yearB proper 16
John 6:56-69 - Backsliding
There was once a term frequently used in the church. In the old days it was used often. You rarely ever hear it today. Indeed, in my 12 years in the ministry I have never preached a sermon on the topic until now. Despite the infrequency with which it is mentioned, the concept, I think, is still valid. It is backsliding.
The term backsliding, I discovered in my research, was popularized in the 1600’s by John Bunyan in his very famous allegory Pilgrim’s Progress. In the story, you may recall, the character of Christian and Hopeful are on their religious pilgrimage. While on the journey they begin to discuss an individual by the name of Temporary. He had started the pilgrimage, but along the way he fell by the wayside, or, as Bunyan worded it, backslid. That term was picked up, particularly, but not exclusively by the Methodists in early America and became a stock phrase. It referred to those once faithful individuals who had lost interest in their Christian pilgrimage.
There are some denominations who do not affirm the concept. They say once saved always saved. But most protestant denominations have never affirmed that, because it implies that if a person becomes a Christian then he loses his free will to turn away. The individual who was free to choose the way of Christ, we insist, is still free to turn his back on it. Man can experience no level of grace that is beyond the possibility of falling.
Jesus had just finished one of his more obscure teachings. He said several things, which confused some and upset others. “I am the bread of life,” he said. Some objected to this language because he was comparing himself to Moses who gave the children Manna, or bread, in the wilderness. Jesus then took it a step further and declared, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” This appeared odd to some because they knew he was the son of Mary and Joseph and not some modern day Elijah sent from heaven back down to earth. And then he just flat confused many because he suggested that everyone must eat his flesh and drink his blood otherwise they would die. It sounded too cannibalistic.
You can then understand why in verse 66 of chapter 6 (please don’t read anything into that) we read that many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. Notice what is said, they turned back! They quit following. They became Temporary. I don’t think a single reason can be identified as to why so many stopped following, a combination of issues probably, as we have already note: His teaching confused some. His images offended others. But primarily, I think it was his claim to be the new source of life, his claim to be greater than Moses, a new Manna. Either way, they weren’t buying it and they left. Just like that. One day they were disciples and the next they were not. They became backsliders.
First, I would suggest that backsliding is a reality.
Second, I would suggest there are many reasons for backsliding.
Third, I would warn that there is a consequence to backsliding.