The Characteristics & Cure Of Backsliding
Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.
Sermon Delivered 3/13/05
The Text: Jeremiah 3
I have had a number of exciting and yet dangerous experiences in my life. Shortly after I got my drivers license my parents allowed me to travel across the United States with a high school friend. On that trip we stopped in the Bad Lands of South Dakota. We decided to do some climbing on some of the hills there, despite the recent rain that made things somewhat slippery. We picked out one of the precarious hills and started our climb. We inched our way toward the top. To my surprise as I grabbed hold of a rock that jutted out it gave way and I started to slide backwards down the slippery clay and rock surface. I clawed for something to grip as I slid, knowing that if I did not stop I would fall over the ledge. As a last resort, I did the spread eagle thing. Thankfully, I stopped inches from a 50-foot drop off. As I laid there covered with mud, the adrenalin was rushing through my blood stream and my heart was pounding. I sat up and looked at where I had been and saw where I was. There was no doubt about it. I had backslidden, literally and thankfully I had stopped.
My message today has to do with backsliding, not of the physical sort that I just shared with you, but of the spiritual sort. This is our…
Backsliding is turning away from God in one's heart and loving forbidden things (1 Kings 11:9). Backsliding is leaving one's first love for Christ (Revelation 2:4). Backsliding is failing to walk in the light in fellowship with God (1 John 1:5- 9).
The term backsliding is used frequently in the Old Testament to describe Israel's wayward spiritual condition. Though not used in the New Testament, it is a term commonly applied to the Christian who moves away from a close fellowship with Christ.
I do not believe that anyone backslides suddenly. It is true that we may be shocked by the sudden outward manifestation of terrible sin, but the truth is that many little things have entered in and undermined the life before it is evident outwardly.
I will be focusing of Jeremiah 3 as we identify the characteristics of backsliding. As we look at these characteristics, examine yourself to see if you are backslidden.
"They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man's, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD." Jeremiah 3:1
As we begin, remember that God viewed himself as married to Israel (Jeremiah 3:14). In the beginning, Israel was in love with God. Turn to Jeremiah 2:2 "Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals [the love when you became my bride], when thou wentest [followed] after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown." But things changed drastically. God’s prophet Jeremiah has completed his survey of Israel’s conduct, and draws the conclusion that Israel is an adulterous wife. We can clearly see this in verses 6 and 9. Israel had committed spiritual adultery! And what leads to spiritual adultery? Flirting with the world. Flirting with the world causes you to lose your first love. Note the way Jeremiah 2:13 puts it.
So, what’s the application? Just as Israel was the wife of God, so Christians are the bride of Christ. Paul wrote to the Corinthians Christians that he wanted to present them to Christ as chaste virgins (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25). However, what is happening today is that many Christians are flirting with the world. They have lost their first love. Let me put it plainly. We who are Christians are engaged to Christ but if we are flirting with the world its philosophies and practices we are backslidden.
Let’s move on to the second characteristic or indicator of backsliding…
"Therefore the showers have been withholden, and there hath been no latter rain; and thou hadst a whore's forehead, thou refusedst to be ashamed." Jeremiah 3:3
The phrase "a whore’s forehead" speaks of a hardened look on the face of a prostitute. They are void of all sense of shame and modesty because they have indulged their heart in immorality so long. The next phrase is, thou refusest to be ashamed." That means, there is nothing that makes them blush any more. They are void of all shame and modesty.
The point is that sin makes you insensitive to the things of the Lord. When a Christian now does things that he or she once renounced, that indicates spiritual insensitivity. It indicates that the person in backslidden.
"Will he reserve his anger for ever? will he keep it to the end? Behold, thou hast spoken and done evil things as thou couldest." Jeremiah 3:5
This verse is basically saying that these people did a lot of holy talk but there were no holy actions. In fact, these holy talkers did all the evil they could.
Jesus ran into the same problem with the religious Jews of his day. He said, "And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" Luke 6:46
Spiritual talk and a worldly walk indicate that you are backslidden!
"And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it." Jeremiah 3:7
The word obstinate means unyielding in course or purpose, and that is exactly how Israel behaved. God had promised to show mercy to Israel if they would have returned to Him. But, "she returned not." She continued in her spiritual adultery, basically thumbing her nose at God.
Tragically, many Christians are like that today. They are grieving the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) and quenching the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19) because they are obstinate. They refuse to yield to the Lord. They are the backslider of Proverbs 14 "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways…" Proverbs 14:14
We have looked at 4 characteristics or indicators of backsliding – 1) Spiritual Adultery indicated by flirting with the world. 2) Spiritual Insensitivity, indicated by no longer shocked by sin and in fact now does the things they once condemned. 3) Spiritual Hypocrisy, indicated spiritual talk but a worldly walk. 4) Spiritual Obstinancy, indicated by refusing to repent and return to God.
Until a person recognizes that they are backslidden
they will continue on their wretched course. Israel would not admit that
they were backslidden (see
Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.
Remember the last phrase of Jeremiah 3:1 "yet return again to me, saith the LORD."
"If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the LORD, return unto me: and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight, then shalt thou not remove." Jeremiah 4:1
Jeremiah 4:3-4 "For thus saith the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. 4 Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings."
If you are backslidden, recognize that fact, return to
the Lord, repudiate your idols and renew your life. Follow the admonition
of Isaiah 55:6-7 "Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye
upon him while he is near: 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and
the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he
will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."