Monday, December 15, 2008

Thoughts on Backsliding

Luke chapter 22 is an interesting study in the phenomena of backsliding. Backsliding is when a Christian moves backwards instead of forwards in their walk of faith. In this chapter we see some particular actions and heart attitudes that are typically found in those who grow cold and fall into sin. These are seen in the disciples words and actions, and particularly in Peter's life.

To begin with, we want to notice the pride that was shown to be in the disciples' hearts back in verse 24. Jesus had just revealed that He would give His life for them—that His body would be torn and His blood would be shed—and instead of being deeply moved and humbled by this revelation, they begin to argue about who is the greatest among them.

Following this, Jesus tells Peter that he will be attacked by the devil but not to fret because He will be praying for him and will restore him after he falls. Instead of being humbled by this revelation Peter swells with pride and asserts that he will never deny the Lord, but is ready to die for Him. Jesus tells him that before the rooster will crow that very day, Peter will have denied Him 3 times...before the end of this chapter, self-assured Peter will deny Christ rather than be honest with a slave girl.

The next thing we see is the Apostles hearing the Word of Christ, as pertaining to only their earthly lives. Jesus has spoken about the coming change of situation and the spiritual trials that they will face, but all they can think about—as has been the case throughout Christ's ministry—are things that concern the immediate issues of life. They are not hearing the spiritual message—things which concern the eternal—rather they are only hearing an earthly lesson—things which pertain merely to the temporal.

In the section which records Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see their lack of prayer. Jesus had warned them that hard trials are coming and therefore they needed to be in prayer, and yet they did not heed His warning. They show no spiritual discipline in their lives—no willingness to forgo their own comfort for Kingdom concerns—and thus instead of praying we find them sleeping.

Next, as the mob comes to arrest Jesus we observe them pull swords and cut off the servant’s ear. What we are see here is that they resort to earthly measures in the midst of trial. The hour has come and instead of relaying on the power of God, they put their trust in their own strength and seek to bring deliverance by their own measures.

And finally, as we read in verse 54 as the case was with Peter, he was following Him at a distance. Although this is a factual description of Peter's proximity to Christ as He is being led away, it is also descriptive of the backslider's method of operation. They comfort themselves with the thought that they are following Christ, but they are really far from Him, only following Him, as it were, at a distance. And when one follows Christ only at a distance, they fall into the practice that we see Peter engaged in here—hanging out with bad company—and then eventually falling from Christ.

Again, in review, the process of backsliding as we see it presented in this chapter is:

1.Pride in the heart—thinking we are better than we really are—an inflated view of our own greatness and superiority to others.

2.Not believing and heeding the Word of God as it speaks to our weakness—this flows out of a heart of pride, and disregards or does not take deadly serious what the Bible says about our sinfulness and weakness.

3.Using the Word of God as a self-help manual for our earthly concerns—this too flows from the first 2, for when you think highly of yourself and disregard the Bible's teaching about your sinfulness and need of salvation, you will not be looking for a Savior, but instead you will be looking for tips on self-improvement, life motivation, or psychological insights.

4.Neglecting the means of grace and spiritual disciplines like prayer—you see, when you misunderstand your real need, you will most likely employ and elevate the wrong measures to help yourself. Prayer makes no sense if your real need, as you perceive it, is self-improvement. You don't need time alone with God, you need time in front of a mirror. And a 'mirror' can come in many forms.

5.Resorting to worldly ways and methods and helps in trials—you see, this too flows out of what has come previously, because if you do not perceive your problem to be radical, to the core, sin and alienation from God—if you think you're pretty good and that all you need is to simply clean yourself up, then you will seek some superficial measure to help your problem. Normally this involves resorting to totally worldly methods of self-improvement or 'mirrors' in some form or another. It might be a small group therapy session, it might be devotional methodology, it might be a specific person—other than Christ—that you look to, to help you improve.

6.Following Christ only at a distance and hanging out with bad company—this too follows what has come before. Whether by outright worldliness or by putting your stock in a human measure or method—versus the ordained means of grace—we drift away from Christ. We pull back and away from Him and He gets further and further away from our view. Our tastes change, our habits morph, and the company we keep shows where our hearts really are. And do not fool yourself, bad company comes in various forms—movies, music, friends, magazines, books, websites, etc.

This is the recipe for spiritual disaster. This is the path that the disciples walked down in this chapter. These are the practices that led to Peter's denial.

Now, the means of avoiding backsliding, and the way to continue to move forward in your growth in grace, is exactly the opposite of each of these:

1.Humble yourself before God
2.Heed what the Word says about your weakness
3.Look to the Word as a revelation of your true need: Christ and His salvation
4.Attend yourself to the means of the grace—those which God calls you to, not those you think you need—and specifically, and especially, private prayer
5.Walk by faith, and not by sight—you will have to trust God and His promises...not your own intuition and wisdom
6.Draw near to Christ, seek to follow Him closely, and avoid bad company