Warning Signs of Backsliding

Warning Signs of Backsliding

We are commemorating the Lord’s Supper today. The Lord’s Supper provides us with an occasion to look towards the Lord afresh, to recall His love for us and to renew our love for Him. The Lord’s Supper, as such, is also a time of self-examination.

Providentially, as I was thinking and praying about what to write in the bulletin that will help the church in this exercise, the Free Church Witness, a publication of the Free Church of Scotland (continuing) came in the post. Inside, there is an article entitled "Warning Signs of Backsliding," which reproduces a list of symptoms of spiritual backsliding first printed in an old Watchword magazine. I was rebuked, encouraged and edified by it. But as I read it, I thought not only of my own walk with the Lord, but of the church.

Are any of us backsliding? Are you backsliding? I fear that some of us have backslidden so badly that we will not even bother to read this article. And some of us are backslidden in such a way that we will read the list not to discover the true state of our spiritual walk, but ironically, to prove that we are not backsliding! Such a person will read the list and congratulate himself at every point where he thinks he has not failed. But he will gloss over, or worst, excuse himself at every point where he fails. And one who is backslidden is a master of excuses, self-justification and finger-pointing.

"But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak" (Heb 6:9). I trust, therefore, that you will read this list prayerfully, beseeching the Lord: "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Ps 139:23-24).

Here then is the list:
You are reluctant to have religious conversations and the company of serious, heavenly-minded Christians, and you enjoy yourself best with the worldly;
From preference, you are absent from prayer meetings, confine yourself to Sabbath meetings, and are ready to excuse such neglect;
You are afraid to consider certain duties seriously in case your conscience should rebuke past neglect and insist on obedience now;
It is your object, in doing your study, more to pacify your conscience than to honour Christ, obtain spiritual profit, or do good to others;
You have an unduly critical spirit respecting the preaching of Christ’s ministers; are dissatisfied with their manner as being too plain, too long, too intellectual, too doctrinal, or too practical, or when you complain of it as too close and direct;
You are more afraid of being thought of as strict; than of sinning against God by negligence in practice and unfaithfulness to Christ;
You have little fear of temptation, and can trifle with spiritual danger;
You thirst for the approval of the men of the world, and are more anxious to know what they think or say of you than whether you honour the Saviour in their sight;
Church scandals are more the subject of your censure than of your secret grieving and prayer to God, and faithful endeavours for their removal;
You are more afraid to encounter the scorn of an offending man by rebuking sin, than of offending God by silence;
You are more bent on being rich than holy;
You cannot receive reproof for faults, are unwilling to confess them, and justify yourself;
You are impatient and unforgiving towards the frailties, faults, and misjudgments of others;
Your reading of the Bible is formal, hasty, merely intellectual, and unattended with self-application; or you read almost any other book with more interest than the Word of God;
You have more religion outside than at home and are apparently fervent when "seen of men" but careless when seen only by the family or by God alone;
Your religious taste is more for the new things of men than for the old things of God’s Word;
You call spiritual laziness and withdrawing from Christian activity by the names of prudence and peaceableness, while sinners are going to destruction and the church suffering declension; and are unmindful that prudence can be united with zealous fidelity, and peaceableness with the most anxious seeking of the salvation of souls;
Because there is a false zeal abroad, you will neither trust yourself or others to be "fervent in spirit, serving the Lord", as the Apostle Paul taught and practiced;
You are secretly more gratified at the falls of some professing Christian than grieved for the wounds he inflicts upon Christ;
Under the chastisement of God, you think more of your sufferings than what you deserve, and look more for relief than purification of sin;
You confess but do not forsake besetting sin;
You acknowledge, but still neglect duty.

Where do you stand dearly beloved? Are any of these signs found in you? I am not asking how many of these signs describe you. I am asking if any of them possibly describe you. If so, you have great need of God’s pardoning mercy and restoring grace. Will you not cease to justify yourself or try to bury the indictment against you under a mountain of excuses or finger-pointing? Will you not cry out to the Lord as David did: "Have mercy upon me, O God… Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit with me… Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation" (Ps 51:1, 9, 10, 12). W

— JJ Lim

[Ed. Four years ago I wrote two articles entitled "Symptoms of Spiritual Declension" (PCC Bulletin, vol. 1, no. 46 dated 14 May 2000) and "Remedies Against Spiritual Declension" (PCC Bulletin, vol. 1, no. 47 dated 21 May 2000). If you have benefited from this short article may I recommend for you to read also these earlier two articles].