Shelby G. Floyd

In the Old Testament book of Hosea, Israel was likened unto a backsliding heifer, because they had left the Lord and his word and had gone after idolatry, and the worldliness of the nations round about them. Hosea said,

“For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer: now the LORD will feed them as a lamb in a large place” (Hosea 4:16).

The idolatrous calves which Israel worshiped were typical of themselves. As an unruly calf jerks back from the yoke of service, so Israel was backsliding in its service to God. God through his inspired prophets used many figures of speech with which to compare the relationships of Israel to himself. Sometimes God would liken himself to the father and Israel to his children. At other times he likened himself unto a husband, and Israel being his wife.

The burden of the weeping prophet Jeremiah was to warn Judah that unless they turned back to God, they would surely be taken into captivity, and punished for their many sins. Judah refused to learn the lesson that the northern 10 tribes of Israel had learned because of their unfaithfulness to God. Therefore, over and over again Jeremiah pleads for backsliding Judah and Israel to return to the Lord. He said,

“How long will you gad about, O you backsliding daughter? For the LORD has created a new thing in the earth— A woman shall encompass a man.”(Jeremiah 31:22).

Judah and Israel were like backsliding children who would leave the teaching, love and care of their parents. In the 14th chapter of Jeremiah, the prophet intercedes for Israel with an earnest prayer that the Lord will not leave them. A portion of his prayer states: “O LORD, though our iniquities testify against us, Do it for Your name’s sake; For our backslidings are many, We have sinned against You” (Jeremiah 14:7). This is the place where every backslider must begin in returning to the Lord, that is, by a humble confession of sin, and a change of life. God is always ready to bless his children when they turn to him and do what he commands. But Israel refused to return and do the commandments of the Lord. Therefore, Jeremiah likened them unto perpetual backsliders because they were holding fast to deceit, and because they refused to repent of their sins (cf. Jeremiah 8:5).

A backslider paves the way and makes room for his own punishment. The nation of Israel was preparing their own doom by their many sins and backslidings. Jeremiah prophesied that they would be punished because of this:

“Therefore a lion from the forest shall slay them, A wolf of the deserts shall destroy them; A leopard will watch over their cities. Everyone who goes out from there shall be torn in pieces, Because their transgressions are many; Their backslidings have increased” (Jeremiah 5:6).

In Jeremiah, chapter 3, we have perhaps the fullest account of the doom which would fall upon Judah and Israel because of their backsliding. The term backsliding, literally means to apostatize. First, Israel was backsliding because they went up on every high mountain, and under every green tree, and played the harlot by joining themselves in false idolatrous worship (Jeremiah 3:6). Secondly, because backsliding Israel committed spiritual adultery, God put her away and gave her a writing a divorcement. Yet, her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also (Jeremiah 3:8). In the third place, having done all of this, backsliding Israel tried to justify herself even more than her treacherous sister Judah. This is commonplace, from Adam and Eve to the present day, men and women who disobey the Lord usually try to justify their actions. Israel was no exception (Jeremiah 3:11). In the fourth-place, God announced to his prophet his mercy and love for his people by commanding Jeremiah to warn backsliding Israel that if they would return he would not cause his anger to fall upon them (Jeremiah 3:12). Finally, God admonished backsliding Israel to turn and come back to him for he is married unto them, and if they will do this, he will bring them to Zion (Jeremiah 3:14).

The subject of backsliding is not exclusively an Old Testament subject for Jesus and his inspired apostles on many occasions warned their readers not to turn their backs upon God. It is possible for a Christian, a child of God, to apostatize and fall from the grace of God so as to be lost forever more. Jesus said that no man, putting his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62). Those Galatians who left Christ and his Gospel, seeking to be justified by the Law of Moses, fell from grace (Galatians 5:4).

A Christian who has been overtaken in a fault needs to be restored because of his backsliding (Galatians 6:1). The writer to the Hebrews warns us to take heed, lest any of us should have an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God (Hebrews 3:12). Peter states that those who have known the way of righteousness, and have turned from Christ and have become entangled and overcome, the latter state is worse for them than the beginning (2 Peter 2:20). The apostle Paul summarized it all up in his letter to the Corinthians when he said, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). From this brief synopsis of backsliding one may see that there are definite marks which indicate that one is leaving the Lord.

Recently, these comments came across my desk concerning the signs of a backslider:

1. The backslider is one who neglects to read his Bible. Previously it had a vital place in his life. Now he neglects the source of his spiritual nourishment. He says he is too busy.

2. He ceases to pray. Once prayer was a vital and mighty force in his life, and he prayed often. Now the backslider no longer asks God for wisdom and guidance in his affairs, or for God to bless others and forgive his sins. Since he ignores him, God seems farther and farther away.

3. He begins to criticize others. Needing some justification for his actions (or lack of action) he tries to ease his conscience by his hunting and magnifying the faults of others until he feels that they are just as bad as he is. He finds fault with the preacher and the elders, or as he puts it, “the ones who run the church.”

4. He becomes irregular in his attendance. His heart is now in the world. No longer does he thrill to worship or really enjoy communion with God. Fellowship with the saints means little or nothing to him.

Let each one of us examine our own hearts to see if we are a backslider. If we are, let us turn to the Lord and he will heal us of our backsliding (cf. Hosea 14:4).

Copyright © 2018 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved

Shelby G. Floyd
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street
Greenwood, Indiana 46142

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