Anatomy of a Backslider

Mark A. Copeland

In 2 Peter 2:20-22, we read of the real possibility and serious consequences of backsliding:

2 Peter 2:20-22, "For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire."

It is interesting that we find this passage coming from the inspired pen of Peter, for if anyone knew "firsthand" the reality and dangers of backsliding, it was Peter; as he discovered the night he denied Jesus! The process of backsliding is a gradual one, often overtaking one by surprise. And lest we fall from our own steadfastness, We shall carefully examine the process that led to Peter's denial of Christ, followed by noticing how Peter's own words in his epistles are designed to prevent the same from happening to us!


Mark 14:27-31, "And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered. But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee. But Peter said unto him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. But he spake the more vehemently, If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise. Likewise also said they all."

In a boastful manner, Peter claims he will not fall away or deny Christ! In doing so, Peter takes the first step in backsliding: "pride" (Proverbs 16:18). Why is this the "first" step? Because the first step in entering the kingdom is humility Mathew 18:3-4). So if we lose "humility", we take that first step backward.


Mark 14:32-42, "And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray. And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy; And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch. And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. And again he went away, and prayed, and spake the same words. And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy) neither wist they what to answer him. And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand."

Told to keep watch, Peter kept falling asleep. It was therefore lack of diligent preparation which caused him to be caught off guard for what was to follow. The same thing can happen to us! Without diligence, we too can be found unprepared (Luke 21:34-36). More often than not, it is a "gradual drifting" that catches us off guard (Hebrews 2:1-3). But when we are proud of ourselves, we become lazy, and that easily leads to the next step...


Mark 14:54, "And Peter followed him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire."

Note that this verse says Peter followed Him at a distance. Now that Jesus had become unpopular, Peter stays far enough away so as not to be identified with Him. Peter was unprepared for the challenge of facing ridicule and persecution. Without diligent preparation, we too can become guilty of cowardice! Ashamed to be seen carrying the scriptures. Ashamed to be seen giving thanks. Ashamed to be seen with other believers in Christ. Perhaps even ashamed to let others know that we are believers! And yet, Jesus has made it clear what He thinks of "cowardice" (Mark 8:38; Revelation 21:8). When we are ashamed of Christ, it is natural for to fall into the next step of backsliding...


Mark 14:54, "And Peter followed him afar off, even into the palace of the high priest: and he sat with the servants, and warmed himself at the fire."

We now find Peter sitting with the servants of the High Priest and warming himself by the fire. Ashamed to be seen with Christ, it becomes easy to mingle with those of the world and enjoy their comforts. But one cannot be "comforted by the fire" of the world, and not be "burned"! Close contact with that which can harm has its effects! (Proverbs 6:27-29). So it is that we cannot "flirt with the world" and walk away untouched (1 Corinthians 15:33)! By the time we become "friends with the world", it is only a short time before we take the next and final step of backsliding...


Mark 14:66-71, "And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest: And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth. But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew. And a maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is one of them. And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean, and thy speech agreeth thereto. But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak."

Away from Christ, at comfort with those in the world, Peter finds himself denying His Lord and Savior! In so doing, he has put himself in grave danger (Matthew 10:32-33). Though we may never actually deny Jesus in "words", we can easily backslide to the point of denying Him in "action." We are called to worship Him...but make excuses why we cannot. We are called to serve Him...but render little or no service. We are called to stand by His side and suffer for His name...but stand afar off in the safety of the world's comfort.

When we deny the Lord, our backsliding is complete. Unless we repent, the only thing left is to one day face the Lord, where we will fully realize the error of our ways! For Peter, he fully realized his sin when the Lord turned and looked at him there in the courtyard (Luke 22:60-62). Imagine the feeling in Peter's heart as those eyes of His Savior pierced his soul! Like Judas, Peter wept bitterly over his sin.

Peter had "godly sorrow" that results in true repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10-11). And years later, we find Peter writing the sort of things that would prevent us from making the same mistake he did...

Advice from one who Learned the Hard Way

  1. To Guard Against Pride:
    • Peter enjoins "humility" (1 Peter 5:5-6).
    • Indeed, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

  2. To Ward Against Laziness:
    • Peter commands "diligence" (1 Peter 5:8-9)
    • Note especially his words in his second epistle (2 Peter 1:5,10; 3:14).

  3. Instead of Cowardice:
    • Peter charges us to "glorify God" (1 Peter 4:16).
    • Think not of what it means to you, but what it means to God!

  4. Instead of Worldliness:
    • Peter tells us to "abstain" (1 Peter 2:11-12).
    • Remember that we are "sojourners and pilgrims", destined for a better place than the things of this world have to offer!

  5. Instead Of Denial:
    • Peter exhorts us to ever be ready to "give a defense" (1 Peter 3:15).
    • By careful preparation, we will "defend" Christ, and not "deny" Christ!


From one who learned by the hard road of experience, let's heed his advice lest we one day backslide ourselves, and in so doing deny the Lord (2 Peter 3:17-18)! Remember, too, that when Peter saw the eyes of his Lord, he realized the error of his way. Fortunately for him, there was still time to repent. But for us, when we see Jesus "face to face", the time to repent will be will be the time for judgment!

If we realize that we are guilty of backsliding, Repent now, do not wait until you stand before Jesus. Do it now, so that your "face to face" encounter with Jesus will be terrific, not terrifying!

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