“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John 3:30 AKJV
Today I am walking in the garden. Fall is the time when the apples are ready for the picking and pies are ready for the baking. As I stroll up to my garden’s apple orchard, which is located in the center of my heart’s garden, my mind goes back many years to another garden. Eve too stood before an apple tree. God did not suggest that she refrain from eating from the tree of good and evil. However, God did explicitly say in no uncertain terms, “Do NOT eat from the tree of good and evil.” Yet, there she was standing before the tree, gazing at the beautiful apples and all the while imagining the sweet taste of the delicious apple.
Maybe Eve considered just picking the apple and putting it in her pocket so that she could enjoy looking at it any time she wanted to. Okay, I know she didn’t have a pocket, I’m just saying…she might have…if she did have one. Eve might have reasoned that God had said, "do not eat", but he did not say, "do not pick" the apple. The thought of picking the apple might have gradually become more and more appealing to Eve. Perhaps she toyed with the idea that she would just walk around the garden and run her hand over the smooth peel. Maybe she would just hold the apple up to her nose so that she could smell its sweet aroma. If she had done all of those things she might have also said to herself, “so far so good.” Some would say that she was simply window shopping. Others might say that she had her big toe on the line.
Flirting with an opportunity to sin is very risky. It is a very dangerous line to have our big toe on! As we know, Eve crossed the line and now the picking, the rubbing, and the smelling progressed into full blown sin. After the first sweet crunch, Eve may have thought, so far so good. But the moment she swallowed that very first bite that delicious apple immediately turned sour in her stomach as she swallowed the apple of disobedience.
I remember that when I was a child my mother would accuse me of putting my big toe on the line. I would get as close as I could to disobedience without disobeying. This was very upsetting to her and she usually verbalized a very stern warning. The funny thing is that when I had children, they dared to do the same exact thing. Putting their big toe on the line was a common occurrence in our household. Who would have ever guessed that now my grandchildren do the same exact thing! Does the human spirit so desire disobedience that this desire repetitively passes from generation to generation as far back as our original mother Eve? We so desire to have our own way, to be in charge, to be what we consider wise, that we choose to disobey. Time and time again we walk up to the line that God has drawn and place our big toe on the line. We wonder just how much we can get away with before we find our self in the position of compromise. We must never underestimate compromise because it is just a heartbeat away from the shameful sin of willful disobedience.
Today I am looking up at the apples that are hanging from the graceful branches of the apple trees and then I look down and stare at the dusty pathway. I bend over and draw a line in the dirt. My next move is to place my big toe on that line. This object lesson is clear. The Master Gardener comes up from behind and startles me a bit. Jesus roles his eyes at me and says, “Paula, you know this is not the way to holiness and then he walks away.” That’s it! No additional warnings or threats of what will happen if I cross the line. Why doesn’t he just grab me and pull me away? Instead, he walks away and clips a rose for the lapel of his robe. Hmmmm! Really, I guess that puts the "apple" in my court. I can pick the apple off the tree or I can choose to walk away. As I back off I decide to sit for awhile on the bench and ponder today’s garden lesson.
My first thought is I really don’t know much about holiness nor can I claim very much progress in my life as a result of applying what I have occasionally learned. My life continues to be full of opportunities to practice obedience to the voice of God. I always have many occasions to willingly choose to jointly work with God as he works to change me from the inside out. I know that if I am to walk the path of holiness I must listen to the Holy Spirit, hear and heed his warnings. When I bow in obedience to the whisper of the Holy Spirit I am doing my part in the joint effort of God helping me to climb higher in my walk of faith. I hear the command. It is not a suggestion. It is a command directly from the mouth of God, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” Leviticus 19:2 NIV
One thing I know is that God expects me to walk in the way of holiness. God expects me to have high morals; God wants me to be a woman of integrity. God wants me to walk away from in sinful behavior and deliberately choose to obey his instructions. He wants me to practice less of me and more of him. John the Baptist said it well, “I must decrease, so he (Jesus) can increase.” I must choose to walk the path of holiness so that my life will bring glory to my Father in heaven.
I do not enter the quest for holiness void of instructions or example. The Bible is my guide book for living a moral life and Jesus Christ is my example of consistency in doing the will of the Father. As I pursue holiness I do not have the luxury of compromise. God demands simple obedience one issue at a time. The message is clear. I must decrease so God can increase. Less of my will and more of God’s will.
Why then is obedience so hard? In this life it is the never ending battle between my human flesh and my spirit. I know what is right yet I choose wrong. I do this because I am self-centered instead of God-centered. It is plain and simple; sometimes I love my sin more than I love God.
Loveingly, the Master Gardner comes and sits beside me. I talk and he listens. I confess to him that I struggle with many self-centered thoughts. I admit to the Master Gardner that sometimes I am more interested in getting my own way than doing his will. I tell him that I know this behavior grieves him. I own up to the fact that at times I am flippant and I demonstrate a nonchalant attitude. Jesus, forgive me when I offend you in this way. Now my eyes fill with hot steamy tears and I say, “God, why can’t I have enough faith to accomplish holiness in my life?” Then God speaks and I listen. “Paula, my child, you do not accomplish holiness by drumming up faith. I accomplish holiness in you through your obedience. Sometimes this takes a great deal of effort on your part to walk away from temptation, or to pick up the right attitude, or to keep your mouth closed. You must call on my Holy Spirit for help in your time of need. You need to decrease in your self-centered ways so that I may increase in your life. I want you to be God-centered. I assure you my child that less of you will be more!”
I find comfort in knowing that God is so gracious. He does not seek perfection but he does look for improvement. I remind myself that man looks at my outward appearance and progress but God looks down deep into my heart. I also think it is possible that I may be too hard on myself. I am not to live defeated but rather walk in joy knowing that I am doing my best. I can always be better and do more but God knows when I am really pursuing holiness and he also knows when I am not the least bit interested. He also takes note when he sees my big toe on the line. Satan is also aware when I place my big toe is on the line. God hems me in and sets boundaries for a reason. It is his way of protecting me. Just like Eve, when I get to close to crossing the line I open myself up and set the stage for temptation to first beckon and then for failure to overcome me as I give in to crossing God’s line of protection. So the lesson to learn is DO NOT even think about putting your big toe on the line. Quickly turn in the opposite direction and run straight to Jesus!
1. When was the last time your big toe was on the line?
2. Recall that situation. What happened?
3. Is your big toe on the line today?
4. Do you feel yourself flirting with compromise?
5. Has Satan showed up yet?
6. If you are a Christian who is pursuing holiness, what should you do?
I confess that I am often tempted to put my big toe on the line. Today I find that I am tempted to flirt with compromise regarding _____________. I know that my reluctance to run away from temptation is because I really want what is on the other side of the line. There are many reasons why I want to cross the line. Sometimes I am angry and I want to get even, Other times I am hurt and I want to hurt back. Often I am tempted to satisfy my lustful appetite for ______________. Father, I shamefully admit that at times I love my sin more than I love you. God, when a compromising thought enters my mind please help me to run from the sinful temptation straight to you. Father, I do desire for there to be less of me and more of you. Thank you God that victory can be mine because your Holy Spirit lives within me and you have said that greater is he that lives in me, then he (Satan) that is in this world. Help me Lord to pursue holiness one "yes Jesus" at a time as I endeavor to be obedient to your boundaries of protection.
It is in the name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen