Evidences of a Backslidden Condition

March 21, 2014

Through the prophet Jeremiah the Lord dispenses a treasury of wisdom and insight. Perhaps among the most valuable of those insights, at least to my thinking, is found in Jeremiah 17.9:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

The Lord also reminds us, through Jeremiah and scores of other places in his Word, that he is concerned about the heart; more concerned about the heart than even the behavior.  This is because the heart is the key. Whatever owns the heart will dictate the behavior – good or evil.  Yet, according to God, in the passage above, our hearts often deceive us.  We think one thing, unaware of all that is actually going on deep down within.  All looks calm on the surface, but underneath a sinkhole may be developing.  So it is essential that we learn to plumb and decipher our own hearts.  It is at least as important to do this as it is to evaluate our actions (or lack of them).

In his remarkable book, Revival, Richard Owen Roberts suggests to us that the real problem today, in society and in the church, is backslidden Christians.  The Free Dictionary defines backslide as

  • to revert to sin or wrongdoing
  • to lapse into bad habits or vices from a state of virtue, religious faith

Or as another old sage has expressed it:

A backslider is a person who was once emptied of his own ways and filled with the ways of God, but gradually allowed his own ways to step back in until he was all but empty of God and full of himself again.

This condition, whether you accept Roberts’ analysis or not, is quite common. We see it not only in our contemporary culture, but also throughout the pages of the Scripture:

  • Israel all throughout the OT
  • Paul points it out to the Corinthians, Galatians, etc.;
  • John speaks of it to most of the 7 churches in Revelation 2-3;

This should illustrate to us that the problem of backsliding, though not a biblical term, is a biblically recognized human condition – or rather it is a universal condition of humanity effected by the Fall.  There is none of us who is immune to it.  But there is both a remedy and a preventative inoculation that will help minimize susceptibility. The remedy is the gospel. The inoculation is a frequent and regular self assessment, and the applying of the gospel to every hint of infection the assessment reveals.

In Revival, Roberts provides a list of twenty-five possible evidences of a backslidden condition.  While this list is neither authoritative nor exhaustive, it does provide a pretty good index of symptoms to look out for.

Let me encourage you to read through it, jot them down, and honestly evaluate the present state of your personal life and the life of your church:

1. When prayer ceases to be a vital part of your life…

2. When the quest for biblical truth ceases and one grows content with the knowledge of eternal things already acquired…

3. When the biblical knowledge possessed or acquired is treated as external fact and not applied inwardly…

4. When earnest thoughts about eternal things cease to be regular and gripping…

5. When the services of the church lose their delights…

6. When pointed spiritual discussions are an embarrassment…

7. When sports, recreation, and entertainment are large and necessary part of your lifestyle…

8. When sins of the body and of the mind can be indulged in without an uproar in you conscience…

9. When aspirations for Christlike holiness cease to dominate in your life and thinking…

10. When the acquisition of money and goods become a dominant part of your thinking…

11. When you can mouth religious songs and words without it affecting your heart…

12. When you can hear the Lord’s name taken in vain, spiritual concerns mocked, and eternal issues flippantly treated, and not be moved…

13. When you can watch degrading movies and television and read morally debilitating literature…

14. When breaches of peace in the brotherhood are of little or no concern to you…

15. When the slightest excuse seems sufficient to keep you from spiritual duty and opportunity…

16. When you become content with your lack of spiritual power and no longer seek repeated endowments of power from on high…

17. When you pardon your own sin and sloth by saying the Lord understands and remembers we are but dust…

18. When there is no music in your soul and no song in your heart…

19. When you adjust happily to the world’s lifestyle and values…

20. When injustice and human misery exist around you and you do little or nothing to relieve the suffering…

21. When your church has fallen into spiritual declension and the Word of God is no longer preached there with power -AND you are still content…

22. When the spiritual condition of the world around you declines around you and you cannot perceive it…

23. When you are willing to cheat your employer…

24. When you find yourself rich in grace and mercy… and marvel at your own godliness

25. When your tears are dried up and the hard, cold spiritual facts of your existence cannot unleash them…

Please note that sometimes there is the appearance of at least a few of these symptoms and yet it may not be a indication of the condition of backsliding, any more than all lumps prove to be cancerous.  But, just as a lump should never be ignored, neither should the presence of these symptoms.  In either case, malignant or benign, applying the gospel to the spot is nevertheless a worthwhile regular and frequent discipline.

And here is an expression of the gospel we ought to regularly remind ourselves, as we address our backslidden symptoms:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  ~ 1 John 1.9

4 Responses to “Evidences of a Backslidden Condition”

  1. JR Says:

    great stuff! sharing

  2. Dennis Griffith Says:

    Thanks, JR


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