Is Jesus about “No” or “Yes”?
I know this guy who used to have a really distorted picture of Christianity. I—er, he—thought it was all about “thou shalt not.” Being part of the church group meant resisting temptation, giving up all of the fun stuff, and generally approaching life with a bit of a scowl.
Early in his adult Christian life, this guy visited a church where a stern, austere pastor in a black suit and black tie talked for twenty-five minutes. He never smiled, not even during the punch line of his obligatory canned joke. He must have learned in pastor school that you’re supposed to say something funny during a sermon, but he clearly didn’t approve.
The title of that message: The Joy Of The Lord!
Obviously “joy” meant something different to church people.
My “friend” understood that following Jesus meant identifying anything that might be remotely fun and staying away. It was all about denial and fasting and being serious, sitting on uncomfortable wooden benches, and resisting temptation.
And he quickly learned that following Jesus meant labeling, separating good from bad. Good people did good things; bad people did bad things. Following Jesus meant identifying the bad people and staying away from them. It was easier to be good if you hung around with the good guys.
See, people were generally a bunch of selfish, lustful, greedy low-lifes who wanted more than anything to live in depraved immorality. Self-control meant never giving an inch, staying so far away from temptation that you couldn’t possibly slip up. Any crack in the façade, any brush with sin or sinful people, would give the devil his opportunity. And before you even realized what happened, you’d be coveting and lusting and stealing.
You needed rules—lots and lots of rules. Some of the rules told you what you should do, but mostly the rules were “thou shalt not.” Following Jesus meant a life of “No.”
He kept hearing about the freedom we have in Christ, but he couldn’t see it.
My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence? [Galatians 5:16-18 The Message]
“Live freely?” What could possibly be “free” about an existence devoid of passion, lived out in an exclusive club devoted to avoiding and resisting? Self-control meant building solid walls and hiding behind them from everything you really wanted to do.
Not much “freedom” there.
My friend understood that a life of “No” is a losing battle. Even when he succeeded in his self-denial he resented and sought loopholes. When he managed to do something right, it was for all the wrong reasons. His life of “No” constantly pitted head against heart, and heart frequently claimed victory.
He tried and failed to master his heart, and became convinced that he just didn’t have the self-control to follow Jesus. But then something miraculous occurred.
In the aftermath of a life-altering injury, He found himself wandering in darkness and despair, so completely lost that He actually believed God couldn’t reach him. In his weakness and desperation he asked Jesus for help, not really believing anything would change.
But something did change. It wasn’t the clean, instant transformation from an inspirational made-for-TV movie, but he began to hear a calm, quiet invitation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11: 28-30]
He looked at Jesus’ life—you know, the guy he was supposed to be following—and noticed that He adhered to a single, simple principle: Agape. And He didn’t love out of obligation, He loved because that was His heart’s inner-most desire.
He didn’t avoid temptation, He embraced it. He didn’t do right and avoid wrong because of a bunch of rules. He did those things because that’s what He wanted to do.
Jesus’ life wasn’t about “thou shalt not.” His life wasn’t one of “No.”
Jesus lived a life of “Yes.”
He listened and learned until His thoughts were the Father’s thoughts. Then He vigorously and passionately pursued His deepest desires. He wasn’t imprisoned by rules and fears. He said “Yes.”
Jesus did precisely what He wanted. He was completely, totally, free.
So what about self-control? How does that fit with freedom?
In The Message he saw a different twist. “Self-control” was translated “able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”
And even as a member of the slow-learner class, my friend started to get it.
Self-control isn’t about mastering the heart—it’s about changing the heart, and that was a change only Jesus could accomplish. Self-control isn’t about saying “No” to the things you really want, it’s about changing the things you want so you can say “Yes” with joy and enthusiasm.
My friend is still pretty messed up—apparently heart-changing is a long, slow process. But he’s gradually experiencing the freedom of a life of “Yes.”
I’m glad, because I’m not very good at “No.” I can resist just about anything except temptation.
Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified. [Galatians 5:23-24 The Message]
Have you experienced following Jesus as a life of “Yes”?
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Copyright 2010 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:
Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com