The cure for backsliding

Joe Thorn » God Scripture Gospel Justification Sin Heart

“The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways, and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways.” Proverbs 14:14

A godly life is not a sinless life, but a life marked by faith, obedience, and repentance. Sin is an ongoing reality in a godly life, as is the act of killing sin. While no Christian is or can be perfect, he can be mature. And this not only means that in the church we will have varying degrees of maturity and godliness, but we may also have some who are not progressing in faith, but actually declining in it.

What is backsliding?

All Christians are sinners, but not all Christians are currently backsliding. Backsliding is not the loss of one’s salvation (this is impossible), nor the loss of God’s love and care (his faithfulness endures forever).

To say it simply, a backslidden Christian is one whose communion with Christ is waning and whose faith is weakening. I shared what some potential symptoms of a backslidden condition look like in a previous post on my site. Today, I would like to point us to the cure for a backslidden heart.

What's the cure?

“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”

–Revelation 2:5

The cure for a backslidden state is not “letting go and letting God,” nor is it found in our own recommitment to the Lord. The cure for our condition is the Lord Jesus himself. He is the Good Shepherd who restores the soul. He pursues and rescues the one who has left the fold. He holds the believer in his hand and will not lose his grip. He will finish the good work he has begun in us. Our great Savior does what his title implies: he saves. He saves us from our condemnation as well as from our wanderings.

But the Cure must be embraced and returned to. If we are going to find safety in him from the power of sin, then we must look to him. If you find yourself to be drifting away from Jesus and into empty religion, immorality, and unchecked pride—a life lived apart from the Savior—then I encourage you to look again to Jesus. Here are five brief words on what this means:

1. Identify your current condition.

You cannot return if you do not know you have lost your way. Years ago while I was reading Plumer’s treatise on Experimental and Practical PietyGod made it very plain to me that I had walked into a kind of spiritual darkness and needed to return to him. God used that book, a few select sermons, and Revelation 2 to guide me back. For a long time though, I was unaware that I was even in such a bad state, and until I saw that, there would be no returning. “Remember therefore from where you have fallen” (Rev. 2:5).

2. Meditate on Christ and his work.

If we are to be captured by the glory of Jesus and led to worship him for all he is and all he has done for sinners, then we must see these things again and again. There is never a returning to Jesus apart from the word of God. When we respond to him, we are responding to his word. We find ourselves in a backslidden state because, in part, we lost sight of the glory of Christ. So we must see it again. “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).

3. Pray to God for the grace you need.

The fact that we can return is grace. That we will return is a promise made by God! Are you aware of your condition? Do you want to be revived? Perhaps you’re so cold you don’t even know if you really want it. Pray that God will do what he has promised and heal your backsliding. “I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them… They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine” (Hos. 14:4,7).

4. Repent of all known sins. 

As Martin Luther famously penned in his first of the 95 theses, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said 'Repent,' He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Our trouble often begins when we forget this aspect of gospel living. The backslider is one who has forgotten the grace of repentance. His heart has become insensitive to his sin and he has lost sight of his desperate and immediate need for Jesus. Returning to Jesus necessitates the painful awareness of and the turning from our sin. “Repent, and do the works you did at first” (Rev. 2:5).

5. Return to Christ in fresh dependency. 

Those who know Jesus know a trustworthy Savior. Those who have wandered from communion with him have lost a sense of dependency on him for sustaining grace. We have lost sight of just how needy we are of grace: grace to come to Christ, grace to keep us with Christ, and grace to return to Christ. It is as we recognize our current condition, see the glories of Jesus, seek the Lord for grace, and repent of our sin that we return to our first love. “Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 1:3).

All of this is simply a more detailed way of saying, “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). This is what God calls us to do daily. When we lose sight of this we begin to slide back.



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