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Friday, May 06, 2016

Backslidden Christians

The backslider in heart will have his fill of his own ways, But a good man will be satisfied with his. (Prov 14:14)
I don't think the younger generation of Christians have likely heard the term, "backslidden Christian". And I don't think it's because the term "backsliding" has been replaced by a new term. No, I think it's because we've entered a new era of Christendom (my term for the broader world of "Christianity" which would include genuine as well as misguided or false believers), a "gentler and kinder" era where we don't point out that other people may be ... in the wrong.

The term is biblical, as the verse I reference uses it, but so is the concept. It is the idea behind the phrase from the hymn, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, where he says, "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; Prone to leave the One I love." It's when prayer is no longer essential, when it is no longer a matter of joy to spend time with the Lord in His Word, when truth becomes personal rather than God's truth, when worship loses its delights, when fellowship with believers is no longer important, when other things like entertainment or money or power or pleasure take first place over a walk with the Savior, when we pardon our sin as a "boo boo" rather than an affront to the Master, when our lifestyle mimics the world's rather than the Lord's, when you feel your sin is small but your grace and mercy and godliness are great. Biblically, it is succumbing to the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:12-13), a failure to hold to the faith and good conscience (1 Tim 1:18-19), when we become friends of the world (James 4:4) and we quench the Spirit (1 Thess 5:19), resist Him (Acts 7:51), and grieve Him (Eph 4:30).

Some "backsliders" are not "backslidden Christians", but rocky or thorny soil in whom the Word never took root (Matt 13:18-23). These are merely returning to their original, unsaved position. "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us." (1 John 2:19) Others are sliding Christians, prone to wander (as are we all). These need to be restored. Paul wrote, "Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal 6:1-2)

But here's the problem. If we give in to the "kinder and gentler" version of Christendom in which we don't take note of backsliding Christians, how can we "bear one another's burdens"? If we aren't supposed to notice, but just "treat them with grace", how are we to "restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness"? You see, this "kinder and gentler" version is like the mother antelope that abandons her baby in flight from a predator and calls it "kinder and gentler". "I don't want to call that little thing weak." It is not "kinder and gentler" to abandon others to the "roaring lion" (1 Peter 5:8).

Yes, indeed, first and foremost each of us needs to "examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load." (Gal 6:4-5) Look first to your own condition. It was Jesus who said, "First take the log out of your own eye," but He gave a reason for that: "and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matt 7:5) Turning a blind eye to a backslidden Christian because "we don't want to be condemning" is condemning him or her to problems that we're supposed to be assisting rather than ignoring. We're told that "Tolerance is better." Sometimes. But the church at Thyatira (Rev 2:18-39) was tolerant. They tolerated false teaching that led to immorality and idolatry. And the results were ... unpleasant. Not all tolerance is good, especially in matters of the faith.

We do need to love one another. It starts with first examining ourselves to be sure we aren't a problem. It includes bearing one another's burdens, especially when that burden is ongoing sin. Failing to address false teaching and immorality has serious consequences for the one indulging in it as well as those who ignore it. Perhaps we need to put "backslidden" back into our vocabulary.


Bob said...

Often times when the question of backsliding comes up, the best we can do to explain it, is to highlight the symptoms. He/she is getting drunk, he/she is having an affair, he/she is doing x or y. perhaps we should take a look at the heart. it is the coolness of our heart toward our LORD that leads to all matter of backsliding. many times I find myself falling into the trap when i let my heart grow cold. what is the solution? return to your first love, and do the things you were doing before. Praising God, Reading his word, Praying for others.

Stan said...

"Backslidden" may refer to two different things. The obvious one is the "cool Christian" (not as in "really cool, dude", but like "no longer hot"). The "lukewarm" (Rev 3:15-16), the one who has left their first love (Rev 2:4). That's one kind of heart problem, and it can be remedied. The other would be the "rocky soil" or "thorny soil" that only had the initial appearance of "Christian" but is only, actually, returning to operating under their lost condition. We do, indeed, need to seek to restore the former. And it is, indeed, a heart adjustment that is needed.