2. Did I ever make a proper decision to follow Jesus?
At the outset of our faith it is vital that we look carefully at the claims of Jesus, and decide if we are willing to renounce all and follow him. Some people seem to think that can accept Jesus as savior without following him as their Lord. These words would strongly suggest that is NOT true.
The quality of our initial response to to the gospel is also explored by Jesus in the parable of the Sower. Anyone who has been a Christian for a few years will recognize that there are some who seem to make an excited response but they have no real root and their apparent faith disappears. Jesus explains that not everyone who hears the gospel and apparently responds is genuine, and that a little bit of time will reveal this:
“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)
It is so vital that we make sure our hearers truly UNDERSTAND the words of Jesus and appropriate them. Those that don’t fully grasp the nature of Jesus’ demands on us risk losing the apparent faith they might display to difficulties, the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches.
Actually it is crucial that WE make sure we understand the gospel fully ourselves. The gospel is simple, but we over-complicate it. This is why Tope and myself wrote a book called Hope Reborn – How to Become a Christian and Live for Jesus.
Of course understanding is not merely intellectual, it is a decision of the heart based on believing the eternity altering message of the gospel.
This same idea is expressed another way by Jesus. He says ,
“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matt 7:24, NIV).
As we have already seen, becoming a Christian is a decision to OBEY Jesus. And at the risk of sounding repetitive, if you fear you are backsliding then get back to the foundation, and determine once again that you will build your life on this sure foundation. For them when the storms come you may be shaken but you won’t be destroyed. I have written about this verse previously:
Sadly, many who turn away from Jesus never to return simply prove they never knew him at all:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19)
3. Am I experiencing a spiritual or physical malaise?
In my recent article on my journey with Leukaemia I explained how I felt I was backsliding myself even before I was officially diagnosed. My story is an example of how complicated this can be since a large part of my issue was my physical health strongly affecting my mental and spiritual health. I was experiencing spiritual malaise:
In the early days of my diagnosis my low energy, fatigue and general feelings of apathy, together with my emotional upset at the diagnosis, made me withdraw from God.
I found prayer, Bible reading and attending Church all lost their comfort. It all became just an effort that I didn’t have the energy for. I felt like I was backsliding. And my hope began to fade, as at times I felt as if this “early” disease had already destroyed my whole life.
To be honest, my faith had not been in a good way for a few months before I became unwell. My energy and enthusiasm levels were already low for me, and although I had no way to realize it at the time, perhaps my body had actually already been struggling for a while. If I noticed at all I’d just assumed it was the fact I was commuting for the first time in years. Although I’d gradually given up most of my hobbies such as preaching and writing, I was able to work as normal.
Once I began to realize that there was a physical reason for my low energy and enthusiasm, I gradually began to find my way back to Jesus.
Now, once again, my faith is hope giving and so precious to me. Indeed God has used my sickness to draw me closer to Him than ever before. He really does turn all things around for our good.
Suffering will either drive you deeper in your relationship with God or turn you away from him. Your call which.
Sometimes it is only a physical illness that reveals we have a spiritual malaise that we have been hiding for years. When suffering comes it tests our faith, reveals its true character. And can cause us to make that journey back to Jesus and find a deeper confidence in him.
4. Am I a backslider who will find their way back to Jesus?
“Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” (Jude)
When dealing with a backslider, they may need mercy and kindness to draw them back to God. Or they may need to be warned.
Imagine if you will two people both of whom had committed some sexual sin.
One said, “I am terrified I am on my way to hell, that God can never forgive me”
I hope you would tenderly take them to the story of King David when he committed adultery and murder but was forgiven. Then you would show them Psalm 51 and show them how to express their repentance to God. When our hearts are dirty, they need to be cleaned.
I trust that you would then explain to them the very fact that their tender heart feels conviction of sin is a mark that God has not finished with them yet. And, having led them through repentance, I hope you would have confidence to declare that
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Imagine however that the other backslidden Christian said something like this:
I know that God is my father. It doesn’t matter what I do with my mortal body, I can do whatever I like, he will still accept me into heaven.
I hope that instead of offering comfort you would offer strong warnings. The warnings of Hebrews are not for the tender-hearted Christian who thinks they may lose their salvation, they are for the cocky over-confident pretend Christian who is clearly on the way to hell. Perhaps God will use you to arrest someone in their path to condemnation and offer them the way back to God.
Some verses that may help the casual and continuous sinner to realize they have no right to presume on God’s grace:
- No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:6)
- “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it...how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-4)
- “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” (Hebrews 3:12)
- “It is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt... Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.” (Hebrews 6:4-9)
- “If we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries... It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:26-31)
- “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
You will notice that five of these warning passages come from Hebrews. You can read them all in context at Bible Gateway.
How to Return to Jesus
The way back to God for any backslider is simply by going back to the Gospel and responding to it as you did in the beginning. I have found when spiritually dry that to re-read Hope Reborn, the book I wrote summarizing the gospel, reminds me afresh of things I’ve always believed, and draws out renewed commitment from my heart to Jesus.
I find a similar effect by listening to a playlist I’ve put together on both Spotify and Apple Music, which I’ve called “Gospel hope.” These songs are often written out of an emotional place, but for those of us with a faith they gently take our hearts and point them back to trusting again in what we believe Jesus has done for us.
Christian friends and church attendance are also part of God’s plan to encourage us and help us find strength in him.
The final thing that will help is getting more serious about prayer and Bible reading.
If you are a Christian who has backslidden, stop fighting the inevitable and return to Jesus.
5. Have I only got just enough faith to get into heaven?
Some people who appear to all intents and purposes to have lost their faith still have enough faith to enter heaven. After all the core of the gospel response is very simple:
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
But why would you want to be saved but only “as through fire.” Some liken this to those who do not “inherit” the kingdom of God and hence get fewer rewards in heaven:
“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
Some people say but I would be glad to just scrape into heaven and I don’t need rewards. But such an answer is dangerous. How can you know just how much you need to follow Jesus to “make it.” Surely it is better to be sold out for him so we can have confidence not just of getting in by the skin of our teeth, but of a warm welcome and a “Well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).
Surely the question is not what is the least commitment we can get away with? But rather if Jesus has done so much for us, how much can we do for him?
There are some important verses that stand firmly against the idea that a Christian can finally be lost. But to apply them we first need confidence that we really are walking as a Christian.