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I will never forget the words spoken one night by the pastor of the church in which I was saved. He said, "A person may take 20 years to backslide" (referring to a complete apostasy from the Lord). This is a sobering thought.

You grow old gradually. Your hair turns gray gradually. You can backslide just as gradually. Before you know it, you have wasted your whole life.

Where is the present course of your life taking you? Are you moving toward the Lord or away from Him? If you continued forever on this path, would you wind up in heaven or in hell?

MY SECRET BACKSLIDING At one time in my walk--in the late 1970s and early 1980s--I began to backslide, though all the while I claimed to be growing and maturing. My prayer time and devotional reading of the Word decreased. My fasting all but stopped; my witnessing dropped off. I virtually never took authority over the devil. (I really couldn't have done much anyway!)

I had less and less control over the flesh. I fell in areas I had never fallen in before. Don't get me wrong: I never touched another woman or misused ministry funds or stole anything. But I slipped up a few times in ways I never had before. I even became addicted to video games!

I felt the presence and joy of the Lord less frequently and less abundantly, yet I preached with fervor and remained an absolutely committed believer in Jesus. I was engaged in many good and even sacrificial works--still, I was backsliding!

I will be eternally grateful to my sister-in-law who, without my knowledge, helped to pray me back on fire. How I praise God for miraculously intervening--for planting the first seeds on New Year's Day morning 1982, lovingly rebuking me in March of that year, awakening me with a vision of a spiritual outpouring in May, showing me how far away I was drifting in September, calling me to lay everything on the altar in October, and then sending a visitation November 21, 1982. I have not been the same since.

OUTWARD VITALITY, INWARD DECLINE Tragically, we can have all the outward trappings of Christian zeal and service without having a vibrant relationship with the Lord. According to New Testament scholar Robert Mounce, "At Ephesus, hatred of heresy and extensive involvement in the works appropriate to faith had allowed the fresh glow of love for God and one another to fade."

In other words, wrote Mounce in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (Eerdmans), "Every virtue carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction." So, it could be that our very zeal for truth and purity coupled with our penchant for hard work and sacrifice could rob us of our love both for God and man.

In Revivals of Religion, Charles Finney asserted that it is possible for a person to be active in Christian service and maintain forms of religion and
obedience to God--even with a backslidden heart. "But," a troubled believers asks, "if I can seem to be on fire for God, keeping busy for the Lord and staying true to His Word, and yet be backsliding at the same time, how can I really know the state of my heart?"

A SELF-EXAMINATION Let me describe for you some tangible tests by which you can examine yourself. There's no reason to be in the dark when it comes to your own spiritual life. Ask yourself:

Has my personal devotion to Jesus decreased? Perhaps your desire for intimate times with the Lord has waned, especially for prayer and worship, and your once-ravenous hunger for the Word is now lacking. (John G. Lake says backsliding begins with lessening hunger for the Word, while Leonard Ravenhill claims backsliding begins with decreasing prayer.)

Do you love Jesus today as you once loved Him before? You may enjoy the forms of worship--good music, singing, dancing, being part of an exciting corporate experience--but what about the object of worship? What about the Lord Himself?

You may have a message or a burden. Theology may intrigue you. The ministry may consume you. But all these things are mere idols and distractions in comparison with coming into God's presence and fellowshiping with Him. You grow and bear fruit only to the extent that you abide in the Vine (see John 15:1-8).

Has my personal satisfaction in God decreased? Do you feel the need for things other than God to gain fulfillment? Are you increasingly seeking social orientation in place of private devotions? Do you desire recognition and acceptance by persons of flesh and blood?

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