When I was growing up in the South, my brother and I had a weekly summer ritual -- digging dandelions out of the front yard. When you are little, you love dandelions for their fluffy bloom that, when you gently blow on it, would send its feathery seeds out into the wind. Of course, later we would realize we were being duped into planting more and more dandelions in our front yards. For some reason, our parents didn't care about the backyard. That's where the kids played. Whatever tried to grow in the backyard was quickly trampled under by the neighborhood children playing football, baseball, and whatever other game we could adapt to the fenced-in square that made up our backyard.
When my mom and dad would get sick of seeing dandelions sprouting across our front yard, my brother and I would be sent out to dig up the plants that made my mom so angry. If you have never had the chore of digging up dandelions, let me take a moment to give you quick education about how to properly dig them up. Most people think they can simply grab the dandelion's central stalk and a few surface leaves and pull up the plant. This doesn't work. The root of the dandelion is very long, and it's not until you have dug up the root of the dandelion that you have removed the plant. If you don't remove the root, the dandelion will grow back.
An experienced destroyer of dandelions will walk out into the yard with a long screwdriver, kneel down and drive the screwdriver deep into the ground next to the dandelion, then twist and pull the screwdriver out of the ground, pulling the dandelion plant with it, root and all.
The dandelion has developed a very successful survival strategy. They grow very long roots, and they can thrive anywhere. If you have a patch of dirt where nothing will grow, trust me, dandelions will quickly cover it all.
The presence of sin in our lives reminds me a lot of the dandelions in my front yard. Sin seems to grow everywhere and anywhere in my life, and it is extremely difficult to get rid of it unless you dig it up by the roots.
Let me give you an example. Let's say you're convicted about your language. You want to stop cursing or stop speaking in such negative tones. What's the first thing you do? You make a decision not to curse anymore. You tell yourself that today you won't use bad language and you spend the day focusing on the words you say. With a little effort, you can make progress. You'll get through the day without having said any curse words.
But you would have thought of them! One of the things we don't understand is that sin is multi-layered. We not only have to be worried about our actions, but we also have to be concerned about our thoughts and ultimately our essence or character. So, after you go for a day or two without using any bad words, now you have to ask why you thought of saying so many bad words. What was at stake? What was threatened? Is it a matter of education? Do you not know enough words to be able to express yourself accurately? Is it the way we grew up? Can we become more aware of our culture and how unhelpful those around us can be toward our desire to become more like Christ? In Philippians, Paul writes, "Think on these things..." Many will say that we can't control our thoughts, but we can. It takes a little work, but we can do it. The way we do it is to focus our attention on those things that are beautiful, helpful, and good.
That leads us to our third level -- the level of essence or character. When we change the way we act and control the way we think, we change who we are. We become a person who would never curse. Why? Because it's simply not in us. Few of us understand this is the goal of discipleship. We want to become a person who would never do such a thing because our lives are flowing over with the love and kindness of Christ.
This brings up the last point. Remember, the point is more than not sinning, but becoming more like Christ. We do this by removing those things in our lives that aren't like Christ and replacing them with things that are like Him. In Matthew 12, Jesus tells a story about a demon who's thrown out of a man's life and leaves to roam the desert places. When the demon can't find a suitable home, he returns to the man whom he originally inhabited. The demon, Jesus says, finds that the man's life has been swept clean, but is empty. The man had run the demon out but hadn't filled his life with anything good. In the end, Jesus says, the man was worse off than before.
The last thing we need to do to control dandelions is to grow a healthy lawn. If the grass is thick and healthy, the dandelion spores won't be able to take root. Most of us don't think about this. Our only focus is on not sinning. In many churches, Christianity is nothing more than sin management. We're good Christians if we don't do anything wrong. No, we're good Christians when our lives are so filled with Christ that sin can't find a place within us to take root.
We're good Christians when we're more like Christ. That's more than not doing wrong but becoming so much like Him that we don't even think about doing wrong. We're simply not a person who would do such a thing -- not anymore. Jesus has changed -- and is changing -- everything about us: how we act, how we think, and who we are.