Downward Steps

fall-from-ladder

What does it mean to “backslide”? In the Biblical context, to backslide means to move away from Jesus Christ rather than towards Him. It means to be lured away from Christ by sin. But does a backslider lose his salvation? Depending on your theological bent, it either does or it doesn’t. So let’s forget about our theological bents and take a look at the Bible and see what it has to say.

In the very first book of the Bible we witness the very first backslider, who happened to be the very first woman: Eve. Backsliding started very early on! Eve saw, then desired, then took, then ate before she gave to Adam. From that moment on, the first couple of backsliders began to slip out of fellowship with God. You can’t have it all; you can’t have both sin and a relationship with God. The two are incompatible. Backsliding is like a disease that infects a believer’s spiritual being. It’s a disease that cripples the will, making it more and more impossible to resist sin.

Adam and Eve’s backsliding didn’t end particularly well for them or their progeny. To this very day, we all feel the consequences of what those two backsliders did.

But there is another backslider in the Bible, and his story is fascinating. His name is Peter. From his life, we learn that backsliding is a definite process; it’s not something that happens in an instant. Let’s look at Peter’s downfall, step-by-step.

Self-confidence

The very first step in Peter’s downfall into a backslidden state was his unreasonable self-confidence. Mark 14:29 –

Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” (NIV)

To be fair, Peter meant that when he said it. This declaration was made in response to something Jesus said moments before –

You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “ ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’” (Mark 14:27 NIV)

Jesus made this prediction as He walked with His disciples from the Upper Room to the Mount of Olives. The phrase “fall away” comes from the Greek word, skandalizo, which is not the easiest Greek word to get a handle on. The NIV’s “falling away” seems to be in line with the quote from Zechariah 13:7, which follows skandalizo. The sheep scatter when they lose their shepherd. Not all the disciples will lose their faith in Jesus, but they certainly lost their courage to follow Him. They “scattered” because their faith in Him wavered.

Of course, Zechariah’s prophecy and Jesus’ prediction came to pass. The disciples were filled with dread and fear and didn’t want to be identified with Jesus in His trial and Crucifixion. That dread and fear caused these men who had walked, talked with, laughed with, and cried with Jesus for three years to forsake him.

But before they scattered, Peter was adamant that even if all the other disciples walked away from Jesus, he wouldn’t dare do that. Jesus could count on him to always be by his Savior’s side. That’s what Peter thought. The “I” in Peter’s declaration is powerfully self-assertive. He truly believed that he, even above all his friends, was the one – the only one – who was completely reliable and steadfast. Too bad Peter forgot the words of Solomon –

Those who trust in themselves are fools… (Proverbs 28:26a NIV)

Indeed, the first step in backsliding is thinking it will never happen to you! Paul put it this way –

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12 NIV)

Pride

Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial didn’t convince Peter that it would happen. Can you imagine doubting the Word of the Lord? After all Peter had heard Jesus say and witnessed Him doing over the past three years, it seems almost impossible that he would so vehemently contradict his Lord’s Word. But pride can make you do things you would never do otherwise.

But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Mark 14:31a NIV)

But it wasn’t just Peter who said this: all the other apostles pledged their allegiance to Jesus as well.

And all the others said the same. (Mark 14:31b NIV)

All the disciples were infected with the same thing: spiritual pride. They were all sincere; these disciples were not liars or deceivers. But not one them knew his own heart. Not one of them knew his weaknesses. That’s the problem most Christians have to-day.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:9, 10 NIV)

It’s doesn’t pay to con Jesus. He knows your heart. You can fool people most of the time but not the Lord. The only way you can come close to knowing yourself is by looking into the mirror that is the Word of God. The disciples heard the Words of Jesus but didn’t connect them to their lives. Didn’t Jesus say this –

“Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” (John 13:36 NIV)

Laziness

Spiritual pride and self-confidence make a believer lazy and leads to unwatchfulness.

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping.“Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? (Mark 14:37 NIV)

Christians like Peter think they’re safe; they think they know more than other believers; they think they are stronger than other believers. But the third step in backsliding is spiritual laziness. When you think you know the Bible so well you don’t need to read it or study it, then you’re lazy. When you think you know as much as the pastor does (hint:  you probably don’t), then you think Bible study at church is a waste of time. When you think you have a lock on this Christian life, then you’re too good to waste an hour in church on Sunday morning because, after all, other Christians need to be there but not you. Fact is, you’re spiritually lazy and this laziness will inevitably lead to your downfall.

Once again, we see Peter completely forgetting or disregarding the very words of Jesus because just a few hours earlier, He said this:

“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ” (Mark 13:35 – 37 NIV)

But Peter couldn’t keep watch because he was spiritually lazy.

Shame

The downfall of a backslider is gradual, but certain. Remember Peter was so sure he would follow Jesus anywhere. Anywhere! Now all of a sudden when the chips are down and the cards have been called, Peter is nowhere to be found.

Peter followed him at a distance… (Mark 14:54a NIV)

Jesus had been arrested and Peter was as far away from His Lord as he could get. Jesus wasn’t so popular with people now and Peter didn’t want to be identified with Him. He was ashamed of Jesus; ashamed to be among His followers. This is serious step down in the backsliding process. It is here God’s Word is forgotten and neglected and prayer is given up.

Worldliness

When a believer has effectively cut himself off from the fellowship of his Lord and the church, a void is created and worldliness gets sucked in.

There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. (Mark 14:54b NIV)

Peter hadn’t completely disowned Jesus quite yet. He might have been close enough to actually witness the trial of his Lord, but he’s now associating with “the guards” and is comforted by their fire. When a Christian has no fellowship with Christ and His people, he will find fellowship with non-believers. We don’t know who first uttered this ancient proverb, but it’s undeniably true:

Birds of a feather flock together.

Or, a man is known by the company he keeps. Peter was keeping the company of the enemy.

Denial

When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said. But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” (Mark 14:67, 68 NIV)

Not once but three times in all did Peter deny knowing Jesus. It should be noted that Peter is definitely in the process of backsliding, yet he did show some courage in following Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. Part of Peter still wanted to follow Jesus; love and fear mingled in his heart, but at the same time he was being pulled away. As has been noted –

Light thoughts on sin ultimately lead to light thoughts on redemption, and ultimately rob the Cross of its glory.

Peter was afraid that if he aligned himself with Jesus, the fate of Jesus would become his fate. In fear this apostle not only denied Jesus, but actually took an oath that he in no way even knew Jesus.

…he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” (Mark 14:71b NIV)

As vehemently as he once pledged allegiance to follow Jesus anywhere, he now denied that he even knew Him. It’s a very serious thing to deny Jesus as Peter did –

But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. (Matthew 10:33 NIV)

Recklessness

He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” (Mark 14:71 NIV)

Peter had once swore up and down that even if all the others left Jesus he never would, and now his backslidden condition is complete and he swore to everybody he never knew Jesus. Peter had been exposed for the coward he really was. His heart had been exposed. Of course others believed him, but he finally saw his heart for what it was. Peter was the man who once said of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” but now he says, “I don’t even know the man.”

Restoration

When Peter had denied Jesus three times, he broke down and cried. He may have been a coward, but enough of the Word remained in his mind and enough love for God remained in his heart that he felt the full weight of what he had done. In an odd sort of way, it took a backslidden condition to bring Peter back to where he belonged.

We know that it wasn’t long before Peter was restored to the fold, completely. It wasn’t long before Peter would preach sermons so powerful that thousands of converts joined the ranks of the early church. It was just a matter of a few weeks from his denial that Peter would stand up and defy the high priests and Pharisees and steadfastly refuse to denounce Jesus. What was it that changed him? Of course, we know that on the day of Pentecost he was filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered with that “power from on high.” But something else was going on way back in the background.

But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:32 NIV)

Jesus knew exactly what Peter would do. His denial came as no surprise to Jesus, in fact, Jesus knew ahead of time and began praying for this apostle’s restoration even before Peter needed it. Backsliding doesn’t always have to end badly. You probably know some Christian who has turned their back on God, the church, and maybe even you. Don’t write them off. Jesus hasn’t. He’s praying for them to return and you should, too.

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