You find yourself in a jungle of sorts. Your feet squish into the floor of this overgrown stretch of wilderness. The sun is shining dappled softly downward. Its amber warmth caresses the side of your face. Green surrounds, but you wonder how many of these plants are poisonous. Thorn-laden vines, weeds, and fungus grow everywhere you look. Where the undergrowth doesn't cover, there are rocks that jut up from the craggy topography. The forest has a violence and aggression that is frightening. It is unkempt and forgotten. None the less it is yours, bought with the property you now own.
I’ll put the new garden here, you decide. You dream of possibilities. Will it be a flowerbed, vegetable garden, or even a farm field of rich crops? The ideas are endless. The potential excites you, but that’s all it is right now, potential.
“This is where it begins,” you say to no one in particular. You reach into your pocket and retrieve a single envelope you bought at the feed store. The kind clerk, who had insisted on being called Aunt Loola, wrote her number across the paper flap.
“Planting a garden?” she had asked.
“Yeah, I thought I’d try,” you responded.
"Call me anytime if you have questions?" she had offered as she penned her number across the seed envelope. You nodded politely, knowing you never would.
You pull open the flap of the envelope and upend the paper container. Into your palm falls a handful of seeds. You place all but one back inside. You look down at the tiny sphere, a miniature world of life, dreaming about the majestic mystery locked inside.
You turn your palm downward and let the seed fall, hoping that it can reach the soil. You watch it plummet toward the dark dirt below. The tangled array of thorns and vines will make it nearly impossible for the fruit seed to ever grow to fruition, but the gesture makes you feel a warm sense of accomplishment.
Tumbling to the earth, the seed sticks the landing. With the toe of your shoe, you press the seed gently into the rough soil. You glance once more at the thorns, vines, and rocks that make the wild landscape so untenable. You turn and walk toward your house, not far from the patch of overgrowth. Your garden has begun.
The allegory in the previous section is the scene of your Spiritual birth. When you believed in Jesus for eternal salvation, the Holy Spirit placed eternal life in you. It was like a seed-filled with the potential that eternal life presents. Like an infant sapling to-be, accompanied by a dubious crowd of thorns and weeds, your eternal life began.
There is a beautiful, albeit mysterious, story that Jesus told. He laid out the story of a particular garden with various kinds of soil. There was some that was packed down so hard that seed could never grow. There was dirt that had thorns and weeds, and there was rocky ground as well. In the fictitious tale, some seeds don't take root, others are choked, and a precious few bear a crop of fruit. The mysterious story confused his disciples. They asked him about it later when they were in private.
Jesus explained that the seed is the word of God, and the soil is the heart and mindset of the potential believer. Jesus ends the story by explaining that the one with good soil will experience a bountiful harvest. You can read the story in a few of the gospels, but my favorite retelling is in Luke chapter eight.
Jesus' analogy hints at the ultimate goal of the Christian life. I think there is hardly any metaphor that is better at describing our situation as Christians. Would you like to know the ultimate goal of your life? Don't worry; we'll get to that soon enough.
We will revisit this overgrown garden and the single seed throughout this book. Its competitive location is a place that we will return to many times. It illustrates well the things that we must come to understand before we can grasp and accomplish our life's ultimate goal.
It’s been a few days since you planted the fruit seed in the wild patch of woods behind your house. Now, after waiting with impatience, you return once more to the spot where the seed fell. Being careful, you push aside the thorns and vines, looking for the spot where it found the convoluted earth.
To your utter amazement, there is a tiny sprig, barely more than a twig sprouting up from the ground. You gasp in astonishment at the new life. You straighten up, letting the thorns and vines take their place once more. The seed's little sapling is overshadowed by the violent growth that surrounds. You look at everything that is fighting for space.
This is a battlefield. Now you turn your attention to the weeds, thorns, and vines. They want the same thing that the baby fruit tree wants. They want to win. They fight for every inch of sun and soil. They are in direct competition with the fruit sapling, and there is a limited amount of resources.
The soil is almost a neutral player in this raging battle between fruit-bearing sprig and voracious vines and weeds. The soil can support both weeds and fruit. It can aid the good and the bad. You begin to realize you have to think of the garden as a place for a battle strategy. It's all-out war, and you have to prepare yourself for the carnage.
"Fruit tree, soil, weeds," you say, trying to come up with a war plan. You can see that there are two sides, and like every war before, the two sides are fighting over the same patch of ground. The fruit tree wants the soil and its precious resources. The weeds want the soil and its precious resources. They both want the same thing.
“I have to pick a side,” you say as you realize the stakes. The battle lines are drawn, so why do you still feel so overwhelmed with the task. You realize you’re going to need some advice.
You pull out your phone and go through the contents of your pockets until you find the seed envelope you received from the feed store. You turn it over and look at the handwritten phone number on the back. Aunt Loola had said, "Call me anytime."
You put your phone away and go into the house. It's going to be a battle, but it's a battle for another day.
The garden in the story is you. For every believer, you’re comprised of at least these three parts. You have a flesh component, a mental component, and a spiritual component. Let’s explore the flesh, spirit, and mind each in turn.
Thorns, weeds, rocks, and vines represent your flesh and everything that comes with it. Your flesh has desires. Your greatest resources are your time and your talents. If your flesh was allowed to have its way, it would use your talents all the time to get whatever it desires. Just like the thorns and weeds, the flesh will soak up all of the resources it’s allowed to have.
In Jesus' parable of the crop field, he says that the thorny vines are the things that distract people with worries, pleasures, and even riches. Those are the kinds of things the flesh wants—the flesh worries about getting pleasure and getting rich. So, just like the thorns and weeds are in a battle, your flesh is hostile to anything that gets in its way.
Paul tells us what some of the fruits of the flesh are, Committing sexual sin, being morally bad, doing all kinds of shameful things, worshiping false gods, taking part in witchcraft, hating people, causing trouble, being jealous, angry, or selfish, causing people to argue and divide into separate groups, being filled with envy, getting drunk, having wild parties, and doing other things like this.
Even weeds bear a kind of fruit. The fruit that the weedy flesh bears is awful. It will wreck you if you let it continue unchecked. This is true of many believers who have let the weeds grow. The thorny plants that will develop in your life bear a terrible kind of seed. Those seeds fall and grow more of the same. It's a vicious cycle that we must fight against. I mentioned three parts. Let's look at your next part.
The second part of you is your mind, represented by the soil in the story. Just as the soil is the battlefield, so too is your mind.
Before you became a believer, your mind was automatically an ally of your flesh. Just like the soil supports weeds and thorns, the mindset supports flesh-desires exclusively for unbelievers. The unbeliever's mind is close friends with the flesh. All kinds of desires grow in the soil of the mind. Before you were a believer, you would use your mind to find extra clever ways to get what your flesh wanted. You could even do this in ways that made it look like you were doing good. The mind and the flesh are a deadly combination. That's why Paul said, the mindset of the flesh is death.
It wasn't until you became a believer that the third part of you rose from the dead-spiritual ruins. The fruit tree sapling in the story represents the never-ending spiritual life that God placed inside of you the moment you believed. That fruit tree has a powerful purpose. It has an ultimate goal, which we will talk about in the next chapter. In the same way that the fruit tree sapling is at war with the weeds, your spiritual life is in direct competition with your flesh. Why? You might ask.
Because both the fruit tree and the weeds grow in the same soil, your spirit and your flesh are fighting for the same resource, your mind. They are planted in the same dirt. They are warring to gain control of your mind, which is represented by the soil. Just like the soil can either support thorns or fruit-bearing crops, your mind can align with the flesh and allow it to grow, or it can align with the Spirit and allow your inner spiritual life to grow.
The inner spiritual person, which God has brought to life in you, cannot sin. However, your flesh absolutely can sin. Did you catch that? The inner spirit cannot sin, but your flesh does. Maybe you begin to see the problem. Thus, the inner war.
Your sinful flesh and your sinless spirit are at war, and your mind is caught between. The part of you that thinks, is the battleground. As long as the flesh is winning the war, there will be a lack of joy, peace, love, patience, kindness, and the rest. The greedy weeds and thorns suck all of the nutrients out of the soil and block any precious sunlight from getting through. Your flesh wants nothing more than to occupy your mind all the time so that nothing good can grow. If your mind stays aligned with the flesh, you'll have the fruits of the flesh growing in your life. It's an ugly business.
Paul was talking about this when he said, when I want to do what is right; I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God's law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Paul said this as a saved believer. If Paul experienced this, so can we.
When your mind is allied with your flesh, it is at war with your spirit and makes your mind enemy territory for God. Can you believe it? All of this is happening inside of you! Hopefully, you're beginning to see why things are the way they are.
Do you experience a lack of peace and joy in your life? Do you experience an abundance of negative emotions? Do you have a lot less patience and kindness than you think you should possess? Are you struggling to gain self-control over certain sins? These are signs that your mind has allied with your flesh and that both are at war with your spirit.
Remember the mindset of the flesh is death. Your eternal life can never be taken away now that it's been placed inside of you. Your spiritual never-ending life can never die. However, your chance at an abundant and fulfilling life dies a little more every time your mind is aligned with the flesh. A lack of peace and joy will grow the longer your mind stays focused there.
It’s time we learned the ultimate goal of our life. This is an invaluable tool in the fight against the flesh.