How to Avoid Backsliding

October 14 Day 287

How to Avoid Backsliding

As a young man, Philip was kidnapped and held hostage in Greece. There he remained for several years. During this time he received a military education. Then he returned to his homeland, which had conceded many defeats and had lost much land. Within five years he had become king.

Philip II of Macedon desperately needed his army to stand firm. He is remembered for two major innovations. First is the sarissa, a very long spear. Second is the re-development of a rectangular military formation used by ancient armies (known as a phalanx). A core of highly-trained infantrymen, armed with Philip’s longer spears, stood shoulder to shoulder in files normally eight men deep.

As long as they stood firm and did not break rank they were virtually invincible and struck fear into the hearts of their enemies. Using this tactic, Philip united the city-states of Greece and took the city of Philippi (that is named after him) in 356 BC.

Sometimes, it seems that the Christian life is like facing a powerful enemy. It feels like an intense struggle in which another army is attempting to push us back and break down our ranks. If we don’t stand firm, we fall on our backs and slide in the mud in the wrong direction. We have seen how Jeremiah warned the people many times against backsliding (Jeremiah 2:19; 3:22; 5:6; 14:7; 15:6).

It is not a matter of us standing firm on our own. We are part of a community. In today’s New Testament passage, Paul invokes the image of the phalanx (with which Philip II of Macedonia once conquered the city of Philippi (Philippians 1:27)). Shoulder to shoulder, the church can stand firm. This is one of many occasions that Paul exhorts the church to ‘stand firm’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Get a firm grip on your heart and your eyes

Psalm 119:33-40

It has been said that ‘a great oak is only a little nut that held its ground’. The temptation to fall away and backslide usually begins with our hearts and eyes. The psalmist clearly experienced a battle within himself. He wrote, ‘Turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things’ (vv.36–37a).

So often, backsliding begins by setting our hearts on what’s in it for us, or allowing our eyes to wander onto ‘worthless things’ (v.37). Turn your heart and eyes to God’s word and you can stand firm.

God’s word is the place to find delight (v.35) and be enabled to persevere (vv.37,40). This is because God’s ‘laws are good’ (v.39). Pray like the psalmist, ‘Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end’ (v.33). Jesus said, ‘Whoever stands firm to the end will be saved’ (Matthew 24:13).

Lord, help me to find delight in your words. Turn my heart away from ‘selfish gain’ and my eyes from ‘worthless things’.

Hold firmly to the truth of the gospel

2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

Paul urges his readers to persevere and stand firm, holding firmly to the truth of the gospel.

He warns the Thessalonians, ‘Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way’ (v.3). ‘[Don’t] become easily unsettled or alarmed’ (v.2).

Satan is a deceiver. Paul warns about ‘the coming of the lawless one’ that ‘will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives’ (v.9). Those who ‘refuse’ to ‘love the truth’ will be taken in by ‘a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie’ (vv.10–11).

Don’t be taken in by those ‘saying that the day of the Lord has already come’ (v.2). I know of at least one dangerous and deceptive cult today that is saying exactly that. But when Jesus returns, it will be obvious to everyone. There will be great darkness before the dawn (vv.3–7), but the powers of evil will be revealed.

These powers are absolutely nothing compared with Jesus who will ‘overthrow’ the ‘lawless one’ with the ‘breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming’ (v.8).

The early church lived in daily expectation of the second coming of Jesus. So should we. Martin Luther said, ‘I live as though Jesus Christ had been crucified yesterday, had risen this morning and was coming again tomorrow.’

While you wait for Jesus’ return, stand firm. Paul had every confidence that the Thessalonians would do so. What is true of them is true of you – you are ‘loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved by the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (vv.13–14).

You have your part to play. You have to ‘stand firm and hold to the teachings’ (v.15) of the New Testament. However, the reason that you can be so confident in standing firm to the end is because of the love of God, ‘the sanctifying work of the Spirit’ and the power of the gospel, which enables you to share in the glory of Jesus Christ (vv.13–14).

So Paul writes, ‘May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word’ (vv.16–17).

Encouragement is like verbal sunshine. It warms hearts and brings light to people. God himself has given you ‘eternal encouragement’ (v.16) and wants to encourage your heart.

God encourages you so that you may encourage and help others ‘in every good deed and word’ (v.17). You are encouraged to live like Jesus ‘who went around doing good’ (Acts 10:38).

Father, thank you that I am loved by the Lord and that, one day, I will share in the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Help me to stand firm, holding onto the truth of the gospel despite opposition.

Stand firm together as a strong community

Jeremiah 29:24-31:14

You are not on your own. God never intended you to fight your battles alone. He called you to be a part of a strong, healthy, vibrant, growing community of his people. Together you can stand firm, not only resisting backsliding but moving forward.

Jeremiah warned the people against being deceived by false prophets: ‘This is what the Lord says… Shemaiah has prophesied to you, even though I did not send him, and has led you to believe a lie… he has preached rebellion against me’ (29:31–32).

Yet, although Israel had backslidden – ‘your guilt is so great and your sins so many’ (30:14) – God promises that he will restore them: ‘But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds… I will restore the fortunes of Jacob’s tents and have compassion on his dwellings; the city will be rebuilt’ (vv.17–18). He promises at least four things:

  1. Joyful worship
    There will be ‘songs of thanksgiving and the sound of rejoicing’ (v.19a). There will be shouts of joy, ‘they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord… They will be like a well-watered garden… they will sorrow no more’ (v.12): ‘I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow’ (31:13).

  2. Numerical growth
    There will be growth: ‘I will add to their numbers, and they will not be decreased’ (30:19b). Numerical growth is a blessing from God. Pray for it, plan for it and prepare for it.

  3. Strong community
    Their ‘community will be established’ (v.20), ‘a community in which I take pride’ (v.20, MSG) – something strong and immovable. You are not on your own. We need one another to help and support each other and enable us together to stand firm.

  4. Good leadership
    The leader will be one of their own: ‘Their ruler will come from their own ranks’ (v.21, MSG). Someone with the same vision and who walks in a close relationship with God: ‘I will bring him near and he will come close to me, for who is he who will devote himself to be close to me?’ (v.21b). This is the challenge for all of us as individuals and as the church. Devote yourself to getting close to the Lord.

God loves you with an ‘everlasting love’ (31:3). God told his people, ‘I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love!’ (v.3, MSG). He promises to rebuild and restore (v.4). He ‘“will watch over his flock like a shepherd.” For the Lord will ransom Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they’ (vv.10–11).

Lord, may we not backslide but stand firm to the end with joy and thanksgiving. May our love and numbers increase. I devote myself today to being close to you.

Pippa Adds

Psalm 119:35

‘Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.’

Delight is such a wonderful word. I wouldn’t expect to find ‘delight’ and ‘obeying God’s commands’ in the same sentence.
 

 

Verse of the Day

‘I will restore you to health
    and heal your wounds,
declares the Lord’ (Jeremiah 30:17).

References

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.