A great variety of images have been used to describe the Christian experience. One of them relates to how God deals with sin by comparing it to pruning a tree.
At first, He uses an axe and lobs off the big and important sins, those that are totally interfering with the growth and fruitfulness of the tree. The tree responds with vigor and is quite happy to be rid of those branches.
Next, God uses a smaller tool, a pruning knife, to cut away the less obvious sins, still a hindrance to grown and productivity, yet not quite as easy to give up.
At last, He begins snipping away with a razor blade, taking away those sins that others may not notice and the tree wasn’t particularly aware of, but deeper in nature that could grow and become dangerous to the tree’s health. These are often the root of the more obvious problems.
This image or illustration helps me to better understand these words of Jesus from His sermon in Matthew . . .
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27–30)
Jesus is saying that the inner attitude of a person’s heart is just as sinful as the actual action because the action flows out of the attitude. It could be lust for a person, but it could also be greed for money, personal ambition, a deep desire for fame, and a host of other things that many Christians never do, but the desire to do them occupies their minds and shows up in one form or another. It is these attitudes that He will prune with a knife or a razor. In these verses He is warning those who face the choice of walking with Him what they must be willing to throw away such pollution. It is better to enter the Christian life maimed than resist His power to save us from our sin.
Chambers says that the followers of Jesus experience different things that are not necessarily sin, but He may cut some of those out of our lives too. That is, someone else might be able to write a novel, but I am not allowed that activity, not because it is sinful in itself, but the pruning has revealed a sinful motivation of some sort and the writing would mess up my walk with Jesus.
Also, if I am going to walk with Jesus, I cannot start my day with my agenda. The desire to rule my own time has been pruned more than once because it tends to pop up like sucker root. Watching some television shows interfere with my Christian life. Reading some books does the same. They must be lopped off and discarded.
My Christian life began with being maimed. As Chamber says, I started my walk with Christ sensing the many things that I dare not do, even though my friends thought God is a killjoy and His restrictions are “no fun at all.” They didn’t realize it is “better to enter into life maimed” and be lovely in God’s sight than to be lovely in man’s sight and crippled in God’s view.
I realize that after many years of His pruning, this tree is not at all the same as in those early days. I’ve certainly lost some of that ‘freshly pruned’ look of a tree that has been radically chopped up. The healthy branches have sprouted and flourished. Others don’t see the sin that is so obvious to me.
I also realize that my life is changed because of His wisdom in knowing what to cut and curb and what to leave and nourish. This is the “abundant life” that He promised, and that He has a plan for me that still takes faith to believe will eventually happen:
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
Most of the pruning is painful and yet I’ve learned to welcome it, even realize that it is exciting. God’s promises and skill plus the faith He gives makes it reasonable to let Him whack away, even at the branches that I once thought should be allowed to remain.