The Backslider in Heart

The Backslider in Heart

By Charles G. Finney, edited and paraphrased by Jerry Trauger

This is an edited and paraphrased version of the 21st chapter (out of 23) from "Revival Lectures" by Charles Grandison Finney. This message is as much for the Church today as when it was first brought forth in a series of lectures in the 1830s. I pray it will expose our luke-warmness, bring godly sorrow and repentance, and cause us to love Jesus and others more ardently. That would be a revival.

Proverbs 14:14 The backslider in heart will be filled with his own ways, but a good man will be satisfied from above. (NKJV)

In discussing this subject, I will explain: 1) What backsliding in heart is not, 2) What backsliding in heart is, 3) What are the evidences of a backslidden heart, 4) What are the consequences of backsliding in heart, and 5) How to recover.

What Backsliding In Heart Is Not

It is not the lack of excited, thrilled, enthusiastic, or happy religious feelings. These are natural emotions that fluctuate and are not equivalent to Holy Spirit’s supernatural peace and joy that are unwavering.

What Backsliding In Heart Is

1) It is taking back our consecration to God and His service to devote ourselves to self-interests.

2) It is leaving our first love—Jesus Christ.

3) It is withdrawing ourselves from total surrender to God and coming again under the control of a self-pleasing spirit, while we still maintain a religious front.

What Are the Evidences of a Backslidden Heart?

1) A lack of spiritual enjoyment. We always love saying and doing those things that please the one we love most. When the heart is not backslidden, real communion with God is kept up, and therefore all spiritual devotions are not only performed with pleasure, but they are a blessed and continual communion with God. If we do not enjoy serving God, it is because we love ourselves more than we love God.

2) An outward formality in religious exercises. A backslidden heart can maintain an outward appearance of religion. In prayer or fellowship, this formality will be emotionless and as cold as ice, and will reveal a total lack of sincerity in the performance of all spiritual service. Such a state would be impossible where there was a true, living faith and a godly zeal.

3) An ungoverned temper. While the heart is full of love, the temper will naturally be patient and sweet. Or, if at any time, it should lose self-control, a truly loving heart will quickly confess and break down, repenting with true humility. Whenever there is an irritable, uncontrolled temper, you may know that there's a backslidden heart.

4) The loss of interest in truly spiritual conversation. No conversation is as sweet to a truly loving heart as that which relates to Christ and living for Him. If one is uncomfortable talking about Jesus and His Word, he is either un-regenerated or backslidden in heart.

5) Searching for worldly amusements. The most satisfying amusements possible to a truly spiritual heart are those that bring the soul into direct communion with God. A loving heart is jealous of everything that will break up or interfere with its union with God. When the soul does not find more delight in God than in all worldly things, the heart is sadly backslidden.

6) A lack of interest in missions. If you lose your interest in these works and do not delight in the conversion of souls everywhere, you may know that you are backslidden in heart.

7) The loss of interest in outreaches to the poor and needy. A converted soul takes the deepest interest in all outreaches to reform, help, and save mankind. Just in the proportion that you have lost your interest in these things, you have evidence that you are backslidden in heart.

8) The loss of interest in those newly converted. There is joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner that repents. And there is joy among the saints on earth over those that come to Christ. Show me a professing Christian who does not have a passionate interest in new converts, and I will show you a backslider in heart.

9) A fault finding, critical spirit. This is a disposition to fasten blame, showing a lack of confidence in the good intentions and motives of others. It is a spirit of distrust in a Christian’s character and what they say. It is a state of mind that reveals itself in harsh words and harsh judgments of individuals. This state is entirely incompatible with a true loving heart, and whenever a judgmental spirit is manifested by a professing Christian, you may know that there is a backslidden heart.

10) A self-indulgent spirit. By self-indulgence, I mean the inclination to gratify the appetites, passions, and to fulfill "the desires of the flesh and of the mind." (Eph. 2:3)

Contrary to what we think, the appetite for food is more often, than any other appetite, the occasion for backsliding. Few Christians, I fear, sense any danger in this area.

God's injunction is, 1 Corinthians 10:31 "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."

Many Christians forget this and eat and drink to please themselves. More persons are ensnared at their tables than the Church is aware of. A great many people, who avoid drugs and alcoholic drinks altogether, will indulge in food in both quantity and quality that proves they follow no other law than that of their appetite. This indulging in gluttony threatens to ruin both body and soul together. Show me a gluttonous Christian, and I will show you a backslider. Unbelievers can see it and they mock the insincere confession that Jesus controls the glutton’s life.

11) Absence from scheduled church meetings for slight reasons is a sure indication of a backslidden heart. If a call from a friend at the hour of meeting can prevent our attendance, it is strong evidence that we do not really want to go. That same person visiting at such a time would not prevent us from attending a wedding, a party, a picnic, or some other enjoyable event. The fact is, it is hypocrisy for us to pretend that we really want to go while we can be kept away by small excuses.

12) The same is true of the neglect of family prayer for slight reasons. While the heart is in love with the Lord, Christians will not readily omit a daily time of prayer and Bible reading with their family. And whenever they are ready to find an excuse to avoid these family devotions, it is a sure evidence that they are backslidden in heart.

13) When private prayer is regarded more as a duty than as a privilege. It is a privilege to be allowed to come to God and ask for the supply of all our needs. But to pray because we must rather than because we may is a sad thing and a certain indication of a backslidden heart.

14) The loss of interest in holiness. If you are a Christian, you have felt that sin was an abomination to your soul. You have had inexpressible longings to be rid of it forever. Anything that could throw light upon your sin was desperately crucial to you. If holiness is no longer of any interest to you, it is because you are backslidden in heart.

15) A lack of interest in God's Word. Perhaps nothing more conclusively proves that a Christian has a backslidden heart than losing interest in the Bible. While the heart is full of love, no book in the world is so precious; but when that love is gone, the Bible becomes not only uninteresting, but often repulsive.

The Consequences of Backsliding In Heart

Proverbs 1:31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices.

1) The backslider in heart will be filled with his own mistakes. He is not walking with God. He is not led by the Spirit, but is walking in spiritual darkness. In this state, he is sure to fall into many terrible mistakes: mistakes in business, mistakes in relationships, mistakes in using his time, his tongue, his money. Indeed, all will go wrong with him as long as he remains in a backslidden state.

2) He will be filled with his own feelings. Instead of that sweet peace and rest in the Holy Spirit that he once had, he will find himself in a state of unrest, dissatisfied with himself and everyone else. It is sometimes very trying to live with a backslider. They are often touchy, fault finding, and irritating in all their ways. They have forsaken God, and in their feelings there is more of hell than of heaven.

3) The backslider in heart will be filled with his own words. While in this state, he will not and cannot control his tongue. It will prove to be an unruly member full of deadly poison. (James 3:8) By his words, he will entangle himself in many difficulties and problems from which he can never free himself until he comes back to God.

4) The backslider in heart will be filled with his own cares. He has turned back to selfishness. He considers himself and his possessions as his very own and tries to manage everything for himself in his own wisdom and for his own sake. Consequently, his cares will be multiplied and come upon him like a flood.

5) The backslider in heart will be filled with his own lusts. His appetites and passions which had been kept under control have now resumed their full course, and having been kept down so long, they will avenge themselves by becoming more demanding and unruly than ever. These fleshly appetites and passions will burst forth to the astonishment of the backslider; and he will probably find himself more under their control and enslaved by them than he ever was before.

6) The backslider in heart will be filled with his own troubles. Instead of keeping out of temptation, he will run right into it. He will bring upon himself multitudes of trials. He is not at peace with God, with himself, the Church, nor with the world. While he complains of being so tried by everything around him, he is constantly making things worse!

7) The backslider in heart will be filled with his own anxieties. He will be worried about himself, about his business, his reputation, about everything! He has taken all these things out of the hands of God. Hence, having faith in God no longer, and being unable to control events, he is filled with worry about the future. These anxieties are the inevitable result of his madness and folly in forsaking God.

8) The backslider in heart will be filled with his own prejudices. His willingness to know and do the truth is gone. He will very naturally oppose any principle or truth that comes down hard on a selfish spirit. (i.e. He will hate this message and reject it)

He will endeavor to justify himself. He will not want to read or hear anything which would rebuke his backslidden state, and will become deeply prejudiced against anyone who shall reprove him or correct him. Branding that person as an enemy and a heretic, he will hedge himself in and shut his eyes against the Light, standing on the defensive and criticizing everything that might expose him.

9) The backslider in heart will be filled with his own delusions. He will almost certainly fall into self-deception in regard to principles and doctrines.

James 1:22 Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

Romans 2:13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Walking in rebellion as he does, he will very likely swallow the grossest delusions. Cults and heresies that tolerate sin and ignore God’s Word are likely to gain possession of him.

10) The backslider in heart will be filled with his own losses. He regards his possessions as his own, his time as his own, his influence as his own, and his reputation as his own. The loss of any of these he accounts as his own loss. Having forsaken God, and being unable to control the events by which these things are maintained, he will find himself suffering losses on every side. He loses his peace. He loses his property. He loses much of his time. He loses his reputation. He loses his Christian witness, and if he continues and fails to repent, he loses his soul!

11) The backslider in heart will be filled with his own self-condemnation. Having once enjoyed the love of God, and then forsaking Him, he feels condemned for everything.

If he attempts religious duty, he knows there is no heart in it, and hence condemns himself. If he neglects religious duty, he of course condemns himself. If he reads his Bible, it condemns him. If he does not read it, he feels condemned. If he goes to church meetings, the meetings condemn him. If he stays away, he feels condemned also. If he prays with his family or at a meeting, he knows he is not sincere and is condemned. If he neglects or refuses to pray, he also feels condemned. Everything condemns him! His conscience is up in arms against him and the storms of condemnation follow him wherever he goes.

How To Recover From A State of Backsliding

Revelation 2:4-5 But I [Jesus] have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

1) Remember from where you have fallen. Face the problem at once and deliberately compare your present state with that in which you once walked with God.

2) Take a good, honest look at your heart. Don't put off any longer dealing with the conflict between God and your soul and the differences between God and you.

3) Grieve with godly sorrow over your sin and lack of love for God, who died to save your soul. This step must go deeper than mental assent that you have sinned; otherwise, you will excuse yourself as just being human. God wants to conform you to His Son.

4) Do not attempt to get back by merely changing what you do on the outside. Begin with your heart and immediately get right with God. Give yourself no rest until the backsliding of your heart is completely exposed and confessed. This is a painful, but critical process.

5) Do not act like a mere convicted sinner and think that you must "reform and make yourself better" before you can come to Christ. But understand that it is coming to Christ, alone, that can make you better! However much distress you may feel, know for certain that until you repent and accept His will unconditionally, you are no better and are constantly growing worse. Until you throw yourself upon His sovereign mercy, and thus return to God, He will accept nothing from you or from your hands.

6) Do not imagine yourself to be in a justified state, for you know in your heart that you are not. Your conscience condemns you, and you know that God ought to condemn you. For if He justified you in your present state, your conscience could not justify Him. Come then to Christ at once, like the guilty sinner that you are. Own up and take all the shame and responsibility upon yourself, and believe that in spite of all your wanderings from God, He still loves you. He has loved you with an everlasting love, and with loving-kindness is even now drawing you back to Himself with this message.

7) Repent. Die to self-rule. Return to your first love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Then, do your first works for Christ over again.

If this lecture has described some aspect of your current condition, don’t wait to let the conviction fade away. Get with God now. Confess a backslidden heart, and begin the process of repenting and giving their all to Jesus again.