Recently my town decided to graffiti its own Main Street sidewalks with the message: no bicycles or skateboards. I’m sure the intention is safety. People walk in and out of the shops and storefronts, and you don’t want anyone young or old to be taken out by a person on a bicycle. But it made me think of two things: (1) perhaps there is a better way to state the message, like a nice looking sign that reads for the safety of others, please walk your bicycles or skateboards on these sidewalks; and (2) how swift we are to shout No! even in church, and maybe we shouldn’t be.
Of course, we get no ingrained into our minds at an early age. Children learn to talk by mimicking those who talk to them. Often no is one of the first words a child learns to say, in part because we yell it at them so often. And again, our intentions are noble—we want our children to be safe and not running into the road or pulling books from the shelf down upon their heads or sticking fingers or other objects into the tempting little holes that deliver electricity to us.
The Bible even has plenty of no. If you read the Ten Commands in Exodus 20, eight of them contain the phrase “do not.” Yet something changed whenever a certain expert in the law asked Jesus about the greatest commandment. Jesus didn’t quote a do not, rather he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40, ESV).
Jesus turned the do not into a do—negatives into positives. This isn’t to say that when you read through the New Testament you won’t find not and no scattered throughout various commands. You do, but you tend to find them couched heavily within a whole bunch of do (take Romans 12 or Ephesians 4, for example).
The ethic for the Christian is that we are free from sin and the law and free to live for God. We still have to have the occasional not thrown in because our old nature of sin still clings to us kicking and screaming and trying to drag us down with its last gasps. But with hearts free to love God, we are free to pursue and free to follow and free to do.
Sometimes people talk about the church and Christians being known more for what we’re against than what we’re for. Perhaps this is because we get more caught up in running from the old than running towards the new. It’s time that we change that.
Take Galatians 5:22-23 for example: “But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law” (NLT).
May we be known for love—for self-sacrifice, serving others, and seeking their best. May we be known for joy—for true happiness that rests in God, his goodness, and his grace. May we be known for peace—for seeking to reconcile people to God and to each other, being voices of grace and unity when we face bitterness and division. May we be known for patience—for setting our own wills and timelines aside that we might encourage others along in the journey with Jesus.
May we be known for kindness—for reaching out to others to extend to them grace in friendships. May we be known for goodness—for reflecting God’s character in everything we do. May we be known for faithfulness—for staying true to God and being there for others in a world where it’s so easy to walk away and not look back. May we be known for gentleness—for reaching out to the hurting and troubled and offering a hand to those in need. May we be known for self-control—for keeping ourselves in check by delighting in the ways of God above the passions of the flesh.
May we be known most for our yes to God and not live lives of constant no.