by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.
Proverbs 14:14a, KJV The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways.
•• I was inspired by a recent visit to a Christian recovery ministry in the USA's Pacific Northwest.
• There I saw the ministry leaders reaching out compassionately, with the love of Jesus, to many dozens of street people, ex-convicts, addicts and prostitutes.
• I saw an effective recovery ministry, because it was built upon the Word of God, the love of God, and an honest acknowledgement of our sinfulness.
• I saw Christians who proclaimed a resounding "Yes!" to the questions:
• Is there hope for the backslider?
• Is there help for backsliders?
• Does God have a heart for backsliders?
• Yes! Yes! and Yes! to all three.
• Backsliders, know this — Jesus loves you! What He does not love is your backslidden condition.
Jeremiah 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...
•• It’s miserable to be backslidden from the Lord.
•• Guilt ... shame ... a sense of isolation ... loss of divine blessings (such as health!) ... relationships broken ... punishment and rebuke from God ... It becomes “evil and bitter for [the backslider]”!
•• Our Rogue Valley has thousands of backsliders. Our pastors’ prayer group prays for them every Thursday.
•• Let’s develop a compassion for backsliders! Let’s try to develop God’s redemptive heart for them.
•• One preacher predicted, “The first move of God we’re going to see will not be just sinners getting saved, but BACKSLIDERS coming BACK to the Lord.” Amen!
Jeremiah 3:12-15, 22 Go, proclaim this message toward the north: " 'Return, faithless Israel,' declares the Lord, 'I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,' declares the Lord, 'I will not be angry forever. (13) Only acknowledge your guilt.... (14) "Return, faithless people," declares the Lord... (15) Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding....
•• Notice God’s cry to the backslider (It should be our heart’s cry, too!): “RETURN!... RETURN!”
•• What else does He ask? — “Acknowledge your guilt.” Pray for conviction and repentance to fall on all those away from the Lord.
•• How does God (and we!) respond to their repentance? — Mercy ... no more anger ... He links the returning backslider up with godly shepherds.
• Search your heart. Are you ready to receive them?
•• God’s cry to backslidden Israel was: “Return to me!”
• God’s reaction to their backsliding was anger. God’s reaction to them was: “I am merciful!”
•• Hosea 14:4, KJV I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.
• Christians, love the returning backsliders freely, without judgment, because God the Father loves them; Jesus loves them.
•• Let’s look further, at the Prodigal Son story, to sense God's heart for the backslider, so we can properly dispose our hearts
Luke 15:11-32 ...(13) the younger son ... set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.
•• He had left his home, left his Father, for wild living.
14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.
•• Typical results of backsliding — severe famine ... need.
• Look for people in that condition.
15 So he went and hired himself out...to feed pigs.
•• Life for the backslider can drop to the level of the pig sty!
• Pig sties are dirty! Don’t just look for "clean" backsliders.
17 When he came to his senses...
•• Pray for this, for the backslider to come to his senses.
18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you... (20) So he got up and went to his father.
•• Here’s the key: REPENTANCE!
• You reach out to the backsliders...“GOD peradventure will give them repentance” (2 Timothy 2:25, KJV).
20b But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
•• Compassion for the returning backslider
•• “Ran to” — He made it easy on the returning backslider; he accepted him.
22 ...‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.’
•• A warm, gracious, and generous reception for the returning backslider
23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.
•• The returning backslider is something to celebrate!
24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
•• Regard the returning backslider as one returning to life.
28 The older brother became angry and refused to go in.
•• A warning to us not to be resentful or judgmental.
32 We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.
•• The returning backslider is an occasion to celebrate and be glad! — “More joy in heaven...” over one repenting sinner than over ninety-nine not needing to repent.
•• May God grant us MANY SUCH!
Revelation 3:19-20 Jesus said: Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
•• Jesus loves and seeks out the backsliders, the lukewarm, the believers who are distant from Him.
•• When they respond to Jesus, the Lord draws once more into a close relationship with them.
•• LORD, HELP US TO DO THE SAME! — to seek out the backslider, the down-and-outer, the addict, the convict, the defeated ... and to extend to them the restoring message of Jesus Christ's love and forgiveness.