When we hear the word backslide, it generally conjures up images of falling into open, even gross, sin. While backsliding certainly includes that, it is not necessarily limited to it.
Backsliding is not just falling backward, but it is also failing to go forward spiritually. If we are not moving forward in Christ, then we are naturally going backward. In the Christian life, there is no standing still. We are either progressing or regressing. You show me a person who is failing to move forward spiritually, and by that I mean a person who is growing as a follower of Jesus, who is deepening in his or her prayer life and study of Scripture and likeness to Jesus, and I will show you a person who has begun the process of backsliding.
Backsliding is a uniquely biblical word. In Jeremiah 2:19 God says, "Your own wickedness will correct you, and your backslidings will rebuke you. Know therefore and see that it is an evil and bitter thing that you have forsaken the Lord your God...." Also, Jeremiah 3:22 says, "Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings."
The Bible tells the story of a man who backslid, someone whom no one probably expected to fall away. It is the story of Simon Peter and his denial of Jesus Christ. Peter had walked with the Lord during three years of intensive discipleship, and yet Peter denied Him. It is a reminder to us that any of us have the potential to fall.
Peter's denial was not merely a spontaneous response to unexpected danger or embarrassment. For all practical purposes, he had already laid out the groundwork for desertion. No one suddenly backslides. A series of steps always leads to it, because every day, we are either building up or weakening our spiritual character. We are either moving forward or falling backward.
Let's now look at the steps that led to Peter's fall.
Self-confidence. Luke 22:33 tells us that Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death." Peter was boasting in the wrong thing: his own strength. Mark's gospel tells us he did this repeatedly. He was prideful and self-assured. The Bible warns, "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). We should not be confident in ourselves, but in God.
Prayerlessness. This sin of prayerlessness was a direct result of Peter's first sin of self-confidence. When the disciples accompanied Jesus to the Mount of Olives, He specifically instructed Peter, James, and John to pray (Luke 22:40). But they fell asleep. They failed in praying. If they weren't so full of self-confidence, I am sure they would have been praying.
Often, we do the same. We don't pray. We take matters into our own hands and come up with clever little plans and make a big mess out of things. We need to call upon the Lord. We need to recognize our own weakness. This brings us to Peter's next step down.
Following at a distance. In Luke 22:54 we read, "But Peter followed at a distance." Distance from the Lord in closeness and fellowship will always be at the foundation of all spiritual regression. In his defense, Peter was still following, but at a distance. It was half-hearted commitment.
Have you ever watched a TV nature program where a lion was chasing after lunch in the form of a gazelle or a zebra? He usually gets the straggler, the one that is separated from the rest. In the same way, the devil often grabs the stragglers, those who are following at a distance. Don't follow at a distance. Get as close as you possibly can. You can never be too close to Jesus.
To Peter's credit, he got together with the other disciples after Jesus' crucifixion. Peter had fallen. He was devastated. He was destroyed. But he was waiting there with the other disciples when Jesus appeared.
Just like Peter, you have a choice when you fail. You can be destroyed and devastated and let the devil pile on the condemnation, and you can be history. Or, you can get back to Jesus as quickly as possible.
Are you growing spiritually, or have you been in a state of regression? Remember, backsliding is not just going backward; it is a failure to go forward. Why not make a fresh commitment today to move forward in your relationship with Jesus?