Security In Christ And Backsliding


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There are many verses in the New Testament which emphasise the security of believers in Jesus Christ in the matter of being eternally saved. [1] Such verses mostly emphasise God’s sovereign work in the process of salvation. For example, Philippians 1:6 promises: “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 declares: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.”

In John 17:15, Jesus prayed that believers would be kept from Satan. John 17:24 shows Jesus prayed for believers to be with Him. Hebrews 7:25-26 reveals He continues to intercede for believers as their High Priest. 1 John 2:1 shows He acts as an Advocate or Defense Lawyer before God the Supreme Ruler and Judge for believers when they sin. Some may argue that Jesus’ prayers are always granted (see John 11:42) and that if believers could lose their salvation, this would mean Christ is ineffective in His roles as Intercessor and Advocate.

But there are also many New Testament verses which warn believers about the dangers of turning away from God and/or living very slack, habitually wicked lives year after year. [2] Such verses put responsibility on the believers themselves for remaining saved by God’s grace.

There is eternal security in Christ only for those who choose to remain as sincere real believers in Him.

One common view stresses our security in Christ to the degree of arguing that we as believers can never lose our salvation. This view says that those who were “believers” but then seemed to have turned away from God back to sin, were only really ever believers-in-name only. This view is based on verses such as 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” and Galatians 2:4 and 2 Corinthians 11:26 which refer to “false brethren”. This view claims Simon in Acts 8:13-24 was one such believer-in-name only. I personally find such arguments unconvincing, but I understand the theological perspective behind such views.

Romans 11:1-36 emphasises the sovereignty of God in the salvation of humans. For example, Romans 11:6 says: “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” But note in Romans 11:22, Paul warns the Gentile Roman believers they will be cut off by God if they do not choose willingly to continue in His gracious goodness: “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.”

Philippians 2:13 stresses God’s sovereign work in believers: “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” In 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul speaks similarly: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” But note such verses are balanced out by those which speak of the link between salvation and the responsibility of believers to continue in faith, in God’s grace, in His goodness, in love, holiness and self-control and in good Biblical doctrine and godly living. [3]


Maintaining Biblical balance


We must always aim to keep a balance between the Biblical doctrines of the supreme rule or sovereignty of God and human responsibility. If we stress God’s sovereignty and grace too much, we will tend to fall into fatalism, abused grace, easy believism and lawlessness. If we stress human responsibility too greatly we will fall into legalism, self-righteousness and self-reliance.

The Bible mixes verses about God’s grace and supreme rule or sovereignty with those on human responsibility to repent of sin, trust in, surrender to and obey Him. The written Word has many verses about our security in Christ based on God’s grace and sovereignty but balances this out by emphasising we must choose to persevere in trusting though imperfect faith in Him. In other words, the Bible teaches conditional security in Christ and not unconditional security in Christ.


Irrevocable gifts and calling


Romans 11:29 declares: “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Here we see that once a person has received God’s gifts of salvation, wonderful blessings and calling upon their lives, these are irrevocable. In the original Greek, the word “irrevocable” is a form of the word “ametameletos” which means “without change of purpose” [4] or “of something one does not take back”. [5] God’s gifts to a person will not be taken back by Him, unless the person turns away from Him (see Hebrews 6:4-8 and 10:26-31).


Two types of evil backsliding


The Bible refers much to the dangers of Christians backsliding or reducing their love and commitment to God. These are two main types of backsliding that must be turned from if a local church is to experience revival. These are:


·         decisive rapid backsliding and

·         slow drift backsliding.



Decisive rapid backsliding


Decisive rapid backsliding occurs if we knowingly choose to disobey one or more of God’s commands and refuse to turn from these sins. An example of this can be seen in the life of King David. He chose to commit adultery with Bathsheba and then later tried to hide his sin by murdering her husband (see 2 Samuel 11:1-27).

People involved in decisive rapid backsliding clearly know it unless they later deceive themselves by making up some supposed excuse for their wickedness. Psalm 51:3 shows David was plagued continually by an intense awareness of his sin: “…And my sin is ever before me”. David lost a sense of God’s Presence and the joy of the Holy Spirit as a result of his unrepented sin (see Psalm 51:11-12). In John 15:10-11, Jesus says believers will have inner joy if they are obeying Him.

I experienced this type of wicked backsliding at the age of about 10 or 11 when sadly I willfully chose to disobey God about some matters I knew were wrong. I had been converted at the age of 8. Right up until the age of 20 when I recommitted my heart to Jesus Christ, I was convicted at times about my sins. This is even though after a number of years, I had partly deceived myself by making excuses for my sins. I also lost a sense of God’s Presence and the joy of the Holy Spirit.


Slow drift backsliding


This second type of backsliding is very common and mostly not as easy to identify. It involves an accumulation of many seemingly small, hardly noticeable disobediences which gradually harden our heart and make us less and less sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s convicting and guiding voice. It may relate to ignoring continually the Holy Spirit’s inner promptings about prayer, Bible meditation or active involvement in the church. It can include becoming so busy with things which are not in themselves sinful, for example, sport, church musicals or a hobby, which prevent us from having time to do the things God has called us to do and which stop us from having time to wait on God in prayer and Bible meditation.

Slow drift backsliding can also involve continually telling small lies. It can relate to gradually becoming so interested in our house and material possessions, we end up falling into a form of idolatry. It can manifest in other ways also.

Slow drift backsliding will cause us gradually to lose our first love for Jesus and become spiritually lukewarm. It takes longer to result in this than decisive rapid backsliding. Because it is mostly harder to identify, it is often more dangerous than decisive rapid backsliding. If we become caught in it, we will usually have some type of spiritual awareness at times that something is wrong. We may have a general lack of God’s peace in our heart for months or years which we may try to alleviate through various entertainments or forms of religiosity. Once we have become lukewarm towards God, the next step is either repenting and becoming on fire for Him again or becoming cold and perishing.

God’s answer to becoming lukewarm and losing our first love for Jesus is found in Revelation 3:19-20: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me” and Revelation 2:5: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.”

Many churchgoers who come to realise their slow drift backsliding fall into the trap of talking continually about repenting of it, but always delaying doing this. This results in a further hardening of their hearts.

People can become so hardened in backsliding, they begin to hate hearing preaching about surrendering to God and forsaking sin. Isaiah 30:9-10 refers to the tragedy of people being like this: “That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear the law of the Lord; who say to the seers, ‘Do not see,’ and to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us right things; speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits.’”


Backsliding in the Old Testament


In the original Hebrew Old Testament, there are four main words which communicate the idea of backsliding. One of these is “meshuba” which occurs in Proverbs 1:32, Jeremiah 2:19, 3:6, 3:8, 3:11, 3:12, 3:22, 5:6, 8:5, 14:7, Hosea 11:7 and 14:4. Two others are “shobab” which is found in Isaiah 57:17, Jeremiah 3:14, 3:22 and 50:6 and “shobeb” which occurs in Jeremiah 31:22 and 49:4. The fourth is “shub” when used in a negative sense in Numbers 14:43, 32:15, Joshua 22:16, 22:18, 22:23, 1 Samuel 15:11, 1 Kings 9:6, 2 Chronicles 7:19, 25:27, Jeremiah 8:6 and 11:10.

“Meshuba” means “turning back” [6] or “turning away…rebellious, backsliding”. [7] “Shobab” means “backturning” [8] or “backsliding”. [9] The word “shobeb” is defined as “backturning” [10] or “backsliding”. [11]

The words “meshuba”, “shobab” and “shobeb” are all derived from the Hebrew word “shub”. “Shub” means “to return or go back…The basic meaning of the verb is movement back to the point of departure…” [12] or “turn back, return”. [13] “Shub” can mean either turning to God from sin and turning away from God to sin.














                                                            “shub” in the bad sense of turning from God to sin

A.                    Sin                                                                                                       God




                                                            “shub” in the good sense

B.                    Sin                                                                                                       God

                                                            Turn to God in faith while turning from

                                                            sin, all by His grace



Jeremiah 5:6 shows that backsliding is partly caused by not turning from sin. King David was a backslider for a period of time when he committed murder and adultery (see 2 Samuel 11:1-27). But later he repented after being confronted with his sin by the prophet Nathan (see 2 Samuel 12:1-15, Psalm 32 and 51).

People can regularly be calling on God while right in the middle of backsliding. Hosea 11:7 says: “My people are bent on backsliding from Me. Though they call to the Most High, none at all exalt Him.” Often backsliders are deceived into thinking their walk with God is still good.


New Testament backsliding and the unpardonable sin


The word “backsliding” is not found in the New Testament, but the concept is. [14] Hebrews 2:1 warns us not to “drift away” from God. It is similar to when the Old Testament sometimes uses the Hebrew word “shub” in connection to God’s people turning from Him to sin even though “shub” is not translated as “backslide”.

2 Peter 2:20-22 refers to the Biblical concept of backsliding even though it does not use the word “backsliding” in English: “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them, and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire’.” Verse 22 above is a partial quote of Proverbs 26:11 which uses the Hebrew word “shub”. Remember the word “shub” is used in numerous Old Testament verses to refer to the concept of backsliding. Also, note the three Hebrew words translated “backsliding” – “meshuba”, “shobab” and “shobeb” are derived from the word “shub”.

The New Testament also refers to those who have backslidden so deeply they have ended up committing the unpardonable sin. Hebrews 6:4-8 refers to such tragic people: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.”

The unpardonable sin involves having totally rejected God and having no desire to return to Him after once knowing Him through Jesus Christ. Some believers, who have fallen badly into sin and backsliding, become afraid they have committed this sin. But because they wish to turn to Him from their sins and backslidings, this shows the Holy Spirit is still in them and ministering to them. This in itself shows they have not committed the unpardonable sin.

The New Testament teaches that believers do not lose their justification and other aspects of their salvation when they fall into sin. For example, 1 John 2:1-2 promises: “…And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”

Paul described many of the backsliding Corinthian Christians as being at the time carnal or ruled by the flesh (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-4) and falling into sins of immorality, drunkenness, conceit, envy and strife (see 1 Corinthians 3:3, 11:21 and 2 Corinthians 12:21), but still being justified and sanctified in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 1:2 and 6:11). But note in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, 6:9-10 and 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul strongly warned these backsliding Corinthians about the possibility of losing their salvation and/or faith.

Backsliders have rapidly or slowly declining fruit of Jesus Christ in their lives. Those who have gone beyond backsliding into committing the unpardonable sin, have no fruit of Jesus’ Presence in their lives continually year after year. Backsliders are dangerously heading in the direction of committing the unpardonable sin and being eternally condemned without in some cases knowing it.


God never abandons true believers


Hebrews 13:5 is a marvellous promise of God to true believers in Jesus Christ: “…He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” In Matthew 28:20, Jesus promises to never leave any Christian: “…I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.” In John 6:37, Christ says He will never drive away any person who comes to Him: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” No matter how wicked we have been, Jesus Christ will accept us if we are willing to turn to Him in faith.

2 Chronicles 15:1-2 and Ezra 8:22 reveal God never abandons those who do not abandon Him, but abandons those who abandon Him. Only God knows the difference between someone who has a living saving faith in Him but has fallen into a known sin and someone who has abandoned Him. Only God can be the Final Judge of this.


Deception and turning from God


The New Testament contains a number of verses which reveal if we fall into known sin and remain in it, after a while a form of deception will probably rule our minds. Hebrews 3:12-15 says to Christians: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’”

Verse 13 reveals this deceiving of the mind which resulted from unrepented of sin will harden a Christian’s heart. Verse 12 shows this deceived hardened state of heart will often lead the Christian to turn away from God.

James 1:22 reveals listening to God’s Word but refusing to obey it, will cause us to come under a form of deception: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”


A young man afraid of losing his de-facto


Years ago, I knew a young man named Robert. He had a wonderful love and zeal for God after he was born-again. But after a period of time, he stopped coming to church.

A long time later, he returned to church. He then told me that before he stopped attending church previously, the Lord had been speaking to him about stopping living together with his non-Christian girlfriend. He had been living with her in a de-facto relationship before his conversion. But he said he did not want to obey God about this. He did not trust God about this matter. He was afraid that if they moved into separate houses, she would totally reject him and refuse to marry him in future. The girl was only in her mid-teens at the time. She had been kicked out of her parents’ home at age 12 and was terrified of losing her boyfriend also.

I asked this young man if he had lost a sense of God’s Presence and peace. He said, “Yes”. He said that this happened immediately from when he refused to obey Jesus about his girlfriend. He said that after losing a sense of God’s Presence, he found it hard to trust God in general and did not feel comfortable at church meetings anymore. Tragically, this young man acted like the rich young ruler who went away from Jesus because he would not turn from his love of money and material possessions (see Mark 10:17-22).


Evil thoughts about God’s character and backsliding


God gives each of us many blessings and helps us through our problems. Many of us, however, when we face the death of a loved one, a problem in our marriage or some other great trouble, start thinking evil thoughts such as, “Why does God allow me to face this? Does He really care for me? He must not be interested in me. I’m starting to wonder if He really does love me”.

Also, some of us allow our minds to be ruled by envy and jealousy. We allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking that God gives more good things and helps other people more than He does us. We think such things as, “Why has God given others more attractive husbands than I’ve got? Why has God given others more money than He has given to me? Why has God given others better children than He has to me? Why has God given me more children than I wanted? Why has God not given me any children? Why has God not allowed me to marry as yet? Why has God created me so short? Why has God made me taller than most other people? Why has God not given me nice hair like she has? Why has God given me eyes with the colour they have? Why isn’t my hair thick and strong? Why is my mouth the shape it is? Why are my hips the shape they are? Why wasn’t I born like the people on television? He must love others more than me. He treats them better than He does me. They must be His favourites.” or “I am a Christian and I continually aim to do God’s will, but many unbelievers who are living very wicked lives seem to be more blessed on Earth by God than me.” or “He would give me all I want if He really loved me”.

Satan puts suggestions such as these into most of our minds. If we constantly accept such evil thoughts and their associated inferences about God’s character, one day, we will most likely lose our trust in Him and then turn away from Him.


Unrepented of sin can cause spiritual death to return


James 1:13-15 reveals if we as Christians give in to a temptation in relation to an evil desire, this is sin. Verse 15 shows if this sin is allowed to mature, getting more and more influence in our lives, we will ultimately spiritually die. This is because as Hebrews 3:12-13 reveals, the sin and its associated deception can lead us to reject God. James 1:13-15 states: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”


Becoming a friend of the world


James 4:4 reveals if a Christian chooses to become a permanent friend of the world, he will become an enemy of God: “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” The world is the non-Christian pressuring system that tries to influence us to think and act in ways contrary to God’s will as revealed by His Scriptures.

God will not first abandon Christians who become friends of the world. Instead, these backsliding Christians will be influenced by their new friend – the world – to turn away from God. Satan rules this pressuring system called the world through the demons and unbelievers who work with him. Satan and his demons use the world to try to lead people to turn away from God.


The result of the flesh being continually in control


Romans 8:13 reveals that if Christians become permanently ruled by the flesh, they will end up dying spiritually: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die…” Note the previous verse 12 uses the word “brethren” meaning brothers, when revealing to whom Paul is writing in verse 13. If Christians allow the flesh to take control of their lives continually, they will end up rejecting God. This is because as Galatians 5:19-21 reveals, the flesh can only desire evil.


Similar to human relationships


If a child commits an individual sin against his father or mother, the parent would not eject the child permanently from the house if the parent is a good, loving parent. If the child, however, allows his individual sins to lead him into wanting to leave his parent’s house, and he does not want to continue having a close relationship with them, he will leave himself. He will be the one to break the relationship.

This is similar to our relationship with God. If we have previously become God’s child through being born-again of His Holy Spirit, He will not reject or abandon us if we sin. But our sins may harden our hearts against Him, causing us to be deceived into rejecting Him.


Like being married


Ephesians 5:29-32 and 2 Corinthians 11:2 indicate the relationship of believers to Jesus Christ is like a human marriage. A married couple can have a fight, but still remained married. But if they don’t later say sorry to one another, forgive each other and stop fighting, other fights and sins against each other will follow. In the end, these unrepented of sins can lead to a hardening of hearts, total rejection of each other and divorce.

This is similar to our relationship with God and Jesus Christ. The only difference is God declares in the New Testament He will never leave or abandon us (see Hebrews 13:5, John 6:37). So it is only possible for us to initiate a breaking of our relationship with Him.


Examining our state of faith


In 2 Corinthians 12:21, Paul said many Corinthian believers were refusing to repent of various known sins: “…I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and licentiousness which they have practiced.” Then in 2 Corinthians 13:5, he told these Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they were still in the faith: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves…” Unrepented known sin can result in us losing our faith in Jesus Christ. Some may even be deceived into thinking they still have faith in Him when all they have left is a dead imitation. Or their faith may be in the preparatory stages of dying.

When examining ourselves, we must avoid two errors:


·         The first is wrongly thinking that just because we have sinned, we have no faith and are unsaved. 1 John 2:1 reveals that if we do fall into sin, we have an Advocate – Jesus Christ – who speaks in our defence to the Father. Peter, for example, did not lose his salvation even after denying Jesus three times (see Matthew 26:69-75). God is exceptionally gracious to believers who fall.

·         The second is treating sins lightly, thinking it does not matter whether we turn from them or not.





Bible Study Questions


1.         List numerous New Testament verses which emphasise the security of believers in Jesus Christ in relation to being eternally saved.

2.         List many verses from the New Testament which warn believers of the dangers of turning away from God and/or living very slack, habitually wicked lives year after year.

3.         What will be the results if we do not keep a balance between the two Biblical doctrines of the sovereignty of God and human responsibility.

4.         Explain what decisive rapid backsliding is.

5.         Explain what slow drift backsliding is.

6.         What is God’s answer to slow drift backsliding?

7.         Explain what Jeremiah 5:6 reveals about backsliding.

8.         What does Hosea 11:7 show us about backsliding?

9.         What does Hebrews 2:1 mean when it warns us not to “drift away” from God?

10.     What evidence is there in the Old Testament which indicates 2 Peter 2:20-22 refers to backsliding?

11.     Describe the unpardonable sin.

12.     Do believers lose their salvation the moment they commit a sin? Provide Biblical proof for your answer.

13.     How much fruit of Jesus Christ do those who have committed the unpardonable sin, have in their lives?

14.     What do Hebrews 13:5 and John 6:37 teach us about God’s attitude to His people?

15.     Explain what Hebrews 3:12-15 warns believers.

16.     What are some of the evil thoughts Satan puts in your mind to try to lead you to turn from God the Father and from Jesus Christ?

17.     What does James 1:13-15 teach us?

18.     Explain what James 4:4 reveals to us.

19.     What does Romans 8:13 show us will happen if we become permanently ruled by the flesh?

20.     Explain what we can learn when we take Paul’s warnings in 2 Corinthians 12:21 and 13:5 together.


[1] John 6:37-39, 10:27-30, 17:6-12, 17:24, Romans 8:33-35, 11:29, 16:25, Ephesians 1:4-5, 1:13-14, Philippians 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, 2 Thessalonians 3:3, 2 Timothy 1:12, 4:18, 1 Peter 1:5, 5:10, Jude 1 and 24.

[2] These are Matthew 7:21-23, 13:21-22, 24:13, 25:1-46, Luke 8:13-15, John 15:1-6, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 9:26-27, 11:32, 2 Corinthians 11:1-4, 12:21, 13:15, Galatians 5:4, 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:3-7, Colossians 1:22-23, 1 Timothy 1:19-20, 6:10, 2 Timothy 2:17-19, 4:3-4, Hebrews 2:1, 3:6, 3:12-14, 6:4-6, 6:11-12, 10:26-39, James 1:13-15, 2 Peter 1:10-11, 2:20-22, 3:17, 1 John 5:16, Revelation 2:4-5, 3:14-16 and 3:16.

[3] See Acts 14:22, Colossians 1:23, 1 Timothy 2:15, Acts 13:43, Romans 11:22, 1 Timothy 4:16 and 2 Timothy 3:14.

[4] Vine, page 525.

[5] Bauer, page 45.

[6] Brown, Driver and Briggs, page 1000.

[7] Wilson, page 27.

[8] Brown, Driver and Briggs, page 1000.

[9] Harris, Archer and Waltke, page 909.

[10] Brown, Driver and Briggs, page 1000.

[11] Harris, Archer and Waltke, page 909.

[12] Vine, page 203.

[13] Brown, Driver and Briggs, page 996.

[14] Examples of backsliding are recorded in relation to some of the Corinthian (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, 2 Corinthians 11:2-4 and 12:21), Galatian (see Galatians 1:6, 3:1-4 and 5:4) and Ephesian Christians (see Revelation 2:5).

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