To answer your good question, let us look at the first time that the word ‘backsliding’ is used in the Bible.  Jeremiah 3:6 says, “The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which BACKSLIDING Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot.”

Notice that here is it Israel, God’s people who have backslidden.  The Hebrew word for backsliding is ‘mesh-oo-baw’ and it means to slide back or to turn away.  This word is used twelve times in the Bible…nine times in Jeremiah and three times in Hosea.  Let us look at a couple of these.

  • Jeremiah 3:22, “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. Behold, we come unto thee; for thou art the LORD our God.”
  • Jeremiah 49:4, “Wherefore gloriest thou in the valleys, thy flowing valley, O backsliding daughter? that trusted in her treasures, saying, Who shall come unto me?”
  • Hosea 14:4, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him.”

In these instances, we see that it is those who have a relationship with the Lord who are capable of backsliding.  It is those who have been near to God but have allowed sin to take them away from Him.  Of course, those who do not believe in the Lord are not close to Him anyway and therefore cannot backslide from someone they do not even acknowledge or bow down to.  We also notice a desire from the Lord that those who have backslidden would return to Him.  Notice how the Lord emphasizes His relationship with the backslidden nation in Jeremiah 3:14, “Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I AM MARRIED TO YOU.”  Here the Lord appeals to backslidden Israel as His bride.  Naturally, He wants them to be close to Him.  

We do not find the word ‘backslide’ in the New Testament; however, the subject is addressed using other words.  To backslide is to turn from following the Lord and to walk in the desires of the flesh.  It is carnality.  We read in 1 Corinthians 3:3, “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?”  This is what backsliding looks like.  It is following your own path, satisfying your own lusts, forsaking the truths of God’s Word in order to enjoy the things of the world.

Colossians 3:2 tells us, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.”  It is when we allow our affections to shift from Heavenly things to earthly things that we have backslidden.  It can start off subtlety, perhaps without our noticing it.  But soon, EVERYONE will notice it.  It is so important that we SET our affections on the Lord and His things.  To set means to fix our hearts and minds on the Lord.  It is a decision we make and look to the Lord to give us the strength to maintain. 

J.C. Ryle, 19th century minister once said, ““Backsliding, generally first begins with neglect of private prayer.”  How true that statement is.  Private prayer is so important to the believer.  To neglect it is a sign of our heart’s wandering from the Lord.  Perhaps this can be a measuring device for us all to consider.  Is private prayer a burden for you?  Have you abandoned private prayer?  When you are in a hurry, is private prayer the first thing you cut out to make up time? 

We have a wonderful, loving savior who has PROMISED to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).  He has promised to never judge us (Romans 8:1).  He has promised to never stop loving us (Romans 8:38-39).  He has promised to forgive all our sins as we confess them to Him (1 John 1:9). 

NO…backsliding will not cause us to lose our salvation, but it will cause us to lose our intimacy with the Lord.  It will cause us to cease hearing His still small voice in leading us.  It will cause us to lose our appreciation of Him and what He has done for us.  It will cause us to miss out on so much the Lord has for us to enjoy while we are still here on earth.  Are you away from the Lord?  Have you backslidden from Him?  Confess your sin and ask the Lord to draw you closer to Himself.  James 4:8 says to us, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.”  (455.2)