What is backsliding? What does it mean to backslide?

An old preacher used to say that if you are not moving toward Jesus, you are moving away from Him—there is no middle ground, no drifting. "Backsliding," in Christianity, is moving away from Jesus after being near Him.

The term "backsliding" is usually used to describe believers making unrighteous choices such as excessive drinking, sexual immorality, foul language, low church attendance, or similar outward behaviors.

Know this: backsliding doesn't mean a person loses their salvation. The Bible makes it clear that once we are saved, that is, we've put our faith in Jesus as the Son of God who came to die on the cross in our place and rise from the dead, we are saved for good (John 10:28–29; Romans 10:9–10). Our place in Christ is secure.

The Bible doesn't use the term backslide, but does use the phrase "fall away." To fall away means to go through a period where we question or faith or return to unchristian ways after acting like a believer. Jesus used the phrase "fall away" when He told His disciples they would temporarily question their relationship with Him after He was crucified (Matthew 26:31). When Jesus was found to be alive three days after His death, the disciples' faith was restored and renewed.

Paul and James write about Christians who revert to familiar sins or wander from their faith. They say that those Christians should be restored to the faith (Galatians 6:1; James 5:19–20).

When we encounter difficulties in life, harsh circumstances, or unfair treatment, we may question God's activity or even goodness. We may be tempted to "backslide." Instead, we should take those questions and doubts to God Himself. Look to the Bible in those times for answers about God's immutability and faithfulness. Pray (Luke 18:1).

The other kind of falling away in the New Testament describes a poser—a person who takes Christianity for a test-drive of sorts (Hebrews 6:4–6; Luke 8:13). This is a person who appears outwardly to be a Christian, but in fact never had a saving faith in Christ.

Jesus said He would act as a good shepherd and seek out the "lost sheep" (John 10; Matthew 18:12; Luke 15:3–7). He does not desire us to backslide, and He will bring His children back to Himself. God grants salvation to those who come to Him, and He is faithful to cleanse those who are His children from all their sin (1 John 1:9). If a genuine believer in Christ backslides, it will only be for a time. It is not up to us, however, to judge another's salvation or determine how or why someone seems to be backsliding. Only God can see the heart.

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