I’ve never much cared for the term “backsliding” in reference to the Christian life.
This probably stems from its use as a sort of quasi-excuse for a believer’s disobedience to the Lord’s commands to walk with him daily, as in “Oh, he’s just a backslidden Christian.”
I thank Joel Beeke for redeeming the term, and reminding me that the concept is clear in Scripture, with many translators using that exact term for the biblical concept of God’s people turning away from him in sin, lethargy, indifference, spiritual coldness, and outright rebellion.
Even professing Christians who remain long in such a condition can no longer claim an assurance of having been regenerated in the first place, but for those who profess Christ and for whom the hope of restoration is still applicable, the term fits.
Beeke defines what backsliding is, biblically speaking, then gives an excellent description of the backslider, useful for thorough and humbling self-examination. Some of the signs of backsliding or “falling into the spiritual rut” that Beeke identifies are 1) coldness in prayer, 2) indifference under the Word, 3) growing inner corruptions, 4) love of the world, 5) declining love for believers, and 6) man-centered hopes.
Rather than a “normal” condition for Christians to periodically fall into, Beeke demonstrates that backsliding is a terrible sin against God, and that the failure to recognize and appreciate its significance is also sinful.
But for the backsliding believer who doesn’t with to remain in that condition, there is great hope. God welcomes the returning backslider, providing the means for his restoration in “justifying”, “adopting”, and “sanctifying” grace.
Beeke gives an excellent treatment of the subject, clarifying for believers that many times if we aren’t already in a “spiritual rut” of backsliding, we are dangerously close, and should take heed to flee again to the grace of God for preventive measures.
One seeming omission is Beeke’s lack of reference to declining love for the lost as a sign of backsliding, as it is manifested in failure to evangelize and disciple others.
On the whole, however, Beeke’s treatment is excellent, and one that every Christian should review.