There is hope for a tree if it be cut down —Job 14:7
Then all the tax gatherers and sinners drew near to hear Him. ... (11) And He said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me’. And he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took a journey into a far country, and there wasted his provisions with riotous living. And when he had spent it all, there arose a severe famine in that land and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the husks that the swine ate: and no man gave him anything. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you and I am not worthy to be called your son: make me like one of your hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and am not worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his servants, bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his older son was in the field: and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come; and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. And he answered and said to his father, ‘These many years I served you, never transgressed at any time your commandment: and yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this son of yours has come, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you have killed the fatted calf for him. And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right and proper that we should make merry, and be glad: for this your brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found’. —Luke 15:1 & 11-31
￼By Roger Winter-Smith
THE scriptures teach plainly that a child of God may backslide and they certainly teach that he may also recover from such backsliding. The prodigal son ￼speaks of the recovery of a backslider.
He is a son who has gone astray, squandered his inheritance, been reckless with his soul but is fully restored to his father. Indeed the parable perhaps speaks more of the loving heart of God than of the weakness and failure which may overtake his children.
However it would be most unwise to understate the gravity of backsliding in any way. The parable itself shows this plainly when the father entreats the older brother who is angry at the welcome that his younger brother has received. He feels that he has not deserved such immediate and full restoration and is resentful. His father gently remonstrates with him and makes the point that his brother was dead and is now alive again, was lost and is found.
This implies clearly that to depart from the living God by backsliding is to enter into a state of death and if the younger son had not come to himself and returned to his father, if he had died in the far country, he would never have been restored and would have remained permanently in a state of separation and death.
Furthermore, the term backslider is hardly a New Testament term. In fact Christians who err are simply described as sinners. At the end of James’ letter the real horror and danger of turning from the Path of Life is underlined in the most stark terms,
Brethren if any of you wanders from the Truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns the sinner from the error of his ways will save a soul from death and shall hide a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20).
The implication plainly from these scriptures is that to depart from Truth brings about the potential for the death of the soul and so backsliding is indeed a serious matter. However, it is most important to emphasise that God is able and willing to restore those who have backslidden and it is most important that every Christian should understand this.
There is no doubt that the backslidden Christian is vulnerable to the attack of Satan in a very marked way. The evil one will always encourage backsliding—he does everything possible to understate the seriousness of sin; he encourages every Christian to adopt a casual and indeed foolish approach to transgression.
In regard to God’s forgiveness, Satan will introduce a wrong emphasis and will make the suggestion, sometimes with great subtlety, that God is always forgiving and therefore we may sin with impunity. This error taken to extremes is the sort of thing which Paul addresses in Romans 3:8:
.....we are slanderously reported and some affirm that we say let us do evil that good may come? Their damnation is just.
It seems that there was abroad in Paul’s day, a doctrine which suggested that the more sin committed the better, because this brought about ever-increasing grace from God. Such an approach which encourages sin is, of course, suicidal and would be spiritual madness. The evil one having set up a poor Christian to backslide by lessening the gravity of sin, once the fall is accomplished, will then change tactics completely; he then will endeavour to bring about abject despair and relies on various scriptures to do it.
There are some difficult passages of scripture which speak of the danger of falling from Grace in a way that seems to be fatal and from which it seems there may be no recovery. For example Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26-29.
For [it is] impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put [him] to an open shame (Hebrews 6:4-6).
For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation, which will devour the adversaries. He who despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much worse punish- ment, do you suppose will he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, by which he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews10:26-29).
However these scriptures should not bring a sense of hopelessness or despair. John Wesley in his sermon A Call to Backsliders considers this issue very adequately. In contrast to the verse in Job which speaks of a tree having hope if it is cut down, Jude speaks of a different kind of tree
without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for- ever (Jude:12-13).
A tree plucked up by the roots will never live again and is described as twice dead. It seems this person was dead in sins, came to life in God and has died again in a way that is fatal; but this must speak of an absolute apostate. The whole tenor of Jude’s narrative shows these persons to be most unusual and to be adversaries of God’s Kingdom. They are not God’s servants who have unfortunately fallen through weakness or unwatchfulness (which is obviously the reason for most backsliding).
The parable of the prodigal son speaks plainly of God’s willingness to forgive the backslider even though he may have gone a great distance from his spiritual home in Christ and thrown away so much of his inheritance. The son returning is clothed in the best robe, he is celebrated, his son-ship is affirmed, he is given the father’s kiss and the father’s ring. He has lost a great deal, indeed in the parable the older brother now inherits everything but, no doubt the younger son was able to prosper with his father after his restoration, even though he had fallen so badly.
There are examples in the scriptures which are worth considering, King David fell in the most awful way. It is almost unbelievable that God’s servant, a man after His own heart, His anointed king, the light of Israel should have committed such dreadful sin in relation to Bathsheba. He defiled her and then organised the death of her husband and although using the hands of others, it was King David who was responsible for Uriah’s death. King David was forgiven and restored. There was a consequence which could not be removed but he recovered his soul and is, of course, in heaven.
God’s grace is immeasurable. In the book of Revelation when He challenges the church at Thyatira, He speaks of a woman who had attacked His people in the most wicked way. She had purported to be a prophetess but had seduced God’s servants to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols; but nevertheless God had given her space to repent, although she did not repent (Rev.2:20-21). Although this woman did not avail herself of the offer, it is noteworthy that God made provision even for her sin and for her to recover her backsliding had she had the wisdom to respond to the grace offered to her. It is wonderful to see how God works in the recovery of His backslidden children.
The process can be long and difficult. It will certainly include an absolute admission of guilt and the taking of personal responsibility for the backsliding that has occurred. King David’s predecessor, King Saul, also backslid in the matter of Amalek but he was not prepared to acknowledge his failings and he never recovered. King Saul refused to obey the Lord in the matter of his clear commission to utterly destroy the Amalekites. When he was confronted with his error he first denied the extent of it and then blamed others for his sin. It is this spirit which lost him the kingdom and brought about his utter ruin eventually. Samuel identified his failure not as weakness but as rebellion and stubbornness and equates Saul’s conduct to witchcraft, iniquity and idolatry. This resulted in his losing his throne and eventually he went to Satan for help in the matter of the witch of Endor and died an ignominious death. How different from King David.
When the Lord told David about the glory that would attend his son Solomon’s reign, He indicates that He had taken His mercy from Saul but would not take it from Solomon who should follow David (1 Sam.15:18-29, 2 Sam.:12- 15). It seems therefore that in the matter of recovering from backsliding the attitude of the backslider’s heart will determine everything. In Hosea we read of the need to go to God with the plainest expression of guilt and sorrow. Hosea encourages Israel to “take with you words...”
Oh Israel return to the Lord your God; for you have fallen by your iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord, say to Him, ‘take away all iniquity and receive us graciously: so will we render the sacrifices of our lips’ (Hosea 14:1-2).
The prodigal son came to himself, he decided on the approach that he would make to his father to express his acknowledgment of guilt, his sense of unworthiness and his desire for some humble part in his father’s establishment. King David similarly expressed his abject repentance. Psalm 51 contains a full account of that expression. It is worth reading and it is something with which a backslider can identify in his quest to return to the Lord.
Child of God, it may be that you have fallen into sin, perhaps very grave sin, there is no excuse for it and never can be but there is certainly a remedy if you will turn back to the Lord.
The scriptures make it plain that the back- slider can recover, as a tree cut down, if he will go to the Lord in deepest penitence.
About the Author
ROGER WINTER-SMITH is a pastor at Stroud Green in North London. He is married with three children and works as a part-time litigation manager in a London law firm. His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more details of the Stroud Green fellowship at which Roger ministers, see www.sgca-online.org where you will find sermons on free download.