I love spring cleaning at the barn.
You might find that odd. But I find there’s something refreshing about waking up from the winter slump, getting everything looking as it should, and putting the annual plague of boot-sucking, wheel-stopping, hoof- and hide-caking mud behind us.
This past winter in NC was especially bad, as we spent most of February watching the waters close in and the ground dissolve and wondering when to bring out the ark blueprints. To say I’ll be happy to “start fresh” is an understatement.
Like barns (not to mention houses), our souls can benefit from some “spring cleaning” to clear away spiritual muck and prepare us for service. Because even the most virtuous among us struggle constantly with sin – thoughts, attitudes, speech, and behaviors that are anything but virtuous or God-honoring.
And all sin, no matter how seemingly insignificant or excusable, needs to be dealt with. Because, like mud, untended sin can fester, harming our spiritual health and our efforts to live fruitful, meaningful lives.
In particular, it can…
…stick our wheels.
Untended sin holds us back in our personal growth and mission. Bad attitudes and habits take up space where good ones could be. Unforgiveness clogs our spiritual ledgers with debts we’ll never see paid. And unconfessed sin drags us down with stress and guilt.
And no matter how much good we try to do to compensate, untended sin clings to it like mud stains. And mud doesn’t get less gross with time – it only dries (take it from someone who’s curried mud-cakes out of too many a horse’s or donkey’s coat long after the sun is out).
And all of it sits on our accounts before God, weighing against whatever assets we think we might have.
…mar our identity.
Have you ever seen mud on a light-colored horse (or dog, or shirt)? Not a pretty sight. Even on darker colors, mud never improves appearance. And being otherwise beautiful doesn’t help.
Similarly, untended sin can negatively affect how we view ourselves and how others view us. When we hold on to sin instead of seeking God’s grace, we start to identify more with our sin than with our Savior. We might flaunt our sin…or we might deny we’ve sinned at all. Or, in shame, we might question God’s love for us and our identity as His image-bearers.
And if we’re Christians, untended sin can make it hard for others to see Christ’s work in us. After all, if we refuse to confess our sin, or refuse to accept grace, we can hardly call ourselves “sinners saved by grace”. And we can’t say we’re acting under Christ’s lordship, because He Himself preached salvation through repentance and faith in a holy, gracious God.
…foster unhealthy attitudes.
Every horse or donkey owner knows that mud isn’t just icky and inconvenient – it can be unhealthy. Spending too much time in deep mud predisposes equines’ hooves and lower legs to infection, and stresses muscles and tendons.
Similarly, sin left to itself fosters spiritual disease. It can lay ground for resentment, cynicism, self-righteousness, resistance, and/or unhealthy levels of shame. And an unaddressed one-time sin can grow into a habit, or lead to other sins aimed at avoiding responsibility for the first.
Soon, the problem is more than just a puddle of muck – it’s a field of hoof-weakening, tendon-pulling, bacteria-harboring goo. Plus a three-legged-lame horse.
Besides the health concerns, the worst thing about mud for me is that I simply can’t get out to spend time with my donkeys. And if I do make it, I have to stick to the rubber mats around the barn itself. No active training sessions or hanging out in the pasture. Wheelchairs just don’t do mud.
Similarly, unaddressed sin inevitably hinders our relationships with others and God. Our efforts to avoid addressing it can lead to blame-casting, defensiveness, and even dishonesty. We might lash out at those who seek to hold us accountable, or in shame distance ourselves from people who would help us.
Meanwhile, we face an elephant in the room every time we meet with God. He’s willing to forgive. But we can’t access that forgiveness if we’re constantly denying we need it or want it.
The solution? “Coming clean” by admitting our sin, asking God’s forgiveness, and repenting (turning away from sin to pursue a more God-honoring path).
Coming clean doesn’t solve all our problems. And it rarely solves any problems overnight. But it certainly solves these. When we come clean, we can…
…move forward in our growth and mission.
Having set aside our sin, we can pour our energy and time into growing ourselves and pursuing God’s purpose for our lives. With sin no longer controlling or restricting us, we can give our whole selves to Jesus and live in His freedom. Free to walk by faith, there’s nowhere He leads that we can’t follow.
…maintain spiritual health.
Having been set right with God, we have unhindered access to His strength, wisdom, peace, and joy. Now connected to the Source of life and goodness, our souls have everything they need to thrive.
…have a clear identity.
The very act of repenting and seeking God’s forgiveness requires us to admit who we truly are. We see ourselves as God sees us – fallen, finite, sinful…and loved by a God who can and will redeem us if we let Him.
Then, with sin’s stains wiped away, we can better see the image of God in ourselves. And the longer we follow our Savior and allow Him to continue cleansing and refining us, the more like Him we become. And others can see it.
…connect with God and others.
In repenting of sin, we connect with our Creator and Savior, stepping onto the waiting bridge He built with a cross and an empty tomb. And in response, He forgives our sin, wiping it out of our accounts completely and forever.
We also, though maybe less quickly, connect with others, becoming a part of God’s family (if we aren’t already) and putting aside any bitterness or shame that formerly isolated us.
The Key to Cleanup
Coming clean isn’t always easy. It takes intention, attention, and commitment. Sometimes more than we possess.
That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. He dwells in every person who professes Christ as Lord of their lives and trusts Him as their Savior. And one of the Spirit’s chief roles is making that person more like Christ. If we let Him, He inevitably will.
How do we let Him? We can do it by engaging in habits that nourish our faith. We can pay attention to our attitudes and actions and identify things that need changing. If we can avoid tempting situations, we should. If we do end up being tempted. we can and should ask Him to show us the way out.
We can regularly ask Him to change us and give us whatever we need to cooperate with Him. And when we sense Him working on or prompting us, we can follow.
And if we do sin, instead of slogging on as though nothing is wrong, or giving ourselves up for lost in the mire, we can (and should) say, “I’m sorry.” And then turn to grasp (or fall into) the Hand that’s reaching to pull us out.
If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:7-9 (CSB)