How to Stop Living Backward

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I once dressed myself, drove to the airport, went through the entire security process, flew to another city, attended and spoke at an event, and finally found my way to a hotel room late in the evening before realizing that I’d been wearing my shirt inside out the entire time. Granted, it was a T-shirt, but throughout the entire day no one had casually mentioned the mistake to me. I felt a bizarre mixture of retro-embarrassment and disbelief that no one had pointed it out.

When we get down to it, our whole world is inside out, and humanity in general is completely unaware. But our utterly wonderful Jesus came to reverse all of that.

In the Gospels, Jesus’ words often have an urgent, almost perplexed quality to them. He is profoundly patient and compassionate, but at times He is exasperated. The larger narrative that seems to hover over everything about Jesus, as I read it, is that we’ve got life inside out. We’re living backward from how life is supposed to be, and our expectations are completely out of sync with how things really are.

Take, for example, the Sermon on the Mount—perhaps the centerpiece of Jesus’ teachings.

Jesus was speaking to people who felt repressed and disrespected. They hung on His words because He spoke their language. He was one of them. He knew this repression and disrespect intimately as a fellow Hebrew and a fellow human.

In their mind-set, a person who was punched needed to be willing to punch back twice as hard. This was the way to acquire respect—through strength and resistance. And life had punched these folks plenty. The Galileans were known for their penchant for insurrection. They were squarely on the Roman radar. And these people wanted a liberator—a godly leader full of charisma who could rally them all together to revolt and throw off the Roman occupation and oppression. This constricting sense of persecution was a low and simmering slice of their culture.

To these people—as is still often the case today—the idea of accepting things as they were, or being merciful to an enemy, or actively making peace instead of being the resistance, were fantasy concepts for the most part. Sure, they’d be nice if they were possible, but they were hardly realistic.

This is why Jesus’ words that day on a lovely rise overlooking the Sea of Galilee were both illuminating and alarming. Jesus called to something deeper in the people listening—something more true and whole:

“You’re lucky if you’re poor and empty right now—the Kingdom of Heaven is yours. You’re fortunate if you’re mourning now because you have comfort to look forward to. Those of you who actively accept the unpleasantness around you are blessed. It won’t always be this way. You will inherit the Earth. You’re blessed if you crave righteousness. That craving will be satisfied.” See Matthew 5:3-10.

Jesus articulated nine different affirmations comprising nine disruptive juxtapositions. In just a few short moments He had everyone’s complete attention. He was weaving a completely different reality from anything they’d ever experienced—and in profoundly connected ways, different from anything we have ever experienced. Jesus flipped everything on its side, at once both magnifying the world the people wanted to live in and showing them the one they had created. Jesus described the flow and posture of human life as it was intended—the deep exhale and utter relief of complete dependence on God.

It’s as if Jesus were saying, “You’ve got it inside out. The way you were made to live is almost opposite from the way you’re living. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. But you’re living backward, and it’s not working.”

Then he began to describe what life should look like, what normal humans should be like, and in the process He raised the bar on the Mosaic Law:

“You’ve got to be more righteous than your religious leaders.” – Matthew 5:20

“Everyone knows they will be brought to justice if they murder someone, but the underlying rage is just as big of a problem. If someone has something against you, go and reconcile, even if you’re at the altar before God.” – Matthew 5:21-22

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On and on He touched every soft spot of life and raised expectations. But was He only dishing out more rules no one can achieve? Or was our inability to achieve them actually the point?

The reality of how much mercy we require each day and how much grace we’re consuming to live is astonishing. We cannot live independent from God. Separation from Him lowers us to our basest animal selves and disconnects us from what we were created for. Utter dependence on God is supposed to be our normal reality.

Jesus described a spacious life with vast reservoirs of unity and opportunity and a clear heart’s posture. One in which there is nothing between us and anyone else—no anger, no racial tension, no misunderstanding, no war. This kind of life transcends mere action or raw discipline. It goes behind all of that to what is really going on inside us—what our true motives are. And we can’t look away because what Jesus was describing was shalom: the wholeness we long for.

You’ve been reading Sneezing Jesus: How God Redeems Our Humanity by Brian Hardin. Read chapter 1 here. Brian is the founder and voice of the Daily Audio Bible. Check out his work or get his book for a great deal at

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