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“The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways.” – Proverb 14:14.
“Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts.” – Jeremiah 2:19.
Christians sin. Some of the saintliest of God’s people have fallen into outrageous sin. And that has puzzled honest hearts and has been the sneer of the wicked down through the ages.
Infidels who hate the Bible have claimed that God’s Book is immoral because it tells frankly of the frailties and sins of the saints of God. But really only God could write a book like that, honestly telling, without excuse, without glossing over, the constant downward tendency in the human race, revealed even in the saintliest characters.
Men who write books about their heroes make much of their good points, and gloss over or excuse their sins and failures. Men who write books about their enemies make much of their sins and failures, and gloss over their good qualities. But the Bible, written by an honest and holy God, simply tells the truth about mankind. We are a race of sinners, and the best men that ever lived still sinned.
The problem of sin is still present with Christians, as real as when they were unsaved. I find everywhere I go defeated Christians, sad Christians who fear that God has forsaken them or who doubt that they were ever saved. The problem of backsliding is ever with us. So I have prepared this Bible message to show what is a backslider, why people backslide, the sorrows and punishment of backsliding, to show that the true backslider is really saved, and to show how any Christian who has fallen into sin can get back into full fellowship with God and have the joy of his salvation restored.
Chapter 1. What Is a Backslider?
A backslider is a saved person who falls into sin. A lost sinner cannot be a backslider. You have to go somewhere before you can slide back. But one who is truly born again, a child of God who falls into sin, is a backslider. It may be outrageous and gross sin known to everyone, or it may be merely coldness of heart, a lukewarmness of heart instead of the burning fire of love for God. But when a Christian loses any of his joy, or loses part of his sweet fellowship with God, or falls into sin, then he is a backslider. Remember that only Christians can backslide.
We have many examples of this in the Bible. What an honest Book the Bible is to tell us of the failures and sins of God’s people through the ages! God wanted us to know that the men of the greatest faith, saints who had truly been born again, were frail people such as we are and subject to the same temptations and surrendering sometimes to the same sins.
God tells how Noah got drunk and lay naked in his tent. He tells how Lot sought the fellowship of the wicked Sodomites, lost all his influence, got drunk and ruined his own daughters. The Bible tells how Abraham deceived, calling Sarah his sister. Even saintly Moses lost his temper. When God commanded him to speak to the rock that Israel might be watered from it a second time, in a temper he beat upon it with his rod and so dishonored God that he lost his chance to enter the Promised Land.
David, a man after God’s own heart, a man used to write the Psalms, that blessed book of devotions for the saints through all these centuries, committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband Uriah slain to hide his sin. The Bible tells how Samson, a judge of Israel who had been filled with the Holy Ghost and was a Nazarite from his birth, kept company with harlots until God left him powerless, a slave of the Philistines with his eyes burned out.
The Bible tells how Peter denied Christ and cursed and swore; how all the disciples forsook Jesus and fled; how later Peter, fearing the Jewish Christians, played the coward again, and led even good Barnabas away with his dissimulations. The Bible tells how Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus, was a coward, a secret disciple. Even Paul the apostle went up to Jerusalem against the plain leading of the Holy Spirit.
So the saints of the Bible fell into sin. They were backsliders.
These examples should humble us and teach us that even the mightiest of God’s saints sometimes backslide, fall into sin, and so lose the sweet joy that every Christian ought to have.
A Christian who backslides is like a child who disobeys his parents. It does not affect his sonship but it affects his fellowship, his joy, and the approval of the Father.
But it is well to note there are some in the Bible who did not backslide. For example, Adam, when he fell into sin in the Garden of Eden, was not a backslider. He had never been born again. He had never been saved and so could not backslide. In the Garden of Eden he had been created a perfect man and had perfect fellowship with God as one of His creatures, made in His image. But he had not been redeemed by blood. Up to that time in the Bible blood had never been mentioned as a remedy for sin. There had never been an animal sacrifice picturing the coming of the Saviour. There had never been a gospel message nor any need of one. There had never been a prophecy of the coming Saviour.
Adam, as a sinless being in the Garden of Eden, like Eve his wife, was not a Christian. He was simply a perfect man, as she was a perfect woman. When Adam fell into sin and ate the forbidden fruit, he was not a backslider. He was, for the first time, a poor lost sinner who had never been converted, who had never been born into God’s family, who had never been born again, who had never been redeemed by the blood.
And so fallen angels are not backsliders. Angels in Heaven are perfect and sinless and have fellowship with God, but they are not Christians. Angels, who have never been saved and given everlasting life as forgiven sinners, cannot backslide.
Judas Iscariot was not a backslider. In John 6:64,70,71 we are told that Judas did not believe in Christ, was not saved but was a devil.
“But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him … Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve.”
Judas heard the preaching of Jesus but never repented. He was a moral man who evidently depended on his morality and would not turn to Jesus in saving faith. At last he fell into grossest sin and betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. But Judas was not a backslider. No one can be a backslider who has not first been a “frontslider.” Only Christians, born again children of God, are backsliders.
Strange as it may seem, all Christians backslide, for all Christians sin. In I John 1:8 we are told, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Every Christian is taught to pray daily in the Lord’s Prayer (that model prayer for all who can look up in the face of God and call Him, “Our Father which art in heaven”), “And forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:4). All Christians sin, and that means that all Christians backslide.
When you remember that “the thought of foolishness is sin” (Prov. 24:9), that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23), that “to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (Jas. 4:17), then it becomes clear that all of us have fallen short even after we are saved. We have all had foolish thoughts; we have all done some things without any special faith about them; we have all left undone things that we knew were proper and right for us to do. Who will say that every minute of your life you have loved God all you ought to, that you never pray a second less than you ought to pray, that you never leave undone a single thing that God wants you to do? You cannot say that; neither can I. And that is proof of sin.
Christians grow old. Our teeth decay, our hair turns gray or falls out, we grow decrepit in body, and finally even Christians die. That proves that Christians are sinners. for everywhere in the Bible we are told that death is the result of sin.
Adam was warned that if he sinned, “thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). James 1:15 says that “sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Ezekiel 18:4 says that “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Romans 6:23 plainly says that “the wages of sin is death.”
Oh, we Christians are yet frail sinners; so it is clear that all Christians backslide. And that is the reason why God must save us by grace and keep us by grace. We did not earn salvation, and we cannot keep it. We did not deserve it when we got it, and we do not deserve it now.
Dear reader. will you test yourself by this simple rule? Was there ever a time when you were nearer to God than you are now? Was there ever a time when you read the Bible more, or enjoyed it more than now? Was there ever a time when you prayed more, when you had your prayers answered more frequently? Was there ever a day when you won more souls than you have won today? Was there ever a time when you were more completely absorbed in the Lord’s business? If there was ever a time when you were nearer the Lord than today, you are a backslider. You have slid back from that close intimacy with God, from that high place of blessing which you once had.
Remember that our text in Proverbs 14:14 says, “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways.” Backsliding is not necessarily getting drunk nor committing adultery, nor any outward course of sin seen by the public. Backsliding is in the heart!
It may be, dear Christian, that you have drifted somewhat but have never noticed it. You may be like Samson who “wist not that the Lord was departed from him” (Judges 16:20). We need to search our hearts and we need to watch and pray lest sin creep up on us.
Are you a backslider?
Chapter 2 – Why People Backslide; the Old Adamic Nature
I remember when I first became conscious of my backsliding. I had been saved at about nine years of age. I had trusted Christ to forgive me, and I am sure He did. Three years later I joined the church, was baptized, and had received full assurance that my sins were forgiven. But my mother was dead, and my boyhood companions in the wild west Texas cow town were rough and wicked. One day it dawned on me that I had drifted far from God in my heart, I had grieved Him in my life. I had gotten to the place where prayer was not a joy and the Bible was not sweet.
I was attending special services in a little Presbyterian church. Many young people found Christ, and many Christians had their joy restored. I alone seemed left without a blessing. How sweet was the singing! What a light on the faces of the happy people! And one night as they sang,
Pass me not, O gentle Saviour,
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.
I cried out, “Lord. is everybody going to get a blessing but me? Do not pass me by!”
And, thank God, all the joy came back and peace flooded my soul! I knew that my failures and my sins had been forgiven. It was as definite as if my Father had taken me in His arms and kissed away my tears and told me so!
As I walked home across the prairie that night and looked up at the stars, I made a vow to God, “O God. I will never fail You again! I will never forget my prayer time. I will never give way to temptation and sin!” You may well smile; I think perhaps a loving and kindly God smiled at my great promises that night. How well He knew my sinful nature, my frailty and sin!
It was not more than two weeks before I had sinned in a way that shocked me terribly, though I do not now remember the details. I found my joy gone. And when I went to God in prayer to confess my sins, again I made great promises, “God, I failed You this time, but if You will give me one more chance, I will not fail You again. I promise You I will be more faithful. I will be true this time, if You will only try me once more!” How little I knew that God wanted trust instead of promises, that He wanted me to depend upon Him instead of on myself. But He again gave me sweet peace.
But the tragic story was repeated, until in despair I felt I had lied to God, had failed Him, and that He must be so disappointed in me that He would never trust me again, and would never give me back the joy of His presence.
At long last I learned that I have an evil nature as well as a new nature which is from God. Like every child of God, I am two persons in one. I am the old man I was before I was saved, with a human body and human frailty and a human tendency toward sin; I am also a new creature in Christ who loves the Lord and hates sin. And I learned that God knows all about me, and that what He wants me to do is to regularly confess my sins and earnestly turn from them, depending on His never-failing mercy to forgive and cleanse, as He promised to do.
So the reason that people backslide is this old carnal nature that every saint of God has. The best people that ever lived have had a constant tendency toward sin ever since Adam (and with him the whole race) fell.
It is easier to do wrong than it is to do right. It is easier to tell a lie than it is to tell the truth. Honest, good people have to continually watch themselves so they will be accurate and truthful in their speech and to avoid deceit. It is easier to loaf than it is to work. The best Christians in the world have to watch themselves and set themselves to work diligently, to do their duty. It is easier to get angry than it is to be even-tempered, forgiving and sweet. Even Christians sometimes have to “count ten” before they speak. And how often we have to confess that we have sinned with a sharp tongue or a critical spirit.
The book of Hosea is a book on backsliding. There the prophet often speaks of Israel as if the nation were an individual who had gone away from God. And in Hosea 4:16 he says, “Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer.” In Hosea 6:1 he says, “Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up.” And then Hosea 11:7 says, “And my people are bent to backsliding from me.”
BENT TO BACKSLIDING! God’s people are bent to backsliding from Him. Oh, how true that is of every one of us!
That blessed old song, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” has the revealing heart-cry of every Christian that ever found himself a backslider. It says,
“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love”!
The modernists do not like that, so have changed it in some song books, but it is still true that all of the people of God are prone to wander. We are prone to leave the God we love. We are “bent to backsliding,” as God’s Word puts it.
An old proverb says, “As the twig is bent, the tree is inclined.” And all of us were bent when we were twigs. We were bent before we were born! We were bent away from God by nature when Adam fell. And not until Christians get a resurrected body, with no more disease, no more gray hairs, no more weakness. will we have our old carnal natures perfectly redeemed and the curse entirely removed.
Holiness people sometimes claim that the carnal nature has been eradicated in them, that the fire of God has burned it all out. Yet. strangely enough, they too backslide.
At Des Moines, Iowa, a sad-faced man attended my services who told me he had been a Holiness preacher but was at the time living in the grossest sin and did not even claim to be a Christian. The facts belied his doctrine. The carnal nature had not been taken away.
Thank God, we can have day-by-day victory over the carnal nature by judging self, by confessing our sins, and by having daily cleansing; but we still have the carnal nature; and that is why people backslide.
The struggle all real Christians have today, Paul had too. We read in Romans 7:14-25:
“For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”
As a Christian, Paul did things he did not want to do and ought not to have done. With his mind he served the law of God, but with his flesh the law of sin. Even in the last verse quoted above where Paul could thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord for the possibility of deliverance, he followed that statement by this: “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” Paul did not condone his sin, and neither should we. Paul knew that he could have daily victory over it, and so can we. But we must not deny the presence of this old sinful nature. We need constantly to be on our guard, and we need to be continually confessing and forsaking our sin to have daily cleansing and to keep on walking in the light.
And Christians who understand this truth can understand the further truth in the eighth chapter, where Paul looked forward so grandly to the glory that should be revealed, for “the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope.” And then he tells how the creature shall one day be delivered from this bondage of corruption into glorious liberty, and that the whole creation groans together, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption, of our bodies (Rom. 8:19-23).
Christian, do you find yourself “bent to backsliding”? Then you are like Paul and like every other born-again child of God. But, thank God, there is victory for you through Christ, as I will show you soon.
Chapter 3 – The Sorrows of Backsliding
Jeremiah 2:19 says, “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts.”
Oh, the trouble that comes to the backslider in heart! Again, Proverbs 14:14 says, “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways.” How many, many people have told me that their backsliding brought them only grief and trouble, and that they had enough of it!
First, the backslider is sure of the chastising of God. God still hates sin, and He has promised to chasten His beloved when they sin. Hebrews 12:5,6 tells us:
“And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him. For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.”
And verse 11 in the same chapter tells us:
“No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”
So God whips every backslider, and He does it in love. He does it to correct their backsliding and to bring “the peaceable fruit of righteousness” in His children.
I love my children so much that I want them to do right and be happy and succeed in the Christian life. So sometimes I have to whip them for their disobedience. It is painful, but it is done in love and for their good, and at the last it “yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness.”
For David’s sin, God smote his child and the baby died. One son, Amnon, raped his sister, Tamar. Then Absalom killed Amnon, then he grew embittered and tried to seize the kingdom from David. David paid fourfold for his sin, but David did not lose his soul. When David confessed his sin, God’s message came to him.
“And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Howbeit, because by this deed thou bast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.”
David was a backslider. God forgave his backsliding but still punished him for his sin.
And when the saints at Corinth got drunk at the Lord’s table, or made an unseemly feast of it, and when there were divisions and strife among them which they did not confess and forsake, the Lord had Paul write to them, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (I Cor. 11:30). For their sins some were weak and sickly, and some had already died and gone to Heaven prematurely. God punishes His children who sin.
It is apparent that God is more determined to punish the sins of Christians than the sins of lost people. For lost people will go to Hell forever and there will suffer for their sins. But God must be just, and the only time He can punish His own in actual chastising, we suppose, is in this world. So like a faithful father, who chastises his disobedient children but loves them still, God punishes the backslider.
Besides the personal chastising of a loving Father, the backslider reaps the natural wages of his sin. When a Christian gets drunk, he wastes his money and wakes up with a headache and is just as apt to lose his job or to break up his home as a lost man. It never pays anybody to sin, and it never will!
What a trail of trouble followed Lot’s sin! He lost all his property in Sodom. All but two of his children were burned to death in that wicked city. His wife turned to a pillar of salt. A broken man, he lived in a cave in the mountains, then got drunk and ruined his own daughters who still had the ways of Sodom in their hearts!
That is what backsliding can do to the child of God. If you have tasted it, you know that the dregs of the cup are bitter and that “thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee.” Surely, if you have been a backslider, you have found that “it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God.” If one reads this who is persistent in going away from God and who is not yet ready to turn and beg forgiveness and cleansing. I warn you now, a hard, rough, bitter, sad road is ahead of you – the Backslider’s Way.
Again, the backslider will have remorse of conscience over his sins. If you have truly been saved, then you love Christ and you love God. If you are truly a child of God, there is something in you which rebels against your sins. When you were a lost man, you may have enjoyed sin, but now that you are God’s child, the cup of sin will turn bitter to your taste before the drink is well down.
Can you see in your mind Peter going out to weep bitterly after his denial of Christ? He quit the ministry and went back to fishing and was almost in despair, until he met Jesus again by the Sea of Galilee and had his joy restored.
Read the fifty-first Psalm which shows the brokenhearted David after his sin with Bathsheba. Hear him cry, begging to be cleansed: “For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.” The sense of his blood guiltiness, his soul-realization of the wickedness of his nature, is made clear in every verse of that Psalm, and he pleads, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation: and uphold me with thy free spirit.” And when God will give him the assurance of forgiveness and cleansing, David promises, “My tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness”!
Some of you who read this have known, as I have, the broken heart that David had over his own sins. Oh, the burning conscience of a backslider!
At Gary, Indiana, a man came down the aisle at the invitation to say, “Five years I have been a backslider! Oh, Brother Rice, five years is a long time to be away from home!” and he broke into weeping.
Well, poor backslider, I wouldn’t stay away any longer. I would come home today for it is a sad, bitter business when you have known the joy of salvation, the presence of God, the sweetness of the Bible and of answered prayer, then to lose all that joy and not be able to see the face of the God whom you love.
The poor, prodigal boy in the hog pen, dreaming about the plenty at home while he perished with hunger, a stranger, half-naked and despised in a far land, knew the sorrows that a child of God has who sins and falls away from the sweet communion and joy which every Christian has a right to have.
Last of all, let us remember that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” Even when we get to Heaven we will be sad that we were backsliders. There we will have to stand before Christ to give an account for our deeds. Even in Heaven the backslider will be ashamed that he drifted away from full fellowship with the Saviour and with his Heavenly Father. When his works are burned up, he will “be saved; yet so as by fire” and will “suffer loss” (I Cor. 3:12-15).
Chapter 4 – Backsliders; Saved or Lost?
Everywhere people want to know whether the backslider is saved or lost. After one has sinned, is he still a child of God? When he has lost the joy of salvation, does he still have the salvation?
Well, the answer to this question is that the backslider does not deserve to be saved but deserves to go to Hell; that other people will often think that he is not saved; that he himself is likely to doubt his salvation or to believe that God has forsaken him utterly; but, thank God, the backslider still is a child of God. He is a disobedient child of God and he will be punished for it, yet every born-again child of God who falls into sin is still God’s child.
It is true that the backslider does not deserve salvation. What a tragedy when a child of God brings reproach on the cause of Christ! It may be an outrageous sin such as drunkenness or adultery. Or it may be sins like the sins of those other backsliders – Noah, Lot, David. Or it may be a backsliding in the heart that does not seem so bad to outsiders but really results in damning souls that might have been won.
Who knows whether in God’ s sight a cold heart, that does not win souls and never has the anointing for power, may be more wicked than the man who is tempted and falls into drink or blasphemy or adultery! What could be worse than letting a soul go to Hell for millions of years because of our carelessness, our love for the things of this life? But in either case, the backslider deserves nothing good from God. That means that I ought to have gone to Hell long ago! How many times I have failed God! How many vows I have broken! How many duties I have neglected!
But then the same thing could be said about every Christian in the world. We deserve nothing good from God. No one does. It would have served us right for Him to let us all go to Hell.
But, thanks be to God, my salvation is not depending upon my works. I did not deserve salvation when I got it, and I have never deserved it any thirty seconds since that time! Salvation is all of grace. How sweet to all of us poor sinners is Ephesians 2:8,9, “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” And when we get to Heaven there will not be one living soul who can say, “I deserved this. I earned my way to Heaven.” No, how our hearts will run over with gratitude and rejoicing when we say there that
Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.
And that is true of my life today as it was the first day I trusted Jesus as my Saviour. Oh, thank God for His mercy that never fails! He saves every sinner who trusts in Him, and He keeps every one of His erring children. He chastises them but He does not lose them.
Not only does the backslider not deserve his salvation, but others will often judge him and think he is not saved. Had I seen Noah lying drunk and naked in his tent, I might have said, “You old hypocrite! God ought to have let you die in the flood with the rest of the drunkards!” I would have thought, perhaps, that there was no difference in Noah’s lying there drunk and another man whom I saw two days ago lying drunk outside a saloon in Philadelphia.
I think my indignation would have mounted high against David had I been there and had I known how he seduced Bathsheba and had her husband killed. I might well have thought, “You hypocrite, you psalm-singing sinner! You pious adulterer and murderer! You ought to be in Hell!” Had I been the judge, I probably would have sent David on to Hell.
So with Lot down in Sodom, calling those wicked, licentious wretches “brethren.” So with Peter when he cursed and denied that he even knew Christ. Doubtless I would have thought he was unconverted. If God had left it to me, I might have sent these backsliders on to Hell. Certainly I would have doubted their sincerity when they told me that they loved God.
Oh, but I would not have known the agony in David’s heart which later found expression in the pleading confession of the fifty-first Psalm! And I could not have known the distress of soul in Peter as, weeping bitterly, he went out into the cool morning of that spring day after he had denied the Saviour! And I could not have known that Lot “vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds” down in Sodom, as II Peter 2:8 says happened.
The backslider in heart still has in him the voice of God, still has dwelling in him the Spirit of God, and is still God’s child. Others will criticize and judge him and think him unsaved.
Even the backslider himself may feel that he is unsaved. In the first chapter of II Peter we are urged to add certain graces so that we will not be as backsliders – barren and unfruitful. Verse 9 says: “but he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.” How many Christians have forgotten that they were purged from their old sins! There are many, no doubt, who give up their hope.
I remember when I gave mine up. When I asked to join the church after my profession of faith, my father thought I was too young to be saved, so he discouraged me. Then I threw all my hope away. For three years I had no joy and no assurance of salvation.
Many a man tells me, “Well, I thought I was saved once, but l guess I was not.” A letter came this week from a good woman who told me of her temper, her harsh words to her husband and children, of grudges that arose in her heart. She said: “Could I be a Christian and be like this?”
So backsliders lose the joy of salvation and lose the assurance of salvation, too. How many decide that God has forsaken them! They know that they were once saved, but now that they have fallen into sin, they do not have any joy. They feel that God does not love them any more. Only day before yesterday a sad-faced woman came to tell me how she had been so preoccupied and had so neglected prayer and the Lord’s Word that she felt perhaps she had committed the unpardonable sin! In fact, of the scores of people who come to me wondering if they have committed the unpardonable sin, perhaps not one of them has, but all are backslidden Christians. If one had really committed the unpardonable sin, he would not be worried about it. He would not hear God’s Spirit calling. Besides, the unpardonable sin is committed only by lost people. But backsliders often feel that God has forsaken them forever.
Thanks be to God, that is not true! God never forsakes one of His own, even though we sin grievously and even though He may punish us severely. The backslider is still God’s child and is still saved.
I have six daughters. Though they are precious children whom I love dearly, they are not little angels who can do no wrong. Sometimes they have been so bad that I felt I must punish them severely. I have had to lay on the whip or a heavy leather belt while they cried and begged for another chance. It was not easy at all. But you may be sure that when the whipping was over, they were still my children. They never lost their place at the table, nor their bed in the home, nor the love of a father’s heart when they did wrong. I punished my children when they needed it, but they are still my children.
And is God a poorer Father than I? Do you think God’s love for His children is weaker than a father’s love for his children? Would God forsake one of His own quicker than a human parent would? How strange to ask such a question! It answers itself! God punishes His backslidden children and grieves over them but He never forsakes a one of them.
In Hosea, the book about backsliding Israel, is a precious word. Chapter11, verse 7, says:
“And my people are bent to backsliding from me.”
But now let us read the next two verses, Hosea 11:8,9:
“How shall give thee up, Ephraim? how shall deliver thee, Israel? how shall make thee as Admah? how shall set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city.”
Do you see the yearning heart of God after Ephraim and Israel? How would He be content to deal with them as with the wicked in Admah and Zeboim, the towns destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah? In the midst of His chastising, God’s heart was turned back toward Israel and He was repenting from even the punishment. And so God says: “I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger. I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man.”
God’s love does not fail, as a man’s love fails. A mother may forsake her sucking child, but God will not forsake one of His own! A father might drive his wayward son from the door, but never will God drive one of His own away, for He is God and not man. Men may criticize the backslider and judge him and say he is not saved, but God is not a man. His mercy is beyond human mercy, His love is greater than any human love.
How sweet is the promise of the Lord to David and his seed in Psalm 89:30-34:
“If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments: Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.”
If David and his descendants. the kings of Judah, should break God’s statutes and keep not His commandments, then God promised to visit their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes; but God would never utterly take His loving kindness from these, and God’s faithfulness would not fail, and God would never break His covenant nor change the thing He promised! That is the way God deals with men.
In my boyhood I remember hearing a cowboy preacher on that great text, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom. 11:29). And that saintly but unlettered preacher went on to recount that in all his dealings with God, he ( the preacher) had never needed to repent of anything God had done for him. He had never been sorry of any gift God had given him. I thought it was a great sermon, and it was. But when I commented on it to my father, he showed me that that man of God had missed the meaning entirely!
God does not mean that we shall never repent of His gifts and His callings. Rather, He promises that He will never repent, will never change, will never turn from one of His gifts and one of His callings. Oh, we who have been called of God to he saints, we who are His born-again children, we who have the promise of everlasting life and a home in Heaven, may be sure that God will never repent in this matter. He will not change His calling nor take back His gift, for “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.”
The sins of the backslider are all laid on Jesus, are already blotted out, are already forgiven. When Jesus died, He died for all my sins. When I trusted Him, I trusted Him for forgiveness for all of them – the sins of the future as well as those of the past. And so David cries exultantly, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Rom. 4:7,8). The backslider is a blessed man “unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works” (Rom. 4:6).
Jesus promised, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” The backslider deserves to be cast out, but he does not get what he deserves, God is faithful even when we are unfaithful. God keeps His covenant and fulfills all His guarantees.
God promised to all who believe in Christ “everlasting life” and “eternal life.” “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (John 3:36). Notice the “hath” which means “has.” One who trusted Christ already has everlasting life. And Jesus said in John 6:47. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” And John 5:24 says that one who has trusted in Him has everlasting life and shall not ever come into condemnation but is already passed out of death into life. Everlasting life is for the backslider, and all of us who have put our trust in Christ are at times backsliders, but we still have what God Himself gave us out of His own abundance, everlasting life.
The Holy Spirit lives in the body of every Christian. When the Christian sins, that unease, that unrest, that conviction which he has, is wrought in him by the blessed Holy Spirit who still goes with the backslider and never leaves him. The backslider is one of God’s sheep, and Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice. and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27,28).
Bless God for that promise! The word man in this verse is in italics in your Bible which means it was not in the original. Actually that verse says: “Neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.” No man nor devil, not even self, can pluck a child of God, one of God’s sheep, from His hand, for He has already given him eternal life and such shall never perish, He says!
O backslider, remember that you have a place still in the Father’s house! Arise from the hog pen of sin! Come back home for the Father’s kiss of forgiveness and the ring of assurance of sonship and the fatted calf of rejoicing! God loves you still! You are His own, dear to His heart, bought with the blood of His Son. He will not let you go!
Years ago I read in a Chicago paper in the personals column a classified ad that stirred my heart, and I have never forgotten it. It ran about like this:
“Emma, please come home. Mother is sick and is calling for you. All if forgiven. Dad.”
I do not know what poor girl had broken the hearts of her father and mother, had gone down in sin with her wild companions so that she felt a stranger at home and thought that they no longer loved her. But whoever she was and wherever she was, they loved her still. The sick mother’s heart could not be comforted without her daughter. So the father paid for the ad in a million copies of a newspaper, longing for Emma to see it and to know that she was still loved and was forgiven, and that they wanted her to come home.
O backslider, I broadcast this plea from the Father’s house, that you are to come on Home! God loves you still. His heart yearns over you, and He will never let you go! Oh, come on back from your wandering and make God’s heart glad today!
Chapter 5 – How to Get Back to Full Fellowship With God
If you are a backslider, then I have good news for you. The simplest and shortest part of this sermon is how to get back to God. Simply turn to God in your heart, confess your sin and backsliding, and He will receive you with open arms and forgive you of all your sins, failures and mistakes.
In I John 1:9 is this sweet verse for Christians, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Isn’t that simple? We simply confess our sins honestly, then God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us.
Notice the terms “faithful” and “just.” What a strange saying about God! Why, that would seem as if God owed it to us to forgive us and cleanse us when we, His wayward children, confess our sin! A man is faithful when he keeps his promises, when he does his duty. Yes, and that is what God is. God is faithful and just to forgive us, when we confess our sin, our backsliding, because that is within God’s bargain! The keeping. the forgiving, the cleansing day by day is all a part of God’s covenant with us when we were saved. All that was purchased for us on Calvary and is promised to every child of God, and so God simply keeps His promise faithfully. Every time we confess our sins, our backslidings, He quickly forgives them and cleanses us from them.
As a young preacher, I preached on the prodigal son. I pictured the long, hard way home. How tired the poor fellow was! How his feet hurt as he stumbled along the rocky road without any shoes! Would he ever get home? And would the father receive him or send him away with scorn? I had that poor, prodigal boy plodding a long, painful way back to the father’s house.
Then one day I discovered that I had made that up out of whole cloth. It was not even hinted in that wonderful story as Jesus told it in Luke 15:11-32. In one moment the boy is saying, “I will arise and go to my father.” And the very same verse that tells us that the boy “arose, and came to his father,” we are told that “when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him.”
What a lesson for anybody who wants to come to God! Whether for a lost sinner who wants salvation, or a backslider who wants his blessing renewed and his joy restored, it is only one step to the Father’s house! Oh, believe me, if you honestly in your heart confess your sin to God, He will forgive you and cleanse you in a moment!
Be sure that you do not excuse your sin. Be sure that you do not make an alibi for it and cover it over. Any honest confession will mean you have a penitent heart that turns from your sin with shame.
And if you feel like weeping, you may weep. I suppose the prodigal boy wept when he came home. I know that when I was a backslider and seemed a long way from God, I wept as I came back to confess my failures and my sins. But remember this: whether there is weeping or no weeping, God wants honest heart-confession of your sin. And when you have confessed your backsliding, your coldness, your lack of joy, then you ought to believe that God has forgiven it as He promised, and that He has cleansed it.
I think it would help you if you would get on your knees and read the fifty-first Psalm and let that divinely inspired prayer be the heart-cry of your own soul. It is the prayer of David, a backslider, and you might let it be your own, too. But remember this: All you need do is to make an honest heart-confession of your sin to the Father and believe that He forgives you as He promised, and that He cleanses you from all your sins. And then you will have sweet fellowship with the Father.
My six daughters are all different. Each one has her own peculiar temptations. One is better about one thing, another is better about another thing. But one of these girls I have never been able to whip very much. For just as certain as she was caught in some sin, some disobedience, she would run and throw her arms around me, and weeping, say, “O Daddy, I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! Forgive me, Daddy!”
And so, if the prodigal son has already returned, why should the father send the sheriff and bloodhounds after him? And if the poor backslider is sorry for his sins and is willing to confess them to God, should God lay on the lash of chastisement?
So, backslider, come back today to God with your hungry heart and find peace and forgiveness.
There is a life of victory and joy for every Christian, and you may have it. Since you are still a sinner, you will find that you will need daily to commit your sins to God. First John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” You may walk in the light every day. When a sin appears, confess it quickly to God, ask Him to forgive it, and He does then and there. And so every day you may live in the smile of God’s presence, in a conscious communion of His blessed Spirit. You need not wait to fall into outbroken sin and shame but can have rich blessing and victory every day.
Perhaps some backslider who reads this today is ready to come back to God. It would comfort my heart, and I believe would make the matter more definite and clear and joyful in your own, if you would write it down and say so. Suppose you write me the following letter, or one similar to it, and send it to me, if you today, dear backslidden Christian, will come back to the Father’s house.