Main Reference: “What is Backsliding?” by Rev. (Dr) Prabhudas Koshy in Vol. 8 Issue 5 of the Bible Witness Magazine

A concerned preacher was recently counselling a parent regarding her children who were infrequent in attending church. The reply of the parent was startling, “My children are just backsliding. Do not worry. God will bring them back to church again.” This reply reflects the growing apathy of the Christian church towards the dangers of backsliding. It is reveals the lack of understanding of what backsliding actually entails in the Holy Scriptures.

The term “backsliding” and its variants occur 17 times in the King James Bible – once as backslider” (Proverbs 14:14), 12 times as “backsliding”, and 4 times as “backslidings”. It is translated mainly from the Hebrew word שׁוּב (shūb). This term depicts a person who makes an about-turn from a designated path and goes in the opposite direction. Another term that is translated as “backsliding” is סוּג (sūg) describes a person who has turned himself away from a prescribed path. He is a man who is disloyal and treacherous. Lastly, the term “backsliding” is also translated from סָרַר (sārar) which refers to one who is stubborn, rebellious and unyielding.

It is interesting that 16 of the 17 occurrences of “backsliding” are found in the books Hosea and Jeremiah. These books deals with God’s judgement over a nation that has turned apostate. The book of Hosea deals with the apostasy of the North-ern Kingdom of Israel. The people are told of the inevitable destruction of the Northern Kingdom because of their gross sin and rebellion. Nevertheless, the LORD still pleaded with His people to return to Him, and proclaimed that one day His people will return to Him with whole-heartedly. Similarly, the book of Jeremiah tells of the impending destruction of the Southern Kingdom by the Babylonians because of their apostasy. The judgement of the nation is inevitable. Nevertheless, the people are called to repent and return unto the LORD. Jeremiah, just like Hosea, also prophesied how the LORD would “heal their backslidings” and restore the nation of Israel because of His covenant with His people.

We see then how the term “backsliding” is often used to describe the condition of Israel corporately as a nation. As a nation, Israel committed apostasy. They had turned away from the LORD, were disloyal to Him, and are obstinate in their wicked ways. If they would turn back to the LORD, God will restore them back to Himself. However, if they continue in their wickedness, God will surely judge, and His judgement will prevail.

Oftentimes, the term “backsliding” is assumed to apply only to believers. However, the Bible reveals two types of backsliding. The first type of backsliding is that which is temporal. This applies to those who are true believers. Being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they will not utterly fall but will return to the LORD when he chastises them. These are those who will heed the call in Jeremiah 3:22 – “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the LORD our God.” (Jerimiah 3:22)

On the other hand, there is also a backsliding that is perpetual. Jeremiah 8:5 declares, “Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backslid-ing? they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return.” (Jeremiah 8:5) These are not true believers, though they may appear religious, and maybe mistaken by others to be true converts. However, they have never truly repented from their sin nor trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ. These have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof (2 Timothy 3:5). They may have before participated in full communion of the church, but with time fade away and be engaged in gross immorality and wickedness. He-brews 6:4-8 sounds a warning against such perpetual backsliding – “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. 7 For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft up-on it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: 8 But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh un-to cursing; whose end is to be burned.”

Herein is a warning to all of us – backsliding is not a light matter! If one is in a state of backsliding, he should quickly repent from his sin and follow the Lord. Other-wise, the consequences can be severe. Moreover, if one is found in constant wanton-ness and debauchery, perhaps this man was not born again in the first place. It is foolishness to adopt a nonchalant attitude towards stubbornness and rebellion, whether is it our own or that of others. The parent discussed in the beginning of this article should not have dismissed the backsliding of her children as a non-issue. In-stead, she should weep over the sins of her children and be in much prayer over their spiritual condition. Let us thus be serious over our backslidings take heed the exhortation of Jeremiah 3:22a – “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings.” “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

Lovingly in Christ,

Preacher Clement Chew

Note: While Israel is described corporately as an apostate nation, the Scriptures tells of a future spiritual restoration of the nation because of the covenant which God has made with Israel (see Romans 9-11). However, at the individual level, a person who has turned apostate is often described by the Scriptures as one who is hardened beyond repentance of whom eternal judgement is reserved (see the epistle of Jude and also Hebrews 6:4-8)