I don't hear much about the danger of "backsliding" these days. It seems that was something my friends and I were concerned about 20 years ago. We talked about it, prayed against it, and sought to keep Jesus always before us as our greatest hope and satisfaction. It wasn't like we were about to fall right off the spiritual map by denying Jesus and jumping into scandalous sin, but we knew that we do in fact have hearts that are, as the hymn says, "prone to wander." And I am no better today.
If there is one consideration more humbling than another to a spiritually-minded believer, it is, after all God has done for him,--after all the rich displays of his grace, the patience and tenderness of his instructions, the repeated discipline of his covenant, the tokens of love received, and the lessons of experience learned, there should still exist in the heart a principle, the tendency which is to secret, perpetual, and alarming departure from God. - Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension'
But even if we acknowledge that we remain sinners and can find ourselves in a dangerous spiritual state, do we know what such a state really looks like? I'm not so sure. Some liken it to big public failure, and this leaves them thinking they are safe when in fact they may be in a very bad way. In the classic Vital Godliness, William Plumer said, "Many are kept from owning their backslidings, because they are mercifully restrained from open sins. Had they publicly fallen into overt iniquity, they would blush, and be ashamed; they would bewail their wickedness before God and men. But as yet all is secret. They are merely backsliders in heart."
What Does Backsliding Look Like?
In his book, Revival, Richard Owen Robert lays 25 evidences of a backslidden condition. He expounds on each, but I'll just give you the points here. Consider them seriously.
1. When prayer ceases to be a vital part of a professing Christian’s life, backsliding is present.
2. When the quest for biblical truth ceases and one grows content with the knowledge of eternal things already acquired, there can be no mistaking the presence of backsliding.
3. When the biblical knowledge possessed or acquired is treated as external fact and not applied inwardly, backsliding is present.
4. When earnest thoughts about eternal things cease to be regular and gripping, it should be like a warning light to the backslider.
5. When the services of the church lose their delights, a backslidden condition probably exists.
6. When pointed spiritual discussions are an embarrassment, that is certain evidence of backsliding.
7. When sports, recreation and entertainment are a large and necessary part of your lifestyle, you may assume backsliding is in force.
8. When sins of the body and of the mind can be indulged in without an uproar in your conscience your backslidden condition is certain.
9. When aspirations for Christlike holiness cease to be dominant in your life and thinking, backsliding is there.
10. When the acquisition of money and goods becomes a dominant part of your thinking, you have clear confirmation of backsliding.
11. When you can mouth religious songs and words without heart, be sure backsliding is present.
12. When you can hear the Lord’s name taken in vain, spiritual concerns mocked and eternal issues flippantly treated, and not be moved to indignation and action, you are backslidden.
13. When you can watch degrading movies and television and read morally debilitating literature, you can be sure you are backslidden.
14. When breaches of peace in the brotherhood are of no concern to you, that is proof of backsliding.
15. When the slightest excuse seems sufficient to keep you from spiritual duty and opportunity, you are backslidden.
16. When you become content with your lack of spiritual power and no longer seek repeated enduements of power from on high, you are backslidden.
17. When you pardon your own sin and sloth by saying the Lord understands and remembers that we are dust, you have revealed your backslidden condition.
18. When there is no music in your soul and no song in your heart, the silence testifies to your backsliding.
19. When you adjust happily to the worlds’ lifestyle, your own mirror will tell the truth of your backsliding.
20. When injustice and human misery exist around you and you do little or nothing to relieve the suffering, be sure you are backslidden.
21. When your church has fallen into spiritual declension and the Word of God is no longer preached there with power and you are still content, you are in a backslidden condition.
22. When the spiritual condition of the world declines around you and you cannot perceive it , that is testimony of your backslidden stance.
23. When you are willing to cheat your employer, backsliding is apparent.
24. When you find yourself rich in grace and mercy and marvel at your own godliness, then you have fallen far in your backsliding.
25. When your tears are dried up and the hard, cold spiritual facts of your existence cannot unleash them, see this as an awful testimony both of the hardness of your heart and the depth of your backsliding.
(taken from Revival, Richard Owen Roberts)
You may want to take issue with a few of the "evidences" listed above, but before you do consider them carefully lest you miss identifying a real problem in your life. And what if you find some of these things true of yourself? Tomorrow I'll post some thoughts on returning to the Lord.