Backsliding or falling away is sometimes used to describe a believer who has turned their back on God with the purpose of pursuing their own desires. And although this is a sad condition for any believer, it happens more often than we think.
But why does it happen? Why would a believer, for no apparent reason, decide they want nothing more to do with God? Let’s take a look at a parable Jesus told in Matthew 13:1-23 that can help answers these kinds of questions.
Jesus tells his followers a story about a farmer who scatters seed — which fall on four different types of ground — to explain the different responses people have to hearing the good news of salvation. Here’s a brief summary:
As the farmer scatters the seed, some fell along the side of a path and the birds came and ate it up. This represents those who hear the word but do not understand it.
Some of the seed fell on rocky ground and although the plant sprang up quickly, it withered when the sun came out because it had shallow roots. This represents those who hear the word, receive it with joy but have no depth and fall away when trouble comes.
Some of the seed fell among the thorns but the thorns quickly choked the plants. This represents those who hear the word but allow worldly cares and riches to choke it out.
Some of the seed fell on good ground where it produced an abundant crop — a hundred times more than what was sown. This represents those who hear the word, understand it, and apply it.
How can this parable be applied to backsliding? First, Jesus teaches that it’s crucial we understand the word of God — namely, the message of salvation found only through Jesus Christ. At the basic level, we need to understand we’re sinners, and it’s our sin that separates us from God. We also need to understand and accept that we are incapable of earning salvation regardless of our actions and behaviors. Yes, God is love. Yes, God is our friend. But more importantly, God is salvation for a sinful people.
Second, Jesus teaches we need some depth to our faith. How do we get depth? By studying and meditating on the word of God. At the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us his word is an anchor that securely holds us to the foundation of faith during the turbulent times of life (Matthew 7:24-27). It’s the person who hears God’s word and puts it into practice who builds depth in his relationship with God as well as in his Christian faith.
Third, Jesus teaches that we have to remain alert to the dangers of the world; things like worries, riches, lusts, and distractions. If we allow these things to take over our minds and hearts, we cannot mature or grow spiritually, and we choke out the saving faith of Jesus Christ.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. At the end of the parable, he teaches that if we’d just put God’s word into practice and allow it to take root, we’d have a much better chance of seeing our faith through to the end—just like the seed that fell on good, solid, and healthy ground.
What’s exciting about this parable is that there isn’t just one particular meaning—it can be applied in a variety of different ways. For example, it can help with learning more about God’s role with humanity or as a lesson in spreading the gospel regardless of how it’s received. But today, it was used as a preventive measure against backsliding. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
In fact, the disciples — who were having a hard time understanding this particular teaching — came right out and asked Jesus why he chose to speak to people in parables. And although his response is lengthy, Jesus basically tells them it’s because he wants people to listen, to see, and to think. (Matthew 13:13-15).
And today, because of this parable, we’ve done just that.
Donna Hughey is an award-winning Christian author and columnist. She lives in Crescent City.