Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Backsliding Identified

In his book Getting Back in the Race: The Cure for Backsliding [ISBN 978-1-936760-35-0], Joel Beeke defines backsliding as "a season of increasing sin and decreasing obedience in those who profess to be Christians," (p. 16) and outlines the signs of a backsliding believer (pp. 22-40):
  1. Coldness in prayer--"Before long, morning prayer is all but given up; you no longer feel it is critical to call on God to begin your day rightly.  Prayer at bedtime shortens, and wandering thoughts during prayer multiply.  Prayer throughout the day largely vanishes," (p. 23).
  2. Indifference under the Word--"It is not enough to attend preaching; one must desire the Word.  You do not neglect church attendance, but neither do you cherish it; the heart is not in it as before...Perhaps you still read the Bible dutifully and even regularly, but where is the spiritual relish with which you read the Word in former times?...God's hand may be upon your conscience for some sin, but you refuse to confess it and forsake it, so the Word shines upon you like the hot sun in a summer drought (Psalm 32:3-4)...You fill your mind with the things of the world and the cares of this life while neglecting the truths of God," (pp. 24-27).
  3. Growing inner corruptions--"The secret sins of the heart begin to multiply as you neglect to put them to death...You may say the right things, but only to win the admiration of others. Deep in your heart, self-exaltation becomes your motivation.  Spiritual pride replaces lowliness of mind...You may still confess sin as sin and make vows to change, but you do both acts as an empty show of piety.  Your confession comes without repentance, and you do not follow your vows with change.  You speak against sin but accommodate it in practice and, on occasion, even fuel sin, in spite of your conscience (Romans 13:14)...The danger is that your self-examination becomes less frequent, less thorough, and less prayerful," (pp. 27-29).
  4. The love of the world--"One sign of backsliding, and often the first sign others can notice, is an increase in worldliness.  In everyday life, in conversation, and even in dress and fashion, the spirit of the world begins to take hold of you...Instead of being a chaste spouse devoted to your Lord, you begin to flirt with the world...As this happens, the world increasingly fills your days and subverts your heart...Like Lot, you may be vexed by the world (2 Peter 2:7) but still drawn to its vanities and ideas," (pp. 29-31).
  5. Declining love for believers--"Backsliding can advance so far that brotherly love, one of the most basic marks of saving grace (1 John 3:14), seems to all but disappear within you...Your own self-promotion and self-protection can smother any thought of self-sacrifice or service to others," (p. 32).
  6. Man-centered hopes--"Into the vacuum created by God's departing glory rushes man's love for strife and vainglory (Philippians 2:3a)...People become the center of church, so peoples becomes the subject of all talk.  People are either idolized or criticized, and God and his Word are set aside.  Conversation increasingly centers on preachers and leaders, and you set yourselves up as judge of one another," (p. 33).
Mr. Beeke gives a wake-up call to all Christians: "Backsliding may not immediately produce scandalous sins; it may begin with a cold heart," (p. 25).  He concludes this section by noting that the greatest evil of backsliding is the fact that we do not feel any guilt for it: "We complain about spiritual dryness, the darkness of the times, the sad condition of the church and of God's people, but what does the Lord say of such complaining?  They are nothing more than empty words in his ears if we do not repent of our role in causing the deadness and darkness," (p. 39).

"Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men," (Isa. 29:13).