Someone asked me, “If you backslide” — meaning you revert to your old wrongful ways and attitudes after you’ve received Jesus as your Savior — ”can you ever get back to the Lord as close as you were before?”

“Yes,” I answered, “and many times even closer!” Another question followed.

“After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and knew evil for the first time, they were afraid of God and hid when they heard His voice in the Garden of Eden. Hadn’t they lost the simple, trusting relationship with Him that they once had?”

I replied, “Perhaps, but they were wiser, humbler, and more believing. They had more faith, because now they knew that God was right!”

Defeat teaches us a lot. We lose the innocence we had before the “apple,” but we often gain lessons that are actually much more valuable.

It was a long road back for King David after he was exposed for plotting the death of Uriah, but it taught him a lot: compassion, humility, and gentleness (2 Samuel 12:1–24; Psalm 51).

Backsliding is a hard school. Consider the patriarch Jacob, in the “school” of his uncle, Laban: Jacob was really crooked until he had to work under someone even more crooked than he was! That experience helped break and transform him. Before, he was Jacob the Deceiver (Genesis 27:19, 35); afterwards, he was Israel, a Prince of God and Man (Genesis 32:28).

Jacob’s brother, Esau, is another example. Like the Prodigal Son Son (Luke 15:11–32), Esau lost his birthright, but gained many other valuable lessons as a result.

God gets some of His greatest victories out of seeming defeat. When a sinful woman came to Jesus, weeping and anointing His feet with fragrant oil, He forgave her for her sins and told the onlookers, “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (Luke 7:47). King David sinned a lot, but God still called him a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). David was far more righteous after he became a great sinner than he was when he was so high and mighty and self-righteous.

You can never be too bad for Jesus, only too good! “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). The Prodigal was closer to the father when he was wallowing in the mire than he was before he left home, because it was in the mire that he began to appreciate home for the first time.

Some of the greatest heroes in the Bible were people that made terrible mistakes and realized that they were sinners who needed God. Some Bible teachers have said that Joseph was one of the very few key figures in the Bible about whom there are no recorded mistakes, but when I was little boy, I can remember thinking what a stupid, proud, spoiled brat Joseph was to tell his brothers about his dreams. If he hadn’t bragged about his visions and told his brothers that he was so superior to them, they wouldn’t have beaten him and sold him into slavery — but that’s what the Lord used to humble him. Joseph had to become a slave and a prisoner before the Lord could exalt him and make him the savior of his people.

It’s a funny thing how, when people lose their innocence, they don’t feel that they are as close to the Lord as before. That’s because they don’t understand what God’s righteousness is. Their idea of righteousness is so different from God’s. When people feel so righteous and good, it’s often because they’re self-righteous. They’re not closer to God, but closer to themselves! It’s a mistaken concept that some Christians have, that we can attain some kind of sinless self-perfection.

The world equates goodness with godliness — by which they mean self-righteous perfection. Sinfulness they equate with devilishness. But the Lord said the sinner was closer to God than the supposedly sinless, self-righteous perfectionist (Matthew 21:31). The drunks, harlots, and drug addicts who know they need help are often closer to God, for God’s way up is down. God’s idea of righteousness is the pitiful, hopeless, lost, humble, loving, sinful sinners who know they need God. It is those He came to save! He came not to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners (Matthew 9:10–13).

The Devil’s idea of righteousness is totally the opposite of God’s. The Devil’s idea of righteousness is the self-righteous, holier-than-thou hypocrite — the supposedly sinless perfectionist.

It’s just not true that people are closer to God before they make mistakes or sin. It’s a lie that Adam and Eve were closer to God when they were living in the Garden. They weren’t driven from the presence of the Lord; they were driven into the presence of God, to know Him in a way they’d never known Him before! They were driven out of the Garden into a position where they had to get closer to the Lord in order to survive and be saved.

God’s idea of goodness is godliness — a sinner who knows he needs God and depends on Him for salvation. Just the opposite of the Devil’s, self-righteous, hypocritical crowd like the Pharisees, who thought they could save themselves by their own goodness (Matthew 23:23). So sometimes backsliding can actually be good for us, to wake us up to what hopeless, helpless sinners we are without the Lord, because then there’s hope we’ll turn to God for help — whereas the self-righteous think they don’t need His help, and don’t turn to the Lord.

Remember, it’s good to be honest with yourself and others and the Lord. When you tell people about your mistakes, blunders, and sins, it reminds you and them that you’re no picture of purity and innocence. It really helps keep you humble. You no longer feel quite as angelic, but you’re a lot more saintly according to God’s idea of saintliness.

While there is life, there is hope. Isaiah says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). Your extremity is God’s opportunity!

God gets some of His greatest victories out of seeming defeats! God’s way up is down — down to the defeat of self and self-righteousness, and up to the victory of the cross and death to self in service to others!

The Benefits of Backsliding, Copyright © 1998-2012, The Family International