What the Bible Says about Backsliding

A graphic featuring a woman looking down, with hands up in prayer, representing a Christian who is backsliding, but is now repenting.

When I first became a Christian as a teen, I didn’t know any of the lingo erupting around me. When I first heard the word backslider, I pictured a person on their backside careening down a Slip ‘N’ Slide. Since people mentioned backsliders in cautionary tones, I deduced I didn’t want to be one, whatever that meant. It sounded ominous.

What is backsliding?

It didn’t take long to realize a backsliding Christian is a person who actively turns their back on God and the ways of God. It’s someone who knows Jesus, but then either decides to stop growing (stagnates) or actively rebels against him. It can also be someone who has lost their zeal and love for Jesus, as Jesus warned the church in Ephesus: “But I have this against you: You have departed from your first love! Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first” (Rev 2:4–5a NET).

Later we will tackle what to do if we find ourselves in a state of backsliding, but first we have to establish some bedrock—an important promise about our eternal security. First, let’s ask this question:

What isn’t backsliding?

Backsliding is not the same thing as a non-Christian acting normally. In other words, there are people who may go through the motions of Christianity, even possessing a convincing Christian vocabulary, but have never truly met and followed Jesus. So when they act out of their nature, they’re not backsliding. They’re authentically living out their non-Christian worldview.

While it is nearly impossible to determine whether someone is a non-Christian doing non-Christian things (under the veil of Christianity) or if they’ve truly met Jesus and are now rebelling, we do know that the Lord knows all things and searches all hearts. It’s not our job to figure that out.

We can rest in Scriptures such as, “I, the Lord, probe into people’s minds. I examine people’s hearts. I deal with each person according to how he has behaved. I give them what they deserve based on what they have done” (Jer 17:10 NET). The prophet Jeremiah reminds us that God knows what’s truly going on inside a person.

Does backsliding mean I’m not saved?

As a Christ follower, God has secured your relationship with him. Your salvation cannot be revoked. There are many promises in Scripture that point to this assurance, but these verses from the mouth of Jesus should settle your worries:

  • “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24 NET)
  • “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand.” (John 10:29 NET)

These words of Jesus bring great comfort, particularly if you’re struggling to follow him or you’re doubting your faith. He is for you. He has you. He carries you. You are irrevocably his.

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Why are there Christians who backslide?

There are many reasons people stray. I’ve listed a few below.

Misunderstanding the faith

Some started following Jesus with a fundamental misunderstanding of Christianity—that if they followed him, all their problems would be solved, and only blessings would follow. Unfortunately, that is not what Jesus promised. He cautioned, “In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage—I have conquered the world” (John 16:33b NET). When our expectations aren’t met by God, when he didn’t solve our issues or intervene in the way we hoped he would, disillusionment sets in, which then can fuel a “What’s the point?” attitude.

Sudden grief

Unexpected grief also causes people to walk away. They might ask, “If God loved me, then why did this horrible thing happen?” Remember, grief is not only experienced when someone dies, but when we experience any kind of loss—job, friendship demise, a divorce, a long held dream that didn’t materialize.

Church hurt

Church hurt can also fuel a backsliding Christian. Of all the people who are supposed to treat us well, when a church member or leader hurts us, we can project that hurt onto God. We may surmise, “If this is what church is about, I’m out.”

Worldly influence

Having constant worldly voices in our ears can influence backsliding. If we feverishly scroll our phones, hang out with people who don’t follow Jesus, or only listen to the siren call of the world, our worldview easily shifts away from Jesus and his ways.

What does the Bible say about it?

There are many Scriptures on backsliding. Consider these Bible verses:

  • There are consequences for the backsliding Christian. “The backslider will be paid back from his own ways, but a good person will be rewarded for his” (Prov 14:14 NET).
  • In God’s rebuke of the nation of Israel, he equates backsliding with worshipping idols (a serious offense). “My people are obsessed with turning away from me; they call to Baal, but he will never exalt them!” (Hos 11:7 NET).
  • There is a strong element of choice and resolve when someone backslides. “Why, then, do these people of Jerusalem continually turn away from me in apostasy? They hold fast to their deception. They refuse to turn back to me” (Jer 8:5 NET).

How can I get right with God after backsliding?

You may be reading this article because you’ve sensed a distance between you and God, or you’ve felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit that you’re not living in a way that pleases him. If that’s the case, rejoice! That you’ve been feeling bad about your distance means that you’re still hearing from God.

Of course, there is always hope, and there is a clear pathway back to the heart of God. As mentioned in the Revelation passage above, when we have lost our first love, we have to do three things: remember, repent, and do.


Think back on all the amazing, beautiful things God has done in your life. Recall your salvation experience, how God forgave you, set you free, and brought you into new community. Part of the reason Israel rebelled against God in the Old Testament is that they forgot God’s works and goodness. Remembering leads to reconnection.


Confess your sins to God. He promises to cleanse you from them (1 John 1:9). He removes your sin as far as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12). If you have wronged others during your backslidden days, ask for forgiveness specifically and offer to make restitution. Ask God to forgive you.


What did you do when you first met Jesus? Most likely you spent time reading the Bible, worshipping him, connecting with other believers, and praying. Take bold steps back into these practices.

What do I do if I know a Christian is backsliding?

While we cannot make choices for another, there are several things we can do when we know a backsliding Christian.

Lovingly confront

The New Testament is replete with Scriptures about how to bring up sin to a fellow believer (Matt 18:15–17; Jas 5:19–20; Gal 6:1–5; 2 Tim 2:24–26). While you may feel this is unkind, it’s actually a loving thing to do. If you love someone, you will want what is best for them. This act of loving (and humble) truth-telling is one of the hardest practices of the Christian faith.


Think about the parable of the soils from Matthew 13. You can pray that the evil one will stop snatching that person away, or that the backslidden would find deeper roots, or that the thorns in their life would become thornier. You can pray according to Matthew 18:10–14, that Jesus would leave the ninety-nine and chase the backslidden one.


Sometimes a Christian’s backsliding is the result of disappointment or hurt. Listening without comment, asking open-ended questions, and demonstrating empathy reveals the kindness of God. According to Romans 2:4, kindness leads to repentance.


If the backsliding Christian doesn’t want to talk, listen to their life. Seek to find out what would encourage them. Would a financial gift help them get through a stressful situation? Is there something you can do for them that will surprise them? Can you attend something alongside them so they don’t feel lonely?

Hope for the backslider

There is much hope for the backsliding Christian, particularly when we look at the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. Consider these key points of the story:

The father let the son go

Oddly, this is beautiful news. Why? Because God grants all his children the gift of free will. He allows people to stray. We are not robotic followers—we have agency, to either choose Jesus or choose our own way.

It was a famine that brought the son back home

When people in agrarian cultures read this story, they often call it the “story of the famine”—because it’s the famine that caused the son to wake up and see that the world’s fulfillment was an empty promise. No one coerced the son to return; circumstances did that. When we’re praying for a backslider, we can pray the same.

There was no shame when the son returned

He expected a rebuke. He hoped to be a hired hand. Instead? His return came with a party, a celebration of his renewed place in the family.

The good news is that no matter how far we slide away from faith, Jesus always welcomes us back with open arms. Simple repentance, sorrow, and a desire to return inaugurates the backslider back into community—and with that, the hope and power of forgiveness and restoration. God created backsliders to be found, “so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27).

Friend, Jesus is never far.

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Written by
Mary DeMuth

Mary DeMuth is a literary agent, international speaker, podcaster, and novelist and nonfiction author of nearly 50 books, including 'The 90-Day Bible Reading Challenge' (Bethany 2023). She loves to help people re-story their lives. She lives in Texas with her husband of 32 years and is the mom to 3 adult children. Find out more at marydemuth.com. Be prayed for on her daily prayer podcast with 4.5 million downloads: prayeveryday.show. For cards, prints, and artsy fun go to marydemuth.com/art. Find out what she’s looking for as a literary agent at marydemuthliterary.com

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Written by Mary DeMuth