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Saturday, July 24, 2010

the state of the backslider

I have recently come to realize how desperate the situation is for those who play fast and loose with God. I was raised to understand that serving the Lord was an ultimately serious proposition. My mom and dad managed to instill in me a fear of disobeying God and to regard walking according to His Will as the only option for happiness in this life.

I have always known that backsliding was a possibility but for me it was never even a consideration. Living for God was the only way I ever really saw. Because I was raised in the Church and my parents’ friends were close to God I never met many backsliders. For me growing up as a grantedly naïve child and teenager there were only two groups of people in the world—the born again child of God and the sinner. I even came to see from an early age that there were many religious professors in life. These were men and women who went to church and made a show of being good ‘Christians’ but followed false doctrine that allowed them to salve their conscience by believing they could follow after sin and still be saved. They still fell into the category as sinners and I guess I ‘excused’ them on that basis.

As I got older I met those who had once walked with the Lord and had then for reasons that they considered acceptable had chosen to go their own way. I never had much association with these folks although I came into contact with them. Most of them were frankly not right with God and acknowledged it. A few had gone into false religion and still maintained a profession but openly and unrepentantly lived in sin. And I came to see that backsliding is really a possibility in life. I’ve met many who say that “once saved-always saved,” but from my own observation I know this is not true. Others say that if someone has apparently ‘backslid’ they were never truly saved to start with. I have seen with my own eyes that this is not true either.

I remember once there was a young man who was on fire for the Lord who attended campmeeting from further east. I became good friends with his sister and knew brother Dan only through that connection. I wasn’t close to him at all. However, even in the peripheral contact I had with him, it was evident that he was close to the Lord. His sister and family, those who most often are the most critical of our Christian walk, respected his experience in the Lord. He was older that his sister and I were—perhaps six or seven years. He was called to the ministry and for ten or twelve years pastored a congregation, used of God to teach a people righteousness and holiness. He was saved and used of God beyond any doubt. And suddenly one year his family reported that he had run away with another woman leaving his wife and several kids! What a shock. He had deliberately chosen to walk away from the Lord and His standards of life! He backslid. There was no other way to state the facts.

He passed from my immediate frame of reference after that. I had been on the mission, then married, pursuing my own life and haven’t seen his sister in years. I believe I heard he had repented and been saved again but had never regained his previous position with God.

Now in my retirement I’ve been blessed to witness the overwhelming peril backsliding puts on a soul. In my naïveté I thought that the backslider could merely come back to Christ and repent and be born again. Simple matter.

Now I've come to have a tremendous fear for those who might backslide. I feel that maybe the congregations of the Church of God don’t have a heavy enough burden for those who have backslidden. I think that too often we take the attitude “well they know what they have to do” and we are just a little bit callous toward them, maybe even unforgiving. There is a little bit, or maybe more than a little bit, of the attitude that they have made their bed and now they just have to sleep in it! Over the last couple years the Lord has set several backsliders in my way and called me to counsel with them. My burden for them has grown with every word we have exchanged. My fear for others who might be contemplating backsliding has grown to where my heart aches.

Backsliding is not a loose matter, brothers and sisters! It slams the man or woman into a pit of his own making and the route out of that despair is an arduous one! I’ve heard over and over, “God doesn’t hear me! I pray and pray and God just isn’t there! I want to be back with Him and He just doesn’t answer!”

What an awful state! Can you imagine the awful desolation of not hearing from God! OH! It shakes me to my toes! This is the course we choose when we decide to take that first step away from Him and into our own will.

We don’t hear preaching on backsliding as the Lord has been laying it on me. We don’t hear the man of God making the state of the backslider plain. At least I never heard those sermons and I’ve sat under much good solid preaching in 65 years. Yes, I heard preaching on how them backslider must return to God if he ever expects to make heaven his home. I heard preaching on how black his heart has become when he walks away from God. I heard thunderings from the Old Testament speaking out God’s punishement for the backsliders. And I know the texts: Jeremiah 49:3-5; Hosea 11:6-8; Jeremiah 8:4-6; Jeremiah 3:7-9; Jeremiah 5:6 and others. I’ve heard God's threats of condemnation for the backslider, but I’ve never heard preached how dangerous it is or how difficult it is to regain your salvation once you have walked away. I’ve never heard how the backslider prays to a brazen sky and how much heartache and desolation he must suffer to come back to God.

We often hear the story of the prodigal son cited to tell how the Lord will receive the backslider back into his House. We are told how the son in arrogance demanded his inheritance and how foolishly he went his way and spent it in sinful living. We are told of how he came to a bad end and when he was sitting in the pig pen he ‘came to himself’ and determined to go back to his father. We are told how the father saw him coming ‘afar off’ and ran to meet him.

What is skimmed over lightly is the journey of the prodigal son back to His Father’s House. We are not told how easy or difficult it must have been, but only consider: He was sitting in a pig pen and had so little that he was eating the same food that was given to the pigs. We know he had traveled away from home on his apparently large inheritance. We don’t know how far he went, but when we think of young people wanting to get away from the strictures of home and parents, we can conclude it was quite a distance. He had no money for traveling expenses. He had no clothing to protect him from the elements. He had no food nor any strength to make the journey.

So think how much heartache and privation and pain and struggle must have been involved for him to travel that physical distance from the pig sty to the Father’s House. The backslider has the same struggle to travel the spiritual distance he has placed between him and God. The prodigal made the journey that took him far away from the Father. The backslider makes the journey that takes him away from God. The same distance he traveled in licentiousness and sin must now be travelled in sorrow and pain. There is no magic mantra that takes him twinkling back into the Father's presence. I never thought of it before but these last few days have made me dwell on the circumstances. It is a heartbreaking and difficult journey back to God and although the Lord will meet the backslider joyfully the journey still has to be made by the one returning to God. It is not easy.

Recently one person said to me, “Oh if only I had someone who could pray for me.” She was not meaning someone to make intercession for her but someone who knew God and could express her heartache to Him for her, who could beg Him for her to accept her prayers again! That settled hard on my heart! Are we doing that, Church? Are we carrying a burden to the place where we can intercede on the backslider’s behalf? Are we burdened to the place where our heart aches for the backslider? Can they come to us and say, ‘tell God for me how sorry I am and ask will He please listen to me again” There is a crying need for that kind of compassion.

I’m not saying we should overlook sins. I’m not saying we should accept shallow-oh-I’m-so-sorry-kind of prayers. I knew one woman once who treated it as a routine almost. She had the process down pat. She sinned freely, just coming back to mouth the words of repentance assuming she would be reinstated in God’s grace. It doesn’t work that way. For the backslider to return to God and be accepted there must be absolute sorrow and turning from sin.

Maybe we in the Church need to shake out our robes of righteousness that have been tucked up tight around our shoulders. Maybe we need to loosen them to the place where the backslider can reach out and clutch them in his despair. And maybe we need to stop being so sanctimonious about the backslider and the choices he has made.

Yes, we each one choose the path we take. And the backslider chose to walk away from God. But we must be open to share a burden for the sincere backslider who is struggling to return to God. It is easy to walk away and very very difficult to climb back out of the pit of despair the backslider has made for himself. Yes, the position can be taken that he deserves it, but that is most certainly an un-Christlike attitude. Those who are burdened by their sin and have a desire to return to God have, in most cases, paid dearly for their sinful choices. Let’s have a burden for them. Let’s be willing to help those who are struggling to return.

And might we take a lesson from these who have such a struggle to get back to God. Backsliding is a simple thing, but returning to God isn’t so easy. It should be a lesson to us. This fabulous treasure that we hold in our earthen vessel is precious but it can be easily discarded or lost. Finding it again is much more difficult that losing it. Let’s guard it with our very life.

1 comment:

  1. This is excellent! If all Christians could take hold of this advice for a burden for backsliders, we would see prayers being answered for returning souls. I have two lost children and my daughter has said, "I can't get a prayer through even when I'm saying I'm sorry!" Evil has a tight hold on our young (and older) people and it will take burdened saints to help get them free. Thanks for posting this. Found you through Omifren. Julie in NC