Expelling the Tree Snake

That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:3 NKJV)

Did you know that God sees us all as trees? What does it mean to be a tree? This verse indicates that it is God's desire that we become known as trees of righteousness. Significantly this is immediately at the end of the passage Jesus used as His mission statement. What that means is that Jesus came to fulfill God's desire to restore us all back to our original design from creation – to be trees of righteousness... that He may be glorified.

Something else very compelling caught my attention this morning. I was reading about another tree, an ancient tree in a fabulous garden. Actually the story involved two trees, one that possibly could be referred to as the original Tree of Righteousness but that was labeled the Tree of Life, and another that was called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

I have thought much about these two trees for a number of years now, particularly the second one. I have learned a great deal from a study of the contrast between these two trees, for they are highly symbolic of the sharp contrast between two competing systems of governance vying for control of the entire universe. Our first parents who were created as representatives of our planet succumbed to the deceptive power of a serpent hiding in one of those trees. And that is where something very important suddenly broke into my awareness today.

If God wants to call me a tree of righteousness, a planting of His for the purpose of glorifying Him, then there is significantly more in the story of these two trees than I have noticed before. Not only must I be discerning to know which tree I should derive my nurture and identity from, but I am also symbolically a tree myself. So how might this provide important insights to help me learn how to live as a tree of righteousness instead of being any other kind of tree?

There is no indication in Scripture that there was any significant difference between the physical attributes of these two trees. All we are told about them is that both of them had fruit to eat, both were likely in the midst of the garden apparently in close proximity, and the name of each tree. The only other difference which may be important to note is that in one of those trees was a serpent who became the cause of all the pain, suffering and evil that has existed in our world ever since that time.

Most of us are familiar with the story of the enticement of the serpent seducing our first parents to give up their liberty by abandoning their trust in God for empty promises by a stranger. However, what may be less familiar is the link that this story may well have to the notion that we too are all trees and as such are liable to having that same serpent slithering around in our branches whether welcome or not.

Is this possible? Could it be true that as a tree (righteous or otherwise) I just might have an evil serpent lurking behind my leaves and messing with my fruit or even using my fruit to wound or infect other people with a similar evil that infected my first parents? Sadly I am starting to see that this in fact may be all too real.

I find support for this idea from one of the greatest theologians in history. Paul seemed to have become aware that there was a foreign agent hiding out inside of his 'tree' causing untold trouble for him in spite of all his desire to be righteous. Take a look at how he described it.

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. (Romans 7:14-17)

But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. (Romans 7:20-23)

Think about it. If you were a tree (and God apparently intends for us to be trees so in some way this applies), how could you even deal with an unwanted intruder that decided to crawl around in your branches? Could that tree in the garden have had any way of protesting against or expelling the serpent that got into its branches and that then used that strategic location to deceive our first parents into relinquishing their authority over an entire planet and then enslaving them and all their descendants in bondage to a ruthless slave-master? As far as I know it is beyond the capacity of any tree to evict an unwanted intruder. And according to Paul he apparently felt just as helpless about the unwanted intruder discovered deep inside of him like that garden tree snake – and with similar dire consequences.

When this possibility struck me I found that it resonates with my own experience similar to what Paul described. How often do I find myself driven by strong emotion to say things to others, or even worse about others, that I later deeply regret. How often does something deep inside me compel me to say or do things that my conscience tries to prevent but my feelings just push past it in the heat of the moment? How out of control do I feel at times like something foreign inside of me keeps defeating the desires of God implanted in my heart to be righteous instead of critical, fault-finding or gossiping?

The list could go on and maybe it should. The point however is that I lament that I am such a sinner and it seems at times almost hopeless that my condition will ever change much. But what I am now starting to see is that God through Paul is telling me this is not my real identity but rather a foreign agent lurking inside of me accessing old triggers and current selfishness to leverage me into causing damage to others and to myself over and over. And besides that, even though I long to bring honor to God's reputation, in spite of how much I learn about His true character I keep treating others at times in ways that seriously discredit what I am trying to share about Him.

Paul tells me that it may not be me who is doing all this damage and ruining my life but it is a foreign intruder that I have no ability to expel myself. The entire chapter of Romans 7 is an exposé about this very problem as Paul describes his frustration that sounds all too familiar for anyone serious about reflecting the truth and goodness of God. But the subtle part of this that many of us forget is that Paul says we are not really the one doing it, but sin which dwells in us.

This brings a radically new perspective to the whole picture. Just as the tree in the garden did not necessarily welcome that wicked conniving serpent into its branches to ruin the entire pristine creation God had just finished, neither am I to blame for that same evil agent hiding deep inside my own heart and seeking to ruin everything God has been creating in me and in those around me. And while it is true I have a role to play in the expulsion of this snake from my branches, the way in which I and many others have long gone about trying to accomplish that is completely useless. This is what Paul discovered and the following verses explain the only viable solution for our problem.

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (Romans 7:24 – 8:2)

Remember that Paul said he observed a principle that evil was present inside? That is highly important to note, for we are not dealing with simply a literal snake in a literal tree but a more diabolical issue in that we are caught and enslaved by a hidden principle that works deep within our souls that is impossible to escape without divine intervention from the outside to rescue us from its tyrannical control.

A principle is something far deeper than simply a snake or any other such entity. A principle gets to the deepest level of my psyche so that it can influence and even steer me from far beneath my level of consciousness. This is why it is impossible for me to escape from its control because it is far beyond my ability to even detect it. Unless a power outside of me gains access to that deep subconscious part of me to counteract and disable this foreign spirit, I have no effective defense against being manipulated even against my will.

What I see in Romans 8 is Paul's answer to the dilemma he described in Romans 7. Many have noticed this, but that does not mean that they came to understand it sufficiently or explained it or applied it in ways that are necessarily helpful. Too often theology can complicate things instead of helping us know how to experience in practical ways things written by inspired writers. What I desire is a clear and effective understanding of Scripture that makes the difference in my own life that I long to experience. So I will take a fresh look at Paul's solution as to how to escape the curse of the lurking serpent that is so unwelcome deep within my branches.

For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. (Romans 8:5-9)

This is extremely revealing to me. I want to not just understand this better but more importantly I want to live it consistently in my own experience. What I see in these verses is a strong emphasis on mindset. Do you see it over and over? What I choose to fill my mind with on a regular basis apparently has everything to do with the outcome of who gets to be in charge of my subconscious and consequently who can affect the direction of my life. Paul says that if my mindset is governed by my selfish nature I am not even able to be subject to the law/principles of God.

This indicates that if I keep finding it impossible to align my life with what I am learning about God and His character, it must have to do with the input that is fueling who hangs out in my tree so to speak. According to this passage the only hope I have of ever evicting this undesirable tenant from my tree house is to keep bringing in a new Tenant who is incompatible with this hostile squatter and who has the power Himself to bring accomplish his eviction by introducing a new principle into my heart. You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.

What I am sensing here is that a core problem revolves around my perception of my true identity. Who I perceive myself to be and my sense of value has everything to do with how I act, how I think; it affects the direction of my life, my relationships and my destiny. As long as Satan is allowed to manipulate and deceive me in my own sense of identity, he maintains an inside track to prevent me from experiencing the full freedom and victory that God has for me.

My sense of identity is largely shaped by the things I allow to daily circulate through my imagination and that in turn are influenced by what I bring in from the outside. I was taught an acronym in computer school many years ago – GIGO which means, garbage in – garbage out. As long as I give too much access for messages of false identity to assault me from many directions, my vulnerability to believe them and act out accordingly keeps me doubting God's version of who I really am and how He wants me to see myself through the eyes of Christ. Jesus came to replace Adam as the root of the human race and to introduce a new principle into humanity that can counteract all the evil and infection caused by the fall of our first Adam.

None are so vile, none have fallen so low, as to be beyond the working of this power. In all who will submit themselves to the Holy Spirit a new principle of life is to be implanted; the lost image of God is to be restored in humanity.
But man cannot transform himself by the exercise of his will. He possesses no power by which this change can be effected. The leaven--something wholly from without--must be put into the meal before the desired change can be wrought in it. So the grace of God must be received by the sinner before he can be fitted for the kingdom of glory. All the culture and education which the world can give will fail of making a degraded child of sin a child of heaven. The renewing energy must come from God. The change can be made only by the Holy Spirit. All who would be saved, high or low, rich or poor, must submit to the working of this power. {COL 96}

So apparently I am something like a tree. God created each of us to be trees imitating the Tree of Life, offering only life and love to everyone around us and providing only healthy nourishment for all who come in contact with us. And while there was very likely nothing at all wrong with the fruit from the other significant tree in that garden, the problem was all from the sneaky snake hiding out in its branches that introduced all the trouble that day, not some infection in the fruit.

Is it possible that the original intent for that second tree was not to act as a hideout for an intruder who ended up exploiting our vulnerable planet, but rather was to serve as a symbol of humans who were all intended to reflect the God who had created them in His image? This would correlate perfectly to being called trees of righteousness. Maybe the original name of that second tree was supposed to be the Tree of Righteousness in that it was to be simply a reflection of the original righteousness as found in the Tree of Life. But after the serpent hijacked that tree as its base of operations he subverted its name – its very identity – to something far more subtle to serve as a counterfeit source of nourishment and identity through which he was able to capture an entire planet and bring it into his evil empire.

Our own situation is very similar. We are caught in the trap into which our first parents fell, and by no choice of our own we all are now born with a sinful, selfish nature. Because of this we are in no way to blame for our inherented condition, which is why God never views us with the slightest condemnation. Jesus stated explicitly that God did not send Him to our world to condemn us but to save us (John 3:17). Therefore anything that uses condemnation comes from the enemy's slander campaign that continues to inhibit our ability to grasp the real truth about our loving Father.

Though we have been deceived about so much now, God is sending ever-increasing light and love and truth into our world so that all who believe what He is bringing to us of Himself will not suffer the natural consequence of destruction by sin within us but may enter into the abundant life of God as He reconnects us to the Tree of Life and we thus come to reflect it as Trees of Righteousness ourselves.

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God [trees of God]. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. (Romans 8:14-16)

Paul takes up the analogy of trees and grafting later in chapter 11 of this same book. Given this enhanced context I now find it easier to see what he is saying there. God is telling us that as long as we continue to believe in and respond to His kindness we can remain grafted into the root stock of Jesus Christ, the new planting of God that replaces our first parent stock of Adam. The entire human race now can be transplanted or grafted into a new Tree of Righteousness, the very righteousness of God as revealed in His Son. Now we can be salvaged and abide in the vine to bear His kind of fruit as Jesus taught His disciples just before His death on the cross.

Abiding in Christ – being led by the Spirit of God. All of these things point to the very same thing, the only means by which we have any hope of breaking free from the power of the inherited serpent syndrome that insists that our tree is his property and he can do what he wants with it.

The liberating truth of the gospel is that God declares that we are not trees of knowledge or trees of with a balancing of good and evil but that He has replanted us with a completely new identity – trees of righteousness. As we embrace the reality that God is righteous as much as Jesus came to reveal Him to be, and we allow Him to dwell in our hearts and choose to set our minds on only the things of His Spirit, that Spirit will work to instill within us a new principle more powerful than the spirit of evil that can grow inside of us until there is no place found any longer for that old serpent, just as there was no place found any longer for him in heaven. (see Revelation 12:7-8)

Father, I am so grateful and at the same time humbled that You keep revealing such wonderful things to such an undeserving person such as I. Like Mary who was so in awe that You would even consider having anything to do with such an insignificant young peasant girl, I find myself increasingly in awe and admiring of Your ways and the glory that You continually reveal more explicitly.
Keep reminding me to set my mind on only things that are life-giving and to remember that the serpent that keeps showing up in my branches must not be allowed to define who I am; nor does he have authority to rename me.
You are showing me that my true identity is that I am planted by You as a tree of righteousness, not anything other kind of tree. And furthermore, You planted me for the purpose of glorifying You alone, not drawing attention to myself or to the snake. Help me to learn this and practice this more consistently as I keep inviting Your Spirit abide in me and to displace the old principles of sin and death that have so long controlled my mind and my life.
I am overwhelmed with emotion as I grasp a little better the wonder of what You are saying to me right now. Your graciousness and kindness indeed draw me into a spirit of repentance as I am melted by your love, compassion and beauty.
Yes, I want to become a full-on reflection of what I am finding in You. I invite You into my heart again today so that my mind can be consistently set on receiving Your life and that the fruit produced in me becomes life-giving and nothing else.
Words simply are far too inadequate to express what I am feeling right now. But Your Spirit is here to translate what You are saying inside of me. Thank-you is much too weak an expression, but it is what I offer You.
Let the light of Your true glory continue to be seen more clearly as You continue to finish what You have begun in my life.


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