Good Life

Clergy Column | David R. Spaugh

I like to garden. As I write, my tomatoes, onions, green beans, cabbages and cucumbers are thriving in almost ideal weather conditions.

However, there is much more to gardening than planting vegetables and watching them grow. The gardener must fertilize, cultivate, control pests and water during dry spells. Perhaps the least enjoyable of gardening chores is weeding, which is an almost continual activity among the rows of veggies, particularly in the late spring and early summer. They can appear almost if by magic, and if one is not vigilant in defending against these invaders, the weeds will get out of control.

Our hearts are sort of like gardens. From the heart sprout all our deeds and actions, and the condition of one’s heart will determine what grows there and, subsequently, what we produce.

Regarding whether or not the food restrictions in Torah remain in force, Jesus said it’s not what goes into a man that defiles him.

Rather, “that which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:20-23).

These words from Jesus are convicting on at least two related levels.

First, we tend to think of sin (if indeed we still think in terms of sin at all, and not just “mistakes” or “errors in judgment”) as “big” things: murder, rape, child molesting, terrorism and so on. But Jesus goes much deeper, reminding us that our thoughts and attitudes such as pride, envy and coveting also are guilt-worthy before God. None of us is squeaky clean. Every garden has weeds.

“Who can say ‘I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9). No one. Of course we should all tend the gardens of our hearts, pulling out those weeds, renouncing our sin, seeking to live as good a life as possible. But no matter how hard we try, those weeds keep coming back, don’t they?

Thus the second level of conviction, which stems from the first: “If I’m guilty before God, what can I do? I can’t beat these weeds. How can I be forgiven of my sins and be released from my guilt?” Jesus provides the answer to that as well. He died on the cross and rose again, so that those who trust him receive forgiveness of sin, deliverance from its power and eternal life. We can’t earn this salvation by our own deeds. We can only trust Jesus, the master gardener, who offers salvation free of charge. The Bible calls this “grace.”

Trust Jesus for salvation. The sinful weeds won’t necessarily disappear over night, but in him, they are all forgiven.