In Ephesians 4 we find the recovery process from reversionism. The first half of the chapter we see a church executing the Christian Way of Life and growing spiritually. It is the “worthy walk” of the believer that is being described by Paul in verses 1-16. Then Paul begins to admonish these believers for their slide into reversionism in verses 17-19. In verses 20-32 Paul gives these Ephesian believers the recovery process.
In verse 17 Paul warns these believers not to walk as the unbeliever (which apparently some were doing), in the vacuum or emptiness of their mind. As we studied earlier, this leads to blackout of the soul and scar tissue on the soul as described in verse 18. Verse 19 gives us the next progressive step in reversionism, which is total indulgence to the trend of the sin nature. In this case it is lascivious lawlessness.
Now Paul gives us the recovery process beginning in verse 20. First the believer is to recall the Bible doctrine that he has learned in the past. The Greek word for “learned” indicates a process of study, which is not the same as simply listening to Bible teaching or reading your Bible. The connotation is not to simply learn the doctrine of Christ academically, rather get to know the Person of Christ. In so learning “Christ”, application is made that will cause the believer to walk in a different manner than the rest of the Gentiles. In verse 21 the word for “taught” indicates that a pastor-teacher is involved in this learning process and the last phrase is an indication that all Bible doctrine is the thinking of Christ. Therefore, the first step to recovery is to make the study and application of Bible doctrine number one priority.
However, before you can begin this process, you must acknowledge any known sins to God in accordance with I John 1:9. This is the meaning of verse 22, along with the concept of controlling the sin nature. This is accomplished only by the power of God the Holy Spirit. In verse 23 we have the resumption of the spiritual life that had previously been abandoned. How do we do this? We do this by renewing our minds, not by attempting to change our behavior, which comes as a result of the renewed mind. The mind of the believer is renewed by the consistent intake and application of Bible doctrine. Therefore, the believer involved in reversionism must renew his mind, not “change his ways.” Right thinking leads to right actions. Removal of scar tissue on the soul takes time and patience… patience with ourselves and/or other believers who might be going through this recovery process.
Verse 24 is a great description of building your spiritual life on the right foundation. Rebound, the filling of (control by) the Holy Spirit, study and application of God’s Word and resuming your spiritual life are all caught up in the phrase “put on the new man”. The Greek here indicates that the “new” is new in type not new in time. In other words, it is something you already possess. Paul says to remove the “old man” in verse 22 and put on the “new man” in verse 24. This is not a reference to salvation, but rather to your spiritual status. In other words, stop being controlled by the sin nature (the old man) and be controlled by the Holy Spirit.
This process of transformation, of course, takes place first in the mind, in accordance with God’s standards of “righteousness and holiness from truth.” Righteousness (a right relationship with God) not only refers to the righteousness of Christ that the believer receives at salvation, it also refers to a righteous lifestyle. A righteous lifestyle is the execution of the unique Christian life, not the practice of legalism. Another way to explain this is: make your experience in Christ align with your position in Christ.
“Holiness from truth” is literally “holiness based on doctrine.” Holiness (being set apart to God in a right relationship) in this verse is a reference to the quality of holiness exhibited by those who have regard for the truth (Bible doctrine). It is the doctrine that is used by the believer in reversionism that will eventually remove the scar tissue and lead to a full recovery of the spiritual life. If a believer is to fully recover from reversionism, he must use God’s system: name his sins, make a decision to put God’s Word first and allow the Holy Spirit to guide and teach him. The result will be a renewed mind that will lead to the execution of God’s plan, purpose and will.
God hates reversionism but, of course, loves the reversionist. Reversionists not only reject God’s Word, but they reject all of His divine blessings, as well. The reversionist still has eternal life, but never has the victory in life that God intended for him. The potential is there, as it always has been, and always will be. Therefore, it is God’s desire that all believers be winners by executing His plan. But God is a gentleman and will never force His will on anyone.
Most people want to be happy, but by what means will they seek it? If a person is a believer in Christ, the only source of happiness is God. It only makes good sense, therefore, to follow God’s system for happiness and not your own. We have seen the results for a believer who frantically searches for happiness apart from God and His Word. This can even be applied to a believer who faithfully attends Bible class.
Simply exposing oneself to accurate Bible teaching is not a magical fix. When Bible doctrine is not being applied, it is obvious that your mind is not renewed. You have denied and rejected Bible doctrine while claiming to be positive toward it. Positive volition toward God and His Word means more than a passing interest in it. If you say that you love Bible doctrine and you are not exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit, then you don’t really love Bible doctrine and you are deceiving yourself. If a person truly loves the Word of God then they will study it, believe it and make the proper application of it, which will change their thinking and their attitude to be like that of Christ’s. (II Timothy 2:15)
God, in His magnificent grace, has provided everything that we need as Christians to be successful and happy. Even when we fail, God has designed a recovery system to get us back on the track to success and happiness. We have no excuse for not becoming winners and fulfilling our spiritual destiny. But we must choose to become winners, which glorifies God and gives our lives purpose and meaning.
”You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless (a believer in reversionism), how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works (divine production), and glorify your Father Who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-14, 16)
Paul writing to the believers in Galatia was afraid his labor among them, which had produced many believers, was in vain. Reminding these believers of how they had received him and his message of grace, Paul pleads with them not to become as he once was – in bondage to the Law. Paul asked the question, “What happen to the joy and happiness you once had (with regard to the Gospel of grace that I taught you). Have I become your enemy because I tell you the truth?”
Paul’s desire for this group of believers is that they would exhibit doctrinal orientation and not only believe what they had previously been taught by him, but would not be distracted from the truth by these Judiazers.
The word “doctrinal” means pertaining to a teaching, a body of principles or a branch of knowledge. “Orientation” means familiarization with a particular person, thing or field of knowledge. Doctrinal orientation, therefore, means to familiarize oneself with the teachings and principles of the Word of God.
We believe that the Bible is inerrant and infallible in its original form. We believe that God so directed the writers of Scripture that His complete and coherent word was transferred to the pages of Scriptures in its original form without altering the literary style or personality of the author. “ …Thou hast magnified thy Word above all thy name”. Psalm 138:2
Bible doctrine is the word of God the Father. (Hebrews 4:12) It is the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16) and the voice of God the Holy Spirit. (Hebrews 3:7) The Word of God is profitable for doctrine (the body of teaching that we believe), for reproof (the Word of God is a mirror into our souls so that we can evaluate ourselves before God). It is also profitable for correction (once we evaluate ourselves and find there needs to corrective action, the Word of God gives the correct course of action). And finally, it is profitable for instruction in righteousness (once we discover the right course of action, the Word of God gives us a blueprint of how to accomplish our goal). (II Timothy 3:16)
This is what Paul wanted these believers to understand when he said that it is a good thing to be zealously sought after for a good purpose. Paul’s purpose was pure, wanting only the best that God had for these Christians in Galatia. Paul knew that the rejection of the doctrine of grace for the legalism being taught by the Judiazers would lead to only misery and unhappiness.