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TEXT: Proverbs 14:14
SUBJECT: Backsliding #6: Consequences to God
Today bring us to part six in our afternoon study Against Backsliding. Under the New Covenant, backsliding is a distinctly Christian sin, the sin of sliding back or cooling off or drifting away from our devotion to Christ. Backsliding is not only a Christian sin, but it's a universal Christian sin. Many disciples of Christ have never committed murder or adultery; some have never envied or been discontented; a few-maybe-have never even held a grudge, but no Christian can say he has never ever backslidden. We have all done this, time and time again.
Because it's so common, we tend to think it can't be that bad. But it is that bad. When our Lord assessed some of His churches in Asia Minor, He severely chided two of them-Ephesus and Laodicea-for the sin of backsliding-which He-if not we-took very, very seriously.
Why is backsliding so bad? Much can be said here, and some has been, but I haven't gotten to the heart of the matter just yet, and that's what I hope to do right now. The main reason backsliding is a very grave sin is because.It hurts God.
When I say, 'backsliding hurts God', I have to speak advisedly. Because it brings us into the complicated, and now heated, controversy of Divine Impassibility. For centuries, major theologians have taught us that God is impassible, by which they mean, He has no feelings or emotions, or to put a finer point on it: He is not affected by what happens outside of Himself. This has been the accepted and settled doctrine for a very long time.
Now, many scholars and preachers are teaching the opposite, saying that, of course, God has feelings; of course, He's emotional. After all, the Bible says He's angry in one place, or sad in another, happy in a third, and so on. These are Divine Emotions, God feels them, and so He is Passible. As they see it, it's the Bible on one side versus Philosophy on the other (usually 'Greek' Philosophy).
The best scholar I've read on the subject is Dr. Robert Reymond, who shows that the difference is more imagined than it is real. He defines Divine Impassibility thusly: God cannot be affected by anything outside of Himself-unless He wants to be.
This last line, 'unless He wants to be' is the key to fitting the two together. Since God is not created, nothing in creation can affect Him. But, since God loves-and wants to love-His creation, He allows Himself to be affected, to be grieved, offended, 'weighed down' by our sins. Including the sin of backsliding.
In this sense, therefore, backsliding hurts God. And this is why backsliding is far more serious than most of us think it is.
BACKSLIDING OFFENDS GOD THE FATHER
No one can read the Bible without soon finding an Angry God. In the Old Testament, He is chiefly angry at Israel, angry at them for worshiping idols, pretending to worship Him, oppressing the poor, or persecuting His prophets. I don't know how Psalm 7:11 could make it more plain-
God is angry with the wicked every day.
When we come to the New Testament, we find His anger expanded: First, He is angry at Israel (cf. Matthew 23-24), and then, at times, he is angry at His church or particular members of the church. Think of Ananias and Sapphira, who so offended God that He killed them. Or the sowers of discord in Corinth, some of whom were-
Sick, weak and dead!
Paul says their sicknesses, infirmities, and deaths were not the fruit of God's general Providence, but direct acts of God because of their sins. Why would God kill Christian? In these cases, it's because they offended Him. Unlike ancient Israel, there are no civil penalties in the church. The church cannot stone a member for heresy or a woman for adultery. But if God has not given this power to His church, He has reserved it for Himself. At times, He exercises it, striking down Christians who offend Him with a high hand and without repentance.
Why does sin offend God the Father? It's not because He's grouchy, it's because He is holy. Habakkuk 1:13-
You are of purer eyes than to behold evil,
And cannot look upon iniquity.
Some people are very strict about some things, but loose about others. Growing up, I had a neighbor who drank like a fish, stole from his job, and talked about women in a very unwholesome way. But this man, so loose in some parts of his life, was super strict when it came to taking the Lord's Name in vain. He'd use every four-letter word in the book, except for 'Lord'. The man was very holy in this one small part of life.
But God is Holy through-and-through! This means every sin offends Him-every sin has to offend Him! Including this in of backsliding.
BACKSLIDING HURTS THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, BOTH IN HIS DIVINITY AND HIS HUMANITY
In John 10:30, Jesus said-
I and my Father are one.
Whatever else this means, it certainly means that Jesus and His Father are in complete agreement on everything! Their agreement is so perfect, in fact, that Jesus calls Himself an imitator, John 5:19-
Truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what He sees the Father do.
Whatever can be said about God the Father's character can be said about the character of His Son, our Lord Jesus. Jesus, therefore, is as offended by our sins as God the Father is.
But as a Man, Jesus was not only offended by sin, He was also hurt by it. The Apostles disappointed Him. Judas hurt Him. The Rulers of Israel defamed Him. The Romans nailed Him to a Cross. All of these sins hurt Him. In a mysterious way, they hurt Him as God; in a way we can understand only too well, they hurt Him as a man.
The argument is easy to follow: (1) every sin hurts the Lord Jesus, (2) backsliding is a sin, therefore, (3) backsliding hurts the Lord Jesus.
This is why we should never take any sin-no less the sin of backsliding-as though it didn't really matter. Last week, in his sermon on sin in general, our brother cited the well-known hymn, Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted. Here's one not as well known, but equally pointed. John Newton's In Evil Long I Took Delight-
My conscience felt and owned the guilt
And plunged me in despair,
I saw my sins His blood had spilt,
And helped to nail Him there.
If backsliding is a 'whatever thing', so is the Crucifixion, for His wounds were for our transgressions, His bruises were for our iniquities, His chastisement was for our peace!
If the Cross matters, so do the sins that put Him there. Including the sin of backsliding.
BACKSLIDING GRIEVES THE HOLY SPIRIT
In Ephesians 4, Paul offers a list of sins the people of God are most prone to, including anger, dishonesty, and laziness, but the one that strikes the deepest chord in me is the one named in v.30-
Grieve not the Holy Spirit.
This indicates that sin is not so much against the Law of God, as it is against God Himself. Backsliding certainly breaks the Law, but, more than that, it breaks the heart of the Holy Spirit! And not because He cannot prevent it, the way a godly parent cannot help being heartbroken over a prodigal son, but because He loves us enough to let us hurt Him, hurt Him at the core of His being.
Like most husbands, I aggravate my wife every day. But I try not to grieve her. When I do, I do everything in my power to make things right. She is not a crier and when I make it cry it breaks my heart with remorse.
The Holy Spirit loves me far more than my wife does. To wantonly and carelessly break His heart? How can any Christian do this? Only in this way: our hearts have become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
The doctrine of Trinity is usually thought of as an abstract thing, a topic for seminary, but of little or no practical use. But here we see otherwise! If nothing else will keep us from backsliding, let the doctrine of the Trinity do it, for even the least and most secret backsliding hurts not One, but Three Divine Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
BACKSLIDING DAMAGES GOD'S REPUTATION
This is not all it does. Backsliding also damages the reputation of God. When David committed adultery and murder, the Lord put away his sin. But terrible consequences followed because, as II Samuel 12:14, David-
Gave great occasion for the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.
Think of the recent scandals: Harvey Weinstein, Bernie Madoff, Anthony Weiner, and so on. When they were exposed, what happened? The press and public jumped all over them, condemning them, laughing at them, kicking them out of office, and so on. But when public Christians do the same sort of things, what happens?
God is held up to ridicule!
Backsliding is not scandalous to the same degree as what these men did, but it is a shameful sin and makes people wonder-and maybe mumble-about God.
I don't believe you want this to happen. But it does happen when you backslide.
BACKSLIDING HURTS GOD BY HURTING HIS PEOPLE
Finally, backsliding hurts God by hurting His people. The union between the Triune God and His people is so close that whatever hurts them hurts Him. And, as I tried to show a couple of weeks ago, backsliding hurts them. It retards the sanctification of the church, for one thing, hardens other backsliders, and makes other Christians cry their eyes out. God catches their tears in His bottle and puts them in His book. So that He can hurt alongside them.
THE CURE (IN BRIEF)
If backsliding is really this bad-and it is, only worse-we ought to take it seriously and take whatever steps necessary to prevent it or to check it before it progresses too far.
Self-examination has a role to play in this, as does accountability to the church. But, as useful as these things have been to people, the only cure for the sin of backsliding is the only cure for any sin: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. For you. Amen.
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