Pull Up the Roots. Keep the Garden Clean!

14 “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” (Heb.12:14-15)

One of the things I enjoy doing is gardening. Putting plants into the ground, pulling weeds, watering and fertilizing, trimming and pruning, pulling more weeds – it is all part of the gardening process. Another important part of the process is dealing with problems before they slow down or even stop the growing process. Threats are numerous when you are gardening: mold, rot, fungus, weeds, drought, pests; all can threaten a seemingly healthy garden. It does not take much time or experience for the gardener to realize that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Years ago, when I was a single missionary to West Africa, the house in which I lived had a hedge composed of bougainvillea plants. They grew quickly, produced beautiful flowers, and their sharp thorns provided a wonderful barrier against potential thieves. If you have ever brushed up against one, you know that the plant, though beautiful and enjoyable to look at, is not very friendly to human skin.

Yet, because I find peace and solace in gardening, I enjoyed tending to them and keeping them trimmed and healthy. However, over time, I noticed that a small vine had begun to grow and attach itself to the bougainvillea hedge. The vine was very thin and light green in color. Each time I trimmed them, I would snip away as much of the vine as I could, and I thought that would take care of the problem. “I can manage this,” I thought. Time would reveal that I was too confident in my gardening skills.

That vine proved to be persistent and pernicious. It grew quickly and coiled itself through, around, and over the plants. It especially sought to cover them, going back and forth over the top, almost like a spider spinning a web. The result was that it began blocking the sun, and preventing the plant from having the energy necessary to grow and produce more flowers. Slowly, my beautiful bougainvillea plants were fading away. The solution, as I found out, was not in trying to maintain and control the problem, but to seek out the root of the problem, and destroy it at its source. The longer I let the problem go on, the harder it was to implement the solution. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The Lord Jesus often used examples and illustrations from nature to make clear the things He was teaching. As I reflected on this gardening mishap on my part, I realized that this situation provided a great illustration of the Christian life. Far too often, believers let vines of sin and disobedience grow in the garden that God is growing in their life. These vines might be roots of bitterness, or greed, or jealousy, or selfishness, that have taken hold in our hearts. They might be the snare of secrets sins of sexual impropriety, or an unforgiving spirit toward another for something done or said (or not done or left unsaid). They might be a harsh attitude or judgmental spirit. They might be an attitude of indifference toward the things of God and a lack of desire for holiness and spiritual growth. But we can’t be used of God the way He desires if we are carrying around this baggage of poisoned roots.

As these “vines” grow, they become intertwined and entangled in all areas of life, and they seek to choke off the light of the Son and destroy any fruit in our lives. The danger posed by these vines may not be apparent to us right away. We may even take on the attitude of, “I can manage this,” but the situation does not get better with time. Days may pass into weeks where our Bibles remain unopened, our spiritual conversations diminish, and our shadow falls less often on the church door. Whatever efforts we may take to improve often prove futile, and only make the situation worse, the result being that our souls become more and more empty. Spiritual fruit and vitality have been choked off.

The only solution for getting rid of these poisoned vines of sin is to rip them out from the roots and throw them away, allowing the Gardener to work on us in a way that will produce the most fruit possible, for His glory, and for our good. The way we do that is to think about 3 words.

The first word is confess. When we confess our sin, we acknowledge that God’s Word is true, and we recognize that His standard of right and wrong is the only one we are to follow. We are masters at self-justification and self-protection. We do not like to admit that the problem is with us. True confession of sin, on the contrary, humbles us before a holy God and moves us to seek His mercy and forgiveness, not our personal gain and desire for glory. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).

The second word is consider. Consider what God in Christ has done for you on the cross. He paid for your sins, not that you might continue in them and even seek to justify them, but that you might forsake them and strive for holy obedience to His Word. “And he died for all , that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15). “Consider” means that we look not to ourselves, but to what would serve Him and His Body, the Church. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

The third word is consecrate. To consecrate is “to set apart or dedicate something to the service of God.” It is to recognize that holiness is important to God. If you are in Christ, then you have been purchased by His blood and you are now under His ownership. That means that He sets the terms of your service and the conditions under which you will live and be blessed. “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). The one who is truly in Christ realizes that it is in service to the LORD that one is truly free – free from the snares of the flesh, and free to experience the bountiful blessings of the LORD.

This on-going obedient response of confess-consider-consecrate is not just an individual effort. It is the work and responsibility of the community of believers in the church. As we continue to emerge from the Covid-19 situation, let us commit to and desire to be a loving, holy, unified community that “exhorts one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:14). Let us root out the “vines of sin” that threaten our spiritual growth and vitality.

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