This is an area that is very difficult for many Christians, especially when it concerns loved ones who have lost their desire for the Lord. It can be extremely painful to see people who we really care about going back to their old ways. Sometimes they even seem to rebel against God. By allowing themselves to be dragged down further by the lusts of this world, I have known people who actually appear to be miserable in their situation. It can seem awful for the person and can appear rather like the scripture in Proverbs 26: 11 where “the dog returns to its vomit”.
This is written in the book of James:
“My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” James 5: 19-20
How then do we witness and win those who have backslidden from Christ? There is no proven formula, however there is a pattern that I have noticed over the years which we can follow that helps.
I am not going to talk about ‘once saved always saved’ or ‘man’s ability to fall from grace’ because I know that there are differing teachings with regards to this. As a very new Christian I once asked a pastor to tell me exactly what ‘being a backslider’ meant. He explained gently that it was how people fall out of love with God. He made a point that I have never forgotten - that there are even people who attend church every week who are backslidden in their hearts. They attend more out of duty or habit than out of love for the Lord. I will discuss this topic in greater depth in the near future.
It is important to remember that when a person has truly experienced Christ, that it can’t be forgotten. Making Jesus Lord is a life-changing experience that never leaves us. I don’t believe that if a person genuinely repented, accepted Christ, read His word, prayed and did their best to follow Him before falling away, that the desire to be back with Him disappears, unless they become an apostate and decide to reject Jesus, entirely denying their faith.
God does not love the sin and failure, but He still loves the person. That is why He led James to include the exhortations that we have read in his letter, in James 5:19-20. We have a responsibility to a person who backslides. He made this so clear for us that we should be concerned for our brother or sister in Christ. We are not to abandon them, criticise them, talk about them, accuse them, condemn them or ostracise them, rather we are to go after them and seek to restore them.
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galations 6: 1-2
Try not to condemn and judge: I have known believers get so upset with a loved one who falls away from God, that they let the person know how disgusted they are about it. In regards to this we have to remember the “WWJD – What would Jesus do”? asking ourselves the very same question. I believe that He would show love and compassion rather than judge and condemn. We must be careful that we don’t push the person further away.
Don’t hide your faith away: Be bold, be strong and let them see Jesus in you. If you are able to, let them know what God is doing in your own life and those of others that you know. Be full of Jesus and let them see His joy and love in your life. Don’t be afraid to invite them to church or other meetings. One day they may accept your invitation.
Key Point: God never gives up on a backslider. He loves and desires that they return to Him
Remember that God still loves the backslider: That will never change, because He waits, patiently looking for them, just as the father of the prodigal son did. He is overjoyed when someone comes back to Christ.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” Luke 15: 20
Pray for them to come to a right mind: This is important, as we see this in scripture once again when we look at the prodigal. The Holy Spirit can convict a person’s heart in the depths of their sin, bring the realisation that they need the forgiveness that they need and that it can only come from God.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!” Luke 15: 17
Pray that God gives them courage: Sometimes a backslider will realise that they need God back in their life, but not follow through. They start to imagine what people will say and think about them. This is why they need courage to admit that they were wrong, as well as repenting, asking for forgiveness from God, plus those whom they may have hurt.
“I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father” Luke 15: 18-20
Pursue them: Do this in love and prayerfully, asking God to give you guidance. He can give you a strategy to follow that will open their heart to Him.
Be patient and don’t give up: Sometimes it can take a long time for a person to return. God will never give up on them and neither should we.