What does it mean to backslide and is a backslidden person different from being an unbeliever? How can you get right with God after backsliding? These are the questions we are going to answer in this post.
What Do We Mean by Backsliding?
Backsliding refers to going backwards both spiritually and morally. This could be unintentional through neglecting prayer and reading the Bible causing someone to lose their focus on living for God, or it could be more deliberate by choosing to indulge in sinful behavior.
Both situations are used by people to describe someone who is backslidden. But are they the same?
The Difference Between a Backslider and an Unbeliever
There seems to be a fine line between a backslider and an unbeliever – someone who is not in fellowship with Jesus Christ. This is often the question we ask of ourselves and others: is a backslider truly saved or are they an unbeliever claiming to have received salvation?
Willful sinning can be evidence that a person has not been saved – the heart was never truly converted.
But isn’t all sin willful, or deliberate sin? The Christian is not free from sin until we are completely sanctified in eternity, so shouldn’t we consider all sin deliberate, rather than accidental, since we are willingly disobeying God’s commands?
Hebrews 10:26 says, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,” (ESV).
The Greek word used for “deliberate” is hekousios, which means “voluntarily, willingly, of one’s own accord”. It is also used in 1 Peter 5:2 in this way, “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly (hekousios), as God would have you;” (ESV).
This shows us that there are two different kinds of being deliberate, or willful. One kind of willfulness is eager and wholehearted, and the other is under compulsion. In 1 Peter 5:2, the elders are wilfully shepherding the flock in gladness and eagerness.
In the other kind of willfulness, the person is begrudging and would rather be doing something else other than shepherd the flock. They might shepherd the flock for reasons other than pleasing God, like for money, fame, or a feeling of guilt.
All Sin is not Equally Willing, or Deliberate
The kind of deliberate, and willful sin described in Hebrews 10:26 is an eager, wholehearted choice to sin. This person does not have the spiritual newness and life received by salvation, that acts as a restraint against sin and (in part) holds back our will.
This passage also uses the phrase “go on sinning”. This is not referring to a single sin, or the choice of occasional or periodic sin, but rather its referring to a settled and persistent continuation in sin.
The sinful acts themselves do not put a person beyond forgiveness (“there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins”), but rather an eager, persistent, and settled pattern of sinful living.
Walking Away from the Church
Notice how Hebrews 10:26 begins with “For”. This verse is a response to the preceding passage and if we look at Hebrews 10:25, we see that the author us warning us not to neglect Christian gathering.
Therefore, the sin that is beyond forgiveness is the person who walks away from the church and wholeheartedly chooses a life of sin with eagerness. In Hebrews 10:29, you see that this person also “trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant…and outraged the Spirit of grace.” (ESV).
Can We Lose Our Salvation?
Notice in Hebrews 10:29 that this person “was sanctified” prior to trampling the Son of God and profaning the blood of the covenant. Does this tell us that this person was saved – he had accepted the New Covenant, but is now beyond forgiveness?
Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (ESV)
Hebrews 4:13 says, “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” (ESV)
Hebrews 10:14 tells us that true sanctification absolutely guarantees us perfection for all time. No one who has experienced true salvation can be lost.
Hebrews 3:14 tells us that we “have come to share in Christ” not we will come to share in Christ, if we hold our original confidence. That means that someone who does not hold onto their original confidence, never shared in Christ. They never lost their share in Christ, because they never had it to begin with.
A False Profession
The person described in Hebrews 10:26 &29 who “was sanctified” is not describing someone who has lost their salvation, but rather it is a person who was influenced by godly morals, professed some kind of faith, took part in a church, and was attracted a Christian way of life. But this person never really believed in Jesus in a way that united him to Christ.
A Christian that backslides then, is not this person: a person who eager and willfully sins, who walks away wholeheartedly from God, and to whom forgiveness is no longer given. This person was never truly a Christian in the first place.
We hear about Christians walking away from God and the church all the time – often becoming atheists. I believe that these passages tell us, that they were never truly saved – they never truly shared in Christ – to begin with.
Why Do Christians Backslide?
We all sin daily. There are no Christians who can honestly claim perfection in their walk with Christ. And though the Bible is full of verses about living godly lives, Jesus knew that we would continue sinning daily when he gave us this example of how to pray:
“Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day out daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who us indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” (Luke 11:2-4, ESV)
“Forgive us our sins”. Jesus knew that we would continue sinning and would need forgiveness daily. Sin can be any thought, attitude, word, or action that does not flow from a love of Jesus. Sin is not just the worst kind of deeds like stealing or murder.
Sin is a condition of the heart that is bent away from God in preference for other things.
Although our slates are wiped clean when we put our faith in Jesus, our sin will be with us until our inner condition is made holy in his presence.
If we all sin, what constitutes blacksliding?
Is Repetitive Sin a Sign of Backsliding?
A Christian who sins then, is not necessarily a backsliding Christian. We all sin.
1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us form all unrighteousness.” (ESV).
When we sin, the Bible tells us that we need to confess that sin to God and we will receive forgiveness. But what happens when we continue to repeat that same sin on a regular basis?
Two Kinds of Confession
There are two kinds of confessions of sin.
One is a feeling of guilt and remorse over our thoughts, words, or actions leading us to confess them to God; however in the back of our minds we know that the sin will happen again. Why? Because we are not truly repulsed by that sin. In fact, if we were honest, we actually have an affection for that sin.
This kind of confession is superficial and is a disguise for our surrender to that sin. We might feel bad about them, but we don’t hate them.
The other kind of confession is also of guilt and remorse, but the hatred for that sin is very real. You have every intention of battling against that sin immediately. You goal is to defeat that sin through the power of the Holy Spirit. There is no hypocrisy.
Two Kinds of Sin
Some sin is not pre-meditated, but spontaneous. You are taken by surprise by a thought, or situation that causes you to sin a momentary loss of temper, or spontaneous anger over a specific situation. It is still sin, but unplanned.
While other sin is pre-meditated. You take the time to think about whether or not you should commit the sin. You mull it over until you finally decide to go ahead and do it.
Danger Signs of Backsliding
Christians can be guilty of both kinds of sin, and at times they may use both kinds of confession at some point in their Christian walk.
But the superficial confession and the pre-meditated sin are particularly dangerous for the Christian. They set up the Christian to become complacent with sin – to get comfortable with it – and they weaken their repulsion of what angers God. We cannot make peace with our sin. This is a path to backsliding and destruction.
How to Get Right with God After Backsliding
Many Christians feel overcome and burdened by their guilt of sin. The Bible calls for us to be like Christ, to become holy, but God does not expect us to live out perfect holiness. Instead, Jesus is our perfect holiness.
Yet, we often feel like we cannot come to God and present ourselves to him in our unclean state.
As I mentioned earlier, Jesus gave us an example of how to pray, including our confession and acknowledgment of our need for daily forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 gives us the promise that if we sincerely confess, God will be faithful and just to forgive our sins.
So how do we get right with God? By simply confessing and turning back to God.
How to Break the Cycle of Repetitive Sin
Breaking free from a particular sin doesn’t always happen immediately, however it requires a sincere confession and a sincere desire to please God.
2 Corinthians 7 talks about two kinds of sorrow over sin: a worldly sorrow and a godly sorrow.
A worldly sorrow feels guilt and remorse for sin – maybe because of the consequences of sin, or maybe because you simply don’t like who you are when you sin. But this kind of sorrow doesn’t result in any real change.
But a godly sorrow result in a hatred and repulsion of sin. We are no longer simply grieving because of our sin, but we are vengefully turning away from it.
A godly sorrow over sin develops over time, as you grow in Christ. Our goal then is to develop true repentance and a true hatred of sin over time as we grow in Christ.
How to Grow in Christ
Growing in Christ involves learning to walk in the Spirit. I have written a post on this topic called: How to Allow the Holy Spirit to Take Control. If you are unfamiliar with this topic, I encourage you to take some time to read it.
But in a nutshell, growing in Christ requires these essential activities:
- Reading your Bible
- Daily prayer
- Christian fellowship
- Avoiding sin
Filling your mind and surrounding yourself with godly things, prevents Satan and sin from getting a foothold in your life. The more you read God’s Word, pray, and build friendships with likeminded Christians, the more you will grow to maturity in Christ and grow to despise sin and the things of this world.
Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life by Charles R. Swindoll. What season of life are you in? This devotional takes you through each season, challenging and encouraging you to discover what’s truly important in your own life, in every season, and in every condition of the heart.