Pastors continually warn God's people about the dangers of backsliding. Pastors constantly tell people to walk closely with the Lord each day by reading their Bible, praying and attending church. When a child of God comes to a pastor for counsel about his lack of a vital relationship with God, the pastor asks him about how often he has read his Bible and prayed.
There is a phenomena which is just as dangerous as spiritual backsliding; it is the "Plateau Effect."
The "Plateau Effect" occurs when a Christian is satisfied with his or her spiritual growth and service to God. He is convinced that everything in his life is good, that God is happy with him, and as a result can put life on "cruise control" until he leaves this earth. In a sense, he has convinced himself that he "has no sin" (1 John 1:8).
God's desire is for His saints to continually grow and mature until their glorification. In other words, finish well. This truth figures prominently in the Apostle Paul's letter to the church in Thessalonica through the use of the following words: "increase," "abound," and "more and more" (3:12; 4:1; 4:10).
According to the historical account found in Acts 17, the apostle had to leave the city of Thessalonica after a very short time in the city due to the fact that there were those who sought to kill him. After leaving the city during the night, and after a short period of time, Paul sought to return to the church on multiple occasions but "Satan hindered him" (2:18). Eventually Timothy returned to the city to encourage the brethren and to bring a report back to Paul about how these young Christians were faring under significant duress. Timothy returned from Thessalonica with a glowing report despite the great opposition which the church faced (3:5,6). After Timothy brought back a glowing report of the church's love and faith (3:5, 6), Paul earnestly prays that God would allow him to return to the church in order to "supply what was lacking in their faith" (3:10).
In the subsequent letter to the church Paul recounts their steadfastness to the Lord and their desire to live for God and please Him. He also challenges them to not be satisfied with the status quo of their success but to increase and abound more and more. In other words, they needed to avoid the "Plateau Effect" and finish well.
Based upon 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:10, this question must be honestly answered, "Who can keep me from finishing well?"
It is not Satan. As powerful as he is--more powerful than human beings--he could not stop the believers from spiritual growth and serving God. Satan attempted, and succeeded, in keeping Paul from returning to the city, using a tactic used by a pack of predators: single out and separate the vulnerable (young Christians in Thessalonica) from the strong (Apostle Paul). Satan's efforts failed.
The world, or culture cannot stop God's people from spiritual growth and pleasing the Lord. The mob in Thessalonica raided Jason's home so that they could kill Paul and Silas (Acts 17:1-9). When they could not find them, they arrested and jailed Jason. He had to post bail and stand trial at a later time. Despite the mob's tactics, the church survived and thrived. The world failed.
In fact, the only one who can keep a Christian from finishing well is himself or herself.
God has provided through Jesus Christ the victory over Satan, his forces and the world (culture). Every resource for living a life pleasing to the Lord, and finishing well, has been supplied. The Christian needs to utilize the resources God freely provides.
While we beware of backsliding, may we by God's grace also avoid the "Plateau Effect."