What Does the Bible Mean by 'Backslide'?

Eventually, all of us will have moments where we turn away from God. But is there time to turn back after we've been backsliding for a while?

Contributing Writer
Apr 28, 2022
What Does the Bible Mean by 'Backslide'?

In Old Testament times, prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea rebuked Israel, God’s chosen people, for being stubborn, hard-hearted, and not trusting the One True God. With love and longsuffering, God rescued His people from bondage in Egypt—performing miraculous signs and wonders. Yet these forgetful and ungrateful people continued to turn from God and seek their own way. Their many failures give us a sometimes-shocking display of the word backslide. But nestled inside the meaning of “backslide,” turning away (Jeremiah 8:5), is a hint of God’s grace and mercy (Jeremiah 3:22).

We may shake our heads in disgust at Israel’s endless cycle of backsliding or falling away from loving, serving, and worshiping God. Still, in their failures, we see a reflection of ourselves and a beautiful call to repentance and redemption. The beauty? We serve a God Who doesn’t leave us in a state of hopelessness but works in our lives to draw us to Himself and to restore us to full fellowship.

What Bible Verses Talk about Backsliding?

The following verses give a glimpse into God’s heart over the backsliding and rebelliousness of His people:

I was enraged by their sinful greed; I punished them, and hid my face in anger, yet they kept on in their willful ways (Isaiah 57:17).

“Return, faithless people,” declares the LORD, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion” (Jeremiah 3:14).

“Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.” “Yes, we will come to you, for you are the LORD our God” (Jeremiah 3:22).

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

My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them (Hosea 11:7).

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons (1 Timothy 4:1).

And, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back” (Hebrews 10:38).

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).

Can Christians Repent after They Backslide?

1 John 1:9 gives Christians a glorious reason to shout with hope and joy: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Like the forgiving father in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), our Heavenly Father waits with open arms to receive those who return to Him through confession and repentance. This loving forgiveness applies to the genuine repentant heart and the collective heart of God’s people. 2 Chronicles 7:14 reads, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

What a powerful promise of hope and mercy!

Additional scriptures about repentance and restoration include:

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (Acts 3:19).

Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy (Proverbs 28:13).

For the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him (2 Chronicles 30:9b).

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent (Revelation 3:19).

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent (Luke 15:7).

For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live! (Ezekiel 18:32).

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise (Psalm 51:17).

How Should Christians Handle a Backsliding Believer?

To approach a backsliding believer in humility and loving discipline can be difficult. The communication must be drenched in prayer, wise counsel, and Biblical wisdom. With the Word of God as the ultimate standard for godly living, the concerned brother or sister in Christ is called to point to God’s heart on the matter at hand.

Suppose the backsliding believer refuses the Holy Spirit’s call to repentance. In that case, 2 Thessalonians 3:6 is clear: Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from any brother who leads an undisciplined life that is not in keeping with the tradition you received from us.

Also, in 1 Corinthians 5:11, the apostle Paul writes, but now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

Concerning 1 Corinthians 5:11, Pastor John Piper counsels in this way: “So Paul says, if a person is living in open, unrepentant sin, but still claiming to be a Christian, the church should stand away from that person, lest the world get the false message this kind of life is okay — as if Christians approve of this, it is no big deal, and life goes on as usual. And the hope, of course, is that the person will be convicted by this kind of standing away and return to the faith.”

In his article “Avoid the Unrepentant—But What if They’re Family?” John Piper shares powerful insights and differences concerning godly discipline in the Christian community and the family.

As Christ-followers exercising Biblical discipline, we must take every opportunity to seek God’s heart for our wandering brothers and sisters. When we recognize sin in another’s life, it is an immediate call—not to point, but to pray. Christ-centered discipline must have a foundation of prayer.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective (James 5:16).

How Does a Christian Know if He Is in Danger of Backsliding?

In the Christian life, it is vital to set aside time to check our spiritual health. Questions we may ask to avoid backsliding include:

  • Do I have a genuine desire to walk in God’s holiness? Am I becoming more like Jesus in the way I live? (Romans 12:2)
  • In my interactions with others, do I exhibit the fruits of the Spirit? (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • Do I walk in forgiveness, mercy, and love? (Ephesians 4:32)

A vibrant, healthy faith seeks to live with a humble, sincere heart, and to reflect the light of Christ to the world. Also, it’s encouraging to note that when we are moved to “check our spiritual pulse,” this is exciting proof of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Philippians 2:13).

How comforting to know that we serve a mighty God Who longs for us to grow in holiness. He doesn’t want us to languish in a season of backsliding. He wants us to repent, return to full fellowship, and walk with Him in love, joy, and abundance (John 10:10).

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/g-stockstudio

Leigh Ann ThomasLeigh Ann Thomas is passionate about encouraging others to seek God’s best. She has penned four books, including Smack-Dab in the Midlife Zone—Inspiration for Women in the Middle, and Ribbons, Lace, and Moments of Grace—Inspiration for the Mother of the Bride

You’ll find Leigh Ann on an adventure with her sweetheart of 39 years, getting silly with her grands, or daydreaming story plots on the front porch. 

Connect on LeighAThomas.com.

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