I grew up in a small, mill village church where every Sunday we were told what not to do. We would get together the next Sunday and praise God we hadn’t done anything. In my little church, we were against sinning, period.
Notice what I said. I said we were against sinning. I didn’t say anything about what we were for. Honestly, we didn’t know what we were for. We were just against. For most of us, Christianity seems to be defined by those things we aren’t supposed to do. We always know what we aren’t supposed to do, but few of us know what we should be living for.
When I started thinking about it, I was reminded of a Bible verse that had troubled me for a long time. Now remember, I went to church multiple times a week. I spent a lot time listening to Bible stories and sermons, and there is one verse that always has puzzled me.
Second, did Jesus really mean to say anything more than yes or no was demonic? That seemed a little harsh to me. When I was a kid, I thought this was a little over the top.
What if we were misreading the passage? What if we were not seeing everything Jesus was trying to give us in this sentence? A lot of times, the words of Jesus are the same as looking at a body of water. You think you understand what you are looking at, but you don’t know how deep the teaching is until you wade into it.
Let me show you what I mean. If you grew up in church as I did, then you recognize this passage as the proof text for not cursing. We aren’t supposed to use bad language because Jesus said let your yes be yes and your no be no. That’s it. You aren’t supposed to use any other kind of language to emphasize your disappointment or frustration.
What if there is more to this verse? What if Jesus was saying, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no'”? See what a difference that makes? What if Jesus wasn’t talking so much about our language (although that is certainly part of the passage), but God’s divine affirmation of who we were created to be as individuals? What if God’s gospel message to us isn’t, “Don’t sin!” but, “Be fully who I made you to be!” Here’s what I have learned. If you know your “yes” in Christ and are living fully in it, all of your nos take care of themselves.
In the first chapter of James, there is a brilliant statement of human nature.
No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death (
Notice what James is teaching us. Sin happens when the thoughts of our minds become the desires of our hearts. The desires of our hearts then become the actions of our lives, and these actions are the sins that bring destruction in our lives. That means if all we are thinking about is not sinning, well, sooner or later we will do the very thing we are trying not to do. Why? Because it has become the thing that consumes our minds.
May I confess something to you? I have an addiction to Oreo cookies. For me, there is nothing better than a big glass of cold milk and a bag of Oreo cookies. That’s right. I said “bag.” I don’t eat one or two Oreos. I eat them by the bag.
Now, I know eating that many cookies isn’t good for me. So, what do I do? I make a vow not to eat any more Oreo cookies. I say to myself repeatedly, “I will not eat Oreos. I will not eat Oreos.” What have I done? I have placed Oreos in the center of my brain. Now, Oreos are all I am thinking about. Sooner or later, I will end up eating an Oreo just to get them off my mind; and because I have failed to keep my promise to myself not to eat an Oreo, I might as well eat the whole bag.
See what happens? What we think about becomes what we do, even if we are thinking about not doing it!
That’s why Paul was so careful to remind the Philippians to think about the positive realities of their lives in Christ. He wrote: “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things” (
If you are thinking about your yes in Christ, you simply won’t have the capacity to think about the nos.
I learned this lesson the hard way. After going through one of the toughest times in my ministry, I had reached the end. I was burned out. I didn’t think I could keep going. Things had not turned out the way I had expected. People I had trusted had let me down, and others had betrayed me openly. We were getting through it, but even victories demand their price.
I was away on a planning retreat when I realized I couldn’t go on in the shape I was in; pushing away my planning, I spent most of my time in prayer. At the end of the day, I heard two sentences. “Why don’t you relax and be who I made you to be?” and, “Why don’t you let the church relax and be who I made it to be?” Besides my conversion experience, these are the most liberating words I have heard from Christ.
This experience sent me off on an entirely new adventure. Who was I created to be? Who was my church created to be? While I may not have been able to articulate it at the time, I was finding my yes and leading our church to find its yes. Finding it makes all of the difference in the world.
We shouldn’t have been surprised. Jesus Himself lived out of His yes. In
He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As usual, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled'” (
In this passage, Jesus found His yes. Throughout the ministry of Jesus, we see Him acting from a firm sense of who He was and the purpose for which He was sent. That’s it. The yes of Christ comes to us in two ways. First, our identity is given to us in our yes. As Christ knew who He was as the Father’s Son, we know who we are as followers of Christ.
Second, as Christ knew the purpose for which the Father sent Him, we know our purpose in and through Him. Christ constantly was pulled to things that were not His yes and He refused them. In the same way, as Christ-followers we must know our yes in Him and refuse anything—even good things—that are not part of our yes in Him.
Kairos is a worship experience for young adults I have been part of for the past eight years. When I am talking to one of these young adults, most of the time the conversation starts in a crisis. Something has gone wrong, a bad decision has been made, and now we are dealing with the consequences. Somewhere in this conversation, I’ll ask, “Do you know your yes?” They will stare blankly back at me, trying to understand what I have just asked them.
“My yes?” they’ll ask. “What’s that?”
Then I have the opportunity to explain that we are all created uniquely in Christ and have been given gifts to join Him in His work of redeeming lost humanity and all of creation. When they begin to see they were created for something in Christ, you literally can see the wheels of their minds begin to turn with divine possibilities. Some of our greatest moments in Kairos come when we get to watch Christ reveal Himself to these young adults. In that divine encounter, Christ gives them their identity and their destiny in Him. Christ came to give us something to live for, not merely to live against.
The gospel is more than sin management. It’s more than being sure we don’t do wrong. The gospel is a divine invitation to be part of the yes God has been speaking to the world since the first words of creation. This yes has been spoken ultimately and definitively in Jesus Christ. Jesus is everything God wants to say to us, and what He wants to say is yes!
As Paul reminds us in the opening lines of
This yes spoken by God in Jesus now echoes in the lives of all who follow Him. Jesus came for us to have life and to have it abundantly. Jesus lived His yes for us; and as we follow Him, we’re called to live in Christ’s full yes for us.
So, let your yes be yes and your no be no. Anything else really is demonic.