I only realized how we in Wisconsin had, finally, left the winter/spring season and had entered summer when I felt a bead of sweat roll down my temple and stop at my jawline. But beyond just the warm afternoon, I was taking a hacksaw to a root nearly a foot beneath the surface of the earth.
My dear friend was sweating too, as she pulled back the part of the plant above ground to make my access point more available.
A very un-beautiful sentence went through my mind, directed at this plant. “I have some nasty words running through my head right now,” I confessed to my friend as I continued to push and pull the saw.
She laughed. “Me too!”
Earlier in the spring, tiny little sprouts began to appear in the soil. I was delighted – my barren garden had life beneath it. They grew into quaint little bamboo-like clusters, looking beautifully exotic and adding green to the otherwise brown yard.
Fast forward a mere two months, and these quaint clusters would grow into 8-foot monsters towering over my 5-foot-5-inch head, providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other summer bugs. A mere two months, and I would be sweating in the afternoon sun cursing the plants I once called cute.
We had broken the stalks at their base a few days earlier, but new sprouts came from inside the dead stumps. From inside. These suckers needed a complete uprooting. We found the mother plant. A foot into the ground, and we still had not reached the end of the mother’s root. My friend would concur with my theory that these plants grew straight from hell.
And I couldn’t help but think, as my hands became caked in dirt and my bangs stuck to my forehead, this is a lot like fighting sin.
The Futility of Pruning
In his autobiography, Ben Franklin chronicled his attempt to reach moral perfection by working at one virtue at a time. His list included things like temperance, sincerity, moderation, and humility (the last of these he noted, “Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”) He would not move on from one virtue until he felt he had completed it. In his old age, this was his reflection of the endeavor:
…on the whole, tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it; as those who aim at perfect writing by imitating the engraved copies, tho’ they never reach the wish’d-for excellence of those copies, their hand is mended by the endeavor, and is tolerable while it continues fair and legible.
Franklin never became perfect, but merely a good imitator of perfection. However, when pressed, the weeds would grow from their roots. He only became very skilled at breaking stalks and plucking sprouts. His heart was still bound to sin.
Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” And it’s not a sickness we merely obtained through nurture, but our very nature: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5.) Franklin’s experiment reveals this – even the most moral and well-behaved of men, on their own, still operate with a sinful heart.
Even our best shows of goodness are polluted (Isaiah 64:6). We are driven by a selfish ambition – be it for glory, for favor, or simply to satisfy ourselves.
Our curse leaves no room for mere pruning.
In addition, we cannot tolerate even what we see as our “little” sins. These “little” sins are simply fruit of a corrupted root.
Habitual complaining is the fruit of a heart dissatisfied with God.
Crude joking is the fruit of a heart without reverence for God.
Unhealthy living is the fruit of a heart not living for God.
Anxious micromanaging is the fruit of a heart not resting in God.
Self-promoting and justification is the fruit of a heart not submitting to God.
Allowing these fruits to continue to grow will strengthen the pervasive root. (By the time my friend and I got to this weed, it required a hacksaw to remove!) We cannot correct our faults and play our best. A garden cannot flourish when overrun with weeds. It needs a gardener to come and tend to it.
We need to have the mother weed taken out. We need our sin to be uprooted.
The Gardener’s Promise
Before I met my friend, I knew very little of gardening. I knew how to plant something. I knew it needed watering. I did not know a thing about where to plant, when to plant, how often and how much to water, what grew well together and what would fight, types of soil, and the list goes on…
She helped me navigate my backyard, and I would observe her handiwork when I returned home from my job – a new pair of tomato plants here, some lavender planted there, hopeful seedlings reaching for the sun in a patch of dirt, close to a wheelbarrow full of rich compost. It was a transformation to behold, seeing her pour her heart into my secret garden. Where once weeds ruled and robbed this garden of life, beauty was now thriving in its place.We have a gardener who has poured Himself out to uproot our sin. He has cut the root of sin with the intention of replacing it with a heart of righteousness. Click To Tweet
We have a gardener who has poured Himself out to uproot our sin. He has cut the root of sin with the intention of replacing it with a heart of righteousness. He knelt in the dirty earth, taking on all sin and shame. We are told He became sin (II Corinthians 5:21). And unlike my friend and me, no filthy words went through His mind as He did this for us. On the contrary, He spoke in perfect love as they mocked Him and murdered Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Not, “Curse them.” Forgive them.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
God promises to complete the work that He began. He will not leave us to fend for ourselves in this fight, even if our sin has become overgrown and the roots seemingly have become trunks in their own right. He also wants us to be involved in the process, to teach us His ways of holiness and goodness. So He gives us tools. He shows us methods to promote growth.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
II Peter 1:3-4
Our set of tools includes prayer and truth, but most of all, “his precious and very great promises.” Our most powerful weapons in thie fight against sin are the promises of God. Seek them out in scripture. Cling to them in temptation. One you can take right now: “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20.)
Your sin has been uprooted. Look to the Gardener; observe His methods and His ways. Confidently, diligently tend to your life with the tools He has equipped you with. See the beauty that God has intended for it in this life. Look forward to its completion.
Your sanctification is producing a holy garden.
I leave you with this verse of promise, rest, and peace…
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing… As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
John 15:5, 9-11