Backsliding

John 6:66-71

Usually the only time we hear this subject preached is in a revival.
Many instances in revival is focused upon this sin.
It was a term popularized by John Bunyan in "The Pilgrim's Progress".

The text illustrates the meaning of backsliding.
The crowds had been eagerly following Jesus.
By then, Jesus begins to say some "hard" things.
He begins to say some things with which the crowd does not agree – and maybe that they do not even understand.
As a result, they leave Jesus behind to find a smaller, less demanding Savior.

Then follows a pathetic scene in which Jesus turns to the Twelve, and asks if they, also, are planning to desert Him.
This very question suggests that backsliding is a real possibility in the life of every Christian.
Not a single one of us is above the temptation of letting our love for Christ grow cold.
Nor is our entire church free from this possibility.

The Bible does not hide the reality of this sin of backsliding.
In the parable of the sower and the seed, this sin is illustrated in the seed that falls on rocky soil
and quickly springs up, only to fall away.

And these are they likewise that are sown on stony ground, who, "when they have heard the word,
immediately receive it with gladness, and have no root in themselves, and so endure:
afterward, when affliction or persecution arise for the world sake, immediately they are offended
." (Mark 4:16-17)

In the same parable, we also warned of the choking effects of worldly cares and the deceitfulness of riches:
"And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, and the cares of this world,
and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word,
and it becomes unfruitful
." (Mark 4:18-19)

The melancholy scene of Peter denying Jesus should be proof of the nearness of this sin.
Paul writes to the Galatians who have fallen away because of the persuasion of false teachers:
"You ran well; what has hindered you now?" (Galatians 5:2)

But, backsliding is not just a fictional or biblical problem.
The modern church is ridden with backsliders.
Look at any church directory that is more than a year or two old.
Not only will you notice that what the years have done to each of us, but another sadder fact will strike you.
There will be pictures of those who, at the time the directory was published, were active.
But, where have they been, lately?
What has happened to them?
What is the impact of backsliding upon a Christian?

What happens to the backslider?

First, when you cease to be fervent for the Lord, when you grow lax and lazy in the work of the church,
when you ease off in your personal prayer life and devotions, when you grow careless in your support
of the work of your church with your tithe, it is a natural and inevitable consequence
that you also forfeit the joy of your salvation.

It would be good to remember David's anguished plea to the Lord after his sin with Bathsheba.
He had grown cold toward the Lord, and then cried in utter despair, "Restore to me the joy of my salvation."
(Psalm 51:12)

The contemporary church is full of members who are full of the things of the world,
but starving to a spiritual death and for a real relationship with God.

The exact reason why does not matter.
What does matter is that terrible spiritual cost is too much pay, whatever the reason.

Secondly, another effect of backsliding in the Christian is the loss of meaningful fellowship in the faith.

This story is old, but it illustrates this point.
A revival evangelist visited a man who had not been in church for years.
They both sat before the open fire for a while, just staring into the flames.
Finally, the minister took the tongs and, reaching over, grabbed a flaming coal and rolled it away
from the other red hot, burning logs.
They both continued to sit in silence, while the coal, apart from the others, slowly turned from red hot
to a faint glow and then a cold, black cinder.
It was his first words in several long moments when the man turned to the minister with tears in his eyes,
and said, "I'll be in church Sunday, preacher."

People drop out of church for various reasons.
I read of one man who stopped going to church because a girl joined on Sunday morning,
and then immediately participated in the Lord's supper that night before being baptized.
The man – a deacon – stomped out of the church that night and – had not been back to church for over a decade.

What a tragedy!
A man became a backslider for over a decade over a small matter.
How effectively the devil does his work in the lives of God's people.

A third effect of backsliding is its negative impact upon the church of Jesus Christ.

It means there is one less Christian to do the work of the Lord in the local community.
It means that the other members who are sincerely trying to carry out the mission in fellowship of the church
must carry his or her load.
It means the rest of the church will have to spend time putting out the brush fires that backsliders often start
with the critical tone toward the pastor, to the deacons, and other church members, and with the church in general.
And all because one Christian is not right with God

Casey Stengel was still managing baseball when most men of his age were sitting back
in their easy chairs admiring their trophies.
The unique spirit he brought to the game has been permanent in its impact.

One day he was hitting some balls to a rookie in right field who missed every fly ball.
Then Casey hit some on the ground,, and he missed those too.
Casey called him and from the field and advised him, "I want to show you how it is done.
You hit some balls to me
."

The rookie lofted a few fly balls to Stengel, who also missed them.
Stengel jogged in and chided the rookie, "You messed up right field so bad nobody can play it."
Then the manager walked off the field.

The contemporary church in witness may owe its weakened, compromised state more to those
who have dropped out than to those who have stayed with it.
After all, those who carry the burden of the Christian faith today are often forced to carry more than their share.
Be careful how you criticize the church if you are not actively participating in her life.

But even worse than hurting yourself or hurting your church, backsliding hurts your Lord.
Think again about the picture illustrated in the text.
Imagine the Lord saying with sadness in his voice, "Will you also go away?"
Even though we know that no one else has the words of eternal life, too many turn away
for such small and petty reasons.

Factors in backsliding

Admittedly, some backslide because of an incomplete, conversions.
In some cases, there was no genuine confrontation with the Savior.
This was so in the text, Jesus tells the crowd, "You see me, not because you saw the miracles,
but because you ate the loaves and were filled
." (6:26)

In our day, the satisfaction of immediate need too often results in a conversion that is not real.
Perhaps that explains what the writer of First John meant when he wrote,
"They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us,
they would no doubt have continued with us
." (1 John 2:19)

Another factor in backsliding is often some looming sin.
The writer of Hebrews refers to this in Hebrew 12:1: "Therefore, since we are surrounded
by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily besets us
."

Obviously, there are many in whose hearts God has done a work of grace.
Yet they have apparently turned their backs upon Jesus and His church.
In many of those situations, the problem is "the easily besetting sin" – that sin which the Christian
has not confessed and forsaken, that sin which the Christian continues to secretly cherish and feed
– and even practice – after conversion, that sin that he or she simply could not abandon.

And after conversion, it continued to grow like a dreadful cancer.
Finally, it has become so big – it has become so poisonous, so infectious – that it has literally threatened
the spiritual welfare of the believer!

If that is your case, listen – please listen!
Your sin does not have to do that to you.
Jesus came to do battle with sin.
He defeated the power of sin in the world and in your life.
Your sin is not bigger than God's ability to forgive it and to remove it from your heart.

Another cause for backsliding is simply the living of these days.

Living becomes difficult, stressful, challenging, hard, even painful.
Life takes its toll on our spiritual commitment.
Christians lose their joy, their enthusiasm, and their interest.

There are sometimes and events in every person's life that need to be marked
with a red flag – areas of high potential for spiritual backsliding.

Young people – should red flag high school and college years.
That's when you are gaining your independence.
You are out from under your parent's watchful eye.
Now you're driving your own car.
You can come and go as you please.
The temptation is strong to drop out of the church, and let your spiritual life suffer.

Also red flag the early years of marriage.
Love is often blind concerning the spiritual nature of marriage.
Are both you and your marriage partner, Christians?
Are you both of the same denomination?
If you are on your way to the marriage altar, have you carefully discussed this vital area of life?
Have you already prayerfully decided in which church you will plant your life and your family's?

Also red flag the achievement years – the years when you begin your own business
or when you begin to climb the corporate ladder of success.
All of a sudden you will seem too busy – or too tired – for regular worship and church participation.
Your tithe will seem too big for your church.
After all, you think, they don't wisely use what you already give!

We often put a blue or pink bow on the mailbox or door when baby is born.
But a red flag should also be raised over the event.
Children do not keep parents from church, but parents often use children as an excuse for backsliding.

Don't let the devil lull you with this one: "We'll get active in church when the children get older.
We know they need to be in Sunday school
."
They surely do – and so do their parents!

The biggest red flag should be hoisted over the home in which more and more excuses
are given for decreasing participation in the church and a dwindling, spiritual life.

Start listening to yourself, and if your excuses are just that – excuses – if the ox always seems to be
in the ditch -- so either fill the ditch or kill the ox!
Excuses will soon cripple a spiritual life.

This sermon was adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White