Last Monday I spent my day off working in the backyard with my family. It was our first time in a long time to simply enjoy being outside (without having to wear three or four layers), and it was really our first chance to work/plan/dream about our backyard since we moved into the house last October.
The previous owner had planted immaculate gardens that could have easily graced the cover of a home and garden magazine. She told us she spent, on average, three to four hours a day maintaining bed after bed of flowers, vegetables, plants, and shrubs, and it was truly amazing. We Joneses, however, do not have such a good history of growing things. A few years back I planted sunflowers and bluebonnets, which ended up being nothing more than squirrel food. Nevertheless, we thought we’d give gardening one more chance this year.
So while the girls romped through the mud and last remainders of snow, Amanda and I tackled the biggest garden. It takes up roughly one-fourth of our backyard, and since we didn’t do anything with it last autumn it was covered in brush, dead leaves, and various levels of sludge. Removing all that was tiring. All of the bending down, pulling, clipping, yanking, piling, and moving these decaying remnants of beauty made our measly two hours seem like eight. Yet it was also refreshing.
Underneath each pile of dead waste was a green shoot, a fresh bud that had been slowly pushing to the surface. Underneath the death was life. Seeing that image again and again made me think of discipleship and sanctification.
Christians are not made perfect the moment they believe. It’s true, that our sins are completely forgiven and we enjoy the declaration that we are now God’s children and will be saved, but we are not perfect. So once a person believes, they become disciples of Jesus – ones who daily grow, learn, and are slowly conformed into the image of Jesus.
But sanctification is not done by sheer will power or ability. We don’t simply work hard at being a Christian. Being a disciple is spiritual in nature. Without God’s help, all of our best efforts are worthless. And yet, at the same time, we do work hard. The Apostle Paul says he disciplines his body for godliness. There is an effort.
So, how can these ideas both be true? How can sanctification be something purely spiritual, and yet also involve our will and effort?
I think of my garden. The life under the death. God had caused those plants to grow; I did nothing. However, I worked hard at removing the dead and decaying that was covering the growth. This is one picture of the Christian life. God and God alone can cause you to grow. He and his power alone is what causes you and me to be more like Jesus. And yet, we do work. We strive daily to take off the dead and decaying things of the world that so easily entangle us and make way for the Spirit’s growth in us.
I think of Paul’s words in Philippians 2:12-13, where he writes to Christians: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
I also think of Hebrews 12:1-2 “…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…”
We work, we lay aside, we run – and we know that each step is only made possible by the power and work of a God who loves us too much to let us remain under a sludge of death and decay. We are called and empowered to be like Jesus, for his glory.
This is one of the reasons I love spring, and now my garden. God has graciously provided a way – even through nature, to remind us of how he works new life within us.