06 January 2020

Backsliding. We all do it.

BACKSLIDE 'bæk.slaɪd verb. Relapse into bad ways or error.
[Backslider 'bæk.slaɪ.dər noun]

The idea behind backsliding is the road to sanctification isn’t level; it’s uphill. A bit of a climb, too. Paved with gravel instead of asphalt, so on the particularly steep parts, the ground’s gonna slip under your feet a little, especially if you’re standing still. It’s the natural consequence of gravity, so you can’t just stand still. You have to keep moving!

So yeah, in this metaphor the gravitational pull represents our natural tendency towards self-centeredness and sin. If we drop the effort to climb towards Christ—even for a second—we’re gonna backslide.

Now. If the pursuit of Christ is really like this, we Christians oughta be way more gracious and sympathetic to backsliders than we are. I used to hike several times a week, and on every hill there’s always backsliding. On wet days, even with the best shoes, you can always make a misstep and fall on your face. I’ve come back from casual hikes covered in mud, simply because I tackled a hill which looked deceptively easy to scale.

And the Christian walk, if we’re doing it right, is gonna have way bigger challenges than wet hills. We’re gonna fumble. A lot. But we get back up again. We have to; the road home leads up that hill.

Problem is, a lot of American Christians don’t struggle all that hard in our Christianity… and haven’t gone hiking either. So we haven’t thought the metaphor all the way through, and don’t have hiking in mind when we refer to a “backslider.” Or really even know what we’re talking about.

Fr’instance. Back in my high school youth group, a girl became pregnant, and the church gossips were mighty quick to comment how she’d so obviously “backslidden.” Thing is, I knew the girl’s boyfriend. She hadn’t backslidden at all. She had no relationship with Jesus. She was in the youth group because her friends were there. She was in the church’s choir because she was a good singer, and the music pastor liked her talent and let her join. The gossips assumed her attendance, and public on-stage praise of Jesus, meant she was Christian. Nope. Outside youth group and Sunday morning services, she was as pagan as anyone. She was no backslider: She wasn’t even climbing.

The same is true of most “backsliders.” Their Christian walk isn’t uphill: It’s a casual stroll through a shopping mall, as they pick and choose which accessories please them most. If you slide on a level surface, it’s because you never bothered to put on shoes with any traction, or you’re choosing to slide—towards something fun. Might be destructive fun, but it sure looks fun.

These so-called “backsliders” aren’t truly pursuing Christ Jesus. They’re trying Christianity out for a while, trying to see whether it looks good on them. They aren’t moving forward, or uphill. Neither are they sliding back when they put Christianity down and try on something else.

Now I was a backslider. In high school I was a giant hypocrite. But I was pursuing Jesus, however poorly. I’d make a little bit of effort… then stand still and let gravity drag me backward. But I really did want more Christ in my life, and only those of us who make the effort can be truly said to backslide.

And all of us are gonna backslide. It happens. It’s life. So when that happens, we need to encourage one another to get back up and try again. We need to sympathize, because next time it’ll be us. As careful as we may be, we never know when we might be blindsided by a temptation we never prepared for. Or how a small oversight or lapse in judgment can have spectacular consequences. Our churches should be our support systems for every time we make these mistakes, and minister God’s forgiveness.

Sad to say, too often they aren’t. Too many are full of hypocrites who hide our daily failures, and gossip about those who don’t hide so well. We’ll tear into one another like sharks who smell blood. Our response to backsliding must always be, “If it weren’t for God’s grace, that’d be me. Let me help.”