I was recently studying Paul’s letter to the Galatians and encountered his words in Galatians 5:4. He says, “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” What does it mean to fall away from grace? The verse is clearly implying that those who are looking to the law for their justification are separating themselves from Christ. They are also turning away from God’s provision of grace in the cross of Christ (see Gal. 1:6; 2:21). How should we understand the topic of backsliding?

I wanted to learn more about backsliding, so I turned to the NIV Thompson Chain-Reference Study Bible. If you’re not familiar with this resource, then this blog post is a great place to start.

Chains in Galatians 5:4

You can access the NIV Thompson Chain-Reference Study Bible in the Resource Guide of the Study Center under the Commentaries section. There are four “chains” in reference to Galatians 5:4:

  • Backsliding 993
  • Justification (2) 1986
  • Trusting in Works 4120
  • Works Insufficient 3904

Each of these “chains” are scriptural topics found in Galatians 5:4. Since we’re interested in learning more about backsliding, we’ll tap on Topic Number 993. As a side note, there are over 8,000 topics in the NIV Thompson Chain-Reference Study Bible.

Chain-References and Related Topic Numbers

Now that you’ve tapped on Topic Number 993, you’ll open the “chain” in the Resource Guide. You’ll see a brief definition of backsliding. In this case, backsliding is “reverting to sin and wrongdoing.” Additionally, the following chain (Topic Number 994) is also labeled backsliding. But that chain addresses backsliding from the perspective of the “causes which tend to produce” it. The perspective of backsliding from Galatians 5:4 (Topic Number 993) is focused on the results of it. What are the results of backsliding?

It is in answer to this question that we see the main Scripture references to the chain and the categories for those references. The main Scripture references to the topic of backsliding are in bold. These are the references included under the different categories of backsliding. You can open the remaining verses in the pop-up window by tapping them. Let’s look at the categories and references under the topic of backsliding.

Backsliding Results in Selfish Absorption

The faithless will be fully repaid for their ways, and the good rewarded for theirs.

Proverbs 14:14

Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.

Isaiah 1:4

Although our sins testify against us, do something, LORD, for the sake of your name. For we have often rebelled; we have sinned against you.

Jeremiah 14:7

The Israelites are stubborn, like a stubborn heifer. How then can the LORD pasture them like lambs in a meadow?

Hosea 4:16

My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them.

Hosea 11:7

These verses describe a bleak picture. God’s people are described as faithless, forsaking the Lord, rebellious, stubborn, and determined to turn from him. One of the implications of this is that backsliding is not a slow drift, but a sinful departure from the Lord and his ways.

Backsliding Results in Religious Indifference

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,

Matthew 24:12

Jesus speaks of the rampant wickedness of the last days that will lead to a decrease in love among the saints. Another way to say it is that lovelessness increases in proportion to the increase of wickedness. Love for one another is all the more difficult where there is apostasy, false teaching, and many who fall away.

Backsliding Results in Unfitness for the Kingdom

Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:62

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—

Galatians 1:6

If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

Galatians 2:18

Here, again, we see that backsliding is described in some fairly stark ways. Backsliders are unfit, deserters, and lawbreakers. We should notice in the second reference that Paul describes the Galatians as deserting “the one who called you.” In turning to “a different gospel” they were turning their backs on God! This is a similar description to the references we saw above.

Backsliding Results in Bondage to Forms

But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

Galatians 4:9

Once God has called us to freedom, any departure from that will lead to bondage. This is the basis of Paul’s appeal in this reference. Do you want to go back to being slaves again? The results of backsliding are not a different form of freedom, but the same old slavery you were rescued from.

Backsliding Results in Divine Displeasure

And, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.”

Hebrews 10:38

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.

2 Peter 2:20

Since we know that God delights in his Son (see Matt. 3:17; 17:5) and his people (see Ps. 149:4; Zeph. 3:17), these references are quite the judgment against those who backslide. God delights in those who persevere, who “live by faith.”

Backsliding Results in Loss of Spiritual Enthusiasm

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.

Revelation 2:4

This is similar to the above reference about their love growing cold. I think that was referring to their love for one another. Is that what Jesus is describing here? Are the saints shrinking back from their love for one another, a love he admits they had at first? It could be referring to their love for God and the good works that flowed from that love (Rev. 2:5). What do you think?   

Get the NIV Thompson Chain-Reference Study Bible

The NIV Thompson Chain-Reference Study Bible is a great resource for tracing biblical themes throughout the Bible and when using Scripture to interpret Scripture. It works very well in the Olive Tree App as you’re able to open and read verses with a simple tap. Follow the link below to our store and buy this tool today!

Leave a comment: Considering Paul’s stark warning about backsliding, he seems confident the Galatians would come back from where they’ve slid (see 5:10). What gives him such confidence? Can we have this confidence for those who’ve reverted to sinful conduct?

Write A Comment