Backsliding represents a serious spiritual condition. Ignored, it generally produces spiritual blindness, devolves into a life barren of spiritual fruit, and often reveals an absence of authentic faith. To diagnose it, the prophet Jeremiah identifies seven behaviors commonly exhibited by those suffering spiritual decay and which answer the question, “Why has this people slidden back; Jerusalem, in a perpetual backsliding?” (Jeremiah 8:5, NKJV). A brief examination of each behavior yields valuable insight into how to avoid backsliding in our own faith.
First, “They hold fast to deceit” (Jeremiah 8:5, NKJV). Many of us embrace false teaching unknowingly because it sounds so reasonable or appeals to our worldly desires. But we must remember that Satan is relentless in his efforts to deceive us and he works through people inside and outside the church to accomplish this. Jesus tells us Satan is the father of lies and no truth resides in him. Therefore, we must diligently search the Scriptures to ensure our faith is rooted in truth. Numerous Bible verses speak to the existence of false teachers in many churches, even those that appear to have a foundation in biblical truth. Consequently, we must resist the temptation to assume everything we hear in church is grounded in God’s Word.
Second, “None of them repents of their wickedness” (Jeremiah 8:6, NIV). Repentance has fallen out of favor in many circles and is often viewed as an outdated and legalistic exercise. Many of us fail to understand the proper role repentance plays in maintaining a healthy relationship with God. And when we do repent we often take an approach that reflects our fast food, drive-through culture: We hastily confess our sin and ask God’s forgiveness so we can quickly return to our daily routines. We rarely go before the Lord with a spirit of brokenness, grieving over our wickedness and pleading with God to beak up the fallow ground of our heart. On the contrary, we often hear that grief stricken brokenness over sin is unwarranted.
This attitude flows, in part, from the view that our sins are minor and intermittent; that we’re not committing really heinous sins. We echo the Israelites who asked, “What have we done?” (Jeremiah 8:6, NKJV). They refused to recognize the sin in their lives and its affront to God. Similarly, we fail to see the arrogant, selfish, and rebellious spirit that consumes us and is destroying the church. We must repent of such sin and ask God to reveal all hidden sin embedded in our lives.
Third, “Each person pursues his own course” (Jeremiah 8:6, NIV). Do you follow whatever direction fits your interest and chase lifestyles that quench your lusts and satisfy your selfish desires rather than unconditionally follow the Lord? Doing so fuels our defiant nature and legitimizes our egotistical agendas. It is time we quit doing whatever we want and simply labeling it God’s will to justify ourselves.
Fourth, “They reject the word of the Lord” (Jeremiah 8:9, NKJV). Are there verses in the Bible you disregard because they make you uncomfortable, you disagree with, or which conflict with how you want to live; for example, Jesus’ instruction on sacrifice, stewardship, and surrender? Since His expectations on those topics rarely appeal to us, we often ignore them and explain away their relevance and applicability in our lives. We tend to reject them out of hand because they discomfort and inconvenience us. Which of Jesus’ teachings do you struggle to embrace because you find them unpalatable?
Fifth, “Everyone is given to covetousness” (Jeremiah 8:10, NKJV). This description seems to fit much of America, as evidenced by the rampant materialism that engulfs us. We worship at the altar of consumerism and pursue wealth, luxury and the world’s treasures with a craving that often far exceeds our passion for Jesus.
Despite Jesus’ frequent warnings against covetousness and cultivating a love for the things of this world, the American church distances itself from His counsel with little compunction, refusing to allow Christ to transform our lives in this area because our love for the world is so great. Instead we twist and distort Scripture so it affirms our lifestyles, allowing us to claim Jesus as Lord while prioritizing our pursuit of leisure and pleasure.
Sixth, “Everyone deals falsely” (Jeremiah 8:10, NKJV). For many of us this pertains more to how we share God’s truth with a dying world than any lack of integrity in everyday life. We must be diligent to share the unvarnished gospel and avoid offering a Jesus we believe others will digest more easily. Making it easy to follow Christ does not produce more disciples; it simply swells the number of people who attend church on Sunday.
Seventh, “They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush” (Jeremiah 8:12, NKJV). Does this verse really need any explanation in the context of modern American culture? One need look no further than the content of culturally popular entertainment – which promotes erotic, violent, sexualized, vulgar, profane and abominable conduct – for evidence that our nation suffers the same moral failure as the Israelites. Networks, movie studios, and recording labels exercise little restraint in promoting such immoral behavior because iniquity sells, and for most of these industries the bottom line is all that matters.
As you head into this weekend I encourage you to take time and examine yourself. Does your life reflect any of the above behaviors? If so, you risk compromising your faith and damaging your relationship with the Lord if your sin continues unabated. Repent and seek God’s forgiveness. Only as we turn from our sins will the Lord revive us individually and collectively as His Church. Only then will He use us to transform our nation.