Jeremiah 31:3 The LORD has appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have
loved you with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn
God has a history and a way of bringing restoration and forgiveness to those he loves. Notice in the selections that follow that God is seen as the Father of His people.
Jeremiah 31:7 For thus says the LORD; Sing with gladness for Jacob,
and shout among the chief of the nations: proclaim, give praise, and say, O
LORD, save your people, the remnant of Israel.
Jeremiah 31:9 They shall come with weeping, and with supplications
will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a
straight way, in which they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and
Ephraim is my firstborn.
Jeremiah 31:12 Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of
Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the LORD, for grain, and for
wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their
soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at
Jeremiah 31:13 Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men
and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort
them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.
God is always receptive to those who have fallen away. I have had people ask me before if God will forgive backsliders. I think the answer is clear from the beginning of Genesis.
Genesis 3:21 God is seen behaving as the father of the Prodigal Son. He clothed His fallen children. They are still His son and His daughter you see? This is not an angry Father, but a sad Father. He is cleaning up their mess. Yes, we all get into a mess now and then don't we? Even after salvation. But, the important thing is whether or not you turn to Dad for help when you fall.
Remember Judas? Remember Peter? Both betrayed Jesus. But, Judas hanged himself. Peter cried and clung to the risen Christ. Do you ever hear the word Peter used as a name for betrayel? No, but to be called a Judas is the same as being accused of betrayel. God is perfect and can forgive perfectly before Judgment Day. In the same way, a man on death row can beg clemency from the Governor, up until the moment he is executed. After that moment it is too late.
Does it crucify Jesus anew for Backsliders to come back to Him? Hebrews 6:4 There is much debate about this passage, but I see a difference between the apostate and most backsliders. Note that the passage is speaking of types of teaching fit for different levels of growth among Christians. Look in Hebrews 6:1 where Paul tells the believers they don't need teaching on repentance and faith, like the Galatians or Corinthians for example. They have been in the church for some time. They were Hebrew converts, and not Gentiles. They needed the teaching he names in Hebrews 6:2 specifically: the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. He explains that you can't teach backsliders to repent or have faith. They have been there, done that.
It takes something else altogether to bring a backslider back to Jesus. They have willingly turned away from Jesus after knowing Him. The question is, did they renounce Jesus or did they "fall away?" I don't believe anyone who spoke against Jesus would want to come back. But, many people just look around one day and realize they haven't been to church in awhile. Satan leads them out bit by bit; a missed service here, and a Sunday at the lake there. And, sometimes they only became hurt by individual people. They have "fallen away" as Paul says in Hebrews. It is like a woman who has seperated from her husband. She has already fallen into love with her husband and fallen out of love with him again. He can't make her see him for who he is all over again. She will never look at him again and say, "Wow! Who is that man?" She knows him. But, it is obvious she can take him back, and women often do. It takes a conscious decision to receive him back on her part. She has to undecide to leave, or redecide to love him. And, all the while, her act of loving him again will point to the question of why she left to start with.
In the situation of the backslider, for a backslider to come back to Jesus, His blood is again applied to the life of the re-newed Christian. This points to the crucifixion all over again. Though there are scars there, they can heal with time. But, the backslider always knows he betrayed Jesus... just like Peter. And Judas "went and hanged himself..." Matthew 27:5 But, not Peter. Remember Peter "went out, and wept bitterly." Luke 22:62 One will be in heaven. The other is already lost.
Men and women in the Bible were simply human...interacting with a God. We have many accounts of great exploits and heroic faith recorded, but most Bible believers had some major faults or problems recorded as well. I can't think of any who were perfect, except maybe Daniel. (And, surely his problems were merely unrecorded.) Even John the Baptist had poor social skills; eating grasshoppers, living in the desert, and calling people names. I don't imagine many bedouins have excellent table manners.
It seems the greater men, the ones held in higher regard, had more faults listed. Like Moses, we see that God was able to do a great work through him, despite his many weaknesses and flaws.
The twelve apostles were a ragged lot, not highly esteemed among their peers. Judas was greedy and disloyal. Peter was rash and often foolish. Doubting Thomas must have been slow-minded, if not mildly mentally handicapped, from some of the statements he made and the way he misunderstood simple figures of speech used in the common language that Jesus used.
Noah got drunk on unmixed "strong wine" not long after the flood and passed out naked. I'm sure he knew better. Lot got drunk twice after being delivered from the burning Sodom and Gomorrah, with incestous results. Genesis 19:33-36
Even the great Apostle Paul was frequently recorded as being stubborn, rash, and thick-headedly inflexible. To begin with, we see him supervising the stoning of Steven in the book of Acts, in the name of Heaven. He continued to violently harass the early church, stoned and arrested Christians, and vented his human rage on those whose doctrine differed with his. I wonder what made him such an angry man? I wonder what he encountered in his early years that made him express his passion for God so violently? Maybe his Father was abusive and violent. Or, perhaps there was an ex-wife in the picture. He mistakenly took this human rage to be the zeal of God. But, he quickly found himself up against Jesus Christ Himself.
He spoke harshly and brassly about having got in Peter's face about Peter's prejudices and inconsistencies against the gentiles. He argued with Barnabas about allowing John Mark to resume his junior missionary field work, after John Mark's desertion. This seems quite selfish and petty when you consider how kind Barnabas had been to Paul immediately after Paul's conversion; taking the murderous Saul/Paul under his wings, and urging the other disciples to accept him in the church. I like the kind Mr. Joseph Barnabas! His name means Son of Encouragement. Acts 4:36 He was often seen encouraging others.
We could argue that Paul's goal was not to "Win Friends and Influence People," but to spread the gospel message. Yet, when you compare Jesus' methods to Paul's, you see quite a bit more discord sown in Paul's path. As a side note, Ministers often have different preaching styles. Before you think that a man who is spitting and shouting has more anointing than the Preacher who speaks calmly and quietly, with his hands in his pockets, remember of which sort Jesus often was when preaching. Kerygma, the Greek noun for the Preaching (Kerusso is the act of Preaching/Verb form,) is worship, and like worship preaching comes in many forms, and is a unique expression of the individual giving the gift.
One event in Paul's ministry particularly stands out as totally irrational and bizarre. He was on his first missionary journey, covering Acts 13, 14. He and Barnabas had gone through Cyprus Island with some success, but had more trouble when they reached the mainland. The men of Antioch weren't all agreeable. (Incidentally, for those who like to point out the way women were even prone to arguing in the Bible like Euodias and Syntyche in Philippians 4:2, :) notice that men were prone to throwing big rocks at people.) By the time Paul got a few sermons in at Iconium, they were mad enough to plot together to stone him. Acts 14:5
Paul and Barnabas decided to skip town quickly, as they hadn't yet been beaten or stoned, and didn't seem to desire that outcome. Then they began preaching in Derbe and Lystria, where they healed a man born crippled, through the power of Jesus' name. The people were in awe of the disciples after witnessing that miracle, and decided that Barnabas was the Greek god Jupiter, and Paul was Mercury, since he was the main speaker of the preaching pair. Then the local priest of Jupiter brought in garlands and cows to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas.
This was just too much for Paul's and Barnabas's Jewish sentiments and their fierce devotion to the one true God. The Bible records that the two men tore their own clothes and ran among the people, putting a stop to the worship. Acts 14:15.
Tearing and shredding of clothes was not uncommon in those barbaric days, but was a way to show intense sorrow or anguish. The Jewish are often intensely outwardly emotional people, culturally. But, even then people could be shocked and put off at excesses of zeal. This fact can be illustrated by looking at the time the prophet Samuel chopped the hostage King Agag to bits with his sword, because God had commanded the Israelites to take no hostages in that particular battle. We know Samuel's passionate zeal was a shock to the people because we see that his own people shortly after that trembled at his presence when Samuel came to town to anoint David king. 1 Samuel 16:4
Back to the case of Paul shredding his clothes, we see intense expressions of anger. It can be inferred that Paul was not merely saddened, but deeply angered because of the use of the word "vanities." Paul was calling their deeds foolish. Coupled with the way they ran in among them, you quickly see that Paul found it easier to let his emotions show, than to control his temperament.
Now, Paul had already made the men in Iconium mad, and they followed him here and stirred up the people who Paul had just offended to stone Paul. The Bible doesn't say that Barnabas was stoned with him. Only Paul. This seems reasonable since we know that Paul did most of the talking. Also, as we see later when Paul and Barnabas argue over John Mark, Barnabas is a tender, sensitive man. He appeared to be gifted at making friends. Paul, conversely, appeared to be gifted at making enemies.
There is no way to explain away the fact that they participated in the act of shredding their own clothes in anger. This was not a reasonable response or reaction to the ignorance of those who don't know God. Even if you consider it as a cultural norm for that day and age, you know that Paul had to know better than shredding his own clothes in a fit of rage. Surely, he felt some shame and remorse for that afterwards, (or at least by the time they were finished stoning him.)
Here you had Paul, who considered worship of false gods a heathenistic practice, yet he was ripping his own clothes like the heathen. This behavior was inconsistent, to say the least.
But, we all have our inconsistencies, don't we? Many good Christian people struggle with feelings of anger and rage that can be uncontrollable. Many pastors like to use the term "goals" to describe the behavior we know we should be displaying as Christians. In other words, it is our goal as Christians to grow in the fruit of the Spirit and learn to control our anger, if that is what we struggle with. Sometimes you may fail in weak areas, but you have to allow God to pick you back up and you have to keep striving towards mastery of your weaknesses. If you haven't overcome any of your weaknesses, then you are still drowning or wallowing in sin. Otherwise, what has God saved you from?