Outside my window this morning, spring is exploding here in Southern California. It is not only gorgeous, but it has invited Sara back out into the garden to plant a new season of flowers. All the leaves on the trees are fresh and clean, the daffodils are up and the redbuds are vivid with color. Even the grapevines have just broken out with new growth.
I love the freshness of spring and how clean everything looks. This morning that brought me back to Jesus’ words in John 15 about how he had already made the disciples clean by his word, and thought I would include the chapter on that out of my book In Season: Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness. This is the fourth excerpt we’ve run from that book. Here are the others:
• Chapter 1: An Amazing Invitation
• Chapter 2: In My Father’s Vineyard
• Chapter 3: The Seasons of the Vineyard
If you’d like to order your own copy of In Season, you can do so here.
Chapter 7: You Are Already Clean
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
Bear fruit or burn.
That seemed to be the gist of his ominous words: Unless you bear fruit, the Gardener will cut you off and throw you into the fire. But Jesus quickly made clear his words were not a threat.
They, like us, must have wondered where they fit in. What does he think of me? Am I about to be cut off? So just as quickly Jesus made clear how he viewed them: You are already clean! Don’t worry about the pruner’s shears; it is not time for that. You are already neatly trimmed and fit for the season ahead. His invitation to follow him
made them clean.
This was not something they had achieved, but a gift they had been given. He wanted them to know this was the Father’s passion and that his work would get them there, not their own ability or diligence. With all their foibles and fears, with all they didn’t understand and their limited spiritual stamina, he saw them as clean. He’d made
them that way with his own word. They truly had nothing to fear.
When Jesus told his first followers about his desire to fill them with his joy and to make them fruitful in the world, he invited them into spiritual spring. Nothing is cleaner than when it is new, and that is especially true in the San Joaquin Valley of California. This is a desert, though not one filled with cactus. Left to itself our ten inches of rain a year would produce only brief scrub brush that would swiftly melt into the dust that is such a staple in our valley. Between May and October virtually no rain falls.
Nothing of value would grow if it were not for the abundant aquifer beneath the ground and the yearly runoff from the abundant snow of the magnificent Sierra Nevada mountains to the east. These two resources have turned this desert into a garden, one of the most productive regions on the earth. But even that doesn’t eliminate all the
dirt. Whenever the fields dry up for even a few days, the ever-present dust returns. It clings to the leaves and is stirred by the slightest movement. Plowing on a tractor, especially downwind, can keep you in a cloud of gagging dust all day long. Even in sealed-up homes, dust is the constant challenge of any homemaker. It is everywhere.
Spring is the one time, however, when the vineyard is absolutely clean. The labor of winter has left the vineyard neatly trimmed and perfectly tied to the long, straight rows of glistening wire. The field is freshly plowed and every weed is shoveled away from the vines. The flexible new canes and miniature leaves are a vivid light green, and spotless. The spring rains have kept the dust at bay.
All is under control. The farmer looks across his vineyard with a deep satisfaction at its beauty and order. Everything is fresh, ready for the fruitful season ahead.
That’s where Jesus’ followers stood that evening. He had made them clean. Maybe the word pristine is even better. They were not perfect, nor had they matured. Peter would still deny him a few hours later. There was still so much for them to learn about the kingdom Jesus had laid at their feet. As they stood between two worlds—the natural one in which they had become so comfortable and a spiritual world that was opening before their eyes—he made them clean and innocent, ready for what the coming days would unfold.
That’s how everyone starts his or her spiritual journey. Jesus finds us and makes us fit and ready. He breathes new life into us and the old creation gives way to the new.
Though we miss it in our translations, Jesus’ pronouncement is an interesting word play. The word he uses for “clean” comes from the same root as the word he used for pruning in the sentence before. He demonstrates by his usage exactly what pruning is meant to accomplish: It makes the vine clean in the fullest sense of the word, not just dust-free, but trimmed and ready for growth. Jesus doesn’t seem to indicate that they had been freshly pruned. No, in their spiritual life this was their first spring. And even though the theme of John 15 is a call to bear fruit, Jesus wasn’t asking that of them yet.
This was spring, not harvest. They were ready for the process
of fruitfulness to begin. Growth in God’s kingdom does not aim ultimately for cleanliness; it simply begins there. Jesus’ word itself makes us clean and able to stand before God beautifully adorned and blameless. There is no more foundational work than this for bearing fruit. Since fruitfulness arises only out of the depths of our friendship with Jesus, it cannot begin until we are comfortable in his presence,
confident that we belong there.
Jesus made a way for us to come to the Father as freshly cleaned as a spring vine. The same word that Jesus used for clean, the writer of Hebrews takes up when he talks about the cleansed conscience of a believer under the New Covenant. Our conscience is made perfect by the work of Christ. It is not an assumption of forgiveness by someone
who has traversed the proper theological steps. It is a deep inner conviction that in spite of our weaknesses and failures we are safe with him.
That was the limitation of the sacrifices, which the Old Covenant provided. One had to believe in his forgiveness because he had made a sacrifice. But his consciousness of sin did not depart. From one who seemed to know the difference firsthand, having served God under both covenants, the writer of Hebrews extols the marvelous cleansing of the New Covenant that leads us to God’s presence with a perfect conscience. No pang of guilt endures, no fear of punishment remains. His word of forgiveness buries the past at the foot of the cross, removing all stains of sin and rebellion.
We are exhorted to come to God’s presence with confidence and boldness; we belong there. Intimacy demands that kind of confidence. Only when atonement is made can friendship ensue. All we have to do to embrace this cleansing is to repent—to turn from living life our own way and choose to live in his. This is the door into his cleansing. Its true the first time we come to know him and every day we walk
God’s first priority is not to clean up our sins; it is to help us learn how to live in his love. His cleansing makes that possible even where we still feel entangled in sin. Certainly he wants the cleansing within to untwist our self-indulgent ways, but that only happens as the fruit of living loved. Because we are clean we can live in him. As we live in him his fruit grows in us to displace the waywardness of our old ways.
The Old Testament left us with the impression that the more righteous we could be, the more access we would have to God. But that never worked. Our best efforts still left us woefully short of holiness. Jesus made it clear that relationship with him is the only doorway into righteousness. The more relationship we have with him,
the more righteous he will make us.
That’s why cleanliness begins the journey. By making us clean we can be joined to him and as his love begins to flow through us he will make the changes in our life that lead us away from the tyranny of self to a fulfilled life in him. But we cannot live in the reality of his love and not find that our self-indulgent thinking begins to yield to that love. The more he untwists us the freer we will become from sin.
Those who come from abused or neglected childhoods or have indulged in sinful lifestyles need to hear this. These circumstances give the enemy an opportunity to plant patterns of thinking that will,if not dealt with, leave you feeling like a second-class citizen in God’s vineyard. Don’t ever settle there. God wants to heal all the wounds of your past so that you can go on to know the full joy of his kingdom.
If you still feel stained by your past, let God deal with it. Seek out the prayer and counsel of others who can help you fully embrace the cleansing that God has already given you.
You’ll know this is accomplished when you can rise each day confident that God has great affection for you. Then for the rest of your life guard that cleanliness. Keep it fresh by continued repentance and surrender to God. Don’t get defensive at the things God might expose in you, for he only wants to forgive and transform you.
Like the disciples, our first days of faith are our first spring. Nothing better describes those who embark on a new walk in Christ! We begin in his kingdom newly made, fresh and clean. But this is not our only spring in the kingdom. Periodically we will note times when God freshens his presence and renews us with promise and vision. These times will come on the heels of our spiritual winter, when our lives are pruned and prepared for the next work that God wants to do.
Fruitfulness begins in the confidence that he has made us clean. It begins when we can be at rest in the presence of the Holy God, even though our lives don’t yet reflect that holiness. That will come in time. For now, we can simply live in the confidence of his love for us and watch what he will do to transform our lives.
Excerpted from In Season, Embracing the Father’s Process of Fruitfulness available from Lifestream.