While other kids sported Converse All-Stars®, my brothers and I plodded along in our Picway 2 for $5’s. All-Stars cost nearly $30, and Dad could buy three pairs of Pics for under $10. The 2 for $5’s eroded quickly but gave one big advantage in outdoor adventures. Losing one’s footing on a steep incline demanded prompt action. Clawing the ground with all ten fingers was a common solution which often proved insufficient on the muddiest of slopes. Under stress 2 for $5’s often split so that toes could join fingers in the dig for survival. Think of the parachute on a speeding dragster. With that heroic sacrifice the 2 for $5’s were finished.
A man does not hike into the woods thinking, “I’ll try today to slide down a muddy hillside, blow out my shoes, and then limp home on the flappy soles.” But it happens, just like backsliding in the spiritual realm. The odious label, backslidden, can apply to Christ-followers of any age. Some slip into that state, suffer incredible distress and consequences, return to their senses, and take steps to recovery. Others ignore the symptoms, live in their deplorable state, and die without healing.
Psalm 78 offers a one stop guide to backsliding as the writer zooms in on the history of Israel in the Old Testament. The Israelites, on the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, epitomize the spiritual deficiency of backsliding. Their example reveals six easy steps that led to their slide.
Cultivate disdain for God’s rules. (Psalm 78:10)
The word refused means refused utterly. The choice, made by stubbornly hardened hearts, was nonnegotiable and reflected the opinion that God could not know more about life on Earth than those who lived it.
Allow sin to become a way of life. (Psalm 78:17-20)
Sinning, like any other pursuit, grows easier with practice. Muscles of rebellion develop. Callouses of unbelief overpower the conviction function of the conscience. As the Israelites focused on physical appetites, personal comfort, and material goods sin no longer seemed a threat.
Stop trusting God. (Psalm 78:22)
God’s character and the completeness of His provision were called into question. The definition of provision was subjectively redefined in terms of human desire. The refusal to accept God’s authority coupled with declining confidence in His supply eroded faith. Questioning God’s goodness became the norm.
Ignore the evidence. (Psalm 78:32)
Had God been faithful to Israel? Had He sustained them on the journey? His track record included:
- A demonstration of power in the plagues and defeat of Egypt
- Israel’s deliverance from slavery
- God’s guiding presence in visible form through the cloud/pillar of fire
- An opportunity for Israel to start a new nation
- Daily manna, as much as was needed
- Water in the desert
- Personal communication through Moses
- The law delivered in a spectacular fashion at Mt. Sinai
The wondrous works of God comprised an obvious stack of evidence for anyone willing to stop and investigate.
Lie to God and to self. (Psalm 78:36-37)
Can any human successfully hide his spiritual state from God? Excuses, arguments, and fingers pointed at erring neighbors may provide a false sense of spirituality, but God sees through the smoke screen. Man’s lies do not fool the Almighty. God views the heart (1 Samuel 16:7) where the truth about each man’s spiritual condition is revealed.
Worship other gods. (Psalm 78:56-58)
The God-shaped vacuum inside each heart will be filled. The people of Israel in their weakened spiritual state determined the gods of the nations around them were superior to Jehovah. Their backslide became a tumble into depravity. Idols are not always made of gold or stone. Anything that eclipses God’s rightful place becomes a graven image.
The writer of Hebrews shared his warning that backsliding often happens so glacially slow we are unaware of the danger.
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. Hebrews 12:1 NASB
To drift is to travel wherever the current takes us. Any dead fish can do that. Pull out your fingers and toes. Dig in. Determine to stop the slide. And then climb higher.