The Backslidden Believer

Bible Book: Genesis  12 : 9-20
Subject: Backslidding; Repentance; Commitment; Lying; Failure; Witness, Poor

The Backsliding Believer

Dr. J. Mike Minnix, Editor,

Genesis 12:9-20

A tramp knocked on the door of a farmhouse and asked for some food. “Are you a Christian?” the farmer asked. “Of course,” said the tramp, can't you tell? Just look at the knees of my pants. Don't they prove it?

The farmer and his wife noticed the holes in the knees and went ahead and gave the man some supper. As the tramp turned to go, the farmer asked, “By the way, what made those holes in the seat of your pants?” The tramp replied, “Backsliding!”

Today we are going to look at the subject of backsliding. Backsliding means to slip backward in your relationship with God. If there was ever a time when you were closer to God than you are today, then you have slipped backwards, away from the Lord. And believe me, we are all prone to backslide!

The songwriter penned the words:

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, O, take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.”

The great revivalist, Charles Finney once said, “Revival is a great need because Christians are so prone to backslide.” Indeed, we are prone to wander, prone to leave the God we love. Often we think of the great heroes of the Bible as perfect, but they were anything but perfect. Abraham is certainly one of those heroes. He is called the Father of Faith. Yet, we shall see today what a great backslider he was.

I pray that the message today will help you realize that failure as a believer does not totally disqualify you from great service - especially if you learn from your failure. Also, I pray that this message might help us to see the damage that does take place when we drift or walk away from our close relationship with our Lord and Savior.

Abram, who later would be named Abraham, was called of God to leave his home country and go to a country which God would show him. He did this and arrived in Canaan. He built an altar to God. He came to a place named Bethel, which means, House of God. This is where God wanted him, but something terrible happened. Abraham left the place to which God had called him and brought danger to his wife, disrespect on himself, and disdain on his faith. How could a man so willing to obey God in the beginning, move so far away from God? Let’s look at this in Genesis 12:9-20.

I. Famine vss.  9-10

We begin with the discovery that a famine came to the Land of Canaan. Now let’s learn something very important at this point. To be in the center of God’s will does not insure tranquillity and ease of life, or the absence of problems and trouble. Jesus was in the center of the Father’s will in Gethsemane and on the cross! Abraham had a prosperity theology and it failed him - the same way it did Job. Abraham must have thought that life would be a bed of roses if he simply obeyed God.

There was an old Chinese man who had a stallion. It was his only horse. It was a prize - a beautiful animal. One day it broke out of the corral and ran away. A neighbor came by and said, “What a shame, your only prize stallion ran away.”

The old Chinese man said, “Maybe it is not tragic, too early to tell.”

Two days later the stallion came back with a dozen beautiful wild horses following him. They all ran in the corral and the Chinese man was rich with horses. His neighbor said, “How wonderful. You stallion has returned and made you rich with horses. You are so blessed.”

The old Chinese man said, “Maybe not good, too early to tell.”

The next week his oldest son was trying to break one of the wild horses, was thrown off and broke his arm. The neighbor came over and said, “What a tragedy, your son had broken his arm.”

The old Chinese man said, “May not be tragedy, too early to tell.”

The next day and Chinese army leader came by conscripting young men to go into a fierce battle where most of them would die. All the young men of the village were made to go to war, except the son of the old Chinese man, who could not serve because of a broken arm.

If only Abraham could have had the faith to see that the famine was not sent to curse him but to confirm him in his faith. You see, we will all face trials in our Christian lives, and we must be able to face the test with faith. Even Abraham had a problem doing that.

A. A Trying Test (Famine)

The famine which Abraham faced was a test. It was a test of his trust. God often tests our faith and trust of Him. Look at 1 Chronicles 29:16-18, “O LORD our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. O LORD, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you.”

Yes, God tests us, He tests our hearts to see if we will be loyal to Him. He tests the very best of His servants.

1. The Person of this Test - The best of Person

David, Elijah, Simon Peter. All failed at some point.

2. The Place of this Test - The best of Places

David on Mt. Zion, Elijah after Mt. Carmel, Peter near the cross.

Even the best people in the best places are called upon to face the test of true faith.

B. A Tough Test  (Severe)

This was a severe famine, not just a mild one. Strange, the trial came in a very severe way to this great man of faith. Look at what James says in 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

We shall learn a little later on that Abraham made other mistakes in his walk with God, but the trials matured him. Finally, he was willing to take a step of faith like no other before him – but that truth is for a later message I will share with you. The point here is that trials properly faced bring maturity in the Lord. Abraham faced a test, a tough test. Watch carefully what happened to him.

II. Fear   vss. 10-12

Abraham did not do well on this divine test. In fact, Abraham left Canaan, the place God had called him to occupy and started toward Egypt. As he went on his way, he became extremely fearful. Fear is not the characteristic of a faithful saint. God has told us that “Perfect love casts out fear.” Something was imperfect in Abraham’s love for the Lord. Note two very important things at this point.

A. Fear Exists outside the Appointed Place

Abraham had moved outside the divinely appointed place to which he was called. Fear set in like a thick fog. Abraham was blinded to the presence and power of God. He was so frightened that he began to create a lie to try to secure himself from perceived enemies.

Listen, fear sets in when you set out to leave the place where God has placed you. We must not get out of our place – the place where God has called us, planted us and will use us in spite of our troubles – and maybe through our troubles!

B. Fear Exists outside the Appointed Purpose

Abraham had left his divinely appointed purpose. When I am in the purpose of God,

“Naught of earth can harm me,
For I’m sheltered in the arms of God.
So Let the storms clouds rise,
The dark clouds rise,
They don’t worry me,
For I’m sheltered in the arms of God.
He walks with me, and naught of earth can harm me,
For I’m sheltered in the arms of God.

A large tree in Colorado had amazingly withstood being struck by lightening 14 times. The tree had been almost covered up once by an avalanche, still it stood tall. This tree was a seedling when Columbus discovered America, yet despite its age, it stood! One day it fell. There was no storm. There were no winds. There was no avalanche. It just fell. Biologists were sent to investigate, and they discovered the problem. Small beetles had worked their way inside the tree and slowly had eaten away the fibers. The tree fell, not from the winds without, but from worms within. No wind can move a Christian who is in his place and fulfilling his purpose. But the moment we move, the worms or beetles begin to eat away at us. We are a push over at that point. That is what happened to Abraham. This is why we are told in the New Testament, “Let him that thinks that he stands take heed lest he falls.”

We have seen Famine and Fear, not let’s look at …

III. Falsehood  vss. 13-16

Abraham concocted a lie to cover himself when he had arrived in Egypt. What a sad story this is, yet here it is. He told the lie because Sarah was so beautiful that he feared some Egyptian would know he was a husband, kill him and take Sarah for himself. Sarah was very beautiful for her age and Abraham knew that a danger existed. Again, fear was present because Abraham was not where God placed him.

At a reception in Washington, D.C., a young man was asked by a widow to guess her age. When he hesitated, she said, “Surely you must have some idea how old I am.” He said, “I have several ideas, but I'm not sure whether to guess ten years younger because of your looks or ten years older on account of your intelligence. Now, there was a politician in the making!

Anyone could have seen that Sarah was both beautiful and intelligent. Abraham actually had no reason to fear, if he had trusted God completely. Abraham was like the woman who spent three hours one night out on the lawn trying to kill the garden hose - she thought it was a snake! Fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. But Abraham had turned from faithfulness to selfishness and fear was the result.

Notice a couple of things that reveal Abraham’s falsehood and how it began.

A. Selfishness in his Language

Note that Abraham used the 3rd person in verses 1 through 8 of our text, but he changes to the 1st person later in the chapter. The first personal pronoun becomes Abraham’s theme in the verses before us. He is so selfish. He does not care about Sarai, later named Sarah, because he is so fearful for himself. It is a wonder that she didn’t leave him for such a foolhardy plan. He told her to tell the Egyptians that she was his sister. In fact, she was his half sister; but his half truth was a total lie!

B. Selfishness in his Lie

How selfish he was. Lying is always from a selfish motive.

Peter lied and said that he did not know Jesus to PROTECT himself.
Ananias lied to PROMOTE himself.
Gehazi lied to PROSPER himself.

Jesus said, “Deny thyself,” He did not say, “Protect thyself.”

Taking the wrong approach with God led to what we see as Abraham’s …

IV. Failure  vss. 17-20

In essence, Abraham was a great failure at this point. His wife was taken into the harem of the Pharaoh of Egypt. Even though she was an older woman, she was extremely beautiful, and the Pharaoh added her to his collection of beautiful women. God brought hardship on the Pharaoh and the problems were traced to the arrival of Sarah and Abraham. He called for Abraham, learned the truth about Sarah and rebuked Abraham for lying to him and sent them both away. Folks, you know you’re in trouble when a godless Pharaoh corrects a believer for his behavior! Even the world can stomach a backslidden believer.

A. Failed in the Plan of God

Abraham, at this point, had failed in God’s plan for him. He was outside the place and plan of God for his life.

B. Failed in the Proclamation of God

The Pharaoh must have turned to one of his servants and said, “If that is a believer in Jehovah, I hope I never meet another one.” Abraham ruined his chance to witness for the Lord. The world admires two kinds of people:

1. The World Admires Its Own
2. The World Admires The truly Righteous.
3. But the world cannot stand those who try to be both and are thus neither!

When this entire episode began, Abraham had moved from Bethel to a place between Bethel and Hai. Bethel means The House of God. Hai means A Heap of Ruins. Those are our choices. Turn to Bethel, where God waits for you. Or turn to Hai, a live your life in a heap of ruins.

Abraham recovered from this escapade into disobedience. It was costly, embarrassing, and unnecessary; yet, he did overcome it. Abraham teaches us a lesson. Trials do not mean that God has left us. They are tests to see if we will obey God and grow to maturity. Furthermore, failures do not remove us from God’s love or usefulness. Of course, if we remain in our sin and continue to rebel, we can cut ourselves off from usefulness and even commit the sin unto death. But, God would have us to return to Him, be renewed and go forward in growth.

Elijah failed but rose up to go face Ahab!
Peter failed but rose up to preach at Pentecost.
Abraham failed but rose up to bear the son of promise that would begin the family through whom our Savior would come to this earth.

All of us have failed, but have we grown from it? Are we ready for God to really use us? Let us say, “Yes, Lord, Yes!”

Extra Illustrations which may or may not be used:
Hymn Writer Loses Joy of Salvation

Robert Robinson, author of the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” lost the happy communion with the Savior he had once enjoyed, and in his declining years he wandered into the by-ways of sin. As a result, he became deeply troubled in spirit. Hoping to relieve his mind, he decided to travel.

In the course of his journeys, he became acquainted with a young woman on spiritual matters, and so she asked him what he thought of a hymn she had just been reading. To his astonishment he found it to be none other than his own composition. He tried to evade her question, but she continued to press him for a response.

Suddenly he began to weep. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he said, “I am the man who wrote that hymn many years ago. I’d give anything to experience again the joy I knew then.” Although greatly surprised, she reassured him that the “streams of mercy” mentioned in his song still flowed. Mr. Robinson was deeply touched. Turning his “wandering heart” to the Lord, he was restored to full fellowship.

—H. G. Bosch

“Go To The Devil!”

Before the turn of the century, an ardent and dedicated Christian wrote a tract entitled “Come to Jesus.” It became famous and influenced many for Christ.

Later he became engaged in a theological dispute. In reply to a publication by an opponent, he wrote an article bristling with invectives, sharp and cutting as a razor. Looking for a title, he asked his friend. His friend wisely suggested: “Call it ‘Go to the Devil’ by the Author of ‘Come to Jesus.’ ” He destroyed the article.