The Church has experienced its greatest revivals last 100 years. There are more people today who have made a claim to have been converted to Christianity or Born-again some time in their life than at any other time in history since the early Church. In spite of this, nevertheless, it has also seen the greatest numbers of backsliding or falling away from the faith. Even the reputable evangelist, Billy Graham, is reported to have admitted he estimates that about 85% of those who responded to the gospel during his crusades have abandoned their faith!
This tragic reality is occurring at the time when the world is enjoying a period of the greatest freedom in expression of belief. Never before in history has the world been so accessible for the propagation of the gospel. With the aid of radio, television, literature, satellites, and dedicated workers every nation is able to hear the gospel. Even communism has failed to keep the Gospel contained. If this high levels of backsliding is occurring at such a time of relatively great freedom, what will be the fate when persecutions become widespread as prophesied by the Lord Jesus Christ?
It is very important for Christian leaders today to urgently consider and find out: what are the real reasons for this backsliding? Where are they as leaders failing both within their local church as well as Christendom? What are the immediate and long-term actions that must be undertaken to deal with this problem? Individual Christians must also look carefully and seek to understand why, how and when does backsliding occur so as to not only avoid it themselves, but also help others do the same.
This book seeks to bring to light the major reasons for backsliding in the church. It offers solutions based on Scriptural principles that every Christian can apply to their lives. It challenges those in leadership to accept their responsibility in the area, and so seek God's face for the best solutions for their local church and areas of influence.
Backsliding, in the context of Christianity, means:
I. To let your first love at conversion grow cold (Rev. 2:4-5; Gal. 3:1-3).
Those who have had a genuine conversion know all too well the tremendous joy and freedom that salvation brought to them initially. They will also remember how they were truly devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ, initially. This all occurred before they were beset by a seemingly unending deluge of temptations from every side.
Without warning, as vast majorities of newly converted people have found, they had to face situations that so stressed and distressed their conscience. They suddenly found that they have become so acutely aware of sin, but seemingly very weak to resist many of them. The trauma that arose out of a fear of sinning and its consequences, the intense sense of guilt and hypocrisy, the fear of failure in the Christian walk all compounded.
The only way out of this seems is to withdraw from the initial depth of commitment arguing that it is humanly impossible to be "so fanatical" about righteous living. "After all God will forgive if you sin, especially now that you are a Christian and His child, won't He?” you argue. So, convinced about this "wisdom" the Christian reduces their commitment to seeking the Lord with ALL their heart (or spirit); soul (or mind, will, emotions), and strength (or body).
This is the Christianity of convenience when God is served based on some evaluation of the relative cost-benefits. Here, Christianity ceases to be a close, warm relationship between the Creator and the created, but one based on the law and the accompanying duty. Undoubtedly, within a short time it will be a cold ritualistic relationship with lots of obligatory does and don'ts without coming to a truly deeper personal knowledge of God.
Not surprisingly, God is unlikely to draw closer to such a Christian because it is not a fervent, heartfelt relationship - and neither would most other people who seek intimacy.
II. To turn away completely from serving the ONLY True Living God and serving other gods (I Kings 11:9; I Tim. 5:15; I Cor. 10:9);
In western and former communist nations the thought of bowing down to, and calling a carved piece of wood or stone a god seems ridiculous enough. The obvious fact that they were the works of man's hands shows them up as nothing but mere works of art rather than something of a living deity. Indeed, in this situation man becomes the very creator of his god. Whatever, man desires his god to look like or be made of he is able to do so at will. This is a "designer" god or a custom built god. Irrespective of the so-called spiritual association given to these designer gods, most worshippers would inwardly know they were nothing but man-made objects.
There is however, another type of god that is widely worshipped in the so-called "civilised" nations. This is the god called - self. There is an obsession with self-development, self-image, self-expression, self-exertion, self-made, self-taught, and so on. Those who achieve and are given the highest accolades in these societies are honoured and worshipped for demonstrating what "gods" they have been in their areas of activity. Man in these societies is the supreme being in the known universe. Given time, the proponents argue, man will be able to find the solution to all problems.
In between the two extremes above are those who are driven by the appetites that are part of living in the body of flesh. These are the worshippers of the "belly". The demands of the body are seen as the real or bottom-line issues in life. All pursuits in life are directed to satisfy the demands of this god, at whatever cost. The needs for financial, material, emotional, and psychological fulfilment and security are the total focus of the mind of its worshippers, everything else is trivial.
A turning away from the Living God to serving the above gods is to accept a fundamental lie that the real God does not exist. The very believing and/or knowledge that there is really a Creator who is actively involved in the affairs of the world and to whom we must in the end give a full account will sober up anyone. If any Christian is caught up in worshipping any of these gods, then it is a clear evidence that they have become unbelieving through the deceiving activities of the enemy or yielding to their own lusts. They convince themselves either that God will excuse their evil or that the reality of these gods supersedes the reality of the Living and True God.
III. To turn to evildoing or to a worldly lifestyle (Psalm 125:5; II Tim. 4:10; I John 2:15-17).
This is the deliberate pursuit of the lusts of the eyes (covetousness, idolatry, envying, jealousies, dissensions), the pride of life (murders, selfish ambitions, hatred, social status, heresies), lusts of the flesh (sexual immorality, licentiousness, uncleanness, drunkenness, revelries). Here hedonism is the main goal in life. Every manner of wanton activity or gratuitous pleasure seeking is seen as the main aim in the person's life.
The Scriptures describes a Christian who returns to their former worldly ways as "a dog returning to his vomit" (II Peter 2:20-22) and it would have been better for them not to have become Christian because they have trampled under foot the blood of Jesus Christ and put Him to open shame. There is a fearsome judgement for such a conduct!
There are several causes of and reasons for backsliding which we are examining in this chapter. A person who backslides may do so for either one or more reasons and/or causes. It is therefore important to take these into consideration if you are counselling with such a person.
I. NO BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT
The Scriptures tell us that the Holy Spirit is the guarantee or seal of our salvation (Eph. 1:13; II Cor. 1:21-22). The Lord Jesus Christ promised that when the Holy Spirit came He would be our teacher, guide, comforter, and revelator of the Will of God (John 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:7-14). Jesus Christ also commanded His disciples, at His ascension, to wait for the Holy Spirit first (Acts 1:1-8). The Holy Spirit was going to give them the power to fulfil His will. In I Corinthians chapters 12, 13, and 14 we are taught the power of Spiritual gifts in building our faith, and exposing or defeating the works of the enemy. These gifts come from the Holy Spirit. Without this type of assistance we are very much exposed to the devil and his demons. We need all the assistance we can get from the spiritual realm because we are not fighting flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). It is there absolutely essential that every born-again Christian must be baptised in The Spirit.
It is also very important after the baptism in the Holy Spirit to develop a meaningful relationship with Him. Jesus Christ said He was to teach us, instruct us, and counsel us. This is not possible unless we make a deliberate effort to draw near to the Holy Spirit and get to know His ways of dealing with us. Without this effort on our part we could, very soon be resisting the Holy Spirit, grieving Him which would lead to our hearts becoming hardened, to the truth. Before we know it we would be backsliding.
There are demonic spirits that are dedicated to causing Christians to backslide. These demons are those involved with tempting Christian to follow after the lusts of the eyes, the lusts of the flesh, and the pride of life (Prov. 16:18). We need to be aware of their real existence and activities. We can therefore defeat them by submitting ourselves to God, resisting the devil and he will flee (James 4:7). It is very important to know that demons are not responsible for all backsliding. Sometimes it is a person responding to the lusts of the flesh, lust of the eyes or the pride of life that leads them to backslide. It is very important, therefore, we know the real causes of a person's backsliding so that we do not apply the wrong kind of solutions.
Examples from Old Testament of Israel backsliding
At Mt Sinai, the Israelites backslid into the worshipping of Egyptian idols and the kind of sinful revelling that was typical of the Egyptians (Exodus 32:1-35).
After the death of Joshua, the next generation of Israelites forsook the Lord God and served idols (Judges 2:8-13).
Other examples of Israel's backsliding are found in I Kings 11:4-40; Neh. 13:26; II Chron. 15:3-4; 33:1-10.
God's response to Israel's backsliding
God's anger was kindled against them and would have destroyed them at Mt Sinai had not Moses interceded for them. Nevertheless, some 23,000 were swallowed up alive when the ground opened up under them.
Those who worshipped Baal, after the death of Joshua, were delivered by God into the hands of their enemies who plundered them and took them into slavery.
Lessons from these examples
It is very clear that backsliding puts us on a collision course with God by making Him become our enemy. We move out of God's protection over our lives and therefore are exposed to an overwhelming attack of demonic forces.
Examples of backsliding from the New Testament
The apostle Peter backslid briefly at the time of the arrest of Jesus Christ because he feared for his life. He denied any knowledge of Jesus Christ. (Matt. 26:69-75)
Some people accepting a gospel based on the law had deceived the churches of Galatia. This was a major departure from what the apostle Paul had taught them. He writes to them and says,
Ignorance about the fact that the Christian lifestyle has to do with a protracted warfare has led to many Christians being victims of demonic attacks. Most Christians outside of the Pentecostal/Charismatic beliefs are never taught the seriousness of the spiritual warfare we are in. In fact, most are not even taught anything about demons and their activities! The situation is made so much more desperate by the fact that some denominations do not even believe that there are demons at all! It is incredulous to accept the existence of angels and yet deny the existence of demons. Are not demons fallen Angels, that is, they were angels before the rebellion of Lucifer against the Most High God.
The New Testament clearly teaches that we are in a spiritual war and we need to be fully equipped to fight (Eph. 6:11-18). This fight will continue until we breathe our last breath. Then in the final war to end all wars we will be in the Lord Jesus Christ's army to fight the final battle against Satan. The Book of Revelations is full of accounts of evil spiritual forces trying to thwart God's plans for humanity. Jesus Christ Himself cast out devils during His ministry, and He gave us the authority to do the same (Mark 16:17)
With many churches experiencing declines in attendance it is very difficult to see them preaching hard messages. Yet a quick study of the style of Jesus Christ's preaching would class Him as a radical with a message to the people that appeared too hard if not altogether cruel. This departure from a forthright Gospel has made most Christians have a false sense of security. The only images of Christ that most people have is that of a good, kind person who was never forthright and stern with anyone.
There is also an over minimisation of the tough, sometimes almost "jugular", nature of many of the New Testament epistles. The standards of relationships between believers, and between believers and God have been so permissive as to make of non-effect the power and sacredness of the Gospel message. This soft sell approach to Christianity full of apologetics has greatly left exposed most Christians to the onslaught of the devil. The resulting level of backsliding in most is an indisputable testimony to their failure to give the whole truth of the Gospel message.
Partly as a result of the soft sell approach to Christianity that is so pervasive in the church today and partly as result of selfish attitudes to life there is a lack of willingness to pay the full price. A lack of willingness to see that the true Gospel preached by Jesus Christ and the Apostles had a real price attached. While salvation is given freely, nevertheless, the Christian lifestyle that is acceptable to God has a real price to it. That means, one would be deceiving themselves to think they will get away with only paying a part of that price.
Christians have to realise that it could cost them their very life just as it cost the lives of all the first Apostles! For many in the free world this is something they find difficult to relate to, but they do not realise that in the spiritual realm the same is true. We are required to die to the world so that Christ might live in us. This is just as hard and painful as physical death or torture. It is like being in a torture chamber or prison without walls. Although you are free physically, to do what you like without physical persecution, nevertheless, you are being persecuted and tortured by the constant barrage of evil enticements everywhere you turn. These are trying enough for one's resolve to walk in holiness unto the Lord God.
This unwillingness to pay the price has meant when Christians suddenly find themselves facing either persecution from family members, workmates, or people, in general, they withdraw. They begin to accept the lie of Satan that they have become too radical or have gone "off-beam". The reality of being hurt by the derogatory comments of those who are close friends, and/or relatives has made many a Christian backslide rather than being faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ.
They either forget or are never taught the statement by the Lord Jesus Christ that those who love their relatives more than Him are not worthy of Him (Matt. 10:32-39). In this case it does not matter how much you believe yourself to be a Christian; if your love of approval and acceptance of those around you is greater than your love for the Lord Jesus Christ than you are deceiving yourself to think that your salvation is secure. Salvation is only secure for those who love Christ above all else, even if that means it making you an enemy of those you dearly love.
The need to make Christianity relevant for today has forced many churches to focus for too long on the temporal things at the expense of the eternal. It is, no doubt, absolutely essential that the Gospel remains dynamically relevant to the rapidly changing world of today. To be effective in communicating the Gospel it must address the real issues of today. There is, nevertheless, a very important proviso that must be adhered to in order to preserve the purity of the Gospel.
The proviso is the all importance of maintaining the eternal perspective at all times. It is because of this fact that Jesus Christ came to die so that we might have eternal life. This also means that whatever our temporal endeavours they must in the end be of eternal consequence otherwise they are in vain. To be pre-occupied with meeting the needs of humanity without making sure that one's own eternal wellbeing is secure is not wisdom. To think that all of one's efforts of service in the natural finds automatic blessing in eternity is a tragic dilution. One should read what Jesus Christ said in Matt. 7:21-23.
Backsliding occurs when one is so caught up in the temporal things and/or activities while excusing themselves from attending to the more important eternal matters. It is not the legitimacy of the temporal things and/or activities that may be in question, but rather their relevance to the eternal perspective.
Much of the Christianity that is heard from the pulpits today has very limited potential for the real needs of humanity today. This fact is made more stark by the declining influence that Christian principles are having in the institutions of government and the laws being passed in most politically free countries. The lack of knowledge / understanding of the true depth of Christianity by most churches has been clearly demonstrated in their inability to effectively influence most major domestic, let alone world events.
Since most Christians have only been taught a limited potential Christianity they are therefore unable to believe God to assist them in all their everyday life issues. There is a feeling that God can only assist in some matters and not all. Things that are beyond an individual's ability to control or influence such as the weather, earthquakes, death, and so on. They are the times when people look to God for help.
There is a common proverb that is NOT from the Scriptures, but many people would swear to their hurt that it is, which says:"God helps those who help themselves"
This is often given as an excuse for unbelief that God is capable of assisting in the nitty gritty of life's issues. The more appropriate proverb I venture to suggest, based on Scriptural principles, ought to be:
This is the category of those who are aware of the reality of hell, and so want to take out a fire insurance policy with Heaven. As soon as they get "born-again" they are not interested in a true relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ the Author and Perfector of their faith. This exploitative approach to Christianity comes from the modern exploitative materialistic philosophy of living. Unfortunately, there has been considerable error committed by those trying to convince people to get saved. They have given them the false impression that Christianity is like their active insurance policy.
This, of course, could not be further from the truth since Christianity is based primarily on a relationship with God. By being His child one cannot, therefore, go to hell because it is designed for God's enemies and those who reject His Son's offer of a relationship. Those who have become "Christians" in this way will not survive the test of their so-called faith when the fiery trials come to reveal the true motivations of their hearts. They will be the one's who stand on the fence unwilling to be truly committed and devoted to God, yet wanting to be in the security that salvation brings. No doubt, they will be sifted or weeded out by the Holy Spirit so that there will be a clear distinction between those who have the true motive for salvation and those who do not.
By definition trials, persecutions, and tribulations are very unpleasant experiences for anyone on the receiving end. The lack of teaching on the subject at the very outset of most people's conversion means that they are left very vulnerable to despair. If they are not made aware of these difficulties as soon as possible, then they are likely "to throw in the towel" and fall away. The Jesus Christ tell us that:
The apostle Paul also wrote:
(II Tim. 3:12)
The Scriptures warn us not to let unbelief take a hold in our hearts just because we are going through "trials in the wilderness", otherwise we will not enter God's rest.
"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessings from God; but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to be cursed, whose end is to be burned" Heb. 6:6-8).
Also, Heb. 10:26-31 reads,
This kind of falling away is one that leads to eternal damnation. Such a person will not be able to ever find forgiveness, nor will the blood of Jesus Christ avail for them again. Since they willing turned away and shunned the blood of Jesus, it will not be able to cleanse them should they try to find repentance. It is more likely that such persons will never be able to have the faith again to come to God for repentance. God not only rejects them, but also takes away the faith that pleases God so that they will not be able to come to Him in faith to receive forgiveness. They become like Satan, with their hearts hardened against God and unable to find repentance because they are denied the faith necessary to receive forgiveness.
An Old Testament example of apostasy was that of King Saul. He was the first king of Israel whose heart departed from God. He was rejected by God, and replaced by David (I Sam. 15:10-11, 22-23, 28-29). King Saul never found repentance till the day he died by committing suicide motivated by pride because he did not want to be captured by the enemy alive.
In the New Testament, Judas Iscariot was not able to find repentance and died by committing suicide. He was motivated by remorse rather than repentance (Matt. 26:14-16; 27:3-5).
While the two examples above are the extreme cases in which they ended up committing suicide, there are others like King Solomon who also departed from the Lord. He died a normal death, but God had already passed judgement upon him for having fallen away from following the Lord His God. He disobeyed God in two major ways: by marrying heathen women; these wives then led him into the worship of idols. As result his kingdom was brought down after his death (I Kings 11:1-11).
I. Spend time appreciating the fact of God's existence.
A fuller appreciation of God's existence through reading and meditating on the Scriptures will bring to an understanding of the implications of falling away. The reality of God, when it sinks deep into your soul will bring a godly fear of the real terror that exists outside of God's grace and mercy.
II. Be diligent in seeking after the Lord Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, so that your mind will be continually enlightened about the reality of the resurrected Lord. This enlightenment will bring great joy and peace that the world cannot give. It will also help you to see the value of your faith in Christ as having the greatest meaning for daily living. If your love and relationship with Jesus Christ is growing ever deeper the temptations to fall away will seem like an unwelcome attempt by a third party to destroy your relationship. You will be even more jealous of that relationship and guard it with all your heart, soul and strength.
III. The Scriptures will help you to fully appreciate the implications of the resurrection, and everything eternal. You need to deliberately think, and develop a lifestyle that is not driven by being overly concerned with this temporal world. An over investment in time, finance, and thinking on the temporal world blur you perceptions of eternal reality.
IV. Daily spiritual warfare against the evil spirits that would lure you, and blind you so that you turn to the pleasure seeking, or cares of this temporal life.
V. Praying in the spirit (in tongues) will help to you to be tuned into the reality of the spiritual realm, and therefore, give you the strength to choose the life with the eternal perspective. It will also draw you closer to the Holy Spirit who is your strength to overcome the temptations of the world.
VI. Do not forsake meeting regularly with other Christians, either within your local assembly and/or outside in an informal way (Heb. 3: 12-13; 10:25,). This regular fellowshipping will ensure that you get from, and give to others encouragement, exhortation, and comfort. Remember the proverb: "Many coals together, burn brightly".
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