What is “backsliding?” Is it possible for a Christian to backslide? Is the story of the “prodigal son” about backsliding?

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What is “backsliding?” Is it possible for a Christian to backslide? Is the story of the “prodigal son” about backsliding?

Post by Admin on Tue Jan 26, 2016 3:29 am

In Biblical context, the idea of “backsliding” is strictly an Old Testament idea, for the words variously used for that experience are found exclusively in the Hebrew of the Old Testament, the vast majority—13 times—found in the book of Jeremiah The idea is also referenced once in Proverbs and three times in the book of Hosea. The most frequent used that is translated as “backsliding” is MESHUWBAH (mesh-oo-baw^), which means to turn away or show disloyalty (used 11 times). The other words used to communicate this idea are SHOWBAB (sho-bawb^), which means to turn away in an idolatrous sense (used 2 times), SHOWBEB (sho-babe^), which means backsliding as in returning to a heathen belief and/or lifestyle (used 2 times), SUWG (soog), meaning to drive, go back, turn away or turn back (used 1 time in Proverbs), and SARAR (saw-rar^), meaning to be stubborn, to be rebellious and apostate (used once in Hosea). No matter the word, the idea is always falling away from faithfulness to God. In the context of the Old Testament, “backsliding” most often is used to describe the spiritual and moral condition of the community, not of an individual believer. When Israel was backsliding, one of the signs of this condition was her abandoning her covenant commitments; she worshiped false, foreign gods and turned away from “the way of the Lord.” You can hear a combination of anger and pain as God spoke through His prophets in trying to reach His people. Through the prophet Jeremiah, He cried out against Israel, Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols. . . . Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the Lord your God and have no awe of me,” declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty. “Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, ‘I will not serve you!’ Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute. I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine? Although you wash yourself with soda and use an abundance of soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me,” declares the Sovereign Lord—Jeremiah 2:11, 19-22. And as a God of incredibly infinite grace, He continues the dialogue with His people by promising, Go, proclaim this message toward the north: ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord, I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt—you have rebelled against the Lord your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods under every spreading tree, and have not obeyed me,’” declares the Lord. “Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. . . . I myself said, ‘How gladly would I treat you like son and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’ I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me. But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel,” declares the Lord. A cry is heard on the barren heights, the weeping and pleading of the people of Israel, because they have perverted their ways and have forgotten the Lord their God. “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.” “Yes, we will come to you, for you are the Lord our God—Jeremiah 3:12-14a, 19-22a. Not only is there a cry of grace, but also a declaration of intimacy: God uses the imagery of marriage, of husband and wife, to reflect how He sees the relationship between Himself and Israel. And there is the unmistakable imprint of God’s great love as well, and His ability to forgive all our sins—the “Only acknowledge your guilt” of God speaking through Jeremiah becoming the famous words of the apostle John in his first letter: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness—I John 1:9.
Now, the New Testament idea of falling away from the faith, expressed so eloquently by God Himself in Jeremiah 2:11, is most closely tied up in the theological term “apostasy,” which is defined as defecting or falling away from the faith. In the New Testament, it is an individual falling away versus the community dynamic that Jeremiah and Hosea ministered against in the Old Testament. It was actually the charge leveled against Paul by the Jews who so vehemently opposed his ministry; the church leadership in Jerusalem related to him that [t]hey have been informed that you (Paul) teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to [their] customs—Acts 21:21. For his part, Paul reminded Timothy that one of the difficulties of ministry that he would face, as well as a sign of the end times, would be that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons—Paul, I Timothy 4:1. Paul communicated the same idea to the church in Thessalonica, writing to them in his second letter, Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction—Paul, II Thessalonians 2:1-3. In other words, Paul is telling them that a part of coming end time events would include a “rebellion,” in the Greek, APOSTASIA (ap-os-tas-ee^-ah). The idea of that word is separation, a falling away or forsaking—literally, a divorce. The most graphic picture of this process is given us by the author of Hebrews, who says, It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace—Hebrews 6:4-6.
Is it possible for a Christian to backslide? There are things we can do that can certainly damage our life in Christ: not taking in the word of God (studying, meditating, growing), no fellowship with fellow believers, etc. If our souls are not fed, we will get spiritually weaker over time, thus becoming less able to fight the spiritual battles that come our way. In that context, if you want to call that “backsliding,” we can put ourselves in that position. However, if we are genuinely saved, the New Testament makes it very clear that our salvation is secure because of the One who is eternally securing it. As Jesus Himself said, My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand—Jesus Christ, John 10:27-28. As the apostle Peter said in the introduction to his first letter, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time—I Peter 1:3-5. And as the author of Hebrews related concerning these two great “hopes” for our salvation (in the Greek of the New Testament, “hope” best translates as “confidence”), We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure—Hebrews 6:19a.
Finally, after all that being said, was the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) a story of “backsliding?” Likely not. The prodigal son had no real relationship with his father; otherwise, he would never have made such an inappropriate request—saying in essence that he wished his father were dead. It is more a statement of a father’s unchanging love and forgiveness, along with the hypocrisy shown by the other brother in his attitude toward his returning brother.

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