Curt sent me a link to a “nerdist” website that features a bicycle with a gear added to reverse the steering. When a rider turns right the front wheel turns left, and vice versa. So every instinct of the rider is wrong. The results are awkward: each effort to pedal ends in an instant upset.
The video didn’t end there. The featured cyclist tells of working hard to retrain his instincts and after many weeks of practice he adapted to his new bicycle. The video shows his eventual—but still slightly clumsy—success. It also traced his young son’s much faster adaptation on his smaller version of a reverse-steering bike. This was due, the father noted, to the child’s much greater neural plasticity. Very nerdish!
What came next was another surprise. When the father, for the first time in months, mounted a normal bicycle his every effort to pedal went awry. His mind had been reformed and refused to provide ambidextrous cycling instincts! The old patterns only reawakened with time and practice.
It occurred to me after watching the clip that reverse-instincts explain some of what we see in daily life. My brother, for instance, was a career fireman. So his instincts are different to mine when a dangerous fire erupts: I run from fires and he runs to them. Images of emergency responders and panicked crowds running in opposite directions in the New York twin towers tragedy offer a dramatic example of the difference.
Another example comes to mind: the reversal of spiritual instincts. When a person responds in faith to Christ everything changes. That’s why the term “conversion” is linked to the moment of spiritual awakening in a soul.
In ideal cases of conversion—using the Bible as our guide—a set of reversals takes place. Let’s trace a few.
First and foremost Christ, by his Spirit, enters our soul—so we are “born again” or “born from above” in the terms of John 3. This begins our participation in Christ. We are now Spirit-to-spirit partners with the Son of God and, in the terms of 2 Peter 1:4, “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
The point is that our old orientation of self-interest—our commitment to personal success, social standing, comfort, and security—is abandoned in favor of our new devotion to Christ. What was, collectively, a self-love is replaced by a new love for Christ and for those he loves. Call it the greatest miracle of rebirth.
A practical example of this sort of life-transformation is human love: when a man meets a woman who captures his heart everything changes. I remember my university days when most of my closest companions married. A pattern formed: after the wedding I was invited to a single meal and then the couple all but disappeared, socially, for almost a year. This was their time for learning to live with the reversed gears of a loving partnership. After the new skills of other-centered life were in place our full friendship came back on line but now with a new friend added.
In spiritual terms we have an even more dramatic transition—one so dramatic not all professed Christians are ready to embrace it. We shift from living according to “the Lie” and begin to live according to “the Truth.” This polarity isn’t as clear as it might be because our Bible translations invariably convert the underlying Greek use of a singular term and its article, “the Lie,” into a global notion such as “falsehood” (in, for example, John 8:44; Romans 1:25; Ephesians 4:25; and 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).
These translations aren’t huge issues but they may mask just how the spiritual reverse gears operate: the devil has a single lie that manages to deceive everyone. Only when we dismiss the Lie—in what is called repentance—are we converted.
And what is this singular Lie? It was first uttered in Eden to Eve and then to Adam: “You can be like God.” The Truth, against this, is that God alone is God.
So a key tagline for Satan is “the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12:9) who rules the world by stirring a comprehensive and persistent devotion to the idea that self-concern—or, today, personal freedom—is the proper focus of life. Paul referred to this as the realm of death—of all who are “following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2).
The Truth is that real life—a life eternal—has a different ambition: faith rather than freedom; or, in other words, dependence rather than independence; or obedience rather than disobedience.
The key to having this new life in Christ work—of our being able to ‘ride’ by faith without constantly crashing—is to have a new love. A good marriage is the workshop God offers us for the ultimate marriage of Christ and the church. This love re-gears our lives and changes the way we steer: “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5—to be read with ch. 8 & 12:1-2). He alone brings the spiritual ‘plasticity’ that allows us to abandon the Lie and to live by the Truth.
Enjoy the new ride—but watch out for those who keep crashing as they try to ‘ride’ like Christians without having first responded to Christ and his Spirit. That’s awkward. The key is to repent and let God be God.