Back Sliding
By Dr. Ken Matto
The subject we are going to broach is back sliding. We have all heard at one time or another about a Christian who backslides and that is taken to mean they have either temporarily or permanently gone back into the world. The question then remains, is it possible for a Christian to do a 180 degree turn about in their walk? First, we need to get the definition of the term "backslide."
Backslide from the dictionary means "to revert to a worse condition or retrogress (which means to move backward).
Backslide from the Scriptures has three general meanings:
Proverbs 14:14 "to be disloyal or to deviate"
Jeremiah 2:19; 3:11 "toward or with apostasy"
Hosea 4:16 "to be stubborn or obstinate"
These three biblical definitions cover the meanings in Scripture of the term backsliding. There is a great spiritual principle concerning backsliding and that is, except for Proverbs 14:14 God is always speaking corporately about national Israel and not to individuals about backsliding. We will look at Proverbs 14:14 at the end of this study to see if that single verse can be applied to believers who go back into sin.
Backsliding in the Old Testament
To give us an understanding of what God deems backsliding we must go to the Old Testament where the term "backsliding" is exclusively used. Since there are quite a number of verses dealing with this subject I am going to limit them to a few which will give us the general idea of what is in view.
Jeremiah 8:5
(Jer 8:5 KJV) Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return.
Here is the word which means "apostasy." Prior to the Babylonian capture of Judah she was steeped in idolatry and many were involved in the cult of Tammuz. Tammuz was the shepherd-god of vegetation and it was believed that Tammuz incarnated the creative powers of Spring which was the renewal of life that delivered the earth from the curse of the sterility of winter. There were also those involved in the Cult of the Queen of Heaven which was the Babylonian goddess "Ishtar." In Ephesus she was known as "Diana." Today, this false goddess is glorified in the Roman Catholic Church and is know as Mary. Many in both Israel and Judah were sacrificing children to the Ammonite god Molech in the Valley of Hinnom. It was these things that God condemned Judah for. They once walked in the knowledge of God but their lust for the world caused them to go into apostasy so they would be like the surrounding nations.
Jeremiah 31:22
(Jer 31:22 KJV) How long wilt thou go about, O thou backsliding daughter? for the LORD hath created a new thing in the earth, A woman shall compass a man.
The meaning of the word "backsliding" in this verse means "apostate or heathenous." As we saw in the previous Jeremiah verse that Judah was in an apostate position with their worship and adoration of the false gods of both the Assyrians and Babylonians. This can be seen openly in the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.
Hosea 4:16
(Hosea 4:16 KJV) For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer: now the LORD will feed them as a lamb in a large place.
The term backsliding in this verse means "stubborn or obstinate." These terms are applied to those on an immovable course. Israel and Judah refused to listen to the prophets which God sent among them. God finally showed Judah their whoredoms by commanding Hosea to marry a prostitute. God showed them they had abandoned the way of righteousness and were no better than a prostitute. It is interesting that God uses the term "heifer" because the Israelites were not out of Egypt very long when they fashioned a calf to worship it. The golden calf itself was a picture of the hearts of the unbelieving Israelites. This shows that God’s law cannot be obeyed from the external instead it has to be planted on the inside to radiate outward.
Proverbs 14:14
(Prov 14:14 KJV) The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways: and a good man shall be satisfied from himself.
Here is the back slider who deviates from the truth. The heart of the true believer is filled with the things of God because they are indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Notice this verse states that the backsliding person will be filled with their own ways. (Prov 1:31 KJV) Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. In other words, the unbeliever will be filled with the fruit of lies and deceit. The unbeliever builds his life on many false teachings and philosophies to the point they start to live in them because they believe them and after a while they begin to embellish them and these embellishments normally lead to a false religion or system of beliefs such as evolution. This verse is telling us that this backslider is steeped in false beliefs since a deviation from the truth has taken place. The true believer can never deviate from the true teachings of God. There may be a misunderstanding but that is a far cry from accepting false doctrine. The back slider in this verse speaks of one who is unsaved.
Backsliding in Contemporary times
Now I would like to bring the biblical reality of backsliding up to today. God in His wisdom gave us two scenarios concerning backsliding and neither one concerns the true believer. First, the corporate backsliding of Israel and Judah is a picture of the backsliding of the corporate church today. Has not the modern church embraced a massive amount of false teachings? Isn’t it also a major parallel how the corporate church is also trying to ally itself with the Roman Catholic Church which is the modern counterpart of the worship of ancient Ishtar. As Judah and Israel ran to the false gods of Ishtar and Tammuz, the modern Protestant church is running to the false god of Mary of the Roman church. I think this is a significant sign of the approaching end of the world. Israel and Judah both went into captivity for doing this and the modern church will be cut off for doing this also. (Rev 11:7 KJV) And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. It is obvious from this one major parallel that many churches which were once faithful have succumbed to massive deceptions. However, the true believer in the church will not be part of this end time apostasy (a meaning of backsliding) because they have the testimony of Christ within them and they will not be able to be deceived by the backsliding of the corporate church. Let us look at some verses which detail this.
(Mat 24:15-17 KJV) When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) {16} Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: {17} Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house:
Today we see the abomination of desolation standing in every church as each assembly falls prey to some form of false teaching. This verse tells us that those who are spiritual Israel or of Judaea must leave these churches and flee to the mountains. The mountains represent the Kingdom of God. (Psa 48:1 KJV) Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. The true believer is also admonished to not return to his house to take anything out. As the true believers leave the churches which are falling at an exponential rate, they are not to take anything from them such as their false teachings, their false traditions, their false philosophies and their true whoredoms. We must make a complete and final break from the false church even those which we grew up in and have many friends in. Our obedience to God in this area is paramount to our social life.
Carnal Christians
A teaching which follows on the heels of backsliding is the idea of a carnal Christian. This basically means that a person who is saved has chosen to walk in the ways of the world. This stems from a belief that a person can lose their salvation. Normally, the teaching is that a person can be saved and living in sin. First, we did not find one passage in Scripture which states that a true believer can backslide into sin since we saw the meaning of backslide in the only verse which is aimed at an individual. The meaning of that verse (Prov. 14:14) showed us that only an unbeliever can be categorized as a backslider since backsliding is sin against God.
Secondly, the term carnal Christian is an oxymoron. If a person is walking in the flesh they are not a Christian and if they are walking in the spirit they are not carnal. It is like the term "proven theory" in reference to evolution. If it is proven then it is no longer a theory but if it is a theory it has not been proven. The trashing of biblical language in the church is horrendous.
(Rom 8:1 KJV) There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
(Rom 8:6-7 KJV) For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. {7} Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
Romans 8:1 tells us that a person faces no condemnation if they walk after (according to) the spirit because the Christian walks according to the spirit but there is condemnation to those who walk according to the flesh. Why? Those who walk according to the flesh are unsaved.
Romans 8:6-7 tells us that the carnal mind is enmity against God. Romans 5:1 says that the true believer now has peace with God and is no longer at enmity with Him. This in itself proves that someone who is in the flesh is still an enemy of God while the true believer is at peace with God because they are in the Spirit. The carnal mind is death but God gives His children life. There is the great dichotomy. If you are carnal you are unsaved, if you are in the Spirit you are saved. Therefore, there is no such thing as a carnal Christian, either you are carnal unto death or in the Spirit unto life. There is no middle ground. You are either serving Christ or Satan. Now I am not saying that Christians do not sin but I am saying they do not sin as a lifestyle. Pastors that label their congregants as carnal Christians should be confronting these people in their sin instead of comforting them in their sin with a non-biblical label.
Going Backwards
Closely related to the idea of backsliding in Scripture is going backwards otherwise known as “Slain in the Spirit" which shows that those in the charismatic movement believe they are being made more spiritual as they go backward believing it is of the Holy Spirit. However, when we searched the Scriptures we found that going backwards is a sign that a person is under the judgment of God. We will look at that in more detail in another chapter.
Here are verses which speak of going backwards under the judgment of God: Genesis 49:17; 1 Samuel 4:18; Psalm 40:14; Psalm 70:2; Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 28:13; Isaiah 44:25; Isaiah 59:14; Jeremiah 7:24; Jeremiah 15:6; Lamentations 1:8; John 18:6
All The Verses
Here are all the verses which use the word backslider and derivatives:
Proverbs 14:14
Jer 3:6, 8, 11-12, 14, 22; 8:5; 31:22; 49:4
Hosea 4:16; 11:7; 14:4
When God spoke about backsliding, He spoke to the corporate people of Israel and Judah. He did not single out any particular person. The Scriptures teach us that backsliding is a state of unbelief and not a temporary lack of belief on the part of a true believer. When a person is backsliding they are in rebellion to God and are in an unsaved state. Nowhere did we find in the Scriptures that a backsliding person is a carnal Christian either. "Carnal Christian" is another contrived term to ease the conscience of the sinner so they are still welcome in the local assembly. If anyone has ever studied the life of some gangsters they will find an interesting quirk in their lives. Many of them were regular church goers. For example, Hymie Weiss of the North Side Gang which opposed Al Capone in the 1920’s went to mass almost every day. He was personally responsible for the murder of over 20 men until he was gunned down in 1926 going to his church. Would we consider him a carnal Christian or an unbeliever? That is an extreme case right? So what is the difference between killing men and standing at a slot machine? They are both lives of sin and need to be labeled as such. There is therefore no such thing as a carnal Christian or a backsliding Christian since neither are found in the Scriptures.