The Backsliding, Get Right with God, Backsliding Cycle

Backsliding is very much a part of the fabric of Evangelicalism. Every Evangelical church has three types of people:

  • The sold out, on-fire Christian
  • The unsaved
  • The backslidden Christian

Most Evangelical churches have a small percentage of sold out, on-fire Christians and a smattering of unsaved people. Most Evangelicals, including pastors, are backslidden to some degree or the other.

What is a backslidden Christian? A backslidden Christian is a person who has spiritually slid backwards from where they once were in their Christian life. They have left their first love and have become a lukewarm Christian. While they might attend church on Sunday, their day-to-day life reflects that they are not as good of a Christian as they once were.  Since most Evangelicals believe that once a person is saved they can never lose their salvation, they must come up with a word that describes the majority of Evangelical church members; hence the word backslider.

Every year, churches hold special meetings or revivals meant to get church members all jacked up on Mountain Dew. (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby reference for those culturally unaware)  A special meetings or a revival is called for when the church is in need of spiritual “reviving.”  In come special speakers and evangelists, specialists in breathing life into backslidden church members. These specialists preach sermons meant to convict backsliders of their backsliddeness and sure enough the backsliders realize the error of their way and stream down to the altar and get right with God or make some other sort of confession that they have been a real bad boy and they promise to never, ever be bad again.

In Baptist churches, revivals are often scheduled events. Every spring and/or fall, the church holds a revival hoping that it will light a spiritual fire under those who are not a sold out, on-fire Christian.  Church members dutifully attend each night of the revival and one or more times during the week will likely make some sort of commitment to be a better Christian.  The backslider confesses all the things that keep them from being a sold out, on-fire Christian. Many of them have been doing this for years. Revivals are like taking a bath once or twice a year. The backslider gets all cleaned up, only to get dirty again a few  days, weeks, or months later. Over the course of 50 years in the Evangelical church, I saw scores of backsliders get right with God. I saw smokers confess the sin of smoking, only to backslide again before they got out of the church parking lot. I’ve seen uncounted Christian weep, wail, and sling snot over their backslidden condition, only to go home and resume their “sinning”.

Evangelical pastors spend a good bit of their time trying to get church members to live the Christian life. They challenge people to come to church every time the doors are open, to study the Bible every day, to pray without ceasing, to tithe, and to witness to the lost. Little do church members realize that their pastor is not spiritually any better off than they are. He puts on a good show in the pulpit, but behind closed doors he struggles with many of the same things church members do.

Why are there so many backslidden people in Evangelical churches? (I’m sure this is a problem in other sects, but my experience is with the Evangelical church) Is it because most of them aren’t “really” a Christian? Is it because they really don’t want to give up the pleasures of the world? At one time I thought so. I have now come to see that the difference between the sold out, on-fire Christian and the backslidden Christian is a matter of personality or a matter of how much time a Christian has to devote to the things that would make them a poster child for a sold out, on-fire Christian.

super mom

My wife was mother/teacher to six-children, keeper of the home, and on-call gopher for her God-called preacher husband. Like her husband, she was busy all the time. Polly always had good intentions. She intended to read the Bible more, pray more, and witness more, but she never really got around to it. There was a time I feared for her soul. I wondered, doesn’t she love God’s word? Doesn’t she want to be in constant communion with God? I now see that it wasn’t that she wasn’t willing as much as it was there was only so many hours in the day. After feeding six children and educating them and doing any number of tasks for her preacher husband, there was no time for God.  Polly spent years feeling guilty over not doing enough for Jesus or following her husband’s call to be a sold out, on-fire Christian.

I could read the Bible any time I wanted and pray without ceasing because I had the leisure time to do so. I was being paid to be a good Christian. Many of the people I pastored worked 8-12 hours a day, along with taking care of their families, and they didn’t have the leisure time that I had to devote to God.  It took me many years to figure this out. Until I did, I would beat people over the head with the sin stick trying to shame them into being a sold out, on-fire Christian. And it worked, for a time. People would get right with God and for a time be a sold out, on-fire Christian. But, as the grind of day-to-day life wore them down, it was not long until they returned to their backslidden ways.

It should come as no surprise that many Evangelicals are quite depressed over the state of their Christian life. The cycle of getting right with God, backsliding, getting right with God, over and over and over keeps the person from finding a resting place in their life. And just when they think they might have found a resting place the preacher reminds them of how much Jesus did for them and how little they really do for Jesus.

Is this some aberration, a corruption of Christianity? Of course not. Jesus said, let a man deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.  Jesus expected his followers to abandon their nets, family, and worldly cares, and follow him. You’ll search in vain to find a passage of Scripture that says being a lukewarm, backslidden Christian is in any way acceptable. Of the lukewarm Christian, the Bible says:

So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

The book of Revelation says:

Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write…Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

Songs like Set My Soul Afire, Lord, remind the Christian of what it is that God expects of them:

Set my soul afire Lord, for Thy Holy Word,
Burn it deep within me, let Thy voice be heard
Millions grope in darkness in this day and hour,
I will be a witness, fill me with Thy pow’r

Set my soul afire Lord, set my soul afire.
Make my life a witness of Thy saving pow’r.
Millions grope in darkness, waiting for Thy Word.
Set my soul afire, Lord, set my soul afire!

Set my soul afire, Lord, for the lost in sin,
Give to me a passion as I seek to win;
Help me not to falter never let me fail,
Fill me with Thy Spirit, let Thy will prevail.

Set my soul afire, Lord, in my daily life.
Far too long I’ve wandered in this day of strife;
Nothing else will matter but to live for Thee,
I will be a witness for Christ lives in me.

I Surrender All is another old standard that reminds every Christian of the devotion God expects from them:

All to Jesus I surrender;
all to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him,
in his presence daily live.

I surrender all, I surrender all,
all to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender;
humbly at his feet I bow,
worldly pleasures all forsaken;
take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus I surrender;
make me, Savior, wholly thine;
fill me with thy love and power;
truly know that thou art mine.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to thee;
fill me with thy love and power;
let thy blessing fall on me.

All to Jesus I surrender;
now I feel the sacred flame.
O the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to his name!

Despite the preaching, the revival meetings, and the soul-stirring songs, most church members can’t sustain a life as a sold out, on-fire Christian. Too bad none of us sold out, on-fire Christians told them the truth…

Neither could we…


  1. Appalachian Agnostic

    It sounds a lot like the way we all start diets or new exercise programs.

  2. Troy

    It is interesting humans are “designed” to have a very efficient sure-fire sex drive but the “God drive” is so faulty. If you think about it if you are fighting your nature aren’t you fighting your designer?
    I suppose the Devil typically gets a lot of credit here but he shouldn’t.

  3. Kenneth

    I can’t believe I was once a guilty ridden Baptist, always worried for my “soul” about all the sin in my life. The truth is, it is such a waste of time and energy (sorry you went through this so long Bruce & Polly!) to constantly try to change being who you really are as a human being. I’m not saying do whatever you want no matter the consequences, but I do feel sorry for those who are still under the clutches of Evangelicalism–constantly trying to please their church and their God to no avail. I’m just very glad that is over with me now!

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Me too. I try each day to be a good person. I certainly fail at this, but I have no need to ask a mythical God for forgiveness. All I need to do is do better. If I’m being an ass, the solution is to not be an ass. ?

  4. Skyler

    Wow you really hit the nail on the head here. It is so true.


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