Do you want to know the path to a rich, fruitful, performance-free, Christian life? A life that is free from the pressure to measure up or be a little more righteous before you can receive God’s full blessings and the plan that he has for your life? The first step down that path is given right at the beginning of the Bible, in the Garden of Eden.
Gardens, pastures, and deserts that bloom and come to life, even the desolate wilderness from which John the Baptist cries out with his message of healing, are all biblical symbols that represent the heart. The Garden of Eden is by far the most important of these. We will never fully understand this symbol unless we understand what God put at its center, the two trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. These trees are not two different sides of the same thing. They are two completely different ways of processing life. One leads to entrapment, the other to freedom.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil makes us see life (and our character) in terms of a contest in which we must become victorious, one of right versus wrong, good versus evil. The problem with this way of thinking is we will always gravitate to what is wrong rather than what is right. The religious mindset of this tree is that correcting what is wrong will make you more like Christ. Of course, you can never get there so you end up in never-ending toil.
The deeper you have been wounded, the more you struggle, and the more you realize that this is like trying to dig your way out of a hole with a shovel. I cannot tell you how many people I minister to whose self-esteem has been pummeled by this mindset. The only result that it is capable of producing is “I’m not good enough for God.” The best you can get from this tree is exhaustion, the worst is a desire to throw in the towel. That is one reason why God said, “In the day that you eat from it, you will surely die.”
The tree of life is completely different. Instead of telling you what to do, this tree refreshes, heals, flows, and renews. This tree says, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” This tree says who you are will always be more important that what you do. It is about life in abundance, given, not earned.
Jesus is the “doorway” to making our hearts a “well-watered garden, a spring that never runs dry.” I believe another name for this tree could be “the tree of freedom,” because Christ came to set us free from the yoke of the slavery, from serving the mindset of failure that comes from the performance burden of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Anything that says God’s approval of you depends on your performance or your personal righteousness comes from the other tree, the tree of religion, not life. In Genesis, Adam and Eve had God’s complete approval from the moment they took their first breath, and so do you. That is what sitting under the tree of life shows you. Adam and Eve didn’t have to work for this, and neither do you. They only fell when they started listening to the wrong voice.
The purpose of the Christian life is to get us to the tree of life. Jesus is the doorway though whom we “go in and out and find pasture.” The cross is God’s way of removing every possible excuse for believing he would allow something to come between you and him. For what excuse can you find that wasn’t covered by that display of love?
The subject of “cheap grace” has become popular in Christian circles in recent years. I believe we might be much better off exploring the subject of freedom instead. An oak tree doesn’t become mighty by striving. All it needs is the water of life. Jesus promises that in him we can have rivers of living water flowing in our innermost being. That is renewal. That is refreshment. That is rest. That is how we become “oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord.”
You are his child, not his employee. He wants the same thing for you that any good parent wants for their child, to be close to your heart and for you to blossom. Remove the enemy’s language of performance for approval from your life. Know that you are fully accepted right now, without doing another thing. Remain under the tree of life and find rest, for there is healing in its leaves.
There is a great deal more that can be learned from the two trees. They teach us about free will, how to understand tragedy within the sovereignty of God, Satan’s purpose in tempting Jesus, and the full breadth of what happened on the cross. If you want to read further, see The Two Trees Part 2: Free Will and the Sovereignty of God
To read my wife’s testimony about beginning to set aside performance and judgement in her life, click here.