We are surrounded by a world that says “no” to nothing. When we are surrounded by this sort of mentality…then suddenly to be told that in the Christian life there is to be this strong negative aspect of saying “no” to things and “no” to self, it must seem hard. And if it does not feel hard to us, we are not really letting it speak to us…We have a society that holds itself back from nothing… Any concept of a real “no” is avoided as much as possible…Absolutes of any kind, ethical principles, everything must give in to affluence and selfish personal peace…Of course, this environment of—of not saying “no”—fits exactly into our natural disposition, because, since the fall of man, we do not want to deny ourselves…And this natural disposition fits in exactly with the environment which surrounds us in the twentieth century.
As one can see, there is nothing new under the sun and we, as a society, are continuing to see the fruits of saying “no” to nothing. But, as Schaeffer so clearly points out, saying “no” is part and parcel of the Christian life. A great place to see this fact explained in the Scriptures is Titus 2:11-14;
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
As Schaeffer rightly points out, saying “no” is very much opposed to our natural disposition. Before salvation in Christ, I can recall innumerable instances of being told by some authority to stop doing something and I would stiffen my neck and fight against it simply to fight. Even as a regenerated believer, the dying old flesh still will rebel and struggle against the new life of Christ in me.
But note that in this Titus passage, saying “no” is very much an essential aspect of the work of grace in our life. Indeed, Christ (who is grace personified) calls us to say “no” for the glory of God. To what are we to say “no”? We are to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions. This is a holistic “no”. We are to stop sinful actions (ungodliness) and say “no” to the source of such actions (worldly passions). As we are under the control of the Spirit and grace, as with Christ, we will say “no” to that which dishonors God.
But the controlling idea in this passage is not so much saying “no” as it is “to live”. Or, rather, the main emphasis is saying “yes” to self-control, uprightness, and godly living. We are to focus on these awesome goals of personal holiness, excellent relations with others and nearness to God. As we do so, saying “no” to those things which keep us from these awesome goals will naturally flow from us. Thus, as you pursue Christ and his glory in your life, you will need to say “no”. But as you are saying “no”, focus on that to which you get to say “yes”. The hymn writer states this truth in another way;
Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face.
And the things of the world will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.
The writer to the Hebrews (12:1-2) states this truth this way;
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
So, as believers, we are called to say “no” to the wickedness of this world and the wickedness in our own hearts. But that to which we are saying “yes” is so much greater. Thus, as you say “no”, never forget to what you are saying “yes”.