The Good Side of the Wrong Tree

God’s purpose in humanity is not behavior conformed to biblical standards. It is transformation into the image of Christ, and the two are not unequivocally the same. Transformation is a faith appropriation process realized in us through death and resurrection, not a behavior modification process realized through the acquisition of layer upon layer of correct biblical information.

Have you ever wondered why sometimes when someone is teaching something biblically true, imparting a “great revelation,” or trying to implement something biblically accurate, that the end result is often spiritual death? It doesn’t matter how “biblical” the topic is—authority, family, marriage, government, finance, honor, submission, leadership, “accountability,” repentance, forgiveness, revival, worship, prayer, etc.—or how great the revelation is. The animating power and spirit behind it makes the difference between life and death. It’s possible to be deeply “revelational” and biblically accurate in one’s doctrine and practice, and touch nothing of the life of Jesus in the process.

There were two trees in the middle of the Garden of Eden: the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The promise the serpent made to Adam and Eve was not, “Eat of this tree and it will make you a bad person.” The promise was God-likeness. God is good and you will be like Him, only without God. The serpent wasn’t joking. He delivered on his word. Unbelieving humanity resembles God in human “goodness.”  There is a good side of the wrong tree. The good side of the wrong tree has a striking resemblance to the tree of life.  The only problem is, it is a form of goodness and God-likeness, separated from Life, and the end result is, and always will be, death.

The tree of life and the good side of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil are like identical twins—you have to be close to notice any difference. Imagine two identical quarts of milk in the fridge. Neither has been opened. You cannot tell from a distance and by outward appearance if they are really identical or not. You have to open them, and check the expiration date. Though they look the same, the aroma will tell you which you want on your cereal. So it is with the good side of the wrong tree. It stinks. Biblically conformed behavior, of itself, means nothing.

There are many legitimate principles and precepts in the scripture. However, when any biblical precept is implemented or energized from the good side of the wrong tree, its effect will be death:

Accurate Bible doctrine + good side of the wrong tree = death.
“Prophetic” revelation + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Well meaning intentions + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Passion for Scripture + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Passion for prayer + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Passion for the kingdom + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Passion for soul winning + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Passion for moral purity + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Governmental order + good side of the wrong tree = death

A life built solely upon adherence to biblical principles is designed by God to fail. A life built precept upon precept, line upon line, was the judgment God put on a leadership that was acting like babies, drunken in their own vomit. It is designed to cause those who try to build their life that way, to fall backward, be broken, snared, and taken. Precept upon precept, and line upon line was the punishment God laid upon Israel for refusing Him in His Person and the relational rest that is in Him. (Please read Isaiah 28 in context.)

It is possible, and common, to have one’s outward behaviors morally conformed to a biblical standard, and to be at the same time, relationally alienated from God and humanity. We can be blameless according to the “scriptural standard of behavior,” and be relationally toxic at the same time. According to Paul’s own testimony, his behavior was blameless according to the standard of God’s law. Yet, he was the chief of sinners, alienated from God and humanity, and he counted all that moral conformity as excrement compared to the excellency that is in Christ.

That is why a new convert whose behaviors are . . . well, consistent with being a new convert . . . can experience life-changing transformation into the image of Jesus, and know very little about the Bible. Freshness of love and relationship begets life, not mastery of the Bible. It is a matter of right relationship, not right doctrine. Knowledge puffs up . . . yes, even “Bible” knowledge. I can be “wrong” in my doctrine, and “right” in my relationships, and thus enjoy the manifest life and blessing of God. I can be right in my doctrine, and wrong in my relationships, and enjoy neither.

Since Jesus was explicitly clear that the fulfillment of all the law, and all God’s moral expectations for humanity were relational not behavioral in essence,[i] morally conformed but relationally alienated behavior that is from the good side of the wrong tree is still sin, and the fruit thereof will always be death.

The Adamic nature in us—the propensity to live life without consideration of God and His ways—has a death sentence on it, not a mandate for self-improvement through the exercise of biblical principles. We all would rather “try to live right,” than to die daily and experience His newness of life.

The unredeemed, natural, soulish, Adamic human nature can, from a base of sheer will power, conform itself to the mandates of biblical principles. This is especially true if there is some incentive of esteem or reward that the Adamic nature will receive from being conformed to biblical principles.

The life we have been given in Him is like an artesian well.  We do not have to flail the Adamic pump handle trying to make Christianity “happen.”  It cannot be coerced to manifest through the application of biblical principles.  If yielded to through faith appropriation of Christ’s finished work, and the experiential process of death and resurrection, it flows freely.  It is in the nature and design of an artesian well to flow. It doesn’t need any help.

The problem is, Adam would rather flail than die.   Professional pump-men earn the respect and admiration of others in the Christian community: “Look at how hard Brother Pumps-A-Lot is working for Jesus.”  “Look at his earnestness!” “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone were as devoted as Brother Pumps-a-Lot?”

There is just a small problem. Brother Pumps-a-Lot may not be converted.  You cannot tell by his activity what kind of water he is bringing up, just like you cannot tell if the milk in the fridge is good or sour by looking at it from a distance.  Religious activity in the name of Jesus is not the same as having a life-source change.  Adam in a tuxedo and clean fingernails or Adam in grimy rags is still Adam.

Adam would prefer to pump in the noonday sun until the sweat is rolling off His nose like water over Victoria Falls, than to embrace the death sentence he has in Jesus, yield to the Spirit of Christ within, experience unspeakable deaths, and be brought up again in His newness of life.  Adam will always choose the pump handle over the grave.

The yoke that is easy, the burden that is light, is the yoke of His rest. The familiar Psalm 23 states: He makes me to lie down . . . (Not try harder!)

Makes me . . .

 That sounds to me that we are not inclined that way!

The essence of the Christian life, the life we have been promised, is not the arduous acquisition of virtue through human discipline. It is the unfolding of the life that is in us, that has been given in the indwelling Holy Spirit. Through faith—relational trust—learning how to appropriate moment-by-moment, the ever sufficient, eternally emanating life of Christ in resurrection. Through cycles of death and resurrection, all the days of our mortality, you and I will be transformed into the image of Christ: God gets many sons, and Messiah gets the nations!

[i] Please see the Great Commandment and the New Commandment. They are both relational in essence, based on love, not behavioral conformity.

Copyright 2011 Dr. Stephen R. Crosby Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact

26 comments on “The Good Side of the Wrong Tree

  1. Steve,this message is helpful to me and to as many who read it.Thanks again for speaking the Truth in Love!!!Chuck

  2. Maybe I missed something and won’t deny that I can be dense at times…..the rub is, how do you know if what one is doing is coming from the right or the wrong tree?

    • Dear Jeanne, what a good question. I’ve asked it of myself so many times. But the answer comes by the same spirit that we have been given from above-and our natural conscience. Paul says, “I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have……” Rom 9:1 In this case his great sorrow and unceasing anguish were spirit driven-not demonically suggested. So are our lives- propelled and compelled forward by the Spirit and not our natural inclinations.
      Barry Sillitoe. England

    • Hi Jeanne, Good question. A the end of the day, it is a subjective discerning process. Hebrews says that faculty is developed by reason of use. A mother of twins can tell them apart by reason of the regularity of her intimacy with them. so it is for us. The more familiar we are with the aroma of Christ, the more we will know when it is not present, or when another “scent” is being given off. Sometimes our knowing on this issue can be an instantaneous “witness of the spirit,” a “knowing in our knower.” In other cases, through exposure over time, the genuine is recognized/revealed as compared to the “other” and the good side of the wrong tree is recognized.

      See my comments to Paula. They may also help too.

      The gift of discerning of spirits, and discernment in general, are the most under represented functions in the body of Christ. Why? Because anyone who tries to “go there” will be accused of being judgmental, harsh, and critical.

      This effectively “shuts down” the spiritual immune system in the body of Christ.

      • Thanks Steve.
        It takes a while to wrap my head around this when it flies in the face of everything you’ve learned all your life.
        I have understood for a long time that much of what is taught in the IC is more “behavior modification” (a dead work) than heart transformation.
        I want to make sure I’m living from the Tree of Life, I need to know how not to live from the wrong tree, and my have my senses sharpened to know the difference when I am.

        • By asking the appropriate and insightful question testifies of the power of the spirit already at work in you. You understand more than you might think. If you didn’t instinctively understand, you couldn’t even ask the question!!!

          You go girl . . . 🙂

    • Hi Paula, there are millions of people around the world whose behavior is scrupulously conformed to obedience to Jesus’ words, who are not converted and who are thus not being transformed into His image. Like I said in the article, the issue is the animating power behind the conformed behavior. That makes the difference.

      If keeping His words was all it took to be transformed into his image, the new birth and the gift of the indwelling Spirit would not be necessary. Human determination to obey would be enough.

      For those who are new creations and have received the Spirit (through faith) and for those who relate to the Spirit as the Spirit administers life in Jesus’ words recorded in the Bible (He said: The words I speak are spirit and life John 6:63, et. al.), and for those for whom His words lead them into death and resurrection, those words will be from the tree of life, and transformation will result.

      For those who just study the Bible, and determine to obey . . . they are eating from the good side of the wrong tree and the result will be just the accumulation of accurate biblical information and morally appropriate behavior.

  3. Quoting Stepehn

    “He said: The words I speak are spirit and life John 6:63, et. al.), and for those for whom His words lead them into death and resurrection, those words will be from the tree of life, and transformation will result”.

    So Stephen, the words he speaks ARE spirit and life, those who do not obey will not find life, as he said…If you do obey THEN you will,…
    those who heard the words and did not obey they did not find life.

    Others searched the scirptures and still did not find him, but when he came he spoke life and turth as he was turth and life, and so if we obey and follow those same words, we will have the truth and the life in us, which will transform our carnal minds to spiritual truth and life.

    • Hi Paula, I don’t think you are hearing me correctly, so I will try one more time, then I will drop the subject.

      Millions of people all over the world obey the Scriptures, and they do not have life, and they are not transformed. They are not even born again. They are not new creations. They are old creation (good side of the wrong tree) people, obeying the scripture. They search the scripture, obey the scripture, but they do not have Jesus in new life. They do not have life, and there is no transforming power, only conformity to the Bible. Millions and millions are like that in many pseudo-Christian groups and cults. They often behave marvelously, obey perfectly, according to the biblical standard.

      Only one problem: they are not regenerated by the spirit, and therefore, do not have life, therefore, do not have access to any transforming power other than their own determination to obey.

      Obedience is not the key ingredient. New creation life is, and that life comes only by appropriated faith.

      Those who are new creations, who have received the spirit, are transformed as they walk out the gift of God. When the spirit blows on the scripture, when the Spirit animates the scripture, then those words have transforming power. Without the new creation, all the obedience a human can muster will never transform. Only the spirit animated, spirit empowered, spirit enlivened scripture has any transforming power. Other than that, the letter kills (spiritual death) Yes, even the scripture letter kills, when it is just scripture plus obedience. We cannot obey our way into life. If that were possible, Jesus’ sacrifice, and the gift of the Holy Spirit would not be necessary. All we would need is the Bible and our determination to obey it. That is called legalism. Moses tried that with Israel. It didn’t work. We can receive life so we can obey. It is a question of order and sequence.

      Here’s a simple formula to try to help you see it:

      Unregenerated human nature + Scripture + determination to obey + conformed behavior = death
      The gift of new life + Spirit animation + Scripture + appropriating faith = obedience (fruit) = transforming life.

      Obedience is the FRUIT of having received the spirit and new life, it is not the ROOT of new life.
      Obedience is God’s gift to us, not our gift to God.

      I hope this helps you.

      Best regards,

      Steve C.

  4. The letter kills? Help me out here beloved Steve = the disciple whom jesus loves ..are you saying that the word of God is just words that kill unless somehow those words are breathed upon by the Holy Spirit? Please don’t tell me you hold to that interpretation here?The whole context of the “letter kills” in 2Cor 3;1-18 refers to “the law on stone” in contrast to the Spirit that writes on our hearts and is not saying the letter that kills is to the Word of God, the Scriptures. The tablets of stone in verse 3 is the 10 commandments.It is the law that kills verses the tablets of our flesh [heart] written on by the Spirit the gives life.The Word of God is always spirit and life see John 6:63. The Word is refered to by God as seed. It has the power to produce life in and of itself. The Spirit unveils Jesus to us through the living Word. That is His mission to burn in our hearts about Jesus!.Both are living and do not kill.The law on stones kills.The Spirit quickens John 6:63. Jesus on the road to Emmaus expounded to the disciples in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. Then they said did not our hearts burn within us while He opened the Scriptures to us pointing to Jesus who is grace and truth.Jesus is the Word made flesh.Grace is a person not a just a doctrine. The Spirit is part of the Godhead referred to as the Spirit of Christ see Romans 8:9. Now if one takes the Word of God reads it and Jesus is not unveiled to them by His Spirit of grace then there is no transformation and one remains in their present state.This is done every week in 99.9 percent of American churches. The heart is the soil and the Word has the power to produce life in that soil.The Word is always both logos and Rhema and does not kill only “the law” kills.But what is even worse is “mixture” of Old Covenant and New Covenant that really kills causing blindness and sleep by it’s nature of leaven poisoning the heart!The new Wineskin Covenant cannot go into the Old Wineskin of the law because it will burst!Condemnation…. now that kills!We need a grace awakening in American churches for true transformation. The sleeping giant will arise as the Spirit of Grace is poured out in abundant revelation of the Cross and His finished redemption unveiling Jesus Christ to our hearts.

    • Hi Marc, this is what I am saying:

      Now if one takes the Word of God reads it and Jesus is not unveiled to them by His Spirit of grace then there is no transformation and one remains in their present state.This is done every week in 99.9 percent of American churches.

  5. Thanks Stephen

    I don’t think you are hearing me either, I am not saying ‘scripture’
    I am saying the WORD of God…Jesus said…IF you KEEP ‘MY’ words, then you will……

  6. Again the KEY is Stephen … MY words ARE spirit and life…

    He himself said IF you OBEY them you wil have life…and the spirt that he freely gives will witness to those words. There is NO other way…

    Obedience to the word of God who IS spirit and life, and we become sprit and life.. IF we believe and OBEY…the as He said we WILL become his chidren and walk in the spirt when we crucify the
    flesh It is VERY simple…The people YOU speak of do NOt belive and do NOT obey…Obedience is the KEY

    • Paula, you’re right – -IF there is real belief, which is exactly my point. You can conform your behavior to the standard of the Bible and not even be a believer. For those who are believers, what you say is true. That is my entire point. You can be “good” according to biblical standards, and not even be saved. Millions are like that.

      Where I guess I differ with you is in the order. I do not believe I can obey my way into life. I can receive His life freely, and then obey, which is the logical fruit of having, and yielding to, His life.

      It is God who works in me to obey, not my determination to obey.

      Things start with receiving His life, then obedience, as you say, bears transforming power and fruit.

  7. One thing that strikes me is this. The disciples “followed” Christ apart from the new birth to the point of leaving everything and in the end they denied him at the cross (so much for obedience). Fast forward to post Pentecost when all but one died a martyrs death.

    • Hi Jeff, I am with you. Determination to obey will never bring us into the life of Christ. Our obedience has to be empowered from more than human willpower. I stand by what I have previously written to Paula: Obedience is God’s gift to us, not our gift to God. We can never “repent” our way into victory. If God’s grace and life was not working in us as a free gift, we could not repent any way. Therefore, it his kindness that leads us to repentance, not our determination to repent and obey.

  8. Stephen To me the order was a given
    Most people know the order
    The Holy Spirit convicts you of your sin, You repent and ask forgivness
    You are transported out of the kingdom of darkness inot his kingdom of light.
    He tells us to follow him, and we do by reading his words, he said that IF we obey, then we will be transformed into his image, and we are to become overcomers, all this is done because he first paid the price, and went ahead of us so, that we could follow.
    MOST people already know what a Christian is, and if we believe we have what he said we would have. I personally do NOT use the word believer as you do, as even satan is a believer, I use the word Christian which is a follower of Christ…to me there is a difference.
    I am not and never would address theose who pick up a Bible and read it
    without being willing to do what is actually says to do.
    When they read it and see it requires someting in THEIR part, as in obedience to what it say, they decided they do not want to either do it or pay the price, so ther is no obedience therefore they do not received what he said we would receive IF we did follow and obey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *