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TEXT: Proverbs 14:14
SUBJECT: Backsliding #5: Consequences to Others
Today, we come to part five in our much-interrupted study Against Backsliding. If the interruptions have kept you from 'following the argument', I hope they have also given the Word of God time to sink down into your heart and mine.
No sin is more common, harder to recognize in yourself and more hurtful to others than backsliding. Last time, we saw how backsliding hurts the backslider himself, whom the Proverb says-
Will be filled with his own ways.
Not God's ways, the ways that satisfy you and make you a blessing to others, but your own ways-my own ways!-the ways that can only end in misery.
Now, we turn our focus away from the damage backsliders do themselves, to the hurts they inflict on other people. And make no mistake about it: backsliding always hurts other people! Especially the people we love.
At times, even the most careful preacher overstates his case for effect. He makes a bold announcement and leaves out the nuances, the exceptions, and so on. I have not done that today. Every backsliders hurts other people, even when his backsliding is solely 'between the ears'.
Here, a couple of verses in the New Testament come to mind, Galatians 5:9 and Hebrews 12:15.
In the former, Paul faults the Galatians for having run well in the past, but not now. Sports fan that he was, he may have thought of them as a long-distance runner who sprints out of the starter's blocks, only to limp his way to the finish line. The cause of their limping was doctrinal backsliding; having begun in the Spirit they thought they'd be made perfect through the flesh, that is, by submitting to the customs of Israel, such as observing the Jewish calendar or dietary laws.
Then, coming to the verse itself, Paul reminds them that their toying with Legalism was not just hurting the people who were doing it, but the whole lot of them-
A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
All the churches in Galatia were being poisoned by their backsliding, some worse than others, but nobody was unaffected by their errors in doctrine and practice.
The second passage makes the same point. Here, though, the backsliding is motivated, not so much by bad doctrine as a hankering after the lives they lived before they were saved. In their case, Jewish lives, but this goes for any kind of life lived without Christ. Those who were doing this (or starting to) would, if unchecked, become--
A root of bitterness, springing up and defiling many.
Not that a root of bitterness in a man will defile him (though it will), but that they themselves would become the bitter root that must defile many other people, especially people in the church!
This is what the Bible says about backsliding: backsliding is not a victimless crime. It hurts other people, including the people you don't mean to hurt, but do.
In the Bible, there are many examples of sinners hurting other people they didn't mean to, and even by sins that were very private. The one I think of first is.
Achan. You can read his story in Joshua 7, but here's the gist of it. When Israel crossed the Jordan to begin the conquest of Canaan, the first city they came to was Jericho. The Lord promised they would take that city, but the spoils belonged to Him. No man was allowed to take anything with him. The whole army obeyed the command, except for one man, who took-
A Babylonian garment, a bag of silver coins and a wedge of gold.
He did so secretly and buried the treasures under his tent. When Israel marched to the next city, Ai, they were soundly defeated, at the cost of thirty-six Jewish lives.
What happened? Israel lost the battle because the Lord was not with them and He wasn't with them because someone had taken the things that were dedicated to Him.
Thirty-six brave and innocent men died because of the secret sin of one man! And not only the soldiers, but Achan's family too, and even his livestock! They all died because one man sinned. What's true of Achan's secret sins is also true of ours, including the sin of backsliding. Maybe they won't die because of our worldliness, but they will be hurt by it, I Corinthians 15:33-
Be not deceived: evil companionship corrupts good morals.
Whom does the backslider hurt? In a very real sense, he hurts everyone, but this is too broad to be of much practical help. So, narrowing it down, the backslider:
Hurts his family. In the super-expensive Bay Area, it is very hard to not become engrossed with money, either making it or spending it, or wondering how you're going to get by without it. These concerns are among the most common causes and symptoms of backsliding, and it's hard to blame people for feeling this way. But Proverbs 15:27 does blame them, sternly warning-
He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house.
The sage doesn't specify how he hurts his family, presumably because he doesn't need to! We all know the damage done by family members who are too wrapped up in money.
What's true of this particular sin is also true of backsliding in general, even when it takes other forms. For instance:
At your best, it is extremely hard to love your wife as Christ loved the Church, or to be subject to your husband as the church is subject to Christ, or to obey your parents in the Lord, or to not provoke your children to wrath.
We all fall far short of these ideals! Even when our walk with the Lord is a close and warm one. But when it's distant and cold? Forget it!
Remember this the next time you put off known Christian duties in favor of 'Me Time'.
Backsliders also hurt the church. Here, Ephesians 4:16 stands front-and-center. After comparing every person in the church to a part of the body, Paul continues-
From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working according to which every part does it share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
Seldom has Paul said more in fewer words than here, but, for now, I'll just say this: When any part of a human body is 'not functioning properly', the whole body suffers. Backsliders are parts of the Body of Christ, and as long as they backslide, the church is not as healthy as it should be.
Your backsliding hurts your church. Even if nobody knows about it!
Thirdly, backsliding hurts the world of the unsaved. Christians are responsible to witness to the world in word and deed. Can the backslider do this? Hypothetically, he can, but he's not likely to do much of it and he certainly cannot do it well. Backsliding almost always does one of three things to our witness. Either it,
It's hard enough to witness when you're at your best. But backsliders are not at their best. Therefore, they rarely witness, or if they do, it becomes nothing but an intellectual challenge, like arguing politics, and almost never touches the heart.
Every once in a while, you'll find a severely backslidden Christian who, out of habit or the sheer fun of it, keeps on witnessing. But everything he says is contradicted by everything he does, and-be sure of this-it won't take long for unbelievers to spot the inconsistencies and make the most of them!
For a growing number of Christians, backsliding has not reduced their 'Witness' so much as re-directed it into paths that may be good in and of themselves, but have little or nothing to do with the Gospel. In the 1950-60's for example, the Civil Rights Movement was substantially led by ordained ministers and priests. Much good came out of this, of course, and if these men preached the Gospel on Sundays, God bless them. But did they? Or did Civil Rights become the Gospel for them?
In the 1970-80's, the same thing happened on other issues, especially abortion and gay rights. Ministers and priests lined up to oppose these evils, but in doing so, they, too, largely (at least in public) confused Law with Gospel, that is, What we should be doing for God with What God has done for us in Christ!
On one level, this is the best option for backsliders, because, at least they're doing good. But, on a deeper level, doing a lesser good thing you've chosen for yourself is not nearly as good as doing the Greater Good Jesus Christ chose for us, namely-
Preach the Gospel to every creature.
All this is to say that backsliding is a terrible sin because it breaks the two commandments that summarize all Christian ethics.
Since backsliding hurts other people, it is an intensely selfish sin. This means it breaks the Second Commandment, which is to-
Love your neighbor as yourself.
And, since God identifies with your neighbors (especially your Christian neighbors), then ignoring or mistreating them is ignoring or mistreating Him, which breaks the First Commandment-
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.
As long as you think your persistent cough is nothing more than 'dust in the air', you don't do much about it. But when you realize it is lung cancer, you will!
The same goes for backsliding: as long as you think 'it's nothing', you'll do nothing about it, nothing much, at any rate. But when you begin to see it for what it truly is, then you'll do one of two things. Either you'll-
Try harder, only to fail, no matter how hard you try. Or.
You'll look to Christ in faith. When you do, you'll see that He has atoned for all your sins, including your chronic backsliding, and this will, in turn, make you grateful, which, in turn, will empower you to grow in humility, obedience, and devotion. For in this gratitude, God makes good on His promise to-
Heal your backsliding.
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