Some people are professional backsliders and some do it just for the fun of it! The first recorded use of the term ‘luge’ was in 1905 and derives from the Swiss dialect of the French word luge, meaning ‘small coasting sled’. It involves lying on your back on the luge and hurtling down either steep roads or ice tracks at speeds from 80mph upwards with great risk to life and limb. Though most injuries involve bumps, bruises, broken bones and concussions, there have been at least four fatalities in public sporting events. To lie on your back puts you in a place of exposure to risk and makes you vulnerable. Not that this cat is going anywhere fast in its backsliding! However there are many ways that a person who once felt secure in faith begins backsliding. Where will it end? Many have argued that a Christian can lose their secure position – what do you think?
- ‘Collapse in the Christian life is seldom a blowout. It is usually a slow leak’ – Paul E Little
- ‘Men fall in private long before they fall in public. It is a miserable thing to be a backslider. Of all the unhappy things that can befall a man, I suppose it is the worst’ – J C Ryle
- ‘No Christian is ever going in the right direction when he has his back to God’ – John Blanchard
- ‘The backslider is a man who, because of his relationship to God, can never really enjoy anything else – D Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Throughout history to the modern day, there have been two broadly distinct lines of thought. French Theologian Jehan Cauvin (John Calvin) born 19 July 1509 was associated with the Reformation and the Doctrine of Predestination (teaching that we are chosen by God through Election) – this is known as Calvinism. The opposite Doctrine of Free Will came through Dutch pastor Jacobus Arminius a little later with followers being known as Arminian. In the 1700s George Whitefield held the Calvinist position whereas famous Methodist John Wesley was an Arminian. Who was right? Even in the latter part of the 20th Century, Calvinist Theologian R T Kendall published ‘Once Saved Always Saved’ (1983) which was contested in 1996 by David Pawson in his book having the same title but with a telling question mark!
If you read the many books on this, you will still have to determine your own level of spiritual assurance. Most Christians have had a period of backsliding at some point either in faith or in practice. In the first flush of faith, the flames burn bright but time can lead to disillusionment, laziness or cynicism and the flames can turn to embers, even becoming lukewarm. Consider then a few biblical verses and examples:
- Adam and Eve – their disobedience leads to painful separation and consequences
- The people of Israel – they had short memories of God’s goodness as they grumbled and even built idols
- The Kings of Israel – Joash, Azariah and Jotham start well but do not end well
- Thomas, Peter and the disciples – their doubting, denial and forsaking of Jesus is there for us to read
- ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth’ – Revelation 3:15-16
- ‘Even in laughter the heart may sorrow, and the end of mirth may be grief. The backslider in heart will be filled with his own ways, but a good man will be satisfied from above’ – Proverbs 14:13-14
- Hymenaeus and Alexander – they shipwrecked their faith
None of us can sit in judgement for ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ – Romans 3:23. Mighty King David fell into a time of sexual immorality which caused great pain to him, to others and to God. Yet without that, we would not have the beauty and encouragement from his prayer:
- ‘Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me’ – Psalm 51:1-12
Likewise Jesus tells how his Father restores the Prodigal Son, going on then himself to do this with Peter and the disciples. Paul sets out the amazing grace of God especially in his letter to the Romans, showing how once we put faith in Christ our position changes forever before God and we become accepted children rather than sinners deserving condemnation. At the heart of this is the question as to whether a person has truly put faith in God and entered into this relationship as a child or whether it’s been a cold, formal, calculating, shallow and artificial decision.
- ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand’ – John 10:27-29
- ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ – Romans 8:1
- ‘The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ’ – Romans 8:16-17
- ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 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
As you read through the New Testament, you see that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are deeply committed to us. In Romans 8, you see three wonderful things:
- God the Father is for us, so who can be against us – verse 31
- God the Son is our advocate and will ensure that none can separate us from the love of God – verses 31-39
- God the Holy Spirit helps us live as children of God, strengthening us in our weakness and interceding for us – verses 26-30
Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached for 13 years from Romans and wrote an extensive series of teaching books that are hard work to read but completely thrilling for a person who is walking with God or one who is backsliding to read.
- ‘The relationship now (between God and a believer) is that between Father and child. Is it conceivable that God who has done that greatest of all thing for me when I was an enemy is suddenly going to abandon me or fail me now that I am his child? It is insulting to the very character of God to imagine such a thing. To talk about falling away from grace is, apart from anything else, nonsense. Thank God, his love is a love that will not let you go’ – Exposition of Romans 5 page 150
The Doctrine of Assurance is one that you will need to evaluate in the light of your own understanding of God’s purposes revealed in the Bible. If you believe ‘once saved always saved’, it comes with freedom but also with responsibility to enjoy and bring joy to God as a child wanting to honour the Father. It is not a licence for sustained licentiousness, for to choose to live that way would cast doubt on whether a person truly has been ‘born again’ through faith in the work of Christ.
- ‘We are all born Arminians.” It is grace that turns us into Calvinists’ – George Whitefield
- ‘If the final decision for the salvation of fallen sinners were left in the hands of fallen sinners, we would despair all hope that anyone would be saved’ – R C Sproul
- ‘It is God that chooses His people. He calls them by His grace; He quickens them by His Spirit, and keeps them by His power’ – C H Spurgeon
Such an assurance helps us think about a time of backsliding in life, times of deep regret about actions or the lifelong Christian suffering with dementia at the end of life. As you weigh this, reflect on Jesus’ parable about the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7) and Paul’s warning about the losses through a casual approach to being a child of God (Philippians 2 and 1 Corinthians 1:3). If someone thinks differently, have grace for their position and live out your own with humility.
The back is not intended for sliding! It has a backbone which is meant to carry weight, persevere in trials and push through. Surely this gorgeous cat can lie back to rest as we all do at night – just so long as we don’t backslide!
TAGS – assurance, justification, sanctification, glorification, predestined