One of the most widely used and completely misunderstood of all Christian epithets is the word “backsliding”. In the current trend for the words usage it implies a gradual, yet progressive decline in a person’s spiritual progress. The word conjures up the mental image of a climber trying to go higher in elevation but because of the slipperiness of the surface they are traversing they remain unable to advance. Yet is this the Biblical perspective of this particular word? Most assuredly it is not.
Consider these verses from the book of Hosea:
Hos 4:16 For Israel slideth back as a backsliding heifer: now the LORD will feed them as a lamb in a large place.
Here we get a completely different understanding of this phraseology. The image now is one of a heifer, which is a cow, being led forward by a halter or lead, God is trying to take them to a larger more abundant pasture land (spiritually speaking) but they keep refusing.
As a child I grew up in a rural environment and had a great deal of interaction with cattle and stock of various species. In all of these there was a common thread, the largeness of the animals made it difficult if not impossible to lead them forward if they refused and dug their feet in. This is the way God is referring to Israel. In fact, the word “backsliding” is only used 12 times in scripture and each time with the same or similar usage as that seen in this verse from Jeremiah:
Jer 8:5 “Why then is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding? they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return”.
Now consider another poignant declaration of God in the book of Hosea concerning those who have “backslidden”:
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”.
Again, we have reaffirmation that the backslider is not an innocent, pure hearted soul trying to climb up but invariably being knocked back down. But rather they are obstinate refuses who will not go onward, stay rooted in their old ways, and choose to refuse to exalt God.
Backsliding then is not a gradual decline of a well meaning people it is the willful rebellion and obstinate refusal on the part of God’s heritage to advance. So why then the common miss appropriation of this most derogatory of terms? Because we long to vindicate ourselves of error and inactivity; in short this term seems to give us the ability to claim that we “tried”. I believe however, that this idea has gained in religious circles as an appropriate definition for an otherwise contrary Biblical use because of “lack of knowledge” on the part of the user. In truth scripture has adamantly stated:
Hos 4:6 “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children”.
It behooves us then to stop taking common Christian culture as a source for definition and consult the time honored, all inspired, completely infallible, Word of God as the only true place for true Biblical understanding and etymological definition.