We’ve all heard the term “backsliding” before, but what does it really mean? And just as importantly is there a cure? These questions are at the heart of Dr. Joel Beeke’s new book, Getting Back in the Race: The Cure for Backsliding. In this concise work, Beeke gives readers a biblical understanding of the problem of backsliding and introducing the remedy that Scripture offers.
What is Backsliding?
Christians must anticipate a life that is a continual cycle of sin and repentance. This, sadly, is what we must expect, even as we are gradually transformed more and more into the image of Christ. But backsliding is something outside the ordinary cycle of sin and repentance, and despite what you may have heard in a bad sermon, not every sin we commit is evidence of backsliding.
So what is backsliding, then? Backsliding, Beeke explains, is “a season of increasing sin and decreasing obedience in those who profess to be Christians. . . . [it] means to depart from the Word and the ways of the Lord” (pp. 16-17). Simply, it’s an ongoing, habitual pattern of sin and rebellion—one that, the longer in which we persist, the more our claim to be a Christian is necessarily called into question for “repentance is the essence of true Christianity (Acts 2:38; 20:21; 26:18,20)” (p. 16).
Beeke’s distinction between individual acts of sin and a habitual pattern is important. If every sin we ever committed were evidence of backsliding, we’d be left without a hint or hope of confidence that our salvation has surely been accomplished—and that the Holy Spirit is indeed at work within us (cf. Eph. 3:20). But this hopeless view is not what the Scriptures offer, despite the seriousness of backsliding.
And make no mistake, backsliding is a serious matter.
Why is Backsliding a Serious Matter?
“The worst thing about backsliding is that it casts discredit on the name of the God who has given us so much grace,” Beeke says.
How it should wound God’s people daily: “I am a backslider against him who gave himself up to death for six long, torturous hours hung upon a cross while mockers stood before him, saying, ‘Come down if thou be the Christ.” The life of a backslider is an insult to Christ’s love displayed for us at the cross. (p. 36)
This is a profound indictment. To call oneself a Christian, yet live in habitual, ongoing, unrepentant sin… the very thought should drive every one of us to our knees, pleading with Christ that we not fall prey to our natural inclination to wander. And as I read, I did find myself asking that I not fall prey, even as I began to recognize some of the warning signs that, if left unchecked would almost certainly lead to backsliding (see p. 22).
Having recently come through a season that is perhaps the closest I’ve every come to burnout, I could certainly recognize a sense of inner corruption and a level of comfort with the world (particularly in terms of language) that I’d not experienced since my earliest days as a Christian. Swearing might not seem to be a big thing for many, but I used to have quite a potty-mouth (seriously, I could have probably made your average hip-hop artist blush). So to hear my wife tell me (even as recently as a few days ago) tell me that I’ve been swearing a lot lately has caused me to take notice and seek the Lord’s assistance in restoring joy to my soul.
What is the Cure?
So what is the cure for backsliding? How can a believer who has stumbled severely get back into the race? Beeke reminds us that it is but by the grace of God that we can recover as we pursue true repentance, the true use of the means of grace (prayer and the Word), and a true reaffirmation of our faith. But all of these are things we can only pursue when we’ve received the grace of God—when we recognize that we are truly and utterly dependent on Him in all things, even in our restoration. “Until God is your only hope, God will not be your only hope,” as another author puts it so well.
And this is what makes this book so important for its readers—it is a book firmly rooted in the grace of God. We cannot escape our need for grace. It’s grace that brings us to Christ and grace that keeps us with Him until the end. It’s grace that allows us to obey and grace that calls us back when we rebel. It’s grace that allows us to run the race and grace that allows us to get back up when we stumble and fall.
Getting Back in the Race: The Cure for Backsliding is a beautifully written book, one that is saturated by the Word of God. As an author, one of Beeke’s greatest gifts is his reliance upon the Scriptures, for rarely a paragraph goes by without some direct reference or allusion it it. Like a skillful surgeon, he uses the Word to cut to the heart of the problem of backsliding and to the promise of restoration. For those who have experienced backsliding or those who recognize the threat in their own lives, I trust this book will be a great gift.
Title: Getting Back in the Race: The Cure for Backsliding
Author: Joel R. Beeke
Publisher: Cruciform Press (2011)