SIGNS OF A BACKSLIDING CHRISTIAN

BY PASTOR T. O. BANSO

“Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings” (Jeremiah  3:22 NKJV). 

The term “backsliding” is not found in the New Testament but is used in the Old Testament, especially in the Book of Jeremiah, with reference to the children of Israel. “O LORD, though our iniquities testify against us, do it for Your name’s sake; for our backslidings are many, we have sinned against You” (Jeremiah 14:7 NKJV).

Backsliding is turning away or turning back from the Lord. It is falling from the spiritual level one has attained (Revelation 2:5). It is reverting to sin. It is the waxing cold of one’s love for God. It is one’s faith growing weaker. It is putting one’s hand to the plough and looking back. “But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God’” (Luke 9:62 NKJV).

Backsliding is like a dog returning to its vomit. “As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11 NKJV). It is like salt losing its savors. “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men” (Matthew 5:13 NKJV).

I think backsliding is not just going backward but failing to go forward. Such a person won’t be at the place he is supposed to be – he’ll be lagging behind. If one isn’t going forward, one is, in a way, going backward.

Backsliding is a thing of the heart but has outward manifestations. “The backslider in heart will be filled with his own ways, but a good man will be satisfied from above” (Proverbs 14:14 NKJV).  It is the heart that first turns away before others begin to see the physical signs of backsliding in a backslider. “So the LORD became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the LORD God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice” (1 Kings 11:9 NKJV).

All the evils that Solomon did were as a result of his heart that first turned from the Lord. But he had been warned about this before then. “You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods. ‘Solomon clung to these in love’” (1 Kings 11:2-3 NKJV). Did you see that? Solomon’s heart was turned away from God to foreign gods. This was the same Solomon that the Bible had said: “And Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David, except that he sacrificed and burned incense at the high places” (1 Kings 3:3 NKJV). But this was during the earlier years of his reign.

Backsliding is a thing of the heart. Nobody is above backsliding. There are backsliding pastors who’re still preaching and church workers and other Christians who have backslid and don’t miss church programmes. This is not about boasting or being self-confident. “If you think you are standing strong, be careful, for you, too, may fall into the same sin” (1 Corinthians 10:12 NLT). You must watch your heart.

A backslider is a Christian who is committing sin particularly privately but sometimes publicly – a sin which causes him or her to regress from being a firebrand or vibrant Christian to a lukewarm, joyless Christian.

Non-believers don’t backslide – only Christians do – and this is because it is possible for Christians to sin. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10 NKJV). The truth is all Christians may have backslid in one form or the other, and need to repent and return to God. Non- believers have never received the saving grace and are living in sin; they’re down, and therefore need fear no fall!

Signs of backsliding

1. Spiritual pride. This is when one begins to focus on one’s works and not the works of Christ on the cross. Our works are not the basis of our acceptance by God. We can’t stand and run the Christian race without Christ. Pride goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18). God opposes the proud (James 4:6). If you think you’re standing, take heed lest you fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).

In Luke 22:33, Peter started backsliding when he boasted that he was ready to go with Jesus to prison and to death. Later when Jesus was arrested, he could only follow him at a distance, not closely (verse 54). Thank God that Jesus had prayed for Peter before his temptation. Jesus later restored him and reinstated him into ministry after his resurrection. The same Peter who had denied him later became a fearless witness of Jesus, and church history records that he died on the cross like Jesus requesting however to be turned upside down as a mark of respect for his Master and Savior. Beware of spiritual pride!

2. Lack of hunger for the Word of God. When a Christian begins to go for days without reading or studying the Word of God and still feels comfortable about it, he is backsliding. Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God (Luke 4:4). A Christian who has hunger and thirst for God will search the Scripture daily like the Berean Christian (Acts 17:11).  He will treasure the Word of God in his heart (Job 23:12).

3. A sick or non-existing prayer life. When a Christian doesn’t pray privately as much as he used to do, he is backsliding. Jesus says man ought always to pray and not to faint (Luke 18:1). When the fire of prayer is going out gradually, there is backsliding. Such a Christian may be sleeping when he’s supposed to be praying. He may even be sleeping while praying! He may find prayer meetings with other Christians unattractive and unnecessary.

In Luke 22, Jesus told his disciples to pray so that they might not fall into temptation but unfortunately they slept off. No wonder they deserted him as soon as he was arrested.

While not despising congregational/corporate/public prayer, private prayer isn’t negotiable for a child of God. Your Father who sees you in secret will Himself reward you openly (Matthew 6:6).

4. Seemingly harmless worldly pleasures taking ascendancy over spiritual activities. A Christian is backsliding when playing games and sports, engaging in recreational activities, watching favourite TV programmes including football matches, etc. become more important to him than prayer, Bible study, and other spiritual activities. “He who loves pleasure will be a poor man” (Proverbs 21:17 NKJV). Love of pleasure can also lead to spiritual poverty which will affect other departments of one’s life. Love of pleasure will result in spiritual death. “But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives” (1 Timothy 5:6 NKJV).

5. Justification of sin and loss of sense of guilt. When a Christian begins to excuse sin in his life, explain it away and pardon his sin instead of being sorrowful and repent, he is backsliding. Such a Christian is departing from the faith and his conscience may become dead or seared. He’ll soon be wallowing in sin without feeling guilty. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:1-2 NKJV). We’re already in the latter times or end-time hence many are departing from the faith.

6. Toleration of sin in fellow believers. Lack of abhorrence of sin in others is a sign of backsliding. A Christian should hate sin but love the sinner including the sinning Christian. But when a Christian begins to show understanding with fellow believers why they must commit certain sins or approve of their sins, he is backsliding. That is not biblical love.

Paul wrote to the church in Pergamum (Pergamos), “And yet I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you who are like Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to worship idols by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin.  In the same way, you have some Nicolaitans among you — people who follow the same teaching and commit the same sins.  Repent, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2:14-16 NLT). This church was rebuked for tolerating these heretical teachers and those practicing their wrong teachings in that church should have been barred if they didn’t repent. The church was asked to repent of this toleration of sin and compromise.

The church in Pergamum was unlike the church in Ephesus. Although that church had her own failing, she was commended for not tolerating evil people (Revelation 2:2). Unlike the church in Pergamum, the church in Ephesus hated the deeds of the immoral Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6).

The Bible says the soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:20). So why should a Christian be tolerating others’ sins?   A Christian cannot afford to be smiling at the sin of fellow Christians. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God” (Psalm 9:17 NKJV).

7. Control by the flesh. When a Christian is being controlled by the flesh (the desires of sinful nature) and not by the Spirit of God, it shows he is backsliding. Such a Christian will be manifesting the works of the flesh rather than the fruit of the Spirit. “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure, idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT).

8. Worldliness. An obsession with the thought of making more money, acquiring more worldly goods, fashion, etc. is a sign of backsliding. The Bible says the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil, and some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:10)  “Those who love money will never have enough. How absurd to think that wealth brings true happiness!”  (Ecclesiastes 5:10 NLT). No Christian can serve God and money – you can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13).  What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?  (Matthew 16:26). This world is passing away and all that is in it – don’t lose your soul by loving the world (1 John 2:15-17).

Worldliness is a dangerous sign of backsliding. Don’t allow anxiety about meeting your needs and acquiring your wants to cause God to be dethroned in your heart; seek first the Kingdom of God. “So don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern. ‘So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today’” (Matthew 6:31-34 NLT).

9. Living a hypocritical life. When a Christian begins to live a double life – he flows with sinners while maintaining a form of godliness among believers. That is hypocrisy, duplicity.

Such a Christian is gradually moving away from the church and integrating with the world until he is completely gone into the world. “You hypocrites! Isaiah was prophesying about you when he said, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is a farce, for they replace God’s commands with their own man-made teachings’” (Matthew 15:7-9 NLT). Mark 7:6 says a similar thing. Be a Christian; don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t adjust your life to suit the world or to be accepted by the world – that is a sign of backsliding.

10. Lack of concern for the sinful condition of the world. A backsliding Christian has no passion for the souls of sinners which is tragic neglect of the Great Commission – go into the world and preach the gospel to sinners (Mark 16:15-18). Should Christians watch sinners go to hell? Ezekiel 33:8-9 says, “If I announce that some wicked people are sure to die and you fail to warn them about changing their ways, then they will die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their deaths. But if you warn them to repent and they don’t repent, they will die in their sins, but you will not be held responsible” (NLT).

11. Withdrawal from fellowship with saints. Before this symptom manifests, other symptoms are already evident – the heart first withdraws from God before a Christian begins to withdraw from fellowship with saints. The psalmist says, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the LORD’” (Psalm 122:1 NKJV). Church attendance and fellowship with saints becomes a burden to a backsliding Christian. It should not be so. Consider what the psalmist said in Psalm 84:10: “A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else! I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked” (NLT). Hebrews 10:25 says Christians should not forsake the assembling together of fellow Christians.

How To Avoid Backsliding

1. Watch and pray. Keep the fire of prayer burning in your life. Jesus told the disciples, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41 NKJV). Mark 14:38 and Luke 22:46 record a similar instruction by Jesus. Unfortunately, the disciples slept off in the place of prayer and couldn’t withstand the temptation that followed. They all deserted him. Maintain a vibrant private prayer life.

2. Walk in the spirit. To walk in the spirit means to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Gal 5:16 says, “So I advise you to live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves” (NLT). If you walk in the spirit consistently, you’ll not backslide. Not to walk in the spirit is to walk in the flesh. Jesus was filled with the Spirit of God before he was led into the wilderness, so he didn’t fall for satan’s temptation (Luke 4:1–13).

3. Do regular self-examination. Do a frequent spiritual check-up to be sure your life is right with God. “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Corinthians 13:5 NKJV). Identify any sin in your life, confess, repent, and forsake it. Don’t tolerate sin; don’t play with it; don’t rationalize it. No sin is too small to take anyone to hell-fire! “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:9-10 NKJV).

Concerning the church of Ephesus – the loveless church – the Bible says, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5-6 NKJV).

God is ready to forgive any sinner who genuinely repents. He’ll receive him and will not count his sin against him. He’ll treat him as if he has never sinned. “Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Return to Me,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 1:3 NKJV). You can repent and return to God today. He’ll heal your backslidings. “Return, ye backsliding children, I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we are come unto thee; for thou art Jehovah our God” (Jeremiah 3:22 ASV).

4. Embrace holy living. No habitual sinner is a Christian, and no Christian is a habitual sinner. “Those who are God’s children do not continue sinning, because the new life from God remains in them. They are not able to go on sinning, because they have become children of God” (1 John 3:9 NCV).

Whoever says he knows God and doesn’t keep His commandment is a liar (1 John 2:4). And the summary of these commandments is love – love God and love fellow human beings. Love is the fulfillment of the law. “Love does no wrong to anyone, so love satisfies all of God’s requirements” (Romans 13:10 NLT).

5. Listen to and respond to anointed messages that convict sinners of sin and call back sinning Christians to the path of righteousness (1 Timothy 4:6, 16). There are messages that make those living in sin to be comfortable in sin. This is dangerous.

After an anointed, convicting, and convincing message preached by Peter on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 souls were saved, baptized, and added to the church. They were not pressured. No. It was the people themselves, after listening to him, that asked what they must to do to be saved. “Peter’s words convicted them deeply, and they said to him and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’  Peter replied, ‘Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38 NLT).

We need messages that will save sinners who are outside the church (non-believers) and save (cause repentance in) sinning Christians. We don’t need messages that make both categories of sinners feel comfortable. This is a serious challenge to ministers of the gospel to watch what they’re preaching. Are you preaching a permissive message or a salvation message, an edifying message? Paul told Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right, and God will save you and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16 NLT).

6. Respond to God’s discipline. If you sin and God disciplines you, in whichever way He chooses, respond by repenting and forsaking your sin. That is how not to be completely lost. Don’t reject the discipline of God persisting in sin. God disciplines you because He loves you and wants to save you from a journey into hell. “And have you entirely forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you, his children? He said, ‘My child, don’t ignore it when the Lord disciplines you, and don’t be discouraged when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes those he accepts as his children.’ As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Whoever heard of a child who was never disciplined? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children after all. Since we respect our earthly fathers who disciplined us, should we not all the more cheerfully submit to the discipline of our heavenly Father and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always right and good for us because it means we will share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening — it is painful! But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (Hebrews 12:5-11 NLT).

7. Seek the Lord daily and don’t neglect fellowship with fellow Christians. Don’t let the devil isolate you from the ministry of the church. He can do that by making you see faults in other Christians causing you to want to have nothing to do with them. By that, he also keeps you away from fellow Christians who can speak into your life and support you in your hours of trial, and the devil can exploit this to draw you away from God.

Withdrawal from fellowship will deny you the protection of the church and other benefits that church membership offers. “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25 NLT).

8. Pray for one another. In addition to personal prayers, believers need one another’s prayer to stand and keep standing because we are all members of the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:26 says, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad” (NLT). We should be our brothers’ keeper.

It was the prayer of Jesus that saved Peter.  Maybe he would have ended like Judas Iscariot who committed suicide. “And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren’” (Luke 22:31-32 NKJV).  We need each other, and we need one another in the Christian race. Soldiers don’t fight separately; they fight as a unit.  “Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere” (Eph 6:18 NLT). No wonder, Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:25 and 2 Thessalonians 3:1, “Pray for us.” The same phrase is written in Hebrews 13:18, and Paul is one of the persons Bible scholars have mentioned as a possible writer of the book of Hebrews.

9. Encourage one another. This is one of the key benefits of fellowshipping with fellow believers. There are times when a believer is weary or his faith is low, encouragement from a fellow Christian becomes an energizer. According to Titus 1:9, a person to be ordained an elder/pastor/bishop is expected to be able to encourage others with the right teaching based on the trustworthy message he has been taught. In fact, there are Christians who have been giving a special gift of encouragement. Romans 12:8 says, “If your gift is to encourage others, do it!” (NLT).

Everybody needs encouragement at one point or the other. The person giving it now may soon need it. No Christian is superman. Discouragement is one reason people backslide. Christians ought to be like that apostle, Joseph or Joses named Barnabas by the other apostles, and Barnabas means son of encouragement (Acts 4:36).  Indeed, he was an encourager. In this passage where his name is first mentioned in the Bible, it says he sold his land and brought it to the apostles (verse 37). We see Barnabas later being a great encouragement to Paul, John Mark, and the early church.

Christians should deliberately encourage one another. That’s why the epistles are full of words of encouragement to the church then and indeed the church today. Apostle Peter said, “My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that the grace of God is with you no matter what happens” (1 Peter 5:12 NLT). Paul wrote to the Romans, “I’m eager to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours. In this way, each of us will be a blessing to the other” (NLT). Did you see that? The people Paul wrote to needed encouragement just as he did too. Every Christian needs encouragement. The writer of the Book of Hebrews says, “Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24 NLT). And Paul, writing to the Corinthians said, “Encourage each other” (2 Corinthians 13:11 NLT). Timely encouragement can save many believers from backsliding.

10. Persevere in whatever hardship or persecution you’re going through. Hardship or Persecution is another reason people backslide. “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12 NKJV). Did you see that? Expect persecution the moment you choose to live a godly life.

If you’ll not backslide, you must endure to the end; you must stand firm despite all persecutions. Jesus said, “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:22-23 NKJV).

Matthew 24:12-14 says, “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.  But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (NKJV). Persecution is part of the Christian package. Mark 13:12-13 says a similar thing.  “Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (NKJV). Despite persecution, you mustn’t backslide; determine to endure to the end and God will help you. He’ll keep you from falling (Jude 24).

You must not allow hardship or persecution to abort your journey to eternity with Jesus. You’ve laid your hand to the plough; you mustn’t look back no matter what. “Let this encourage God’s holy people to endure persecution patiently and remain firm to the end, obeying his commands and trusting in Jesus” (Revelation 14:12 NLT).

2 Tim 2:3 says to endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ. Stand firm, stand strong in the faith.  Don’t go back because of any negative experience you’re going through. You won’t backslide in Jesus’ name. And if you’ve backslid, repent and return to Jesus. The Lord will forgive you and receive you back. Always remember that your affliction is temporary. “For our present troubles are quite small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NLT). Halleluiah, the troubles you see will soon be over!  

Conclusion: There is restoration for every backslider if he repents. If you’re in that condition repent, confess your sins, and return to the LORD. Don’t die in your sin and go to hell. If you’ve not backslid, pay attention to the Word of God and keep asking for grace to stand to the end. You’ll make heaven in Jesus’ name.

TAKE ACTION!

If you are not born again, you need to give your life to Jesus now. I urge you to take the following steps: *Admit you are a sinner and you cannot save yourself and repent of your sins. *Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. *Renounce your past way of life – your relationship with the devil and his works. *Invite Jesus into your life. *As a mark of seriousness to mature in the faith, start attending a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church. There they will teach you how to grow in the Kingdom of God.

Kindly say this prayer now: O Lord God, I come unto you today. I know I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save me and resurrected the third day. I repent of my sins and confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I surrender my life to Jesus now and invite Him into my heart. By this prayer, I know I am saved. Thank you, Jesus, for saving me and making me a child of God.

I believe you have said this prayer from your heart. Congratulations! You will need to join a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church in your area where they will teach you how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things and become all God wants you to be. I will be glad to hear from you. The LORD be with you.

T. O. Banso is the President, Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
Phone No: +2348155744752, +2348033113523
WhatsApp No: +2349081295947
Email: cedarministryintl@yahoo.com,
cedarministryng@gmail.com
Website: www.cedarministry.org