“The Backslider In Heart” (Proverbs 14:14 sermon)

It’s about 380 A.D., and Monica was at church, praying for her son. This was nothing new for her. She had been praying for her son for over ten years. She’d brought him up to know the Lord. He was an extremely sharp young man, who “knew” a lot, but he “backslid” from what he had been taught. Now he was living in Italy, drinking, carousing, and dabbling with pagan philosophies. So Monica was in church that day, weeping at the altar, and praying for her son. 

That story may sound very familiar to some of you today. Maybe you are a mom like Monica. If not, you probably know someone like her. Or maybe you would say today: I am just like her son, or daughter. I am a backslider. 

Some of the most common prayers Christian mothers pray today, are for their children who are not walking with God. Like Monica, they brought them up with Christian teaching, but they have “backslidden” from it like Monica’s son Augustine did. 

This week we read Proverbs 14:14, “The backslider in heart will have his fill of his own ways.” Let us look at what a “backslider” is, how we can pray for them — and how we can keep from becoming a “backslider” ourselves! 

I. What is a “backslider”? 

I haven’t heard the term “backslider” as much is recent years as I did when I was growing up at the First Baptist Church in Harrah, Oklahoma. At church, we might hear people share testimonies about how they were saved, but “backslid” and disobeyed the Lord for a period of time.

And when you look at it, that is basically what this Hebrew word (sug) means:  to “move away,” to “backslide” from something. And it specifically says the “backslider in HEART.” So it’s not talking about someone who physically moves away or slides back from something, but someone who moves back IN THEIR HEART. And of course it’s talking about one’s relationship with God, that you “move away” from God, or “slide back” from Him. We see this word used in some other places in scripture as well:

In Psalm 44:18 the Psalmist is asking God why it seems He has deserted them when “our heart has not turned back, and our steps have not deviated from Your way.” When he says “our heart has not turned back,” that is the same word used here in Proverbs 14:14 for “backslider.” So it means turning back from God in your heart.  (And again, as saw last week notice how the parallel expression here in Psalm 44:18 helps define it when it says: “our steps have not deviated from your way.” The backslider’s steps HAVE deviated from the way of God.  So this gives us a pretty good definition of a “backslider” as one whose heart has turned back from God, so that his steps have left His way.”

And we see this meaning in other places as well:
— Psalm 53:2 says: “God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there is anyone who understands, who seeks after God.” The answer in :3 is NO: “Every one of them has turned aside …”. “Turned aside” there is (sug) the same Hebrew word from Proverbs 14:14. It means to “slide back” or “turn aside” from God. We see it used that same way in Psalm 78:57, 80:18, and in Zephaniah 1:6: “those who have TURNED BACK from following” God. 

So the backslider is a person whose heart, and then life, have turned away from God. This “leaving” element is important in the “backslider.” The “backslider” is NOT just someone who is lost, or who isn’t obeying God. There are many lost people who have never known the Lord, and never made any attempt to follow Him. They are not “backsliders,” they are just LOST! They don’t know the Lord and never have.

But to be a “backslider,” you have to have something that you “slid back” FROM! The backslider knew God (or at least knew ABOUT Him); he grew up in church; he knows what it means to follow the Lord; they may have made a profession of faith and been baptized; they may have followed the Lord at one time — but the key element in it, is that though they may know what they SHOULD be doing in their walk with God, they are not doing it NOW. They have “slid back”; they have “moved away” from the knowledge of God that they had. 

I think of several people that I grew up with, who in college and as young adults were really walking with God and serving Him: one was a powerful witness for the Lord; he’d walk in anywhere and share. He used to preach outside of the pizza parlor where we’d all go after church. But as “fiery” as he was for the Lord, his fire cooled. He fell away from what he was doing; his marriage dissolved, his life went in the wrong direction. Now, in these latter years, praise God, he’s gotten things going back in the right direction again. But for a time he “slid back.” For a time, all those were things he “used” to do.

Those are some of the saddest words, aren’t they: “I used to.” Psalm 42:4 says: “For I USED TO go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God.” He USED TO. He’s not doing it now. What’s happened? He’s not doing now what he USED TO. He’s fallen back from his commitment to God. He’s not as close as he used to be. The writer of Psalm 42 was a backslider! 

— Do you know someone today, of whom you would say: “I think they are a backslider”?

— Maybe you have a child, a grandchild, or a family member, who you might say is a “backslider”?

— Or maybe today you would be honest enough to say, “Pastor, that is ME. I am a backslider.” If you are, it’s important that you are honest enough to admit it, and bring it to God today. Tell Him: “God, I’m a ‘backslider,’ but I don’t want to be any more. 

But whether it is you, or someone you know, let’s look at some things the Bible teaches us about a backslider:

II. Some characteristics of the backslider:

NOTICE the context: several of the verses around :14 tell us something about the “backslider’s” life:

— :12 “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  This is what the “backsliding life” is all about: this “backsliding” person knows God’s way: they were taught it; they were once following it; but at some point they decided to go their own way instead. Like this verse says: “there was a way that seemed right to them,” and it wasn’t God’s way; but they thought it sounded better so that’s the way they went. It “seems right,” but God says it ends in death. But this is what the backslider has done: he has chosen to follow what “seemed right” to him, instead of what God commanded in His word. That doesn’t end well, as this verse says, and as we shall see. 

— Then I think :13 is very instructive about this lifestyle too. It says: “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain …”. This tells us a lot: many times when people are in rebellion against what they know is God’s will for them, they will “act” like they are really happy with what they are doing — just to “show everyone” how “happy” they are without God — but they aren’t, really. “Even in laughter their heart is in pain.” 

So this is a good word for many of us who KNOW a backslider: don’t be fooled by the “outward” apparent attitude they have. They may “act” like they’re happy, but they aren’t. Inside, their heart is in conviction and great pain, just like :13 says.

And I will add, that is, their heart will be in great pain and conviction IF THEY ARE A CHRISTIAN. If this person is genuinely a Christian (which I believe many backsliders are; if you are “sliding back,” you have to have something that you are “sliding back” FROM! So they probably DO know the Lord like the Psalmist in Psalm 42; he’s just not doing what he used to be doing any more. And if they ARE a genuine Christian, then they have the Holy Spirit in their heart. And if they have the Holy Spirit in their heart, like Jesus said in John, then He will convict them of sin. So if you are a Christian, and you have “slid back” into sin and relationships and activities that you KNOW you should not be a part of, you will not be “happy” doing it. You CAN’T. The Holy Spirit in you will be convicting you, saying “You know this is wrong …” and you can’t be happy doing it. Now maybe you act like you’re happy doing it; maybe the person you know ACTS like they are happy doing what they know is wrong. But it is just like Proverbs 14:13 says: “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain.” Even while they’re doing the “partying,” they aren’t really happy. They can’t be. Not if they’re God’s child. 

And if they really ARE happy; if YOU really truly are happy disobeying what you know God has prohibited, that is the worst sign of all. It means God’s Spirit is NOT in your heart, and you are not saved at all. And you’re in the worst condition possible. You are headed for hell. 

But the Christian person who is a “backslider” can’t be happy in his backslidden state. Notice what Proverbs 14:14 goes on to say: “The backslider in heart will (what?): have his fill of his own ways.”  This is a very instructive verse.

In Hebrew it literally means, he will have enough of his own ways. 

In II Chron 31:10 the priests used this same Hebrew word to tell Hezekiah: “we have had enough to eat.” “We’ve had enough!” 

Have you ever eaten something, and you thought it was good, and so you kept on eating it, and kept on eating it, until you had just had too much. Finally you stop yourself and say, “Ugh, I’ve had enough. It doesn’t even sound good any more.” I’ve done that before, to where even the next day, it didn’t sound good. I had had enough of that.

It’s just like what we just read in Numbers 11 last week, isn’t it: where the Hebrew people grumbled about the manna God was giving them from heaven, and said, What about meat? Would it kill You to give us some meat? So God said to them, OK, you want meat? I’m going to let you have what you want. “Not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord.” (:19-20)

This is JUST the picture here in Proverbs 14:14. The backslider says, I want my way instead of God’s way. And God says ok, have it your way. 

Years ago, C.S. Lewis wrote: 

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done. ‘ 

If you want to leave God, and go your own way, God will say, OK, YOUR will be done. You can have it if you want it. But you’re going to get sick of it. You’re going to have your fill of your own way. At some point it’s like God’s gonna say to you: “Had enough?” Maybe God’s saying that to you through this message today: “haven’t you had enough of your own way? Isn’t it time to come back to Him now?  Hopefully, when you’ve “had your fill of your own ways,” is when you get up and go back to your Father.

That’s the picture Jesus gives us in the story of the Prodigal Son. That son “went away” from his father’s house and took his money and went out to do “what he wanted to do.” And the Bible says he squandered it all on loose living. And when he’d lost it all, he found himself in a pig pen, wishing he could eat the pig’s food. When you start wishing for pigs’ slop, it’s time to wake up. It’s time to say you’ve had enough. The Prodigal Son “came to himself,” the Bible says. He “woke up.” He said, “I’ve had my fill of my own ways,” just like Proverbs 14 says. And he finally said, “I’m going to get up and go back to my father.” 

Some of you know someone today who has turned their back on God; and as a result, they are having a really difficult time right now. What’s happening is, Proverbs 14:14 is coming to pass in their life: they are getting their fill of their own way.

Or maybe it’s YOU! Maybe you’d say: I’ve turned my back on God; I’ve been going my own way, but I am SICK of it. I am sick and tired of my own way. What this scripture says is coming true for you: “the backslider in heart will have his fill of his own way.”  

III. How to deal with a “backslider”

So what do you do, if your child, or grandchild, or friend, or loved one, is a backslider? It’s hard, isn’t it? It can be one of the hardest things in the world to see someone you love, make a big mistake. But one of the things we learn in life is that we can’t make other people’s decisions for them. We have to let it play out. We have to let God work in them. And He will. REMEMBER: God loves them more than you do! Don’t forget that. Jesus loves them more than you do. He DIED for them! And He will do everything He can, through circumstance and conviction, to put pressure on them, to bring them back to Him.

THE most important role you can play, is especially to pray. Be like Monica. Be a pray-er who never gives up. Don’t necessarily be the “preacher,” who never gives up. Sometimes when we have a loved one who is straying, we want to preach at them. And hey, I get that; I am a preacher!  But honestly, there comes a time when your preaching isn’t doing any good; and it begins to cross the line to “nagging;” and they’re not going to listen to that any more. So you just have to dig in quietly, and pray. Their heart is something only GOD can deal with. So settle in and pray with all your heart, and ask God to do in them what only God can do. 

So what do you pray for them? One of the best things you can do is pray scriptures for them. I John 5 says we know God hears us if we pray according to His will. And His will is found in His word. So let’s pray His word for our loved ones. As you read through the Bible this year, keep a list of different scriptures you come across that would be good to pray for certain people on your prayer list: “Oh, this is a good verse to pray for my husband; this is a good verse to pray for my son; this is a good verse to pray for this backsliding person …” and so on. 

And ONE good verse you can pray for that backsliding loved one is this one we are looking at today: Proverbs 14:14. “The backslider in heart will have his fill of his own ways.” Pray for them, like this Proverbs says, “God, let them have their fill (their) own ways.” Pray that they would tire of their rebellion; that they would get fed up with a lifestyle that does not really bring them the joy and satisfaction that they had hoped for when they went their own way.  Pray: “Lord, may this backslider have his fill of his own ways; incline their heart back to You!”  I pray this verse for some folks who are on my prayer list — and I hope that starting today you’ll begin to do the same. Pray for that one you love, and do not give up. And this verse is one of the great ones to pray: “May the backslider in heart have his fill of his own ways”!  

And then just one more word: how can we keep from backsliding?

Watch out for the “little” things:

We just read in Proverbs 6:10-11 this week: “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands, and your poverty will come like an armed man …

Backsliding can start with just a little thing. “a little … a little … a little …”

I just missed a day in my Bible reading … just a little thing.

I just skipped a Sunday in church; well, that’s just a little thing …

I just watched a tv show I probably shouldn’t have; well, it was just a “little” sin …

But “a little missing, a little step back, a little compromise” — and the backsliding comes. If you can think of a little thing you’re doing or NOT doing right now; correct it NOW. TODAY. Before it goes any farther.  Backsliding can start with just a very little step back.

In fact, if you want to keep from backsliding, one of the very best things you can do is to purposefully keep moving forward in your spiritual life. If you just “stand still” spiritually, you are going to begin to slip back. There is no “staying where you are.” 

It’s like if you’re swimming upstream in a river, and you stop swimming, what’s going to happen? If you stop moving forward, it’s just naturally going to carry you back.  Well that is the way that it is spiritually as well. We can never just sit here and “stay where we are.” The whole “current” of “the world, the flesh, and the devil” are all actively working against you every day. If you relax, if you stop moving forward; if you even just try to “stay where you are,” you won’t. The “current” will begin to carry you backwards.

It’s just like what Millard was talking about with his job. If you’re not moving forward, you’re going backwards. There’s no standing still. 

You’ve got to be actively moving forward, or you WILL be carried backwards, away from where you want to be with the Lord.

— Are you doing something right now in your life that you know you ought not to be doing? Then you are backsliding.

— Are there things you used to do spiritually that you are not doing now?
Then you are backsliding.

— Would you say that you are in a time of spiritual growth in your life?

If you are not purposefully growing spiritually, then you are falling back. It may be so subtle, so small, right now that no one but you can see it. But in your heart YOU know it. You have stopped growing, and you have ever so slightly begun to fall back. Let me tell you something: it will NOT continue to be “ever so slight.” That’s how the devil works on you: at first it’s little, but soon you will be farther from God than you ever dreamed you’d be. Don’t let it happen. Turn it around, today! 


Let me finish the story I began with today. Cheryl always says: You need to finish your stories; you can’t leave people hanging! So let me fill you in:

The woman, Monica, who was praying at the church? Her prayers for her son were answered!  Now, they weren’t answered immediately. It didn’t happen in a year. Or 5 years. Or 10. It took SEVENTEEN YEARS. But one day, God got ahold of her son. He heard the voice of a child who was playing outside, saying, “Tolle lege,” “take up and read,” and he took it to mean he should pick up his Bible and read it. And he did – and God touched his heart, and Augustine, whom people know today as “St. Augustine,” one of the most famous and most influential Christians in all history, was saved. “The backslider (finally) had his fill of his own ways,” and he came back to the Lord he’d learned of as a child from his mother. 

It just reminds us that God can touch the backslider, and bring them back to Himself. 

— So if you have a loved one you might call a “backslider,” don’t give up them. Keep praying, like Monica did. For seventeen years, or 57 years, however long it takes. Pray this verse for them: that they would have their fill of their own ways, and turn back to the Lord.

— And make sure that you yourself don’t become a backslider. Is there any area in your life in which you are “sliding back” spiritually, instead of moving forward? Don’t let that happen. Don’t become a “backslider, who gets his fill of his own ways.” 


— This scripture is a call to all of us to pray for our loved ones; do that now

— It’s also a call for each of us to examine our OWN lives. Have we stopped growing; is there any area in which are we beginning to slip back spiritually? 

— Maybe today you’d say you’re the backslider. And you’ve had your fill of your own ways; and you’re ready to come back to the Lord.

— Or maybe you’d say you’ve never really asked Jesus to be your Savior, and given your life to Him. Do that right now!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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