Chapter 16: Backsliding

2 I know your works and your labor and your patience…and for My name's sake you have labored and have not fainted. 4 But I have this against you: that you have left your first love. 5 Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent, and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and will remove your lampstand out of its place unless you repent. Revelation 2:2-5 (MKJV)
Opening Prayer: Lord, how did I ever get to this point? When did my love for you begin cooling off? When did I start letting other treasures ensnare my heart? Show me how to return to that place of my first love, I pray.

Does Jesus really care?

Human love is really peculiar. We meet a special person and our lives are changed. The sky is bluer and the clouds are whiter. We hear angels singing when we're with our loved one. Time flies by too quickly. We cry when we must be apart for more than a few hours. Surely this person is a gift from God, and we pledge undying love at the altar of matrimony.

Then real life steps in. We start finding fault. Our spouse begins looking familiar and ordinary, rather than perfect and wonderful. Our passion cools. Unless we wake up and invest some energy in the relationship, it will die.

Many times, our relationship with Jesus is exactly like that. When I first discovered the truth of the Gospel, that Jesus loved me enough to die for me, to pay the price for my redemption, my joy and love for Him knew no bounds. For nearly a year, I just couldn't get enough of the Bible and church services. I wanted to tell every person I met about Jesus.

But eventually my fervor began to cool. My faith felt pretty ordinary, and I wasn't quite as excited about the Lord. Then one of the pastors enlightened me about prayer and my love for Jesus was renewed wonderfully. For awhile.

Looking back over the past 20 years, I can see how my love for God has been inconsistent. At times my heart burns with love for Him. At other times, I've been lukewarm and didn't realize it.

Cooling slowly

When I'm in the process of backsliding, I'm the last one to know it. Backsliding is very comfortable. I'm still pointing toward God - at first. Then my eyes and my heart are distracted and drawn away to other treasures. When I finally wake up to my condition, I've wandered off the trail. My fervent love for the Lord has cooled, and I realize that I've wasted time and opportunities.

Jesus gives a stern warning about this cooling-off process in Revelation 3, verses 15-18:

15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I would that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, I am rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing, and do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold purified by fire, so that you may be rich; and white clothing, so that you may be clothed, and so that the shame of your nakedness does not appear. And anoint your eyes with eye salve, so that you may see. (MKJV)

Remember that Jesus was talking to Christians, not heathen folks. His listeners were still going to church, still putting money into the offering, still reading their Bibles. They were still involved in ministry. But they had lost the passion that once burned in their hearts.

This is a truly frightening place to be. When we cool off, we stop exercising faith. Our feet still walk inside the church building, and our mouths still say the words, but our hearts aren't in it. We're just being religious. Our faith has become head knowledge, lifeless and powerless. Like the seed that falls among thorns, our hearts have become choked by the cares of this life, and our lives are unfruitful. We should be salt and light. Instead, we're tasteless and dim.

Fortunately, Jesus gives us a simple solution in verses 19 and 20 of Revelation 3:

19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him and he with Me. (MKJV)

Wake up, receive the rebuke of our Lord and Savior, and realize that He still loves you. Then be zealous and repent. The Holy Spirit will rekindle the fire in your heart if you give Him permission.

You might have heard pastors using verse 20 to invite non-believers to come forward, to give their lives to Jesus for the first time. But in context, you realize that it's for you - the backsliding believer. When you have backslid long enough, you have shut Jesus outside your heart.

Jesus still loves you and still wants to have fellowship with you. But the door has only one handle - on the inside. You must repent of your lukewarmness, or you might find yourself outside the door of Heaven with all the other unbelievers.

Is it ever too late?

At some point, the backsliding stops. The former believer just stops caring about Jesus. Never mind the excuses and the "reasons." The former believer is now a hardened sinner, vaccinated by religion and seemingly immune to the Gospel of grace.

Don't deceive yourself with the slogan "Once saved, always saved." That's a doctrine of man. Jesus never said that, nor did any of the Apostles. In Luke 9:62 we read:

And Jesus said to him, No one, having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

Jesus said, "Be zealous and repent." Jesus says to get over being lukewarm or risk being vomited out of His mouth.

In deep water

Unfortunately, most folks in this position feel trapped. Maybe they've become slaves to a drug or a bottle. Maybe they've become tangled in a bad relationship or hooked on pornography or sexual perversion.

The trapped person wonders, "Why should I care? Does anybody care? Does even God care about me anymore? Am I going to die in this condition?"

Backwards as it may seem, God still cares. God is still concerned about you. The Holy Spirit still has the life-changing power to set you free from bondage, if you are willing. Are you willing to be set free? As long as you still have breath, you can use it to call out for mercy and forgiveness.

In Mark's gospel, chapter 4 verse 8, Jesus' disciples were so frightened that they cried out:

"Master, carest Thou not that we perish?"

The basic story is probably familiar to you. Jesus and His disciples had entered a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. After Jesus fell asleep, a ferocious storm arose. This was not a gentle Spring rain. This storm was bad enough to make even the disciples - experienced sailors - fear for their lives.

So what did Jesus do about it? Let's see the next verse:

39 And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, "Peace, be still." And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

A great calm: I like the sound of that. In fact, I could use more of that calm stuff. What about you? Don't kid yourself that this was a special case. Obviously Jesus was willing to save His disciples, but we know from other passages that He cares passionately for every single lost sheep.

How can I know He cares about me?

Good question. People have been asking that for more than 1900 years now. In fact, Paul addressed this issue in his letter to the Hebrews, chapter 4:

15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Our Lord Jesus walked the earth in human flesh. He personally experienced hunger, thirst, pain and great weariness. He remembers how it feels to be betrayed by "friends." He remembers the pain and shame of the brutal Roman crucifixion, which He willingly endured - for you. In return, we must remember that His blessings come to us on the basis of grace - gifts we did not earn.

At times, I've heard people say, "If God is so merciful and loving, why am I hurting so bad? If you had my problems, you'd sing a different song!"

Not necessarily. My friend Marvin had quite extensive "challenges" (to use a modern euphemism), and still loved to praise the Lord. Marvin was blind, like many of his fellow students in the Special Education class I taught years ago. Marvin played the piano and led the singing for this amazing group of dedicated saints.

Each Sunday, Marvin would sing a solo. His favorite (and mine) was an old hymn written by Frank Graeff and J. Lincoln Hall titled "Does Jesus Care?" The first verse and chorus are:

Does Jesus care when my heart is pained
Too deeply for mirth and song,
As the burdens press, and the cares distress,
And the way grows weary and long?

O yes, He cares. I know He cares!
His heart is touched with my grief.
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

Can you sense the ring of truth in these words? We know that when Jesus walked this earth 2000 years ago, His heart was frequently touched by the grief and pain of those around Him. We frequently read that Jesus was moved with compassion.

Marvin usually concluded with the second verse and the chorus:

Does Jesus care when my way is dark
With a nameless dread and fear?
As the daylight fades into deep night shades,
Does He care enough to be near?

O yes, He cares. I know He cares!
His heart is touched with my grief.
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

This second verse would get me, as I watched this wonderful saint play and sing. This man had been able to see as a child, before a disease took away his vision. In his life, the daylight truly had faded into deep night shades. And the daylight never came back. But Marvin truly experienced the nearness of the Lord through all those dark years.

Touched by the experience, I looked for and found the song in an old Baptist hymnal. And discovered two additional verses. The third verse says:

Does Jesus care when I've tried and failed
To resist some temptation strong;
When for my deep grief I find no relief,
Tho my tears flow all the night long?
O yes, He cares. I know He cares!
His heart is touched with my grief.
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

Have I failed to resist? Yeah. Over the past 50 years, I've fallen for some really stupid and ordinary temptations, and felt absolutely shattered afterwards. How could I be so foolish? And how could a holy God ever forgive me?

The answer is that God's forgiveness is everywhere in Scripture. One of the most extreme examples is that of Simon Peter, who vehemently denied that he even knew Jesus. Yet Jesus personally sought Peter after His resurrection - not to condemn Peter but to offer forgiveness and restoration. Remarkable.

The fourth verse didn't become real for me until a couple of years later, when my wife left me:

Does Jesus care when I've said goodbye
To the dearest on earth to me;
And my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks,
Is it aught to Him? Does He see?

That was one of the darkest times of my life. Each day I would cry out to the Lord, seeking peace and comfort - that perfect peace promised in Scripture and available nowhere else in the universe. Each day, the Lord heard my cry and gave me peace, comfort and true joy. Despite the dreary circumstances and my unworthiness, the Lord was faithful to His promises. Somehow, I was able to sing:

O yes, He cares. I know He cares!
His heart is touched with my grief.
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary,
I know my Savior cares.

My friend, Jesus does care about you. Wherever you are in your walk, and no matter how badly you have fallen, Jesus knows where you are and waits to receive you to Himself. He can set you free, change your heart and restore your joy. Turn back to Him with all your heart, and learn the truth of Revelation 3:20 again:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him and he with Me.
Closing prayer: Father, I have sinned and left my first love. But I know - by faith - that Your promises are true and trustworthy. Guide me by Your Holy Spirit, to return to the path of joy and fellowship with Jesus, I pray. Amen.
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Copyright 2010 John Sears
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