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TEXT: Proverbs 14:14
SUBJECT: Backsliding #7: The Warning Signs
What do the following things have in common? Fatigue, weight loss, blood in the stool, a persistent cough. You don't have to be a doctor to know these are early signs of cancer, and when acted upon quickly, the cancer can often be removed or effectively treated. This is what I did six years ago this week, and, as far as I know, I am still cancer-free. Early Detection, that's the key to surviving cancer.
What's true of this physical sickness goes double for the spiritual disease of Backsliding. If you want to minimize its effects, you've got to catch it early! Backsliding cannot damn you to Hell, but it can do great damage to you, your family, your church, the world, and-worst of all-to the Reputation of God. If you're presently Backsliding, don't look for a convenient season to repent of it! Now is the accepted time! Now is the day of salvation!
If you're going to repent of Backsliding as early as possible, you've got to know what the Warning Signs are, the things that are, in themselves, sinful, and that are sure to produce more and worse sins until they are checked by repentance and faith.
And so, what are the Early (and obvious) Signs of Backsliding? I wish I had organized the material better, but here's what I've got, however zig-zag the presentation!
THE USUSUAL SUSPECTS
I suppose I should begin with 'the usual suspects'. Every preacher says you're backslidden when you're neglecting your Bible reading, not praying much, and missing church more than you used to. I agree with them. These are signs of backsliding, but since they have been well-covered, I'll say no more about them for now.
For now, I'll mention a few others, ones that don't come up so often in sermons, but need to be taken seriously. There are six of them.
YOU KNOW YOU'RE BACKSLIDING WHEN YOU STOP RESPECTING THE POWER, CUNNING, AND DANGER OF TEMPTATION.
Proverbs 14:16 says-
The wise man fears and departs from evil,
But the fool rages and is self-confident.
Because he feels his own weakness, the healthy Christian fears every temptation and avoids as many of them as he can. The backslider, on the other hand, feels self-confident, and puts himself in harm's way.
A common example: the backslider watches movies that, while not pornographic, show things that stir his lust. Since, by the standards of the day, these things are not 'dirty', he sees no danger in them. He's not afraid of his wife catching him or somebody from church dropping in. Against the warning of James, he is sure that a little fire never kindles so great a matter. Neither does he regard the wisdom of Paul who wrote-
Abstain from every appearance of evil!
He doesn't even meet the standards of common sense! What alcoholic keeps liquor in the house? Who goes on a diet without also getting rid of cookies and chips and sodas?
The Puritan, Matthew Henry, knew a thing or two about the danger of temptation. He said, 'Suppose your body were made of gunpowder! How careful would you be around sparks?' This side of the Resurretion, we are made of gunpowder-the saintliest believer is! This is why we ought to pray, Lead us not into temptation, and take what steps we can to avoid it.
This is the very thing backsliders won't do. Because they think they can play with fire without being burned! But the Proverb says otherwise, 6:27-
Can a man take fire into his bosom,
And his clothes not be burned?
Flirting with temptation is flirting with disaster-and a sure sign of Backsliding.
YOU KNOW YOU'RE BACKSLIDING WHEN YOU START JUSTIFYING OR EXCUSING OR EXPLAINING AWAY YOUR SINS.
When the Christian is right, he knows what sin is and strongly disapproves of it. But when he's backslidden? Everything gets foggy. His sins take on new names: greed is now prudence; staying home from church is now spending time with the family; meanness to your children is now discipline; never witnessing is now good manners.
Nobody ever gave more striking quotes to the world than Martin Luther. The one I like best is this one: 'Call a thing what it is!'
Backsliders won't do this. Some dumb down the definition of all sins, but most of them engage in what's called 'special pleading', that is, making themselves the exception to the rule. Backslidden pastors are especially prone to his: If Mr. Smith is neglecting his wife, Pastor Smith is devoting himself to the Lord!
King Saul was worse than a Backslider, but his self-serving ways are often seen in true disciples-when they're backslidden. When confronted by Samuel for his sins, Saul did everything but take responsibility for them!
First, he said he had obeyed the Word of the Lord; when that didn't wash, he blamed the people. When he finally had to admit his wrong, he watered it down by saying, I forced myself, in other words, 'I did it, but I didn't really mean to!'
His words stand in the sharpest contrast to David's who said things like this-
Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight, that you might be justified when you speak and cleared when you judge!
Here's One of the surest ways to tell a healthy Christian from a backslider: the former takes responsibility for his sin, the latter doesn't.
YOU KNOW YOU'RE BACKSLIDING WHEN EVERY REPROOF FEELS LIKE A PERSONAL ATTACK.
For me, this cuts closer to home than any other. Ask my wife and she will tell you I'm pretty thin-skinned. Theoretically, I know criticism is good for me, even necessary. I also know that it's never pleasant.
But, I often cross the line from disliking it to resenting any who dares to say that I could be wrong in even the smallest way! Being defensive is a sure mark of backsliding, even when the correction is not as wisely or gently offered as it should be.
Here's why: The healthy believer wants to grow in grace and he knows that 'taking criticism' is part of it. His taking it, therefore, means he sincerely wants to grow in grace (even when it hurts his feelings).
The backslider, on the other hand, prefers comfort to holiness, and anything that disturbs his comfort is a personal offense to him. Peter and Apollos set good examples for us on this point.
When Paul sharply rebuked Peter for his hypocrisy, he took it to heart and became the sincere man he had been. When the learned Apollos was corrected by humble tradesmen, he accepted their superior knowledge and became a full-orbed Gospel preacher.
Whatever he says, no backslider will ever really mean it, Psalm 141:5-
Let the righteous smite me,
It shall be a kindness.
And let him reprove me,
It shall be an excellent oil.
YOU KNOW YOU'RE BACKSLIDING WHEN YOU FEEL HOSTILITY TOWARD ANY KNOWN DUTY.
No one but our Lord Jesus delighted in all God's commands. The rest of us prefer some of them to others. One man, for example, enjoys reading his Bible much more than spending time with his kids. Or singing a hymn to dropping a check in the offering box! We're all this way, and this is no proof of backsliding.
What is proof, is hating any command of God, even the ones that make you really uncomfortable. A healthy saint may find witnessing quite upsetting. But what's upsetting him? The command to witness, or his failure to do it? This is nothing but-
The Spirit lusting against the flesh,
And the flesh lusting against the Spirit.
In other words, ordinary Christian living. The Backslider, though, resents not his failure to do his duty, but the duty itself-and the one who assigned it!
Are you this way? Does it make you mad that God told you to witness? Or to show hospitality? Or to give money to people in need? Or to forgive people who have done you wrong? If the Law is a reflection of God's character, then to resent it is to resent Him. That is Backsliding Writ Large!
YOU KNOW YOU'RE BACKSLIDING WHEN YOU'RE BECOMING MORE AND MORE CRITICAL OF OTHER PEOPLE.
As I said earlier, reproving other people, at times, is a Christian duty. But only when it is done, 'at times'-not all the time! Read the Gospels and you'll see that, while Jesus sometimes spoke very sharply to His disciples, He was not a fault-finder, not an inquisitor, not a Church Lady! The tone of His life and ministry was positive and encouraging. And why wouldn't it be? After all-
Love suffers long and is kind...and covers a multitude of sins.
Make no mistake about it: The picky, nagging, scolding, censorious, holier-than-thou Christian is also a Backslider.
FINALLY, YOU KNOW YOU'RE BACKSLIDING WHEN YOU THINK YOUR PROBLEMS OUTWEIGH YOUR BLESSINGS.
After Christ, no man ever suffered more, and with less relief, than His Apostle, Paul. He was a persecuted man, poor, laughed-at, lonely, betrayed, homeless, overworked, single-you name the problem and he had it!
But does he seem miserable to you? Joyless, discontented, counting his problems the way a monk counts his beads? Or does he come off remarkably happy? To my reading, he seems happy! And not only my reading. AT Robertson was the greatest Greek scholar of the 20th Century; he titles his little book on Philippians-
Paul's Joy in Christ.
In chains, he not only tells us to Rejoice Evermore, but he himself is doing it! He is a happy man! Does he have a naturally sunny disposition?
His earlier life makes you think he doesn't. So, how did this man, buried under a mountain of problems, rejoice the way he did? He leaves no doubt-
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ!
Paul viewed himself-not as a troubled man, but as a blessed man! His view was an accurate one. Of him. And of every Christian. We all have far more blessings than problems, and even the problems we have are but-
Light afflictions, for a moment, and working in us an eternal weight of glory!
This is how the healthy Christian feels! Not that he's got no troubles (that's Joel Osteen!), but that his blessings are many more and much weightier than his problems. If you feel the other way around, you can be sure that you're backslidden.
AN ASSESSMENT AND A CALL
In light of all these things, you need to ask yourself, 'Am I backslidden? 'Has my devotion to God cooled? 'Has my love of the world increased?' If the sober answer is, 'Yes, I am backslidden', you're half-way to the cure. Which is what?
A renewed faith in Christ, by whose stripes we are healed. Amen.
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