What is a “backslider“?

Are they easy to spot?

Have you ever been one?

How does one stop being a “backslider“?

48 Responses

  1. Arent backsliders the burgers from white castle when you eat the burger with the top side down? 8-).

  2. Interesting question. I don’t think I heard the term until I became friends with some Baptists. It typically refers to reverting back to a pre-Christian lifestyle, which of course can be defined many, many ways. I would say that the concept of “backslider” is rooted in works-based religion and is not a Christian concept.

    Using Biblical examples, people who use the term backslider would say that the Corinthians were backsliding all over the place. Yet Paul seems thrilled that these folks haven’t lost the Gospel. Contrast this with the Galatians, who no one would accuse of backsliding. Paul is quite irate as they have apparently lost the Gospel completely. They haven’t backslidden, they’ve completely fallen off the chart. (But they sure look good.)

    If you accept a grace-based salvation and a grace-based sanctification (as Paul preached), there is no such thing as backsliding. You either live by grace through faith in Christ, or you toss the gospel completely.

  3. Jon,

    We don’t have White Castle’s out here. Otherwise I would BE a backslider!

  4. Alden,

    “If you accept a grace-based salvation and a grace-based sanctification (as Paul preached), there is no such thing as backsliding. You either live by grace through faith in Christ, or you toss the gospel completely.”

    That is exactly the answer I hoping to find.

    I thought (and maybe there will still be some) that some folks would have some good definitions of ‘backsliders’ that could legitimately be applied to Christians…but I think your answer is the truth of it.

    Thanks, Alden!

  5. “If you accept a grace-based salvation and a grace-based sanctification (as Paul preached), there is no such thing as backsliding. You either live by grace through faith in Christ, or you toss the gospel completely”.

    And wouldn’t it be interesting if this became the ‘litmus test’ – the basis of our fellowship together, instead of all manner of other issues (ranging from how long our hair is, what version of the bible we use or what we do on a Sunday). We can, in effect, be “Corinthian’ in our faith (pretty messy on the living side of the equation, but trusting in God’s grace), but we won’t bode well when we encounter those within a “Galatian” (Legalistic) or ‘Colossian” (Dualistic) orbit. It’s easy to critique ‘Corinthian’ Christianity – purely because it is, however messy, seeking to live the faith in this life, but the far more deadly reality are those other versions which have crucially detached themselves from Christ in favor of ‘other’ (what they would deem superior) traits of spirituality – do not touch, taste etc. In terms of what is essential to our faith, this is backsliding!

  6. How do you stop being a back slider? You stop being Steve Martin.
    Sunday’s don’t count in Lent.

  7. M.W. translates, ‘backslide’ – to lapse morally or in the practice of religion.
    Charles Finney preached a sermon titeld, ‘The backslider in heart, based on a passage in .Proverbs 14 verse 14 .
    ‘The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways.’ — http://www.gospeltruth.net/1868Lect_on_Rev_of_Rel/68revlec21.htm
    He defines ‘Backsliding’, with four points…
    1. It consists in taking back that consecration to God and his service, that constitutes true conversion.

    2. It is the leaving, by a Christian, of his first love.

    3. It consists in the Christian’s withdrawing himself from that state of entire and universal devotion to God, which constitutes true religion, and coming again under the control of a self-pleasing spirit.

    4. The text implies that there may be a backslidden heart, when the form of religion and obedience to God are maintained. As we know from consciousness that men perform the same, or similar acts from widely different, and often from opposite motives, we are certain that men may keep up all the outward forms and appearances of religion, when in fact, they are backslidden in heart. There is no doubt, that the most intense selfishness often takes on a religious type, and there are many considerations, that might lead a backslider in heart, to keep up the forms, while he had lost the power of godliness in his soul

    ps. You asked, I am not saying I agree. Just what Finney says.

  8. add. Finney also gives 21 evidences of a backsliding heart… as well as 6 ways whereby one might recover from a backsliding heart.


  9. Kat,

    I did want the other side. If Finney is right, and maybe he is, all Christians are “backsliders”.

    I don’t know. nor have I ever known a Christian, who lives his or her life in enntire love and devotion to God.

    Maybe the term is a good one, and can be aplied to us all.

    Maybe the term ought be synonymous with the word ‘sinner’?

    Thanks, Kat! And thanks for the link.

    – Steve

  10. Howard,

    Good points.

    The “litmus” tests that are often used to characterize the “backsliders” from the “true at heart” are just outward signs of piety that can be measured and judged by us…and isn’t that the problem.

    I like the comparison between the Corinthians and the Galatians. Alden made that point as well.

    As you rightly say, Howard, the Corinthian “messiness” is really the only accurate picture of the sinner. We all live a “messy” life if only inwardly. “There is no one good but God.”

    Thanks, Howard.

    – Steve

  11. Bror,

    He’s alive!

    Maybe the fact that you felt the need to chime in on this one is proof positive of your “backsliddeness”.

  12. Don’t get sidelined onto the Finney farm!
    He has some pretty wacky ideas about human nature, the atonement, the use of the law, etc, so steer clear (and this is from someone who used to revel in his theology).

    “Maybe the term is a good one, and can be applied to us all”

    I prefer the ungodly – those who Christ died for.
    I am, without Him, entirely in that camp!

  13. Steve,
    Looking at C.G. Finney’s second point, ‘first love’. This is the only reference I know of…except for some passage in Malachi…well here it is…: Rev. 2 verse 4.
    ‘Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.’ I found Albert Barnes’ comments to be quite endearing… ‘Individual Christians often lose much of their first love. It is true, indeed, that there is often an appearance of this which does not exist in reality. Not a little of the ardour of young converts is often nothing more than the excitement of animal feeling, which will soon die away of course, though their real love may not be diminished, or may be constantly growing stronger. When a son returns home after a long absence, and meets his parents and brothers and sisters, there is a glow, a warmth of feeling, a joyousness of emotion, which cannot be expected to continue always, and which he may never be able to recall again, though he may be ever growing in real attachment to his friends and to his home.’

    Kat. meeeow!

  14. Isn’t this the “moon walk”? I’m not a Michael Jackson fan.

    Everything man-made lets us down. Sooner or later, everything man-made reveals its hidden weaknesses. Only Christ will not fail. Only Christ does all things well. I don’t. You don’t. Christ does. Always. Infallibly.

  15. Steve, I was giving this some more thought… what about a situation when a Christian isn’t sidelined because of legalism, but rather, simply loses his faith in grace? Could this be considered “backsliding” in a Lutheran sense?

  16. Article XII: Of Repentance.(Augsburg Confession)

    1] Of Repentance they teach that for those who have fallen after Baptism there is remission of sins whenever they are converted 2] and that the Church ought to impart absolution to those thus returning to repentance. Now, repentance consists properly of these 3] two parts: One is contrition, that is, 4] terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of 5] the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven, comforts 6] the conscience, and delivers it from terrors. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits of repentance.

    7] They condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that those once justified can lose the Holy Ghost. Also those who contend that some may attain to such 8] perfection in this life that they cannot sin.

    9] The Novatians also are condemned, who would not absolve such as had fallen after Baptism, though they returned to repentance.

    10] They also are rejected who do not teach that remission of sins comes through faith but command us to merit grace through satisfactions of our own.

  17. 1 John 5:16-17 (NIV)
    16If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. 17All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

    Is this backsliding??

    John was not speaking of an unpardonable sin. That is clear. He was talking about a sin unto “physical” death. These people were God’s children. He would never have taken them home if they had not been His children. The Lord doesn’t whip the Devil’s children-He whips only His own. When His children sin unto death, He will take them home.

    What is this sin? What is it specifically? Well, for Moses and Aaron it was one thing-they lost their tempers, and they destroyed a type of the Lord Jesus. Ananias and Sapphira were living like hypocrites. And in the city of Corinth, there were believers who were getting drunk and were disorderly at the Lord’s Table. So a sin unto death is no one thing specifically. I have a notion that for you it would be different from what it would be for me, but I am of the opinion that every believer is capable of commiting the sin unto death-whatever it is for him/her. You can go on in sin until God will remove you from the scene. This does not mean that every Christian who dies has committed the sin unto death, but it is possible to do that.

    I think that if a child of God goes on disgracing the Lord down here, the Lord will either set him aside or take him home by death. God doesn’t mind doing that. This is very sobering!

  18. Some of the comments reminded me of a sermon I heard.

    Details here.


  19. I wouldn’t take ANYTHING Charles G. Finney wrote to heart or as Christian (AT ALL). He denied just about every Christian doctrine there is, and yet is the hero of most of evangelicalism. You should read his “conversion account” frightening that he became the “hero” of the modern revivalistic movement. Charles Finney called forensic justification in his so called systematic theology a legal fiction and spoke most ardently against it.

    There’s a reason the areas behind him were called the “burnt over districts”. We have a similar phenomena down here in areas of Kentucky, particularly the south central region. Revivalism has a strong history down here and it is utterly devastating. If you are a life long Lutheran and want a taste of Finny I can take to a ton of churches to give you a taste of it. But be prepared for utter despair. We are dealing with a family member right now stuck in this crap who is falling into the hidden works trap and the depression about it is tearing them apart. It’s heart rending to watch. They have all but given up on Christianity formerly, though they don’t deny Christ at all, but the hidden works agenda is exhausting them spiritually because they can’t keep (many here like my self know what this is like).

    I have many such family members driven at length from the church over this kind of pagan christianity, it’s practically a disease down here.

    The SAD part is that they’ve so been taught, I know I thought this way too, that Lutheranism is basically “Roman Catholicism” that they fear even the thought or idea of just stopping in to hear the service there. In fact they’ve so effectively been “inoculated” against the “outward appearances” that its hard to “get past” that so they will HEAR the differences.

    It’s sad and tough at the same time.


  20. Howard,

    Nice one!

    Me too…(am unGodly).

    The longer I live, the more unGodly I see that I am.

    Thanks be to God that His Godliness is enough for all of us.

  21. Larry,

    Keep preaching the Gospel !!!!! Praise Jesus!

    This is why I love it when Tim Keller questions religious sin and legalism by using the word moralism and keeping the Gospel central. It challenges the religious, pharisee that exists in all of us and wants to come out on a moments notice.

    You will, however, get the hair on some Christians necks standing up when you use the word moralism… but if you broach it by going after irreligious and religious idolatry and perceiving sin at a deeper level than even the pharisee sees, it is possible to deconstruct the works based righteousness thinkology in the minds of men.


  22. Finney Farm!



  23. Broapocalypse,

    I like that analogy of the long abset son returning home and all the great emotion which cannot last, even though the love remains strong.

    Very nice job!

  24. Larry,

    What you’ve described there, goes on here too!

    I have seen it many times. A person cannot get past the ‘Catholic’ appearances.

    What is REALLY SAD is that where they are worshipping is ACTUALLY (basically)Roman Catholic in theology. A little bit of me and a little bit of God.

    Basic Roman Catholic semi-Pelagianism.

  25. Alden,

    Good Question. Hard to answer. I try to avoid seeing people as backsliders. I try to see sin as the DEEP issue it is so I can see how great Gods Grace and love is and how completely sufficient the cross was for my sins.

    Romans says where sin increases, grace increases all the more. I don’t think I need to hear much else. In view of the Gospel, in view of Gods Mercy, I am inspired through the spirit to move my feet for the Lord.


  26. Ike,

    “I think that if a child of God goes on disgracing the Lord down here, the Lord will either set him aside or take him home by death. God doesn’t mind doing that. This is very sobering!”

    Indeed it is, Ike!

    The wages of sin is death and the price will be paid by each and every one of us.

  27. Jon,

    It is possible to deconstruct the works based thinkology of men.

    But when you do, you need to have something solid and tangible for the sinner to latch onto. The rubber must meet the road at some point.

    The gospel needs to “land”. Otherwise all that works-based stuff starts creeping in again, or you get emotionalism. Or you get faithism. Putting faith in faith, or faith in your beliefs…rather than faith in God.

    The sacraments is where the gospel touches down for sinners and where all those other forms of ‘the self’ can be crucified, and where Jesus can go to work in the lives of the sinner to create and sustain faith.

    I know that won’t make too many of the anti-sacraments crowd happy…but tough! 😀

  28. Alden,

    I think you have got something there.

    Starting to fall back to yourself and not trusting in the work of Christ might be the proper application of the term “backslider”.

    I never thought of it that way before!

    Good one!

  29. James,

    The Augsburg Confession does not seem to pussyfoot around the issue of not trusting in Christ’s work…alone.

    Article 7 takes no prisoners!

  30. Hey Steve,

    Your exactly right….

    “The Gospel needs to land” Another quote to keep around!

    Because for many people its just buzzing over head like an airplane in a holding pattern.

    Unfortunately. whether you follow baptism as a sacrament or ordinance in your denomination it seems you are equally guilty of not allowing the Gospel to land it seems to me.

    It just appears we have this default mode we can’t shake…. the old adam!

    Praise Jesus that its not up to me!

  31. I don’t think the concept of ‘backsliding’ is necessarily biblical… It is something the ‘churchianity’ has come up with over the years. what do you think, Steve?

  32. I think I saw at least two backsliders on my way to work this morning.

    I was wondering if road rage would stop this epidemic….. :-).

  33. “What is a “backslider“?” (Steve)

    I would only use this term in the sense of someone making a moral stand for something then backing away from it for reasons of their own making. They are ‘sliding back’ to another idea of theirs – just not the one they swore they’d stand for.

    Otherwise the term is rather useless.

    Backsliding does happen by the way – just thought I’d point this out. Some people do leave their highest ethical and moral values for moments of weakness. And although it mostly momentary – the consequences of such actions can be a lifetime.

  34. Could “backsliding” be the opposite of steadfastness? The book of James talks about “double-mindedness”. Is this what he speaks of?

  35. Gal. 2:

    “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came down from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. ”

    Backsliding? If so, then Biblical backsliding is moving toward legalism… almost the opposite of what the fundamentalist definition would be.

    However, the term suggests that the backslider was working – climbing – in order to backslide. This, of course, is in opposition to the “sola gratia” Gospel. I’d have to conclude, then, that the term is only valid in the context of a works-based religion.

    Those using the term have apparently forgotten the words of Jesus in John 10:27, 28:

    “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. ”

    Steve, you prompt some very good discussion and thinking. Thanks!

  36. Great questions.

    Alden, you’d also have to consider David’s whole affair, conspiracy thing in the context of your musings…not that I necessary disagree with them.


  37. how can the spirit of god fail?

  38. “If you accept a grace-based salvation and a grace-based sanctification (as Paul preached), there is no such thing as backsliding. You either live by grace through faith in Christ, or you toss the gospel completely.”


    But you can still go off the boil and sometimes you don’t notice how far you have slipped. I think we all experience such cycles – or at least if WE don’t it must just be ME.

  39. We also have the warning in Revelations 3 to the Laodiceans about lukewarmness.

  40. A taste of Finney’s religion & it’s not Christian:

    “Moral depravity cannot consist in any attribute of nature or constitution, nor in any lapsed or fallen state of nature. . . . Moral depravity, as I use the term, does not consist in, nor imply a sinful nature, in the sense that the human soul is sinful in itself. It is not a constitutional sinfulness” [Systematic Theology, 245]

    “[bold]There can be no justification in a legal or forensic sense, but upon the ground of universal, perfect, and uninterrupted obedience to law[/bold]. This is of course denied by those who hold that gospel justification, or the justification of penitent sinners, is of the nature of a forensic or judicial justification. They hold to the legal maxim, that what a man does by another he does by himself, and therefore the law regards Christ’s obedience as ours, on the ground that He obeyed for us” [Systematic Theology, 362].

  41. “Lukewarmness” would be lukewarmness to the Gospel having domesticated the Law to bit sized fantasies and delusions we may perform, which is what we have today in full force. It is NO BATTLE whatsoever to engage in moralistic legalism, no battle whatsoever. A fool has the strength and moral restitution to do the domesticated bite sized Law then give a wink and a nod to the Holy Spirit.

    When THIS happens in comes the yawns and sleepy eyed lukewarmness at the proclamation of the Gospel, absolution, the sacraments, etc…the “I didn’t see or hear anything special at that church”, just Jesus through the pastor saying I’m forgiven nothing much, just water, just bread, just grape juice – that is to say “lukewarmness”.

    Few in our day are “HOT” for the Gospel because the law has been gummed down into nothing, so there’s no real deadly fear in the soul over a holy God and as such the Gospel gets a yawn or two, the lukewarmness. With no fire in the Law, no hammer of God to split the rock in two the response becomes, “Nothing to see folks, please disperse, just the Gospel, nothing to see here”. So men heap adulation upon themselves and pat each others backs, displaying themselves as successful in making themselves holy, again, with a tip of the hat to the Holy Spirit.

    The REAL battle which is white hot and raging every single hour is to keep the Gospel high and mighty, and keep Christ and Him crucified high and proclaimed. Luther’s prophetic words that the Gospel is INDEED in danger every single hour of being covered up and lost. The darkness scampers for darkness like cockroaches when light comes in by an opened door. Because they like their lukewarm law.

    Thus the lukewarmness would be that dreary quicksand of moral restitution. While the white hot fire of battle is exactly what many have said here including Doorman Priest’s Gospel salvo.

  42. Larry, would happen to have a reference for the quote from Luther you mention about the Gospel being in danger?

  43. “how can the spirit of god fail?” (graceshaker)

    Anyone have any recent videos on Fred Phelps and his crew picketing soldiers and gay peoples funerals (lol)

  44. Anyone have any recent videos on Fred Phelps and his crew picketing soldiers and gay peoples funerals (lol)

    I think they are too busy at the moment gloating over the floods in North Dakota that they say are punishment for ND passing a law banning them from doing that at soldier’s funerals. Wish I was kidding about that, but I am not.

  45. “Wish I was kidding about that, but I am not” (jeofurry)

    Phelps is absolutely crazy IMO – floods as part of punishment for his insane picketing…wow

  46. Alden,

    Sorry I didn’t see you post. Sure, give me some time to find it again, its been a while since I read that one and I’m trying to remember which book it was in now.


  47. Before and during my prodigal days, I may know the word “obedience” biblically but I never really knew the word from my heart. Just like King David. David messed up big time but God told us through the Bible that David was truly after God’s heart.

    Backsliding is a slippery slope. However, it is a slope and not a cliff. Some say I was probably never saved which is most likely. Others say, I rebelled and back-sliding to my old nature like a prodigal son. Either way, no matter how you look at it, God woke me up. The best thing I know about my Lord and Savior is that He loves the sinner like me. He has always loved the outcast-and for that I should be glad, for I, too, was once an outcast.

  48. Jimfromohio,

    “The best thing I know about my Lord and Savior is that He loves the sinner like me. He has always loved the outcast-and for that I should be glad, for I, too, was once an outcast.”

    Thanks, Jim! That is the best thing that I know too!

    Appreciate your comments!

    – Steve

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