One of the elements of contention in the Christian community is the subject of backsliding. Can a Christian backslide? The central premise on this subject is, can a true Christian backslide? This article aims to shed some clarity on this question.
What is Backsliding?
A word used within Christendom to describe a process by which a person who has professed Christianity relapses to their pre-conversion lifestyle and falls into sin. In other words, it is when an individual turns from God to pursue their individual desires by reverting to sin or wrongdoing.
Can a Christian Backslide?
So, can a Christian backslide? Some say yes, and others say no. But in cases such as these, I always like to say, what does the Bible say? It is all about the Scriptures, so let’s take a look: Heb 6:4-6
4 “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, (5) who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, (6) if they fall away”…NIV
This Scripture passage addresses the believer’s enormous privileges. It is arduous to see how these five experiences could be said about a person unless they were true believers. Being as honest and authentic as possible, one would have to strain the meaning to make them apply to anyone else. The Greek Scripture positively uses the aorist, or past tense, which means the individual had a once-for-all experience. This experience was once-for-all accomplished, satisfied, and completed. This verse cannot possibly apply to anyone else other than a true Christian.
These individuals were once-for-all “enlightened.” Enlightened in this context means the light of the gospel and salvation, the light of Christ, and seeing Christ as the Savior and Lord of men and the light of salvation had broken through the darkness of sin and death. In other words, it had actually happened, and it was fulfilled and completed in the people’s lives. They had received the light of Christ, of His gospel, and salvation once-for-all.
The “heavenly gift” is in reference to Christ and His salvation which God gave to the world. Scripture proclaims time and again that Jesus Christ and His salvation are gifts from God.
Notice again that this is a once-for-all experience. These individuals had experienced Christ and His salvation once-for-all.
They were once-for-all made sharers of the “Holy Spirit“
and they tasted the powers of the world to come, “the coming age.” They had encountered some of heaven upon earth. They had actually experienced the presence and power of Christ in their lives through the power of Christ in conquering the trials and temptations and sufferings of this world and the healing power of Christ in touching both their bodies and spirits.
They had once-for-all tasted God’s “good Word.” This statement refers to the gospel of Jesus Christ and His glorious salvation.
These individuals together were sharers in the Holy Spirit and God’s covenant blessings. It is challenging to see how these individuals can be seen other than as genuine without straining or twisting the Scripture.
Yet verse 6 begins, “if they fall away…” Fall away is translated for the Greek word parapesontas, which means to turn aside; to turn away; to deviate. Therefore, in this context, it means:
• to turn away from Christ.
• to turn aside from Christ.
• to move away from Christ.
Again, this describes and addresses true Christians-believers.
This Scripture addresses apostasy or falling away, which is the state or act of rejecting the faith in Christ and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, backsliding is a process of sliding back, and it is a slippery slope. Although backsliding is not sudden in onset, it can escalate rapidly, ultimately ending with an individual falling away or into apostasy. Backsliding is a spiritual condition that needs correction pronto.
The point, according to this passage, a Christian can backslide and can do so to the stance of falling away completely (apostasy).
Let’s look at another passage, 2 Peter 2:17-22
17 “These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity — for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. 20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22 Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” NIV
This passage addresses false teachers and addresses the issue of backsliding to the point of falling away. These teachers had escaped the “corruption of the world,” and teaching others, but became entangled in it again through the process of backsliding.
Teachers in this state face harsher judgment because they lead others astray (vss. 19, James 3:1). Teaching is the most accountable profession on earth. Consequently, greater accountability falls upon a teacher’s shoulders. God will have no mercy upon a false teacher, and the false teacher will be judged much more severely than an individual who never knew the truth.
There is a warning in this passage against turning from “The way of righteousness” and the sacred command.”
The way of righteousness is Jesus Christ, for He is the One who has made it possible for God to count us righteous and to accept us.
The sacred command is the Word of God, that is, all the commandments of God.
It is far better for an individual not to have ever known Christ or God’s Word than to have known them and to “turn their backs“ on God’s Word. The judgment shall be far worse, much harsher upon such individuals.
35 Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward.
36 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.
37 For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.
38 Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.
39 But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
Verse 26 of this chapter ten begins a passage of warning to believers of the danger of drawing back or backsliding. The verses highlighted here make it known that God is coming, and we are to live by faith in the meantime. But any person who
“draw back” God is not pleased with.
In verse 39, Paul encourages his readers by stating that they are not those who draw back to perdition. Perdition is eternal punishment that confirms the demise of those who do drawback.
We’ll look at one more passage on this, James 5:19-20
19 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. NIV
Notice that this is addressing Christian believers: “my brothers.” James’ exhortation in this passage is when a believer has backslidden, “wander from the truth,” search for him and led that individual to repentance.
Notice the point: if a Christian believer is turned around from his sin, his soul is saved from death, which covers a multitude of sins. What is meant by death here? Remember the word perdition? That is eternal punishment, forever separated from God.
These Scriptures and others clearly confirm that backsliding and perdition threaten a Christians’ walk with God.
Once Saved, Always Saved?
Are we forever saved once we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior? Hopefully, yes. But it doesn’t happen by accident.
The common notion is that even when we sin and backslide, we are still saved. Well, that is actually true – to a point.
Let’s look at John 10:27-30
27 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” NIV
This passage is used to defend the once saved, always saved doctrine. This Scripture confirms that no one can snatch the sheep (Christians) that follow the Shepherd (Jesus). But notice what else it says about the sheep –”and they follow me.” The sheep have to follow the shepherd.
This is what I mean by stating that we are eternally saved—to a point. As long as we follow
the shepherd, we are saved and safe. The sheep cannot receive protection from the shepherd if they cease to follow Him.
Therefore, while no one can snatch Christians from Jesus, the shepherd, they can cease to follow Him on their own and fall away. This fact is Satan’s goal, to entice Christians to cease following Jesus; this is indeed spiritual warfare. For more detail on spiritual warfare, read the article, All about Spiritual Warfare on this website.
This is where God’s gift of free will comes into play. No Scripture indicates that God or Jesus chases down a Christian that backslides to bring them back. They must repent before they fall away.
To be clear, a backslider can still be saved when they repent and turn back to God. Just as the particle son returned to his father, so we must return to ours.
Let us take a look at the balance of the opening text in Heb 6:4,6
4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened,…
6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. NIV
To begin with, Scripture in verse 4 begins, “it is impossible.”
Impossible is translated from the Greek word adunaton: which means weak, unable. If a Christian should “fall away,” it is impossible for him ever to repent again. The word impossible just cannot be twisted to mean anything other than impossible.
Second, the Scripture talks about renewing and bringing people back to repentance. These are individuals who have gone past the point of repentance because they have rejected their only means of salvation.
Now, the crucial question is, what would cause a Christian believer to reach such a stage in life? What could a believer do that would harden his heart so much that he would never again repent?
The Christian believer regresses back to the world, back to a life of sin, defiance, disobedience, and rebellion. He continues, by no means repenting and never turning back to Christ.
The bottom line: if a Christian backslides, before they fall away, they can repent and restore their relationship with the Lord by confessing their sins and repenting of them, and turning away from them. As the Scripture reads in Prov. 28:13, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”
How to Avoid Backsliding
The Christian life is often not an easy road. Sometimes we can get off track. The book of Hebrews says Heb 3:13, But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
However, the following viable steps will assist with getting right with God and back on course with Him. Each of these practical steps is followed by a passage(s) from Scripture.
Scrutinize your faith-life frequently. 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV):
5 “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”
If you realize that you are wandering away, return without delay.
Hebrews 3:12-13 (NIV):
12 See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. (13) But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
Draw near to God every day for forgiveness and cleansing. 1 John 1:9 (NIV):
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Revelation 22:14 (NIV):
14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.”
Seek the Lord daily wholeheartedly. 1 Chronicles 28:9 (NIV):
14 “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.”
Always continue in the Word of God; keep on studying and learning daily. Proverbs 4:13 (NIV):
13 “Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.”
Continue often in association with other Christians. Hebrews 10:25 (NLT):
25 “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.”
No man is an island. We require the power and prayers of other Christians.
Stand firm in your faith and expect difficult times in your Christian life. Matthew 10:22 (NIV):
22 “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Galatians 5:1 (NIV):
1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Keep at it. 1 Timothy 4:15-16 (NIV):
15 “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. (16) Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
Run the race to victory. 1 Corinthians 9: 24-25 (NIV):
24 “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training … we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”
2 Timothy 4:7-8 (NIV):
7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Keep in your mind what God has done for you in the past. Hebrews 10:32, 35-36 (NIV):
32 “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. (35) So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. (36) You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”
If you follow these tips, you will make your election and calling sure. (2 Peter 1:10)
Questions, comments, and concerns are welcomed below. You will receive a response.