- Table of Contents
- CHAPTER 1. The Enormity of the Error of Perverting the Gospel
- CHAPTER 2. The Biblical Terms of Salvation vs. Modern Day Misconceptions
- CHAPTER 3. The Lordship of Christ in Salvation
- CHAPTER 4. Regeneration: The Creation of a New Man
- CHAPTER 5. Sanctification: The Growth of the New Man
- CHAPTER 6. We Walk By Faith Not By Sight
- CHAPTER 7. The Christian's Cross
- CHAPTER 8. What is a Carnal Christian?
- CHAPTER 9. Bear or Burn: The Fruit of Obedience in the Parables of Christ
- CHAPTER 10. Saint or Sinner?
- CHAPTER 11. Righteousness vs. Self-righteousness
- CHAPTER 12. Can a Christian Backslide?
- CHAPTER 13. Love vs Law—Legalism—License
- CHAPTER 14. Sin and the Misinterpretation of Romans 7
- CHAPTER 15. Examine Yourselves as to Whether You Are in the Faith
- APPENDIX 1. Quotes and Confessions in Church History
- APPENDIX 2. Scriptural Evidence for the Necessity of Obedience in Salvation
Clinging to a Counterfeit Cross
by James P. Shelly
Can A Christian Backslide?
Even as in the case of the term "sinner" (chapter 10), the term "backslide" is another case in point of the perilous consequence of using a Biblical term in a non-biblical sense. The term "backslide" is often used of a believer who has fallen into a particular sin for a time or we call one who professes Christ and turns back to a life of sin a "backslidden Christian." However, in Scripture, the term is used exclusively of God’s people in the Old Testament as those who had forsaken Him and unless they would return to Him they would be lost and without hope. Israel had a unique relationship with God which was not enjoyed by the surrounding gentile nations. God chose the nation of Israel as His own possession and therefore everyone physically born in Israel became one of God's people and were called such irrespective of whether or not they were in a state of salvation. The entire nation was under a covenantal relationship with God and were to serve and worship Him alone. If at any time they would rebel and turn away and follow after the dictates of their own hearts, turning to other gods, they were considered backslidden. It says in Jeremiah 2:13, 19,
"For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, And hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Your own wickedness will correct you, and your backslidings will rebuke you. Know therefore and see that it is an evil and bitter thing that you have forsaken the Lord your God, and the fear of Me is not in you,” says the Lord God of hosts.
The backslidden are described here as those who have forsaken the Lord and have no fear of God in them. They are unregenerate and apostate yet still being referred to by God as "My people." However, this is never the case in the New testament. In the New Testament we become God's people by spiritual birth and therefore all those referred to as God's people are regenerate and in a state of salvation in that all without exception are circumcised in heart. In other words, the physically circumcised in Israel were the people of God irrespective of whether or not they were circumcised in the heart but, every person in the true Church is circumcised in the heart if they are God's people. The term "backslide" would not then be used in the same sense of a Christian under the New Covenant in that those who would apostisize and fall away would be, even as backslidden Israel, unbelievers and not Christians. This would explain why the term is unique to the Old Testament people of God. Moreover, it does not speak of one who has, for a time, fallen into sin, but of one who has fallen away and forsaken God entirely. "'You have forsaken me' says the Lord, 'you have gone backward. Therefore I will stretch out my hand and destroy you.'" (Jer. 15:6)
The first commandment is, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me" (Exod. 20:3). In the Old Testament, God gave His people Israel, severe warnings as to the fate of those who would go after other gods.
"Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today: and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known"(Deut. 11:28).
"Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the Lord your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish" (Deut. 8:19).
To serve and worship other gods is to turn from the God of Scripture and the "way" in which He commands us to walk. God says of those who have turned aside from the way, that, "they go a whoring after other gods" (Deut. 31:16). God speaks of the unfaithful as those that "play the harlot,"
"But you have played the harlot with many lovers; Yet return to Me," says the Lord (Jer. 3:1).
"...You cannot serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good" (Josh. 24:19, 20) (emphasis added).
God refers to His people as His bride, and He requires of His bride that she be faithful. God separates Himself from the spiritual adulterer, the backslider, the unfaithful called by His name, and unless there was sincere repentance the separation would be eternal.
"'Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot. And I said, after she had done all these things, 'Return to Me.' But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also. So it came to pass, through her casual harlotry, that she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. And yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah has not turned to Me with her whole heart, but in pretense,' says the Lord'" (Jer. 3:6-10).
The parable of the prodigal son, Luke 15:11-32, is often used to depict a backslidden Christian, however, when Jesus spoke this parable it was while yet under the Old Testament dispensation and it was primarily spoken in reference to the backslidden as depicted in the Old Testament; the lost sheep of the House of Israel, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those near and those far off in all the countries to which God had driven them, because of the unfaithfulness which they had committed against Him (Dan. 9:7). It was not until much later, Acts 10, that the inclusion of the Gentiles was fully realized and accepted by the Jewish Christians; v. 45 "And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also." In Matthew 15:24 we read, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Was Christ sent to find lost sheep that were already saved? No, He came, initially, to save the scattered sheep among God’s people who had apostatized by going after other gods. The prodigal son was dead and lost and could only be restored in regeneration; “for your brother was dead and is alive again” (Luke 15:32). "For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost" (Matt. 18:11). The younger brother represents adulterous Israel who walked away from God, being dispersed among the gentile nations, openly serving the gods of paganism. If they were to be saved they, even as the prodigal, would have to come to their senses saying, "I will go back to my first husband, For it was better for me then than now!" (Hosea 2:7).
We find in the Old Testament as well as the New that true salvation comes only with repentance; a turning from sin to God. "Turn from your wicked ways and you shall live." Again, in Acts 3:26 we find that repentance is one of the blessings of grace, "God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your iniquities." Whosoever is the recipient of this grace is turned from his own sinful ways to God's righteous ways. This does not mean that he never sins, but he does not walk in sin or in the way of the sinner. The difference is in how we deal with, and relate to, our sin. Those in a covenant relationship with God are those who walk in God's ordained statutes, ordinances, and commandments. In the Old Testament, one aspect of such a walk, because of God's mercy, was to make various sacrifices for sin. In other words, walking in a covenantal relationship with God does not mean a walk of perfection, but rather a walk in a heartfelt pursuit of perfection, while God lovingly and mercifully provides a means to cover our imperfections. In the New Testament, believers walk in this same heartfelt pursuit of perfection, while God lovingly and mercifully has made provision for our imperfections through the blood of Christ. Therefore, those who confess their sins, 1 John 1:9, are not backsliders, but rather those who are walking in close fellowship with God, v. 7. So then, when the believer sins it is not because he has turned aside from God and is no longer walking in the ways of God, backslidden in heart and filled with his own ways, but rather because of the weakness of his flesh he may fall into sin. Yet he abhors his sin, confesses it, and seeks to forsake it. If we define backsliding as individual acts of sin in the believer's life we would rightly say that a believer, not only can, but will backslide. If however we define backsliding, as the Scriptures do, it cannot be true of the believer (1 Jn. 3:9, 10, etc.).
Prov. 14:14 says, "The backslidden in heart is filled with his own ways." The word here in the Hebrew for "backslide" is "sug" which is the same word used in Psalm 53:3, "Every one of them has turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no not one." The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says of the word as it is used in this passage in the Psalms:
The Psalmist avows that the natural heart condition of the unregenerate man is one of turning aside from God. Like apostate Israel, it is in need of divine intervention, if it is to be saved (Ps. 80:14-21).1
So then, the one who is filled with his own ways or turns aside from God is unregenerate.
The word "mešûbâ" is the Hebrew word for "backslide" nine of the twelve times the term is used in Jeremiah in reference to backsliding Israel. It means, "backsliding, disloyalty, faithlessness...," in Prov. 1:32, it is applied to an individual, "The turning away/error of the simple shall slay them."2
Throughout the book of Jeremiah, God shows that He is amazingly longsuffering towards Israel in that His merciful hand is continually reaching out to heal them of their backslidings. However, we also find that unless they take His hand by turning from their wicked ways and returning to Him He will destroy them.
"'If you return, O'Israel', says the Lord, 'Return to Me; and if you will put away your abominations out of My sight, you shall not be moved'...For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: 'Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings" (Jer. 4:1-4)
They were yet uncircumcised in heart, meaning they were unregenerate. The nation of Israel had turned away from their God. Again, Scripture refers to all of Israel as God's people, yet we know that in passages such as Romans 9:6, "…they are not all Israel who are Israel" and in Rom. 2:29, "But he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit." And in Amos 9:10, "All the sinners of My people shall die by the sword." Backslidden Israel, as a nation, had not obtained salvation. "What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect of God have obtained it, and the rest were blinded" (Rom. 11:7). The saved are the remnant, the elect of God that do not bow their knee to Baal. "I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed their knee to Baal" (Rom. 11:4). God had reserved for Himself seven thousand men who did not turn from His way and go after other gods.
Again, what does God say to His people Israel who will not return from their backslidings?
"'You have forsaken me' says the Lord, 'you have gone backward. Therefore I will stretch out my hand and destroy you. I am weary of relenting! And I will winnow them with a winnowing fan in the gates of the land; I will bereave them of children and I will destroy My people, since they do not return from their ways" (Jer. 15:6, 7) (emphasis added).
Here we find the winnowing fan that speaks of separating the wheat from the chaff (Luke 3:17), the result being that of eternal judgment.
It is written that God saved His people out of the land of Egypt, yet, we find that those who afterward turned away from Him were lost and died without hope.
"For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief" (Heb. 3:16-19). (Notice the words obey and unbelief are used interchangeably).
Some may think, "Yes, but that was the Old covenant, that does not pertain to us," but the inspired writer continues saying,
"Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it" (Heb. 4:1, 2) (emphasis added).
"Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience..." (Heb. 4:6).
"Let us be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience" (Heb. 4:11) (emphasis added).
Why did they not enter? Because of disobedience, i.e., unbelief, hearing the word but not mixed with faith. Why does he warn us? Because we will not enter the kingdom if we fall according to the same example of disobedience. We have the same warning in Jude 5, which says, "But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe." In the first verse of Hebrews Chapter 3, the writer refers to his hearers as,
"holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling"(emphasis added).
Then he follows in verse 12 with the words,
"Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: 'Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion" (Heb. 3:12-15) (emphasis added).
Those who would depart from the living God after professing to know Him, show that they had never truly become partakers of Christ. For he says,"…we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end." It is those whereof the Apostle John speaks, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us" (1 John 2:19) (emphasis added). Once more the warning is given to the Corinthians,
"Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play." Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; or complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:1-12) (emphasis added).
They were all partakers of the same baptism—the same spiritual food—the same spiritual drink. They all drank of the spiritual rock which was Christ, but with most of them God was not pleased. We have a solemn warning in each of these passages of one who after professing belief in the Lord, turns away from God and walks according to the dictates of his own heart. It is significant that in each of these passages the warning is given to the "brethren." However, even though the inspired writers refer to them as brethren, they make no assumption as to the final state of their souls.
"Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God," "lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience," "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (emphasis added) .
Jesus explained this falling away in the parable of the four soils.
"But the ones (sown) on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away" (Luke 8:13) (emphasis added).
Some would teach that because these are referred to as brethren they are saved and if they would subsequently fall into this same example of disobedience they would lose their salvation. Others would say that these warnings in Scripture do not infer that a believer can lose his salvation, but rather they are one of the means used by the Spirit to keep the true believer from complacency and ultimately falling away. Still others would say that if they fall away they were never truly saved. More importantly, however, is the consensus of these views that those who find themselves in the condition warned about are lost. (Note: There is also the view that these that fall away are still saved but they lose their rewards in heaven, which is so contrary to Scripture that it is not worthy of our consideration.)
We read in Ezekiel 18:21, 24
"But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, observes all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; He shall not die".
"But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness [backslides] and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live?" (text in brackets are added).
The answer is no, he shall not live but he shall perish in his sins. Peter echoes this same thought in 2 Peter 2:20,
"For if having escaped the pollution's of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them."
Many use Peters denial of Christ as that of a backsliding believer, however, we do not find Peter going after other gods, turning aside and going back to a life of sin. Peter's denial simply illustrates that a believer can sin, not backslide. The Lord told Peter that Satan had asked to sift him as wheat (Luke 22:31), but Jesus also said, "I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail." Praise God we have an advocate with the Father who prays on our behalf, whose prayer it is that the Father would keep us steadfast in the faith despite our times of stumbling. Peter denied the Lord in fear, however, by God's grace he was immediately convicted by the Spirit and Luke 22:62 states that, "Peter went out and wept bitterly." The believer's sin torments the soul. The more grievous the sin is the more penetrating the agony. The believer understands what it is to weep bitterly, for there is nothing so grievous to the Christian's heart than that of sinning against his Lord. This grief of soul is one of the means by which the Spirit will "cause us to walk in His statutes." Peter sinned, but faith kept him. Peter's pride had to be shattered even as every believer and Christ used Satan as a means to that end. Peter's denial gives us an example, not only of the sanctifying power of God, but the keeping power of God.
We also hear of David's sin with Bathsheba as an example of the backsliding believer, but when we find David repenting over his sin in Psalm 51, we do not find him crying out to God to heal him of his backslidings. What we do find in that passage is a prayer of repentance over a believer's sin. As grievous as David's sin was, we do not find him utterly forsaking the ways of the Lord. He sinned but he did not turn back to a life characterized by a disregard for God's law. God Himself says, "David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite"(1 Kings 15:5). David had fallen on the path, but he did not turn around and go the other way. This is the experience of every believer walking on the path of holiness. When God's light shines on his sin it results in a broken heart of repentance. It is not a falling off the path, but rather a falling on the path. This was true of David, this was true of Peter, and it is true of every believer.
Since Jesus, Paul, John, Peter, James, or any other New Testament writer, never use the term "backslide" how can we justify the frequent use of it in the Church? In this modern day, we throw this word around like a cheap cliché, and it will prove as costly as that of a man's soul. Once on the path, we may fall on the path, but "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62).
"Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him, but we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul" (Heb. 10:38, 39) (emphasis added).
The true Christian is not as those would-be disciples who found the words of Christ too difficult to receive and they, "...went back and walked with Him no more" (John 6:66). When the true Christian is asked, "Do you also want to go away?" (v.67) He answers as Peter, "...'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v.68, 69). Once we are fully convinced of the promises of God, (Rom. 4:21-22) there is no turning back. We soon find that there is nowhere to go, and no one else to look to but Christ and His kingdom.
The NIDNTT says of "putting off the old man" in Col. 3:9, "That the object is a thing 'You have put off the old nature' The use of the double compound is probably to stress that it is a complete putting off and putting away, which makes falling back into the former manner of life impossible."3 Kittle's TDNT says "...it has the strong sense fully to put off with no possible return to the old state."4
To teach that a believer can "backslide" by turning aside from God and return to a life of sin is a most lamentable error. When we here modern day testimonies of those who came to Christ at a young age and then turned from God to live a life in the practice of sin, yet be under the illusion that they were saved, is wholly contrary to Scripture. We have not one example from Genesis to Revelation of a saved backslider. This unchecked lie is deceiving multitudes into believing in a heaven they will never see. Are we to completely disregard such passages as Gal. 5:21 that clearly state that those who "practice" the works of the flesh shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do we disregard as well 1 Cor. 6:9; Rom. 6:1; 1 John 3:9, 10; Matt. 7:21; 1 John 2:3; etc. Do we disregard the clear warnings in Hebrews, Corinthians, and Jude and the examples given throughout the Word of God? Or do we delude ourselves by trying to redefine what it means to practice sin? Or do we twist Scripture, teaching as some do, that inheriting the kingdom and entering the kingdom are isolated terms? It is beyond comprehension, considering what is at stake that we would continue to allow the teaching of such unconscionable deceptions in the church, when the warnings in Scripture are so clear. We "lovingly" allow the deceiving of multitudes, at the cost of their very souls. For these are the ones who will one day stand in the presence of God and cry out "Lord, Lord," and He will say to them, "I never knew you. Depart from me you who practice lawlessness (Matt 7:23)." You were never circumcised in the heart (Rom. 2:29). You believed those who turn the grace of God into licentiousness (Jude 4). You had no love for the truth. You may have had much zeal, but not according to knowledge (Rom. 10:2). You were under the delusion that you could have a relationship with me, serving Me, while remaining a servant to sin (Rom. 6:16), disregarding my exhortation that no one can serve two masters (Luke 16:13). You deceived yourself into thinking you could sow to the flesh and not reap eternal corruption (Gal. 6:8). You believed the false teachers who "...continually say to those who despise Me, 'The Lord has said, "You shall have peace"'; And to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, 'No evil shall come upon you" (Jer. 23:17).'" Therefore, you think to yourself, "'I shall have peace, even though I follow the dictates of my heart'—as though the drunkard could be included with the sober" (Deut. 29:19) . You thought you could receive imputed righteousness while wallowing in the vomit of iniquity (2 Pet. 2:22), You "did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thess. 2:12). You were a lover of pleasure rather than a lover of God (2 Tim. 3:4), you loved darkness more than the light (John 3:19), therefore depart from Me into everlasting darkness (Matt. 22:13). Those who say they know Me and do not keep my commandments are liars, they have not the truth in them, (1 John 2:4) and all liars shall have their part in the lake of fire (Rev. 21:8). You praise Me with your lips, but your heart is far from Me, and in vain you worship Me (Matt. 15:8, 9). You shall utterly perish in your delusions. "Away with you! You who make a habit of sin, you are spots and blemishes, carousing in your own deception while you feast with My people. You have eyes full of adultery and cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, you have a heart trained in covetous practices and are accursed children. You have forsaken the right way and have gone astray, following the way of Baalam, the son of Beor, 'who loved the wages of unrighteousness'" (2 Pet. 2:13-15).
Nevertheless, now, while it is yet called today, God's hand remains outstretched in mercy and grace to every repentant sinner. Jonathan Edwards writes,
Take heed of despairing thoughts, because you are a great sinner, because you have persevered so long in sin, have backslidden, and resisted the Holy Ghost. Remember that, let your case be what it may, and you ever so great a sinner, if you have not committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, God can bestow mercy upon you without the least prejudice to the honor of his holiness, which you have offended, or to the honor of his majesty, which you have insulted, or of his justice, which you have made your enemy, or of his truth, or of any of his attributes. Let you be what sinner you may, God can, if he pleases, greatly glorify himself in your salvation.5
Therefore turn to Him, take His hand and He will pull you out of the pit of despair. He will deliver you from this wicked and perverse generation even as He delivered His people out of land of Egypt that you might worship and serve the living God. He is longsuffering, full of compassion, and rich in mercy to all who will call upon Him. If you will do so, He will be your God and you can be His servant. However, let us take heed to the warning,
"But if that evil servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt. 24:48-50).
Since you are a double-minded man, I will cut you in two, ...because you are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth..." (Rev. 3:16) If on that day when I return, I find those who call themselves My servants, serving themselves, walking in darkness and caught unawares, still full of their own ways and backslidden in heart, they shall surely perish in their sins.
"...I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead..." (Rev. 3:1).
It is a solemn note that Christ strikes in Luke 12:47 when He says,
"And the servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few."
Albert Barnes writes,
They who have many privileges, who are often warned, who have the gospel, and do not repent and believe, shall be far more severely punished than others. They who are early taught in Sunday schools, or by pious parents, or in other ways, and who grow up in sin and impenitence, will have much more to answer for than those who have no such privileges.6
The unbelieving religious professor, who hears the word, knows the Fathers will, and does not walk in accordance with His will, according to the Spirit, will find himself standing before God in a worse state than the man who makes no claim of faith at all. The deceitfulness of sin and the love of its pleasures are exceedingly powerful repellents in keeping men from coming to a knowledge of the truth and embracing God and His grace. Therefore, Scripture constantly warns us against this deception:
"Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap" (Gal. 6:7) (emphasis added).
"Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9b) (emphasis added).
"Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother" (1 John 3:7-10) (emphasis added).
"But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:3) (emphasis added).
We never hear of the prodigal son going back to slop the hogs. We are not dogs that return to their own vomit, nor are we like the sow who after having washed returns to her wallowing in the mire (2 Pet. 2:22) Regrettably, we will sin, but we cannot wallow in sin.The Christian is not like the dog that laps up his own vomit, but rather the very taste of sin sickens him. The Christian abhors his sin, and no man with the Spirit will continue to practice that which he abhors in himself, but will be diligent in seeking to put it to death. Sin is the great burden in the Christian life not its delight. The tables have turned. Whereas it was once the law that was our great burden, it has now become our delight. Whereas sin was once our delight, it has now become a great burden. The flesh many times deceives us into thinking somehow we will still find pleasure in it, but we find in reality that the pleasure of it is never worth the sorrow and anguish of sinning against our loving Father. And as godly sorrow increases, sin decreases. For who among us wants to live in continual sorrow? We soon find that sin is a fool's paradise. Those who come to repentance and turn back again to a life of sin may have had a worldly sorrow over their sin, but it is a godly sorrow that leads to true repentance (2 Cor. 7:10). We must repent of our wicked ways, and cry out for His mercy (Luke 18:13). We must ask for His Spirit that He might live within us, to guide us and lead us, and He will graciously "cause you to walk in His statutes, and you will keep His judgments and do them (Ezek. 36:27). He will work in you by the power of His glorious grace. Again, "let no one deceive you," no one, even if he appears as an angel of light. For even Satan, the father of lies, appears as such light (2 Cor. 11:14). And yes he will come in whatever manner, whatever garment, even in sheep's clothing to destroy your soul! (Matt. 7:15) Do not listen little children, shut up your ears to his lies lest your flesh seeks its own comfort and you lose your very soul. Pluck out your eyes if you must, cut off even your right hand (Matt. 5:29), but be certain of your entrance into the Kingdom. "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? (Matt. 16:26) Forsake this life that is but a vapor and seek after the will of God (James 4:14). Let us open our ears to the Spirits words, "He who sins is of the Devil for the Devil has sinned from the beginning" (1 John 3:8). This is hard on the carnal ear, but the spiritual ear will find comfort in that he continues, "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the Devil." In this we can rejoice! Christ came to free us from that corruptible influence that works in the sons of disobedience that we might live unto God. He did not come that we might be forgiven and then be left as orphans that we might live unto ourselves. For "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness" (1 Pet. 2:24). We are holy, set apart for our Father, to live for Him and Him alone, having no other gods before Him. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind." It is as Paul says, "...Present your bodies a living sacrifice," wholly given over with every part of your being. Love Him with all your affections, all your energies, all your thoughts, and all your desires. "...YOU are not your own, for you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Cor. 6:19, 20). Arthur W. Pink writes,
"The terrible thing is that so many preachers today, under the pretense of magnifying the grace of God, have represented Christ as the Minister of sin; as One who has, through His atoning sacrifice, procured an indulgence for men to continue gratifying their fleshy and worldly lusts. Provided a man professes to believe in the virgin birth and vicarious death of Christ and claims to be resting upon Him alone for salvation, he may pass for a real Christian almost anywhere today, even though his daily life may be no different from that of the moral worldling who makes no profession at all. The Devil is chloroforming thousands into hell by this very delusion. The Lord Jesus asks, 'Why call ye Me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?' (Luke 6:46); and insists, 'Not everyone that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven' (Matt. 7:21)....It is the bounden duty of every Christian to have no dealings with the "evangelistic" monstrosity of the day: to withhold all moral and financial support of the same, to attend none of their meetings, to circulate none of their tracts. Those preachers who tell sinners they may be saved without forsaking their idols, without repenting, without-surrendering to the Lordship of Christ are as erroneous and dangerous as others who insist that salvation is by works and that Heaven must be earned by our own efforts."7
As we have seen from Scripture, the term "backslide" is used of Israel and is descriptive of those who must turn from their wicked ways and return to God if they are to be saved. We never find it used in any other way in Scripture and therefore to use the term of a Christian is deceptive indeed. It is in essence to allow a professing believer who, although he may be living even as backslidden Israel, fallen away from God, living in lawlessness and sin, to think he is still a Christian. How devastating to a man in such a state when he stands before God and realizes he has believed a lie and subsequently hears the most heart wrenching words imaginable, "I never knew you, depart from me you who practice lawlessness."
God has never turned away anyone who has a true desire to be reconciled to Him. If you have that desire it is a sure sign that it is not too late. The only unforgivable sin or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the sin of rejecting the message of Christ and refusing to submit to His Lordship. Christians will sin but they will not walk in the way of sin (1 John 3:9). In other words, the Christian life is characterized by righteousness not sin. Those who truly believe in Him will live for Him.
1. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament; Moody 1980, v.II p. 619
2. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament; Moody 1980, v.II p. 910
3. New International Dictionary of N.T. Theology, Edited by Colin Brown (Zondervan) 1986
4. Gerhard Kittle, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 10th edition) 1977.
5. Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 2, Sermon 4, God's Sovereignty In The Salvation Of Men; (Hendrickson Publishers, November 1, 1993)
6. Barnes Notes on the Old and New Testaments, Albert Barnes, Luke 12:47 (Baker Books; 19th edition 1983)
7. Studies on Saving Faith, Arthur W. Pink; (Bottom of the Hill Publishing, September 1, 2011) p. 43