You have heard preachers speak about backsliding. By backsliding, we mean that a person takes their focus off the Lord Jesus and, be it slowly or quickly, drifts spiritually to a point where interest in the things of God are not featuring at all. It means the heart is cold! Life in general might proceed normally, but there is no interest in the things of Jesus.
On four occasions, the prophet Jeremiah speaks about backsliding and explains what it means.
Jer 2:19 “Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me,” declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.
Jer 3:22 “Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding.”
Jer 14:7 Although our sins testify against us, O LORD, do something for the sake of your name. For our backsliding is great; we have sinned against you.
Jer 15:6 “You have rejected me,” declares the LORD. “You keep on backsliding. So I will lay hands on you and destroy you; I can no longer show compassion.”
Then Ezekiel speaks about backsliding as idolatry through the use of vile imagery and other offenses.
Eze 37:23 “They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.”
Backsliding is forsaking God; Backsliding is sin; Backsliding is rejecting God; Backsliding is full blown idolatry; yet Jeremiah 3:22 says backsliding is curable and Ezekiel says God can save from backsliding.
In Ezra chapter 9, we find a result of backsliding. Remember, Ezra was a spiritual man, a man of God and a man of prayer. He arrives in Jerusalem and immediately finds a terrible situation. He sees the people in spiritual and religious backsliding. He is crushed because the spiritual apathy and backsliding was due to intermarriage. Remember, due to Israel mixing their religion with paganism, God punished them with exile! Their outright rebellion against God led to their banishment from their land. God relocated them into Babylonia. Now, many years later, there was the re-entry into Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the altar and wall … but the sin that caused exile remains! Look at Ezra 9:1. The people, including the religious leaders, had not separated themselves from the pagan nations and their practices. Added to this was that the men took wives for themselves from these pagan nations.
Ezr 9:1 “The people of Israel … have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices … 2 They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”
The sight of this sin devastated Ezra! Seeing his people’s rampart wickedness and rebellion was appalling (v3-4). The God-fearing joined him. When he rose, he prayed (v6-15), taking joint responsibility for the sin of the nation against God! Read this prayer and see that the focus of their sin is the prophetic word they ignored (v10-12) and their marrying women whose religious practices were detestable (v14). In verse 13, Ezra admits their exile was due to their sin as a nation. He even adds that God treated them far better than they deserved and even permitted a remnant to return to the Promised Land. Backsliding is sinning against God, whatever its shape.
There is personal backsliding when an individual drifts away from God. It does not mean to say you leave everything about God! You might be at church and even a Bible study regularly, but your heart is cold … no devotions, Bible or prayer. Before man, you fulfill all the expected Christian “rites”, but spiritually you are distant. You keep face, but the heart is dry.
There is corporate backsliding when a church drifts from God. Normally this happens when the pastor and/or the church council loses the faith and begins to operate the church as a place for people to gather for every reason except the God-required purpose … the exclusive adoration of God, the grooming of people in His Word and the calling of the lost to follow Jesus as Lord.
I am certain you saw that this sin of backsliding was not personal to Ezra, yet he took combined responsibility! As you look at the church, do you pray like Ezra or do you exclude yourself from responsibility? We need to be a people who are prepared to accept responsibility in prayer for the backslidden state of many churches. We pray!
Maybe you seem offended by God’s requirement of avoiding intermarriage. You need to see that God is not speaking about another nationality or ethnicity or language. The issue was intermarriage with people associated with pagan idols and all the associated evil. Remember Solomon. His many wives led him astray. He built temples for their idols and eventually he worshipped and sacrificed there with them. This is a warning to us all.
Dear God, please prevent my heart from wandering and going cold on Jesus. Fill me constantly, Holy Spirit. Amen.