It seems that with almost any child, ‘no’ becomes one of the first words learned. After all, they hear it quite frequently. Most of us Christians probably have at least mild familiarity with the criticism that we are more well known for what we stand against than what we stand for. Any reading of the sacred Scripture undoubtedly shows that lists of “do not’s” and “avoid this” indeed exist. As his children, God does tell us “No!” and there are certain things we must stand against.
But, generally speaking, should the path of spiritual growth in the Christian life be coated with “no” or is true growth found more in what we strive for?
For example, a young woman comes to faith in Jesus and loves her new life. Anything but a clean and proper vocabulary riddles her past, and though her lips now sing praise to the Father she still says plenty of words that make the church ladies blush. It’s not that she knows she sins, she just hasn’t yet heard that verse about corrupting talk. But when another lady opens her life to disciple this new believer, should the focus be “You really need to stop cussing” or “Let me show you how to speak so you ‘may give grace to those who hear’”?
Galatians 5:19-21 tells us about the evident works of the flesh: sexual immorality, idolatry, enmity, jealousy, fits of anger, drunkenness, and “things like these.” And Paul warns strongly that “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
So obviously we should avoid them! But in 5:16 Paul says, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” And in 5:22-25, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”
It seems then the path to true growth and truly living out our freedom in Christ is best accomplished by pursuing the character and virtues of life in the Spirit. The more we love, the less tempted we will be to speak with angry words; the more we cultivate goodness, the less corruption will flow from our lips; the more we pursue self-control, the less likely we will cave to various sexual temptations.
Certainly there are times where we must hear, “No!” There are some sins that will produce too much immediate harm if not sharply avoided. But in life as a whole, we seek what is good and what is evil will begin to naturally drop away.
Disciple more on the “do” than on the “do not”!