Bent To Backsliding
by Pastor Rex Carringer
Rex Carringer is the pastor of Riverland Baptist Church in Dunnellon, Florida.
“And my people are bent to backsliding from me: though they called them to the most High, none at all would exalt him.” (Hosea 11:7)
I am more distraught over people backsliding than anything. There are a lot of things that happen. You probably can’t say anything to me that has not already been said. I’ve had mean letters and mean counseling sessions. I’ve had people stand up in a service and shake their fist at me. I’ve had people walk out of the building and slam doors and things like that. You couldn’t say anything that probably hasn’t already been done or said. Yet when people slam a door, they don’t slam it in my face. They slam it in God’s face. When they shake their fist at me, they’re not shaking it at me. They’re shaking their fist in God’s face. I understand that.
I got a letter from a gentleman who was upset over a stand that I take. He said some things that I just had to look to the Lord and say, “Lord, You’re just going to have to take care of these things that are being said because none of these things are true.” Even in the worst case, that doesn’t bother me as much as when I see good people and good Christians backsliding.
Backsliding is not a new word. God used it here in Hosea. You and I both know that the book of Hosea wasn’t just written yesterday. God had problems with people backsliding all through time because people are humans and sinners. It sounds almost like God’s heart was broken. “And my people are bent to backsliding from me:...” My purpose is this: During my years of pastoring, I’ve watched people backslide. Sometimes on Sunday on the platform I’ll make note of people that are missing. I already know what’s about to take place. It’s very frustrating, especially for the heart of a pastor. I have watched people. I have watched good marriages go bad. I’ve watched kids from good homes go bad. It just breaks your heart.
You start learning the signs and the symptoms. What’s ironic is more people backslide during Christmas and the summertime than any other time. There is yet to be, in several years of ministry, a Christmas or a summertime that somebody was not lost due to backsliding. I’m not talking about getting mad at a message. I’m not talking about getting upset at an administrator. All of that happens. I’ve lost some folks because of my stand on marriage, but I still stand on marriage. I believe that if two people live together they ought to be married. I’m not changing. That’s the Bible. But I’m talking about just backsliding. Things happen. Do you realize it only takes three weeks of being absentee and suddenly it’s easier to stay away from church than it is to go to church? I’ve watched it happen over and over.
I was reading a story about Robert Robinson who wrote the song, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” To come up with a song like that, the man had to walk with God and know how to enjoy the blessings of God. Something happened in his life, and he backslid for many years. He met a young woman. They started dating and getting serious. She was reading a hymn one day when he walked in. She was reading that hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” She didn’t realize, because it was such a popular hymn, and he wrote it probably ten years prior. She said, “Have you ever heard these words?” He instantly started crying because he was the one who wrote it. He came back to Jesus Christ and started walking with Him again.
We need to realize some things about backsliding. God says here, “ My people are bent to backsliding from Me.”
Everybody in this auditorium is a potential backslider. Notice He said, “My people...” How many in here are His people? Then you and I are potential backsliders. The first step in backsliding is when we start thinking that we’re never going to backslide. Thinking, “It could never happen to me.” What does the Bible say? “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” (I Corinthians 10:12) The first time that we think we’re beyond backsliding, we’ve already taken the first step in backsliding. We’ve got a much higher opinion of ourselves than we really ought to have. Everybody in this auditorium is a potential backslider. It can happen to you. I need to realize that I am a potential backslider. It can happen to me. Therefore I must take the necessary precautions.
I know people right now. I could call names of people that are backslidden right now that thought they would never stray from the Lord. Their biggest problem was that they didn’t realize, “I am a potential backslider.” Everyone is a potential backslider. We are all in danger.
When we backslide, we are backsliding from ... what? Look at verse seven again. “And my people are bent to backsliding from me:...” Who were they backsliding from? God. It means to slide backwards, actually going away from the Lord. Spiritual growth is when you grow closer to the Lord and backsliding is when you progress is in the wrong direction, taking you away from the Lord. Most backsliders who hear the word “backslidden” instantly get mad. It is kind of a harsh term. That’s why many pulpits won’t even use the term ‘backslidden.’ But I want to tell you something -- it’s in the Bible. God warns people about it, so we need to warn people about it, because it is an ever-present danger in the Christian life. You can actually have growth toward the Lord, but if you’re not careful you could turn around and slide back from that growth and start sliding away from God. That’s what God calls backsliding. When you backslide, you’re moving farther away from the Lord.
I want to dissect this subject a little and show you where backsliding begins. You could probably think of names right now, just as I can, of people that used to be close to the Lord. They used to walk with God and their lives showed the evidences of it. Now they’re far away from Him. Many people talk about, “Well, so and so is away from the Lord.” What they really mean is they’re backslidden.
Where does backsliding begin? The Bible says, “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways:...” (Proverbs 14:14) Where does backsliding begin? Right here in the heart. It’s when our heart gets cold. It’s when our heart is no longer right with God. Our heart can become bitter and sour. People get the attitude, “I don’t care.” They come to church and start wondering, “Church just isn’t the same anymore. Why am I not enjoying this or that like I use to? Something is wrong here.” Many times the problem is not in the things around them, but in their heart.
You’ve heard about the fella who went around all day long and everything was stinking. Everywhere he went, he said, “Something stinks in here,” or “Somebody stinks in here.” No matter where he was or what he saw, he gave his opinion of, “That stinks.” He finally came to find out that he had some rotten Limburger cheese stuck in his mustache. Who was doing the stinking? He was!
I was having a meeting with a gentleman one time. He sounded like a broken record. “Pastor, I’m upset about this and I’m upset about that. I’m upset about this and this and this.”
Finally I just told him, “Look, the problem is you’ve got Limburger cheese stuck in your mustache.” It might be a little more believable if he had just one specific complaint, but he was unhappy with everything and everybody. What happened is the heart got sour. Folks, when your heart gets sour, everything around you gets sour. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve been there. I’ve been there. Everything at church, even at home, everything is sour. It’s pretty bad when the dog and cat run as soon as you pull into the driveway.
Where does backsliding begin? It begins in the heart. You’ll probably find out that with backsliding, the very first thing that goes in your Christian walk is your devotional life. You’re no longer praying and you’re no longer reading the Bible. You may still be going through the motions of church attendance, but the Bible reading and the prayer has stopped. It’s not happening like it once was. Backsliding begins in the heart.
Let’s go to the book of Jeremiah and look at some characteristics that God points out about backsliding, because backsliding should get your own attention. In other words, God says that you should recognize it. You wonder, “Who is Preacher preaching to?” You and me. Everybody is a potential backslider. Your whole life, you’re going to be a candidate to backslide. You will sometimes begin to backslide and grow cold, but the key is if you learn to recognize it and decide to reverse it as soon as it shows up in your life.
Someone said the Christian life is like taking two steps forward and one step back. Everybody backslides. God makes a statement here in Jeremiah 2:19 about backsliding that we ought to understand. “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord God of hosts.” If we get involved in wickedness, we should recognize that we just got involved in wickedness. No excuses. Seeing us in that wickedness ought to correct us and get us out of it. Do you know what a spiritually mature Christian is? A spiritually mature Christian is not one who never begins to backslide. It’s a Christian that sees his backsliding immediately and says, “Wait a minute. I’d better kick myself back in line over here.” It’s someone who recognizes their own backsliding, and takes responsibility for correcting it. A spiritually immature person always recognizes everybody else’s backsliding, but a mature Christian recognizes it in himself and decides, “I’d better get back to where I’m supposed to go. I haven’t had my prayer and Bible devotions for a week. I haven’t been caring if people go to Heaven or Hell. I’d better get back to where I care about peoples’ souls and my own relationship to the Lord.” A spiritually mature person realizes that they’re backsliding and they allow their own backsliding to reprove them or preach them a message. Backsliding should reprove us.
“And the Lord said unto me, The backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah.” (Jeremiah 3:11) Notice those two words ‘justified herself.’ Do you know what happens when a person is backsliding and that backsliding doesn’t get their attention? They do not let that backsliding reprove and correct them, so they continue on in that backsliding stage. I’ll tell you what the next step is. They start justifying their own backsliding. Have you ever met somebody in that stage, where they constantly try to justify what they’re doing? “I know what I’m doing. I don’t care what that preacher says. God understands where I’m at. God doesn’t expect me to do this and that. No one appreciates me. No one cares about how I feel.”
By the way, if you did something because you wanted somebody to appreciate what you’re doing, you did it for the wrong reason anyway. It’s okay to get a pat on the back occasionally. But if you hear yourself saying, “Nobody appreciates me anymore. Nobody appreciates what I’m doing. They don’t see what I’m doing. No preacher is going to tell me what to do. There is nothing wrong with what I’m doing.” Watch out!
Let me tell you what is happening here. You’re justifying your backsliding. If you begin to grow cold and move farther from God and your own backsliding doesn’t reprove you, then what happens is you’re going to end up staying in that backsliding. If your backsliding doesn’t reprove you, that means your heart is not right. If I start backsliding and I don’t stop and realize I’m not where I’m supposed to be and fix the problem, what happens is I start getting mad at everybody around me that tries to help me, and I start justifying every move I make. I become defensive and touchy. That’s what happens to a backslider when they don’t decide to get their heart right and they’re not letting their backsliding reprove them. They’re not letting God reprove them. They’re not letting their husband or wife reprove them. They’re not letting their pastor or anybody around them reprove them. They start justifying it. “It just doesn’t matter. I know what I’m doing. Nobody is going to tell me what to do.”
Let me show you the next step. “Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return.” (Jeremiah 8:5) What kind of backsliding? Perpetual. Do you know what that means? They just keep doing it and they keep going farther and farther and farther into sin and away from God. It starts in our heart. Somewhere along the line in our heart we started backsliding and then our backsliding should have reproved us, but if that doesn’t happen, we start justifying our backsliding. Then we start getting to the point where we have perpetual backsliding, or our backsliding has increased. We just keep going farther and farther, and we stay in a backslidden state. Many people are in that position right now. It would have been nice if, at the first sign of backsliding. they had kicked themselves back in line, but now it’s a perpetual backsliding. Farther and farther, worse and worse.
By the way, do you realize the farther you get from the Lord, the harder it is to get back to the Lord? The farther you get from Dunnellon, Florida, it takes you just that much longer to get back to Dunnellon. That’s what happens. We need to understand that. Their backslidings increased.
Then the Bible says, “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways...” That’s the outcome if they stay on that path. They have backslidden totally in their heart, and they’re filled with their own ways. Their own ways are ways that have no joy. You will never find a happy backslider. You will not find a backslider that has joy. They have no happiness. They have no peace. They have no crowns or rewards. Everything they’re living for, they’re going to suffer loss when they get to Heaven. They’re going to be like Lot, who lost everything. It’s just a perpetual backsliding.
You study Lot in the book of Genesis. He looked out toward the plain and said, “Man, that’s well-watered out there. That’s easy and convenient for someone with great herds. That looks like the prosperous direction to me.” His gaze was fixed toward Sodom and Gomorrah. Anybody that packs their family up and moves them off to a wicked city when they don’t have to and where they have no Bible-preaching, soulwinning, sin-hating church to meet their family’s needs has got rocks in their head. Lot looks out there and it keeps luring him closer. Then he pitches his tent toward Sodom, so that is his view constantly. He looks to Sodom. His heart got to thinking, “I realize my kids may get a little worldly influence over there, but I’ll tell you one thing. That is green pasture and my cattle can get real fed and fat there. I can make some easy money on my cattle.” So he pitches his tent toward Sodom. Then you find he’s in Sodom. Then he sits at the gate of Sodom. Now he’s in the middle of it, thinking and acting like the Sodomites. What happened? Perpetual backsliding. He got away from Uncle Abraham and all the godly influence in his life. He got his eyes on the wrong things. He went through a perpetual backsliding. It’s something that we have to be careful about.
Let me give you a few things to keep in mind that can protect you from backsliding.
#1. Recognize it so at the first sign of backsliding you catch yourself. Catch yourself at the first sign of backsliding. Recognize it. Expect it. Train yourself even down to your devotional life. Okay, I missed Bible reading today. Don’t excuse it and say, “I didn’t need it today.” Yes, you did need it today. You may not get it today, but you needed it today. You ought to feel bad when you’ve missed your Bible reading, and you ought to make it a point to not let it happen the second day. Make sure that you are there tomorrow getting fed from the Word of God Learn to recognize it the moment that it shows up -- that backslidden feeling.
#2. Learn not to justify it. Be hard on yourself.
#3. Count the cost. You’re going to feel cold and backslidden in spirit sometimes. Be honest with me. How many of you Sunday school teachers ever woke up on Sunday morning and thought, “Man, I’ll tell you. The last thing I’d like to do right now is teach my Sunday school class”? But when you realize you’re thinking those thoughts, ask yourself, “What will be the cost of my actions?” If you give in to your backsliding and do what your heart at that moment is wanting to do, the cost can get pretty high. There are a lot of marriages broken up today because somebody didn’t count the cost. They had one night of backsliding and their whole marriage is gone. That’s not very smart, is it? There are children that are lost today. The parents lost them because of a backslidden heart and they wouldn’t get it right.
Count the cost. Wouldn’t it have been nice if old Mr. Lot had counted the cost? What would have happened differently for his family if he had counted the cost? If he would have sat down and said, “Wait a minute. If I move off toward Sodom, this could happen. That could happen. That’s a big price tag. I think I’m going to hang around close to Uncle Abraham.” We somehow get in our mind, “There isn’t going to be any cost.” Sin always has a price tag. People pay a high price. Sometimes it just breaks my heart as I see people having to pay the price tag for the wages of sin. They didn’t sit down and just think, “What’s the cost of my backsliding?” So count the cost.
#4. Ask yourself, “Do I really want to be a backslider?” You say, “Pastor, why should I do that?” You ought to write these things down because whenever you feel that backsliding feeling and coldness, you ought to turn over to this page and start reading some of these things. Ask yourself, “Now wait a minute. I know I’m feeling backslidden. I’m having these cold, uncaring feelings. I’m frustrated. It’s not a bad day; it’s a bad week. It’s a bad month. I know I’m not thinking right. I’m thinking about doing the wrong things. The cost, boy, if I did this, it would ruin my life. It would hurt my family. I’ve looked at this and I’m thinking, ‘I don’t even care.’ So I know there is something wrong with my thinking right at this moment.”
Learn to recognize when your thinking is not right and count the cost. Ask yourself, “I know if I do this I’m going to be backslidden. Do I really want to turn around one year from today and look at myself and realize that I’m backslidden and what a high price I will have to pay?” Ask yourself, “Do you really want to slide back and be away from God and from joy and peace and fruitfulness?” No one really wants that. It just happens, doesn’t it? We have to ask ourselves, “Do we really want to do that? Do we want to slide back? I’ve gained so much ground in growing and learning in the Christian life. Do I want to turn around now and drive right back down that road and lose it all?”
I remember when I was learning to drive a stick-shift in a place called Blue Ridge, Georgia. If you’ve ever been to north Georgia, it’s not a very easy place to learn to drive stick-shift. The city is on a mountain. My grandmother had an old 1972 Ford Courier pick-up truck, and all the grandkids learned to drive stick-shift with that truck. I was out with my dad and went up on a hill. I could not get the courage to get that clutch out. Cars had to back up and let me ride back down backwards all the way back down the hill, because I had to get back up and take a running start. I’d sit at the bottom of the hill waiting on that thing to turn green and then take off. I about scared my dad to death. I learned right then and there that there are angels riding with me!
The word backsliding reminds me of myself in that old truck. That’s what we do. Do we really want to lose that ground? Does it seem sometimes that growing as a Christian is like climbing a mountain? Why do we want to slide back? Ask ourselves, “Do we really want to lose the ground that we’ve gained? Do we want to slide back?” When you slide back, you’ve got to turn around and go back up it again if you ever want to get back close to God again. Why cover the same ground twice?
#5. Stand and don’t move. When you have those feelings of backsliding, stand still and don’t move. The Bible says, “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13) Did you know sometimes all we have the strength to do is just stand? That’s exactly what we need to do at that moment. Recognize the thoughts. “I’ve got some thoughts right here that I know God is not putting there. That has to be the devil. I’m going to recognize it. My heart is not right. I’m admitting it myself. I’m having backslidden feelings and thoughts, but I don’t really want to be a backslider. I don’t want to mess my life up. If I was to do what I’m thinking about, look at the cost. What would happen to me? I don’t want to be known as a backslider. Right now I have no strength. My heart is not right. I know I’m not right. So what I’m going to do right now until I get right, I’m not moving; I’m standing still.”
#6. Read the Bible a lot. That will be the last thing you feel like doing, but do it anyway. You never know when you’re going to come across that verse that Lord uses that just sparks it back to life again. Read the Bible a lot. You may be standing still. “I can’t go forward right now. I know that, but I’m not going backwards.” Stand still. Stand there. Read the Bible a lot. Let God flow through you, God’s Word and God’s wisdom.
#7. Go through the motions. Here’s what I mean by that. That’s a part of the standing still process. Even when you have to admit that your heart’s not in it, do it anyway. Ask the Lord to bless your obedience when it is hardest to obey. Don’t quit!
We have a duty. When we don’t feel like reading our Bible, what should we do? Read it anyway. When we don’t feel like praying, what should we do? Pray anyway. If everything is falling apart, go through the motions and keep putting one foot in front of the other. “I don’t feel like teaching my Sunday school class.” “I don’t feel like going to church today.” Go anyway. Go through the motions. If you sit there and that’s all you’re doing is going through the motions, that’s it. Please understand something about yourself. You’re in a backslidden mode. Something has happened to your heart. But quitting is not the answer. Go through the right motions and beg God to revive your heart.
It may be the devil has launched all Hell against you at that moment, and he’s trying everything he can do to knock you out of the race. But if you’ve recognized it, you’ve found it. “My heart is not right. I admit it to myself. What I’ve got in my heart right now, if I did that, look at the cost. Look what would happen to my family, my wife, my husband, my children. Look what would happen. I don’t want to be known as a backslider because if I do this, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Look where I’m at and look where I’ve come from. I turn around and look at all the ground I’m going to have to recover again in trying to get back even if I ever do get back. Lord, I’m not willing to be a backslider. I don’t want to do that. So what I’m going to do is just stand still and go through the motions. Get in that Bible. Read it a lot, but go through the motions anyway. Just do what you’re supposed to do even though you don’t feel like doing it. By the way, that’s character. Character goes to work when you don’t feel like going to work. Character does the right thing even when you don’t feel like doing the right thing. That’s all about character.
#8. Stay close by. The Apostle Peter backslid. Did he deny the Lord Jesus Christ? Did he think he was going to do it? So is everybody a potential backslider even when we think we’re not going to? He denied the Lord three times. He got mixed in with the devil’s crowd. He warmed himself by the devil’s fire. Remember after he denied the Lord three times and the cock crew, he looked into the eyes of Jesus and it broke his heart. He left. What did he do? He went fishing. Do you know what was going on in his heart that moment? “I quit. I’m no good. Jesus knew me before I knew myself. I’m no good. I’m just going back to what I know to do and that’s fishing.”
Here is something ironic about Peter. Do you know where he fished? He fished on the same body of water that he walked on with Jesus. He was fishing in a place where he could look up in the hills and see where Jesus fed the 5,000. He fished in the place he could look up and he knew his Lord came walking down that mountainside. He hopped out of the boat on that same body of water and went and met Him and walked on water. You know those things had to be on his mind as he fished in his backslidden state. He stayed close to where he had been with the Lord. He didn’t go to the far country. Fifty days later he was preaching on the day of Pentecost.
Do you know what Jacob did? Jacob backslid, but Jacob ran and went miles away. It took Jacob 25 years to get back to God. It took Peter 50 days. Do you know why? I think one reason is because Peter stayed close. Some people backslide, get mad and leave. They get out of church and it takes them years, sometimes 25 or 30 years. I want to tell you something. No matter what, stay. All of a sudden you’re backslidden, and yes, you’re there at church even though it doesn’t seem like your heart’s in it.
But just keep hanging around close, friend. You’ll look up here and think, “Do you know what? I got saved over there in that corner of that altar. Right over there I knelt and gave my heart to Jesus Christ. There is that baptistry I got baptized in. My son got saved right over there. He got baptized up there. My daddy’s casket sat right there in front of that pulpit. My daughter and my son walked this very same aisle and gave their hearts each to their mates. I’ve shed tears in this place. I’ve had prayers answered here. God has used people in my life right here in this building. I remember when I sat on that pew and heard that message and I made a decision for the Lord right over there. I’ve served the Lord right over here.”
Do you know what you’re doing? You’re staying close to where your heart can be potentially warmed up again. Because when you get backslidden, it gets cold and the devil freezes it, but you’re staying where you can look at some things and remember all the Lord’s done in your life and get that heart warmed up again.
If Peter had left the region, I don’t believe he would have been preaching on the day of Pentecost, but he stayed close by and it was easy for the Lord to come and get him again. Remember the story how the Lord came. He got up there on the shore and said, “Peter, do you love Me more than these?”
“Oh, Lord, You know I love Thee.”
“Peter, do you love Me more than these?”
“Oh, Lord, You know I love Thee.”
“Peter, do you love Me more than you love these?” He pointed to the fish.
Peter said, “You know I love Thee.”
Then He said, “Feed My lambs.” Peter was in the right position. Yes, he was backslidden. Yes, his heart wasn’t right. He was discouraged. He was frustrated with himself. Yet even in his worst state as a backslider, he stayed close enough that the Lord could come and get him, pick him up out of despair and use him. I’m just saying when we start backsliding, don’t run off and leave. Stay close.
I was reading a history book. A century ago, they found a boat with a handful of men on it in the Arctic Ocean that had floated for 13 years. These men had frozen to death on that boat. It was a floating morgue for 13 years. I got to thinking about that when I was putting together this message. Sometimes that’s what we are. We’re floating corpses. Why can’t we stay close to where we can be warmed up again? Who wants to backslide and stay backslidden for a long time, maybe the rest of your life ruined and wasted? Nobody does. If you’re a growing Christian, you will backslide. Everyone is a potential backslider. Recognizing that and deciding in advance what to do about it is what will keep you going and growing.