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Updated 6/26/06

Commonly Distorted Verses


Backsliding is a very popular term today that is often used to describe Christians who have been living sinfully.  It is commonly believed that these people are still saved but are just straying from the Lord.  The main reason for this belief is that many people in the church believe that anyone who says the sinner's prayer and means it is saved for all eternity, no matter what they do afterward.  There are two major problems with using the word "backsliding" to describe a Christian:  (1) This term is only used in the Old Testament to describe the Israelites who had turned away from the Lord, and (2) the belief that a Christian can backslide and still be saved contradicts the rest of the Bible.

(1) The word "backsliding" is used 15 times in the KJV of the Bible—12 in the book of Jeremiah and 3 in the book of Hosea.  There are no versions of the Bible that we know of that use this term anywhere in the New Testament.  The word "backsliding" is used to describe the Israelites who had forsaken the Lord.  Here are some examples of how this word is used in the Old Testament: 

Jer. 2:19 - Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that thou hast forsaken the LORD thy God, and that my fear is not in thee, saith the Lord GOD of hosts. (KJV) 

Jer. 3:12 - Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the LORD; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the LORD, and I will not keep anger for ever. (KJV)

Hos. 11:7 - And my people are bent to backsliding from me: though they called them to the most High, none at all would exalt him. (KJV)

The Bible talks very harshly about backsliding.  Also, there are many scriptures that show that the Israelites would not be forgiven unless they repent (turn from their sins).  Ch. 18 in the book of Ezekiel is one section that thoroughly explains what it means to "repent."  Here are some excerpts from this chapter:

Ezek. 18:21-23 - "But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

Ezek. 18:24 - "But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die.

These scriptures demonstrate two important concepts.  First, they show that a wicked man will not be forgiven unless he turns away from all of his sins and does what is right instead.  It is not good enough to just be "working on some things," like it is commonly believed.  The man must stop sinning and do what is right if he wants to be forgiven.  Secondly, these scriptures show that if a righteous man starts to live sinfully again, he will not be forgiven.  "None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered."  When this happens, it is called "being unfaithful" to God.  Jesus spoke a lot about faithfulness.  There are a number of scriptures that show that only those who are found faithful will inherit the kingdom of God (Mat. 25:21-23, Rev. 14:12, and Rev. 17:14 are some examples).

(2) Does the term "backsliding" apply to the New Testament?  Can we use this word to describe a Christian?  The truth is that there is a very similar term used in the New Testament to describe those who have turned away from the Lord.  It is called "falling away."  Jesus talks about this in the "Parable of the Sower" (Mat. 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:1-15).  There are many other places in the New Testament that also mention this concept, but there are two passages that are very important:  Heb. 6:4-6, and Heb. 10:26-31. 

Heb. 6:4-6 - It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

According to this passage, if someone "falls away," it is impossible for that person to be brought back to repentance.  In other words, he will not be forgiven, no matter what he does.  There is another part of the New Testament that mentions a sin someone can commit that will never be forgiven.  This sin is known as "blaspheming the Holy Spirit" (Mark 3:29, Luke 12:10).  It appears that both of these are one and the same, because they are both described in the same way—that anyone who does this will never be forgiven.  Jesus makes a statement in the Bible that sounds very similar to Heb. 6:4-6.  In Mat. 5:13 (also in Mark 9:50 and Luke 14:34-35), He says to His disciples, "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men."  Jesus tells the disciples that they cannot be made salty again if they lose their saltiness.  This sounds like it is referring to "falling away." 

Heb. 10:26-31 - If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Heb. 10:26-31 is another passage in the New Testament that sounds similar to Heb. 6:4-6.  This passage shows what happens to someone who has "trampled the Son of God under foot."  It is clear that this passage is referring to someone who is saved, because verse 29 says "the blood of the covenant that sanctified him."  This verse also says that he has "insulted the Spirit of grace."  This sounds like it could be referring to "blaspheming the Holy Spirit." 

There is one very important question that must now be answered:  what exactly does it mean to "fall away?"  As far as we know, the Bible does not clearly indicate at what point a Christian has crossed over from "being saved" to "falling away."  There are, however, a number of verses that shed light on this issue.  One of these is the passage that we just looked at.  This passage shows that if a person "deliberately" keeps on sinning after becoming a Christian, he has fallen away.  The KJV uses the word "wilfully."  So, what does it mean to "wilfully" keep on sinning?  Any time someone knows that something is a sin and he chooses to do it, he is "wilfully" sinning.  Someone might ask, "what if the person does not want to keep living sinfully, but he is unable to overcome his temptations?"  The Bible is clear that God "will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear" (1 Cor. 10:13).  It also says that ”his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world" (1 John 5:3-4).  If someone thinks that he cannot overcome his temptations, then he really is just not willing to turn from his sins.  Jesus did not ask people to do something that is impossible when He commanded them to repent (Luke 13:3).  Another question we should consider is "does someone fall away if he commits one sin as a Christian?"  The Bible is clear that this cannot be true, because the disciple John tells the believers in 1 John 2:1 that "if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One."  In other words, if a Christian does commit a sin, he will be forgiven if he repents of it.  This does not only mean to ask forgiveness, it means to stop doing it (Ezek. Ch. 18).

There are many verses in the New Testament that describe false prophets who used to be true Christians but fell away.  Here are two examples:

2 Pet. 2:15 - They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness.

2 Pet. 2:20-21 - If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.

2 Pet. 2:15 shows that the false prophets
had "left the straight way and
wandered off
," which indicates that they used to be following the straight way.  2 Pet. 2:20-21 shows that the false prophets had known the Lord Jesus and the "way of righteousness," but they became entangled again in the corruption of the world and were "overcome."  This sounds very similar to two of the seeds that Jesus describes in the Parable of the Sower (Mat. 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:1-15).  It is not exactly clear what happened to the false prophets that are depicted in these verses (2 Pet. 2:15, 2 Pet. 2:20-21), but it is evident that they were saved, and they stopped following "the way of righteousness."  (For more information about false prophets, see our False Prophets and Deception page)

What does this mean for all the people who believe that they are Christians but are still living sinfully?  The truth is that most of these people have never truly been saved, because they have never totally surrendered their lives to Christ.  We speak from experience, because we also used to fall into this category, until the Lord called us to follow Him.  For those out there who are not truly following Jesus, He is still waiting patiently for all that will come to Him.

|  Believe  |  Saved By Grace  |  The Sinner's Prayer  |  Paul Struggling With Sin?  |
|  Our Righteous Acts Are Like Filthy Rags?  |  Galatians  |  Backsliding  |
|  Were The Corinthians Sinful?  |

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