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“The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways” (Proverbs 14: 14a)

As we noted in our article last week, backsliding begins in the heart. “The backslider in heart” is one who “strays away” from God in his heart. This serious form of “heart” disease affects both body and soul. God allows the wilful soul to be “filled with his own ways”, i.e. to be saturated with the rotten fruit of his follies and sin.

Though the backslider may observe some outward form of religion – like church attendance and even serving in the church – inwardly, he is far from the Lord for he has forsaken his first love (Rev 2: 4).

Charles Finney aptly illustrates this pathetic state: “The backslider in heart is often like a dutiful, but unloving wife. She tries to do her duty to her husband, but fails utterly because she does not love him. Her effort to please her husband is constrained; it is not the spontaneous outburst of a loving heart, and her relation, and her duties, become the burden of her life. … She is committed for life, and must therefore perform the duties of married life, but oh, it is such a bondage!”

Backsliding, however, does not happen overnight. In most cases, it begins with a gradual declension and hardening of the heart. All this may take place and continue long before the backslider is aware of his danger or acknowledges that there has been a serious departure from God.

While backsliding may not be sudden in onset, the condition may degenerate quickly so that the wayward soul soon finds himself in grievous sin. Some examples of Bible characters who fell into this sad spiritual state were: 1) Abraham who lied to both Pharaoh and Abimelech because of his fear of men (Gen 12: 10-20; 20: 1-18); 2) King David who committed adultery and murder because he yielded to his fleshly lusts (II Sam 11: 2-4); 3) King Solomon whose heart was turned away from God because of his many strange wives (I Ki 11: 1-10); and 4) Simon Peter who denied his Master because of his self-confidence and fear of being identified with Him (Lk 22: 56-60).

What are some tell-tale signs of a backslidden heart?

o Coldness in spiritual duties

The wayward soul does not delight in communion with God. As his love for God grows cold, closet duties become burdensome chores. The Bible becomes irksome and repulsive. Prayer is no more a delight. Without the spiritual nourishment from God’s Word, the soul grows weak and lean.

o Growing attachment to the world

As his heart is drawn away from the Lord, the backslider becomes pre-occupied with the pursuits and pleasures of the world. He prefers the company of non-believers to the fellowship of the saints.

Charles Finney elaborates: “A loving heart is jealous of everything that will break up or interfere with its union with God. When the soul does not find more delight in God than in all worldly things, the heart is sadly backslidden.”

o Outward formalism

While he tries his best to maintain a godly facade, the backslider’s heart is in a state of inertia. Soon, he has no desire to attend the meetings of the church. His weekly worship of God, if at all, degenerates to empty formalism and hypocrisy (II Tim 3: 5).

o Focus on self

As the backslider loses interest in the things of God, he yields to a self-indulgent spirit and begins to compromise with seemingly small sins. He becomes less watchful about temptations and the company he keeps. The inconsistencies in the backslider’s life may trouble him at first, but as he continues to yield to the flesh, he becomes comfortable with sin, and blind to his fallen state (Hos 7: 9; Rev 3: 17-18).

Focused on self, the backslider develops a self-righteous and fault-finding spirit. He also develops an inclination to gratify his fleshly appetites and lusts. This self-indulgence comes naturally as his devotion has been shifted from God to himself. He becomes more concerned about his own needs, pleasure and comfort above others.

Brethren, let us examine our own lives. Do we manifest the symptoms of a backslidden heart? If we do, let us repent now from our waywardness. Take heed to the wise counsel from C H Spurgeon: “It is dangerous to backslide in any degree, for we know not to what may lead. It may be hard going forward, but it is worse going back.” The Lord promises to restore all who return to Him: “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him” (Hos 14: 4). (… to be continued)

– Pastor