11:28, 31; 2 Corin. 13:5; Col. 1:23). When we wander outside of the boundaries of His holy will, we tread on thin ice. We find ourselves in danger – not only spiritually, but emotionally, psychologically, even physically. In a sense, there is also a loss of balance and stability. We lose our equilibrium. Backsliding is also a "drifting away." But it is always the result of personal choice: 2 Chron. 24:20; 15:2-4; Isa. 30:9, 15; 2 Tim. 2:12. "The Lord is with you while you are with Him..." The truth is He will "never leave you or forsake you." However to experience His fellowship and presence we must abide in Him. Note several causes of backsliding. "Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the Lord? Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you..." Jeremiah 2:17, 19 the causes of backsliding are many and varied. Some are hidden; others are obvious. But the usual tendency is to emphasize the externals: However the externals are always an out working of the internals. Jesus condemned the Pharisees not for what they did, but for what they failed to do: "...you neglect the weightier matters of the law," such as mercy, He said. There are sins of commission, and omission. The verse that says "be sure your sins will find you out" speaks of sins of omission. Jesus told his disciples that they would be judged not just according to their relationship with him, but also by their neglect of "the least of these" (Mat 25:35-45). Not everything "lawful" is "expedient" or beneficial, Paul writes. Reading romance novels, for example, might not in itself cause one to go out and sin. (It could). But neglecting the Word of God certainly will. The "lust of the flesh," the "deceitfulness of riches," "the love of the world" – all these can set a trap for us and bring about a fall. You can be certain the pride of life, and hatred of a brother, will suck the spiritual life out of you. There are always consequences of backsliding. One tends to take others with them when they backslide. I have noticed disgruntled believers tend to find other disgruntled believer to take with them when they leave a church. Rebels seem to have "rebel radar" when it comes to finding others who are also out of fellowship with the Lord. "Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the Lord..." Jeremiah 2:17, 19 Backsliding often carries with it, its own punishment (Prov. 14:14; Jer. 2:17, 19; Rom. 13:4). And its effects often extend far beyond the experience of the offender alone. Causing a brother to stumble is a serious offense. We will be held accountable not only for our own relationship with God, but for our conduct before men as well. Our life is "an open book," Paul writes, "known and read of all men." People who do not hear what we say cannot help but observe the way we live. "Your actions speak so loudly," the saying goes, "that I can't hear a word you're saying." Therefore, we are to "love not in word, but in deed..." (1 Jn 3:18). That means our life and our lip must tell the same story. Anyone who has experienced the Presence of God will never find lasting satisfaction outside of His will. The Scriptures tell us "the joy of the Lord is our strength." I have noticed that the first thing that happens to a retrogressive believer is his joy bucket springs a leak. This accounts for the inner frustration and bitterness of soul accompanying the abandonment of one's soul to the unruly state of life without fellowship with God. Recovery is always a process, for backsliding wounds the soul. "I will heal their backsliding; I will love them freely..." Hosea 14:4-7 the road back to fellowship with God is never long. As the father of the prodigal "ran to meet him," God always meets us at least half-way. Deciding to return, however, has often proven most difficult. While falling asleep is a gradual process, waking from a physical sleep comes suddenly – usually by an alarm, or a shaking. Recovering from a spiritually backslidden condition is no different. Depending on the degree of our retrogressive state, God often must use extreme measures to bring us back. He strives with the backslidden (2 Kings 17:15), and lovingly will use anything, sickness, misery, grief, failure, death of a loved one, a serious accident, financial loss, etc. to get us to return to Him. (Psalm 107) Scripture compares the backslidden condition to a disease (Isa. 1:5, 6), for which God has a cure (Jer. 3:22; Hos. 14:4-7). As with most natural diseases, certain symptoms are typical of the condition: a spiritual lethargy, a calloused attitude toward sin, worldliness, a spiritual love grown cold, lack of prayer and decreased hunger for the Word, accompied by a general feeling of apathy toward lost souls. A dominant characteristic of the backslidden condition is stubbornness (2 Kings 17:14, 40). Retrogression is essentially a heart condition. Though its manifestations may be primarily external, the root of the problem lies much deeper. And, even as many health problems can be caused by neglect as well as abuse, the Christian who neglects the Word of God can hardly expect to grow in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." Scripture cites several safeguards or preventative measures against backsliding. What is our responsibility toward the backslidden? "But if you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears..." Jeremiah 13:17 although the spiritual welfare of God's flock is primarily the responsibility of the shepherds, or pastors, every believer must have a burden for the backslidden. We are our "brother's keeper" (Gen. 4:9) and should "bear one another's burdens" (Gal. 6:2). Besides exhorting one another daily (Heb. 10:25), we ought to pray regularly for our brother (Psa. 80:3; 85:4; Lam. 5:21). "Behold, Satan hath desired to have you ... but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not. And when thou art converted (turned back), strengthen thy brethren," Jesus told Peter (Luke 22:31-32). However, prayer cannot replace loving confrontation, the two works together. "The truth shall set you free," Jesus said. "If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness..." (Gal. 6:1) "If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister" (1 Tim. 4:6) – even if the words are rejected (Ezek. 3:19, 21; Hosea 8:1). A reward awaits those who retrieve a fallen soul: "...he which convereth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins" (James 5:20). In attempting to bring back a backslidden brother, however, we must make sure we ourselves are strong enough in the faith to stand secure: "...lest you also be tempted" (Gal. 6:1). Those who have forsaken the Lord tend to bring others down (Proverbs 28:10; Matthew 18:6; 1 Corin. 15:33). Therefore, we are specifically exhorted to avoid those who have completely hardened their hearts through sin (Prov 28:14; Isaiah 26:3, 4; 1 Corin. 5:9-11; Col. 1:21-23; Jude 22 23) – although our attitude toward them should remain one of mercy: "Count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thes. 3:6, 15). The Call to Return; includes the Promise of Forgiveness. "Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings..." Jeremiah 3:22 God promises to receive those who return with repentant hearts (Deut. 4:29; 1 Chron.28:9; 2 Chron. 7:14; 15:2; Jer. 31:20; 36:3). His patience toward those who "keep on backsliding," however, is limited (Jer. 15:6; Prov. 24:16; Hosea 11:7). Their backsliding is "perpetual... they refuse to return" (Jer. 8:5-7). Some are reprobate: (Isa. 1:5-6; Jer 6:30; 15:1; Ezek. 22:18; Heb. 10:26-29, 38, 39; 1 Corin. 5:10-13; Heb. 6:6; Revel. 2:4, 5, 21-23; 3:2, 3). His desire is always for their return (2 Chron. 30:6; Isa. 31:6; Jer. 3:4-22; Hosea 6:1; 14:4-7). Must believers repent? The primary difference between the righteous and the wicked is that "the just man," though he may "fall seven times," gets up again (Prov. 24:16). He doesn't remain in his sin. As you may remember Moses missteped more than once. David also had more than one misstep. Peter certainly has his time of failure as he attempted to follow the Lord. What does God require of the backslider who desires to return? "...only acknowledge thine iniquity" (Jer. 3:13, 14; 12:13), and change your ways (Job 22:23; Psa. 51:3-4; Isa. 1:16-20). Complete restoration is possible. God is merciful and ever ready to forgive (Neh. 9:17; Isa. 54:6; Jer. 3:12-14; Ezek. 34:23; Micah 7:18; 1 John 1:9). He is always the God of a second, third, and fourth chance. He may withdraw His Presence, to stir our hearts to return; but he never abandons His own. He still calls the backslidden his "children" (Jer. 3:14), his people" (Psa. 106:40; Ezek. 37:23b). The initiative, however, is ours: "Return unto Me, and I will return unto you" (Mal. 3:7; Jer. 3:12-14). "Break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the Lord..." (Hosea 10:12, cp. 2 Chron. 30:9 and Jer. 4:1). We can be certain that "He who began a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). The Biblical word "backsliding" is generally found in the older English versions such as the King James Version. In this article I have put this old English word in more modern terminology. Retrogression is typical of the believer who gets out of fellowship with the Lord and perpetuates carnality which is characterized by a general attitude of indifference and sometimes even hostility towards Bible truth. This retrogressive believer progressively loses his spiritual motivation and momentum and is no longer advancing in the Christian life. Hence, he is retrogressing and has become a backslidden believer. We usually think of backsliding as some type of immoral degeneracy. However, we must also remember that moral degeneracy, a self-righteous arrogant attitude and activity in life, renders the Christian just as backslidden or retrogressive as the believer who is living under some phase of immorality. The retrogressive Christian is characterized by continual unchecked negative volition toward Bible teaching. Don’t be fooled, though, because God is gracious and willing to forgive that He is also going to let us slide without consequences. There are always consequences for backsliding. God hates sin but loves us. He wants to help us drive sin out of our lives. To do so, He is sometimes stern with us. We must realize that when we retrogress into sin, we are making a choice. We are choosing the things of this world over what God wants for us. (2 Timothy 4:10) When this happens, He has to withdraw His rewards and protection from that area of our lives. ((Isaiah 59:2) He will at times take strong measures inorder to correct our unwillingness to displeases Him. (Psalms 78:56). Retrogression also gives ground to the Devil. It allows him to influence us in that area of disobedience. Backsliding involves spiritual warfare, and during a period of retrogression, we have, at least for a time, handed the victory to the enemy. To conquer backsliding, we must remember these things: Whatever God is asking you to do, He doesn’t ask you to do it on your own. He only wants your willingness to let Him do it for you. When faced with temptation, we must choose to ask for God’s intervention. We must repeat the former point over and over again with each new temptation. When we fail, we ask forgiveness and surrender the problem again. We must thank God for the work He does for us. Backsliding is part of our nature but God has a way for us to conquer it. We must be willing to do His bidding, we must ask for strength and we must ask forgiveness when we fail. Most of all, we must thank Him for His love and the effort He puts into us. He is trying to make us like Christ and that’s something to be thankful for. The answer, repent and turn back to the Lord, He is waiting with open arms. Dr. Ken Copley is available for counseling, conferences, and local church meetings.

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