TITLE: Return unto the Lord: Dealing with Lukewarmness & Backsliding
By Michael Okyere Asante
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"Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD"(Lam. 3:40).
Many believers have tried to overcome this twin problem of lukewarmness and backsliding but to no avail. In admonishing the Israelites to return unto the Lord, Elijah cried: “… How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him…” (1 Kgs. 18:21).
Beloved, to be able to deal with lukewarmness and backsliding you need to be decided, willing, committed and obedient. How decided and willing are you to return to your first love? How committed are you to returning unto the Lord? How long will you waver between two opinions?
You have to come to the realisation of your spiritual state and be willing to move from there. Jesus said that only those who are sick need medication.
You would never overcome your lukewarm or backslidden state until you accept or come to the realisation of the state in which you are. The Laodicean church was complacent with respect to their spiritual state but God told them, “... you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17).
The Bible says that when the prodigal son came to his senses, he set out and went back to his father. Come to your senses, dear, and set out on the journey of returning unto the Lord. The Lord help you!
DEALING WITH LUKEWARMNESS & BACKSLIDING
It is very important to deal with lukewarmness and backsliding at their very early stages before they get out of hand.
Our everyday choices of who/what to serve and obey – God, the flesh or the devil – have several implications in dealing with lukewarmness and backsliding. Joshua thus had to make a stand for the Lord; he chose to serve God. Joshua had a conviction – he distinguished between the clean and unclean and between the holy and unholy (Lev. 10:10).
To deal effectively with lukewarmness and backsliding, you need the conviction and will power to overcome.
Consider the convictions of the following people who stood for the Lord – these were people who distinguished between the holy and common – Daniel chose not to defile himself (Dan. 1:8); Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to an idol (Dan. 3:16-18); Elijah chose to follow God (1 Kgs. 18:21); Peter and John chose to obey God (Acts 4:19); and Paul chose to live for Christ (Phil. 1:21).
So you see, at a point in life these people had to make a choice out of two options and they chose the better part. Take a break now and answer this question:
Which of these two options would you choose: to return unto the Lord or to remain in your lukewarm and backslidden state?
If your decision is to return unto your first love, Jesus Christ, then the following steps would guide you in dealing with lukewarmness and backsliding. My purpose is to help you return unto the Lord.
1. Humble Yourself
“Oh! I am alright”, you say. But deep within you know you are not alright. People think you are the person you used to be but deep within you know you are not what they say you are--you have been hiding behind your past successes.
Key to the self-realisation of the need for deliverance is humility--acknowledging your faults and admitting your need for help. Pride and arrogance could make one lose a necessary step to overcome a lukewarm and backsliding spirit.
Thus, the first step to curing these spiritual diseases is to take away pride and complacency and with humility accept the fact that you need God to help you.
We need to be humble enough to realise that all we are is plain before the living God who will bring all things into judgement. May it be known to you that nothing is hidden before the Lord (Ps. 139:1-12) and let this truth humble you to surrender to GOD.
2. Turn from your Sins
God praises you for your successes but He wants you to correct your failures (Rev. 2:2-6). He knows your struggles and He can help you overcome them (Heb. 4:15, 16).
Do not think that God has rejected you--He yearns to commune with you. God longs for you--“how can I give up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? ... My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused” (Hosea 11:8). “But you must return to your God” (Hosea 12:6a).
God wants you to come back to Him in repentance for He is ready to receive you (Isa. 1:16-18; Lk. 15:11-32). God asks you “why should you be stricken anymore ...?” (Isa. 1:5a KJV)
Dear one, why don’t you return to God for His pardon and forgiveness if you sincerely know that you are drifting off His grace, and thus re-establish the broken fellowship?
Repentance is surely the first step to the regaining and the restoration of your ‘life’ onto eternity (Rev. 22:14).
3. Let Bygones be Bygones
Forgive what and forget what? Forgive yourself and any other person(s) who has/have hurt you. Forget the negative past--do not let it hold you back.
Listen not to the devil’s accusations for he is the father of lies and lying is his native language (Jn. 8:44). Don’t let your past torment you for your sins are forgiven. Forgive yourself.
You may feel guilty and unworthy because of what you have done. You might have asked God to forgive you but whenever the memory of what you did comes back to you, you feel distressed.
I empathize with you. A lady friend asked me to accompany her so she could visit a friend who had been admitted at a nearby hospital.
When we got there, her friend had been discharged and was being helped to pack his things. In that same room was another patient who looked familiar but was difficult to make out. The Holy Spirit told me it was that friend I knew and asked me to lay hands on him.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing because I had seen that friend about two weeks ago. I couldn’t believe it was him lying on the bed so sick, looking pale and thin. I therefore, hesitated and decided to say a word of prayer in my mind for him.
Two days later, I heard that this patient had died and I also got to know that the friend I had seen about two weeks ago was the same patient I couldn’t make out at the hospital.
I couldn’t take it--I was overwhelmed with grief and I cried throughout the night. But I confessed my sin to God and He forgave me. I learnt my lesson the hard way.
Paul, who despite being “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Tim. 1:13) trusted in God’s forgiveness. In Philippians 3:13b, 14 he says, “... forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”.
God says He has forgiven you, period! Just trust in His forgiveness. Don’t listen to the lies of the enemy that you are still a sinner; you are not (Heb. 10:17).
4. Trust in the Lord & Seek Him with your Whole Heart
The Bible says in Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding”. Go to God in prayer and trust Him to restore unto you the joy of His salvation.
That was David’s prayer and he was answered (Ps. 51:12). Trust in His forgiveness and cleansing (1 Jn. 1:9). The devil will lie to you about God’s promise to forgive you but you can trust God on His word--He never says a thing and will not do it.
Blessed is he who puts his trust in the Lord. The woman with an issue of blood got healed because she had faith and trusted in God for healing. Before, she had been with an issue of blood for twelve years. Twelve years because she had not trusted in God for healing; she had trusted in doctors and in her wealth (Mk. 5:25-32).
But the day she met Jesus Christ and put her faith into action, the bleeding ceased. You would not have to wait for twelve years before that problem of lukewarmness and backsliding ceases in your life. Only trust God for your deliverance now because I declare to you that you are delivered from lukewarmness and backsliding in Jesus’ name. Amen. May you become blessed because you trusted in His word for your life.
You need not only trust God to return unto you the joy of His salvation. You also need to continually seek Him with your whole heart (1 Chron. 28:9 NKJV).
5. Lose 'Weight'
Another thing to do is to cut off those things that made you become lukewarm or backslide (Mk. 9:43-48). When you move out of the door of immorality and impiety, remember to slam the door behind you.
How do you lose weight? You shed off some fat, right? Shed off the ‘spiritual fat’ in your life. Those morally-degrading magazines and books, and movies full of nudity should be cut off; aren’t they the cause of your mid being full of impure thoughts?
That premature and ungodly relationship you have entered, withdraw and cut off that gentleman or lady who since coming into your life has caused your spiritual loss. That friend, who has been demanding for sex in the name of love, cut him/her off. If he/she loves you, he/she should wait until you are both married to each other for “Love suffers long ... does not behave rudely, does not seek its own ...” (1 Cor. 13:4, 5).
Lose yourself of any ‘weight’ that impedes your spiritual growth (Heb. 12:1). The free night calls; don’t you see they prevent you from praying, studying God’s word and even studying your academic notes? The addictions to sex, drugs, masturbation, homosexuality, lesbianism, pornography, orgies, wife-exchange, drunkenness and the like; cut all of them off--be not conformed to them anymore (Rom. 12:2).
Would you be willing to open your hands and release anything that prevents you from serving God wholeheartedly? Mind you it will not be easy to do this. It requires some seriousness. You must desire to regain your stand in the Lord.
Let this desire encourage you to say NO to those ‘weights’. Many pledge to lose weight but they remain the same. It requires action; the Bible says ‘put off’ the old nature and ‘put on’ the new man (Eph. 4:22-24). Those are calls to action! Let the Holy Spirit be your Helper.
6. Rid Yourself of the 'Idols'
God knows the danger in compromising with things or people who oppose His word. Thus, on several occasions, He warned the Israelites to keep themselves away from nations that could corrupt them. He warned them to make a covenant neither with these nations nor with their gods, lest they become a snare to them (the Israelites) (Ex. 23:31-33; 34:13-16).
Do you realise that this warning God gave to the Israelites is applicable to your life today? In moving into the Promised Land, the Israelites had to do some ‘clearing’. As a Christian, you also need to clear from your life the sinful thoughts and practices so that you can grow in Christ and not shrink from the faith.
Like the Israelites who were warned to avoid idol worship, you are also admonished to rid yourself of any idols (bad habits, unhealthy relationships and unhealthy desires) in your life. When you do this, you will live a life of sweet fellowship with the Lord.
The Israelites failed to heed God’s warning and so compromised with idolatry. Instead of compromising with the world and its pleasures, you must take a stand for the Lord and begin to involve yourself in the daily study and doing of His commands and in prayer and fasting.
In Romans 6:6, Paul emphasizes that Christians need no longer live under sin’s power. You should know that you live in a world full of evil and so you will still feel like sinning and sometimes you will sin. However, it is up to you to decide to reject or accept God’s pardon.
You should remember that you entered into battle with the devil the very day you gave your life to Jesus Christ and the devil would do anything to pull you back, however, don’t give up but rise up (Eph. 6:10-12).
Let us consider the scripture in Exodus 23:31-33, 34:13-16. Note that in order to remain committed to God the Israelites had to observe the following:
a. Not to make a covenant or a treaty with the people living in the land (23:32).
The treaty was in the form of marriage (34:16), religion (34:13, 14) and probably business and political. The admonishment not to make a covenant or treaty with the aliens was to help the Israelites guide against lukewarmness and backsliding.
Paul advises concerning marital, economic and political treaties(2 Cor. 6:14). The purpose is not to isolate oneself from nonbelievers (1 Cor. 5:9, 10). Jesus Christ even said that He came to save the lost (Lk. 19:10). Paul also admonishes Christians to stay with their nonbelieving spouses (1 Cor. 7:12, 13).
Paul’s admonishment in the scripture (2 Cor. 6:14) is to warn believers not to form binding relationships with nonbelievers since this could make them compromise on their faith.
It happens a lot of times especially within the business environment when one has to pave his/her way through by dishonest means to win a contract or land a job. Beloved, do not lock yourself into personal (relationship/marriage), business or political relationships that could cause you to compromise on your faith.
Don’t give in to that CEO who is ready to offer you a job in exchange for sex or to that lecturer who is willing to give you a grade A in exchange for your ‘body’ (1 Cor. 6:18-20). God is faithful; if you would trust Him, He would provide ALL your needs (Phil. 4:9).
You may be going through some difficulty, problem, trial or testing and you are almost giving in to that rich man, that student, that fiancé--DON’T! Trust God.
The woman with an issue of blood for twelve years trusted in God and was healed--“... she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering” (Mk. 5:29). You would not only feel God’s deliverance upon your life, but others would notice it and testify to the glory of the Almighty God.
b. Not to let the people live in their land (23:33).
God envisaged the possibility of the Israelites sinning against Him if they allowed the aliens live in their land. This was because by associating with the aliens, the worship of their gods could become a snare and this would cause the Israelites to sin against God.
There is a Ghanaian proverb that goes like this: “Show me your friend and I would show you your character”. Sometimes, people get influenced either positively or negatively as a result of their association with others. God saw the possibility of a negative influence upon the Israelites if they associated themselves with the aliens living around them (23:33).
Likewise, believers are warned to beware of the associations they make(Ps. 1:1). The sons of Korah wrote: “... I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Ps. 84:10). Beloved, instead of sitting with friends at the beer bar, spend time with believers sharing the word of God.
If you are struggling with a particular sin in your life, you should consider the associations you’ve made or consider the places you go. Take for example that you are struggling with drunkenness, you have to avoid the drinking spots and night clubs and the friends who take you there.
c. Not to worship any other god but to destroy their objects of worship (34:13, 14).
In order not to turn their backs at God through the influence of the physical presence of the artefacts and objects used by the aliens in the worship of their gods, the Israelites had to destroy the objects used by the foreigners in idol worship.
One of the reasons why a lot of Christians are unable to overcome lukewarmness or backsliding derives from their unwillingness to let go certain ‘objects’ in their lives.
If you desire to overcome masturbation or pornography for instance, you need to burn all those pornographic pictures, magazines, CDs, videotapes, books, etc. You need to cease visiting unprofitable websites.
You need to delete all those unprofitable movies, games and video clips from your personal computer, iPod, mobile phone or any other electronic device you possess. Don’t ever think that you can overcome such a bad habit by continually holding on to its ‘objects’.
You can pray all the prayer you know and even go for a deliverance session; but if you do not ‘clear’ those objects that make you meditate on impure things, you would go back to your ‘vomit’--DESTROY THEM AND LIVE!
7. Seek the Counsel of a Mature Believer
Find someone you can trust and share with him/her your problem--someone who can help you in prayer and encourage you to stand firm. It could be your pastor, cell leader, or a brother or sister within or outside your congregation.
The Apostle James admonishes us to “... confess (our) sins to each other and pray for each other so that (we) may be healed” (Jas. 5:16a emphasis added).
Anne Cetas, a devotional writer observed that some people “... pretend they ‘have it all together’ in order to gain the approval of others. But inside they’re struggling with brokenness, guilt, doubt or an addiction or other persistent sin” (Our Daily Bread, November 23, 2008). She adds that, “God placed us in a body of believers to support one another” and advises we “admit that (we) aren’t perfect. Then seek the counsel of a godly brother or sister in Christ” (Ibid.)
You may not be able to bear all the guilt alone. A problem shared is a problem solved. Beloved, it is important to stay in fellowship often with other believers (Heb. 10:25). You can’t make it alone as a Christian. You need the strength, support and prayers of other believers.
Get that brother or sister now who will help you to cure your lukewarmness or backsliding! He/she could serve as a check on you.
8. Don't Give Up--Persevere
You should understand that your zeal for the Lord diminished gradually; it was not an overnight process. Likewise, regaining your spiritual height won’t occur overnight. You would have to persevere and fight on. Sometimes you may feel God does not want to listen to you. Other times you may not feel His presence. Just persevere.
Beloved, this is the hour you need to prepare yourself for God’s visitation. This is the hour you need not give up. Press on towards the goal. “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:15-16 NKJV).
Dear one, from this scripture we get to know that to be able to persevere and regain your spiritual height, you need to meditate on God’s word and apply them to your life daily. You need to continue in the healing and restoration process. There should be consistency in the study of the word and in fellowship (with God and other believers)―there need not be a break.
In the Christian race, there is nothing like stopping, resting or turning back (Lk. 9:62). The Christian race is about advancing and so Paul uses such phrases and words as ‘I press on ... straining toward ’ (Phil. 3:12-14), ‘I urge’ (1 Tim. 1:3, 2:1; 1 Thess. 2:11), ‘guard’ (1 Tim. 6:20), ‘turn away’ (1 Tim. 6:20), ‘do your best’ (2 Tim. 2:15, 4:9), ‘keep reminding them’ (2 Tim. 2:14; Titus 3:1), ‘flee from ... pursue’ (1 Tim. 6:11), ‘stand firm ... hold to’ (2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Thess. 5:21), ‘make it your ambition’ (1 Thess. 4:11), ‘devote yourselves’ (Col. 4:2), ‘set your hearts ... set your minds’ (Col. 3:1, 2), ‘put to death’ (Col. 3:5), ‘rid yourselves of’ (Col. 3:8), ‘continue to live in him’ (Col. 2:6), ‘see to it’ (Col. 2:8), and so on and so forth.
Stay in the Word of God; be diligent in its study and daily learning. “Your word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11 NKJV). It is also important to note that you may pass through periods of difficulties as a form of God’s chastisement to make you willing to return (Heb. 12:6, Jer. 2:19-27, Rev. 3:19).
Please, also note the role of prayer and fasting in humbling your spirit before God (2 Chron. 7:14) and also ‘killing’ the desires of the flesh (Mt. 26:41). Moreover, there are certain habits and problems that can be remedied only through prayer and fasting with faith (Mt. 17:14-21).
Above all the cures given, “look unto Jesus the author and finisher of (y)our faith” (Heb. 12:2) by “cast(ing) all your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you ...” (Ps. 55:22).
CONCLUSION: EXAMINE YOURSELF
A church might have existed for several years and one might have identified with Christianity for many years. But beloved, you should note that age does not determine your level of maturity in Christ. There is therefore, the need for the church and individual Christians to reflect on the following:
a. Have you as an individual given your life wholly to Christ?
b. Have you been able to fulfil God’s purpose for evangelism?
c. Has your love for and obedience to God’s word and your prayer life diminished?
d. Has lukewarmness or backsliding occupied an area of your life?
Yes! Like the church in Sardis (Rev. 2), you might have achieved great things for God in the past. You might be the longest serving member of your church. Your church might have the largest congregation.
But you need to ask yourself, “How have I used my talents, abilities and spiritual gifts to help the church grow? How have I contributed in helping the church present the message of salvation to the world? Have I been dormant for years or can God call me a faithful and committed servant?”
Beloved, it is not about what you have been able to achieve in the past. It is about what your state is now for the past is just a springboard that aids you into the future (Phil. 3:7-14). Do not make the mistake of assuming that your over-confidence in your former standing with God would make Him overlook your present conduct (Hos. 7:2).
Repent of your lukewarmness and backsliding and return to your first love (the love with which you served God when you became a new believer). Humble yourself, and with a broken and contrite spirit, make a turn back to the Lord and He would receive you (Ez. 36:25-27).
No matter how far you might have run from God, He’s only a prayer away; and you can pray with Anon saying, “O Lord, return to me Your power that once by grace I knew. Forgive the sin that grieved your heart and help me to be true”.
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