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The Reality of Backsliding

Jeremiah 8:5—9

A lot Christians misunderstand the idea of “backsliding,” so much so they even hate the word! So, if you don’t like the word “backsliding,” then read how Jeremiah put it:

Why then have these people turned away? Why does Jerusalem always turn away? They cling to deceit; they refuse to return. (Jeremiah 8:5)

Is the idea of a believer “turning away from the Lord” easier to take than a believer “backsliding?” It’s the same thing. In spite of what the eternal security crowd thinks, it is possible for a believer walk away from God. Clearly there is eternal security under Christ, but what about a believer who walks out from under Christ? While they may not be giving back their gift of salvation, they have put themselves in a very precarious position.

Backsliding is a very slow and gradual process; almost never does it happen all once. It happens so slowly that by the time a believer realizes what’s going on, it may well be too late. Verse 5 is referring specifically to Judah and Jerusalem, but there are some very important lessons for believers in this present age. The causes of their backsliding and the results of their turning away from the Lord find their antitype in the 21st century.

1. Wrong thinking, verse 5

The people of Judah and Jerusalem, according to the Word of the Lord through His prophet, “cling to deceit.” In other words, their beliefs had become perverted; they had started believing false teaching and wouldn’t give it up. When a Christian forsakes the truth, it’s very easy to believe a lie, but it doesn’t happen all at once and it isn’t always obvious. In the case of the people of Judah, they had fallen into the rut of self-trust. They trusted in their burnt offerings and sacrifices, for example. What was wrong with that? They may have been going through the motions of following the word of the Lord, but they were guilty of “ritual by rote,” their hearts were not in their worship.

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves!For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you. (Jeremiah 7:21—23)

Generation through generation of God’s people went through the motions but their hearts were far from the Lord. They trusted in their own efforts, and because they turned a deaf ear to the truth of God’s Word, it wouldn’t be long before their beliefs became perverted.

They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. (Jeremiah 7:31)

They slowly but surely turned they backs on the Lord and pretty soon the people of God were doing things once thought to be wicked and vile. This is what happens when a one-time believer forsakes his first love.

They eat ashes because they are deceived. Their own misguided minds lead them astray. They can’t rescue themselves or ask themselves, “Isn’t what I hold in my right hand a false god?” (Isaiah 44:20, GWT)

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)

2. Misleading Witness, verse 6a

I have listened attentively, but they do not say what is right.

How could they say what was right if they were unable to think what was right? The Lord listened to His people, but everything they were saying was wrong! They dishonored the Lord by the things they did—their way of life—and in their words.

Their attitude toward the Word of God was just the same as their attitude toward the Temple. They thought, incorrectly, that because they possessed the the things of God and God’s truth, they possessed the favor of God. It was Jeremiah’s task to correct their warped thinking.

Yes, they possessed the Word of God, but it did them no good because they were disobedient. Even as they recited and learned it, their lives and their words betrayed the true state of their hearts. Their familiarity of the Word of the Lord bread contempt in their hearts; there was no fear of the Lord, and there was no obedience to the Word they claimed to be following.

Did you know the Lord pays attention to your words? Did you know that He takes note of your attitudes? Did you know he notices how you are living your daily lives? Malachi 3:16 can be a chilling verse to some believers:

Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name.

Obviously, Jeremiah’s people were not named on the scroll! Are you?

3. Self-complacency, verse 6b

No one repents of his wickedness, saying, “What have I done?”

The people were “wicked.” That was God’s estimation of them, not Jeremiah’s. They were wicked in the sight of God, but they were also deluded; so ignorant of their true condition, they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong and therefore there was no need of repentance.

All people sin. Even the saintliest Christian, from time to time, will stray from the narrow path; they will have lapses in belief and conduct sometimes. Thank God, most of us become conscious of the deliberate sin in our lives and we own up to it, confess it, and repent. But when a backslider, already straying from the Lord, sins, because his mind is not thinking in a Godward direction; because his heart is far from the Lord, and because he is full of his own self-sufficiency, thinks he has done nothing wrong. This is why so many Christian so easily justify the sin in their lives. They are living, not under Christ any more, but under a delusion.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4, NLT)

3. Misplaced enthusiasm, verse 6c

Each pursues his own course like a horse charging into battle.

These people were so deluded in their own self-sufficiency, they had self-confidence and their self-esteem was not wanting! They rushed headlong, with pride, into whatever they wanted to do. They were more energetic, more excited, and more enthused about doing what they wanted to do than Christians are about serving the Lord.

Imagine what the Church of Jesus Christ would look like if we who loved the Lord with all our being were as enthused about Him as some people are about whatever their interests may be?

4. Blind to the Word, verse 7

Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration. But my people do not know the requirements of the Lord.

What a stunning, painful indictment of God’s people! Comparing them unfavorably to dumb animals, they appear to be brilliant next to the people of Judah! This how God views the believer who refuses to obey His Word. Why, even birds, with a brain smaller than a golf ball in many cases, are able to discern the signs of the seasons. How dumb is a believer who is so ignorant of God’s Word that he cannot discern God’s will?

What the bird does is by instinct; birds migrate because it’s natural for them to do so. Similarly, the redeemed should naturally strive to obey the Lord. But when they don’t, they are behaving in a most unnatural manner. And like a bird who doesn’t migrate when he should, the believer who behaves in a manner inconsistent with what is natural for him as a child of God, will suffer.

5. Misplaced confidence, verse 8

How can you say, “We are wise, for we have the law of the Lord,” when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?

This horrible accusation reminds us of what Jesus had to say to the Scribes and Pharisees:

You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:24)

It’s an awful thing for God to accuse His ministers of misleading His people! But it’s as common today as it was even in Old Testament times:

Those who guide this people mislead them, and those who are guided are led astray. (Isaiah 9:16)

The blind leading the blind! The priests, who looked so good in their priestly garments, saying the right things and handling the holy vessels, were in reality so far from the truth of God’s Word that they were lying; deliberately misleading the very people they were supposed to be leading. They claimed to be wise, but they were perverting the Word of God. The claimed to be speaking for God, yet they were so far from God they had no idea God had left them.

Since they have rejected the word of the Lord, what kind of wisdom do they have? (verse 9b)

When a man of God teaches doctrines of man, God Himself wonders, “What kind of wisdom is that?”  The fact is, apart from God’s Word, there is no wisdom! The wisdom that comes out of false teachers and backsliders is foolishness to God.

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness.” (1 Corinthians 3:19)

This was a major concern of the Lord’s. Part of the people’s problem in obeying His Word was that their teachers didn’t teach it properly. The religious leaders allowed sin to grow in the nation because they taught that it was fine.

The same thing is happening today in the Church. There is more lying going on in some churches on a Sunday morning than in the local pub any night of the week. But the simple, inescapable fact is every Christian has an obligation to strive to interpret the Bible accurately. Words are how God chose to speak to us. He literally has clothed Himself in our words so we could understand and relate to Him. You may never attend a Bible college or seminary, and you may never learn the Biblical languages, but with the precious Holy Spirit as your guide, you can know what the Bible teaches about God, Jesus Christ, and the life-giving Gospel.

Yes, it is possible to turn your back on God; to backslide. You can walk out from under Christ. But you don’t have to. Tragically, some Christians, through bad teaching and laziness, and hardness of heart think that’s their only option. But it never is. Repentance is a lifestyle God wants us to adopt. Have you?

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