(This is Part 1 of a two-part blog entry. Read this first, and then read Part 2. You can go to Part 2 here.)
Don’t fall into the jaws of the Great Reversal! The Great Reversal has caused such frustration for many people who genuinely want to walk with, and serve God.
To understand the dreaded Great Reversal, we need to look at three passages of scripture. The first one we will look at is Ephesians 5:15-20:
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, let’s check out Galatians 5:16-26
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
And finally, let’s look at Jesus’ words in John 15:1-8
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Some reading over these passages quickly might be tempted to think that they teach the following:
First, don’t get drunk, don’t commit sexual sins, orgies, etc., don’t be jealous or selfish, etc. In short, don’t sin. Secondly, praise God, be filled with love, joy, and peace, etc., and bear fruit for God. In short, be good. If you got that from these passages, you’ve fallen into the deadly clutches of the Great Reveral!
We’ve all heard sermons like this, and after hearing them, we have tried very, very hard to live up to what we’ve been told to do. So, we work hard at avoiding sin and try hard to be virtuous. And what do we find? We’re unable! Oh, yeah, we can do it for a little while; maybe for two weeks, or a month. Maybe the most self-controlled among us can keep it up even longer, but eventually we “run out of steam” and we fall into sinful attitudes and behavior and our zeal for good works wanes.
Now there are some people who seem to be able to make it work, and they rise to high positions in churches or other Christian organizations. Having been in some of those high positions myself, I have had a first-hand look at the lives of those who seem to make it work, and what I find is that they actually aren’t making it work at all, it just looks like it from the outside. They actually fall into the same trap as the Pharisees, the trap of the Great Reversal!
In Luke 18:10-14 Jesus told the following parable:
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
The Pharisee is one of those guys who can “make it work”. They can muscle down their more primitive urges and avoid the grosser sins of sexual immorality, drunkenness, and the like, even while doing good works like fasting, tithing, church work, etc. The problem is that the only sins they can control are the obvious ones. They are actually powerless over the more subtle ones, like greed and covetousness, fear and insecurity, mental lust (which Jesus said was the same as physical adultery), and anger and looking down on others (which Jesus said was the same as murder). As a result Jesus described these kind of people as “whitewashed tombs,” that looked good on the outside but inwardly were full of corruption (Matthew 23:27).
So why do I call this problem, this trap, the Great Reversal? It’s easiest to see when we look again at John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” There is a natural tendency in us (and I’m sure the enemy helps) to turn the order around. We want to bear much fruit so we can say, “I’m in Him!” So we work hard to bear fruit so we can assure ourselves that we are His. We’ve reversed the order!
Or, to use the language of Galatians 5 we want to first stop sinning (the deeds of the flesh) and then show the fruit of the Spirit. Again, we’ve turned it around! Or, from Ephesians 5 we decide to stop getting drunk and then spend more time worshipping with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Again, we’ve reversed the order.
The only way to be successful in life is to get the order right. First, we get into Jesus and live in Him. As Jesus says in John 15; “If you abide in me, you will bear fruit.” In the Galatians passage, we need to first “walk in the Spirit” and “keep in step with the Spirit”. Only then will we not fulfill the lusts of the flesh, both the obvious gross ones and the more subtle ones. Only then will we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The key is really clear, to me, in the Ephesians passage, “…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” The first step is to be filled with the Spirit! Then, I can live in victory over sin, be filled with the fruit of the Spirit, and be filled with praise and thanks. When filled with the Spirit and walking in Him, keeping in step with Him (which is what abiding in Christ means), He can lead me in the good works He has planned for me, thus I bear fruit!
But don’t I have to first “repent of my sins?” I will address that in Part 2. Click here to go to Part 2.