What is “Backsliding”?
Backsliding is explained by God in this reference to the Israelites after they were delivered from slavery in Egypt, but had problems going forward with the LORD:
“But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward.”
So “backsliding” is stubbornly following evil inclinations and thus going backward spiritually rather than forward.
You’ll notice that God said “they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts.” So this is a commentary on the condition of the hearts of these particular Israelites and doesn’t mean that every person’s heart on earth is evil, which is a myth often heard in sermons. Christ Himself said that the condition of a person’s heart is determined by what he or she allows to be stored there, whether good or bad (Luke 6:45). You can read more about this here.
Let’s look at some other references to backsliding from Jeremiah:
“Your wickedness will punish you;
your backsliding will rebuke you.
Consider then and realize
how evil and bitter it is for you
when you forsake the Lord your God
and have no awe of me,”
declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty.
In this next verse the LORD laments how the Israelites turned their backs on their Creator by engaging in idolatry:
“They say to wood, ‘You are my father,’
and to stone, ‘You gave me birth.’
They have turned their backs to me
and not their faces;
yet when they are in trouble, they say,
‘Come and save us!’ ”
Jeremiah goes on to say:
for their rebellion is great
and their backslidings many.
Thankfully, God offers the remedy to backsliding:
“Return, faithless people;
I will cure you of backsliding.”
So the answer to backsliding is to return to the LORD because the only cure to backsliding is relationship with God. How do you get the darkness out of a dark room? Turn on the light. It’s the same principle. You don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying in the water. So get out of the water and reignite your relationship with the Lord.
Unlike the Israelites, New Covenant believers have a superior covenant (Hebrews 8:6), spiritual regeneration (Titus 3:5) and the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 1:14). So we have far less of an excuse to stay in a backslidden state than the Israelites.
If you’ve backslid by following evil desires, you can return to the LORD by simply ‘fessing up:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:8-9
When we confess our sins – to God directly (Hebrews 4:16), not to a Catholic “priest” – the LORD is faithful to forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. ‘Forgive’ means to dismiss the charge altogether whereupon God throws the offense into the sea of forgetfulness (Micah 7:19). When you humbly ’fess up, add something like: “Thank you, LORD, for forgiving my sin and cleansing me of all unrighteousness! Amen. God is good!”
If you’re struggling with backsliding, the key to freedom is learning how to walk in the spirit, which you can read about here.
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