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Blog #390: Six Things Jesus Never Said

Rev. Ken Bender recommended the following article to us to use as one of our of church blogs. It originally appeared in the “Leadership Ministries” blog on October 22nd, 2018, and was entitled, “Six Things Jesus Never Said.” The article reads like this: Today’s leader is bombarded by philosophies for life and work that are in direct opposition to the teachings of the Bible. The difficulty for the Christ-centered leader is that many of these thoughts on life and work sound like something Jesus might say and seem rational in their expression and intent. But accept any of these as fact and they’ll lead you down a self-centered and, in many cases, idolatrous path, that puts personal fulfillment above biblical obedience.

This is not a new dilemma. It’s the age-old between self-esteem and godly submission. On the one hand we say, “God is love” and yet we ignore “God is just.” The benefits of Christ are positive and eternal, and yet the responsibilities of Christ are equally binding. Most importantly, Christ-centered leadership is Christ-centered, advocating the opposite of self-sufficiency, self-help, and self-reliance in favor of Christ. Jesus never said we could save ourselves. But we have developed a number of phrases over the years that encourage leaders to attempt it. For instance:

1. “Believe in yourself.” The Twentieth Century theologian Norman Vincent Peale said, “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.” Indeed, the idea of self-confidence centers on the belief that you are smart, capable and qualified in many facets of life. Peale popularized the philosophy of positive thinking, a set of guidelines that came from his belief that religion and psychiatry should work together for the betterment of man, and canonized in his 1952 book, The Power of Positive Thinking.“Believe in yourself” is claim of self-accomplishment. But Jesus said the opposite. In John 5:24 He teaches, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes Him Who sent Me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life.” Indeed, belief in oneself has no saving power. Jesus instead told us to believe in Him, and through Him we would find eternal life. 1 John 5:1 explains, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves Whoever has been born of Him.” Self-belief doesn’t lead us anywhere because we lack the power, within ourselves, to deliver ourselves from God’s wrath and judgment. Don’t believe in yourself. Believe in Jesus.

2. “Live your truth.” It was motivational speaker Steve Maraboli who said, “Live your truth. Express your love. Share your enthusiasm. Take action towards your dreams. Walk your talk. Dance and sing to your music. Embrace your blessings. Make today worth remembering.” Steve was selected by Inc. Magazine as a “Top Leader to Follow”, also awarding him “The Most Quoted Man Alive” (2016). According to Maraboli, “truth” is largely defined in your own mind, and can be different for everyone, depending on their strengths and personal destiny. “Live your truth” is a claim of self-fulfillment. But you have no truth, because when we speak of real truth we are speaking of objective truth—that is, it does not change and is not subjected to one’s own thoughts or beliefs. Truth that is born of one’s own mind is influenced by one’s own feelings, tastes, opinions, and objectives. You cannot define truth for yourself, because that goes against the very meaning of truth, which must be true for all and not just one. Jesus, because He is God and therefore immutable and perfectly consistent, states, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Don’t attempt to live your truth. Instead, accept the Truth Who is Jesus.

3. “You are enough”. This is a popular thought voiced by a number of luminaries. Poet-Laurette Maya Angelou said, “You are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.” Self-help author Daniell Loepke wrote, “You’re allowed to assert your needs and take up space. You’re allowed to hold onto the truth that who you are is exactly enough.” The meaning in these words is that one does not have to strive to become something they are not already—more worthy, more valid, more accepted, more loved—seemingly because you already possess these characteristics. “You are enough” is a claim of self-acceptance. Christ’s message, though, is that no person is worthy, or righteous, or good. Our character is innately wrong and evil. Romans 3:23 reminds us, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are not “enough” to deal with our own wrongs. Instead, Romans 3:24 continues, “[We] all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” When it comes to our redemption, only Christ was enough. Our character is restored through a relationship with Jesus. 2 Peter 1:3-4 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” Don’t accept that you are enough. Instead, believe that Christ is enough.

4. “Be true to yourself.” This is a classical phrase written by Shakespeare. His character Polonius, in Act 1 Scene 3 of Hamlet, states, “To thine own self be true.” The meaning of these words translates philosophically as “Don’t do anything which is against your own nature.” That is, don’t strive to please others by changing what you believe in, or act outside what you innately desire. This sounds virtuous, but the character of Polonius isn’t giving good advice. He’s really advocating complacency, selfishness, and self-centeredness. A modern translation of this phrase which you may have heard is, “I just really need to focus on me right now.” “Be true to yourself” is a claim of self-glorification. When questioned about where our focus should be, and Who we need to follow, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). He further explains, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39). Jesus advocates the denial of self, versus self-focus. By putting aside our own wants and desires and pursuing Christ as our highest aim, we gain both Christ and His Kingdom in heaven. This is foremost an act of submission. Don’t be true to yourself. Jesus says to deny yourself, for His sake, and to follow Him.

5. “Follow your heart”. This phrase, too, is attributable to many celebrities. Actress Leslie Ann Warren said, “Trust your own instincts, go inside, follow your heart.” Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs once said, “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” Leaders have many possible pursuits. One can follow fortune, position, power, authority, desire, or pleasure. One can even pursue seemingly good things like marriage or family or friendships, even charitable causes, or social justice. “Follow your heart” is a phrase of self-desire. On the question of who or what to follow, Jesus said, “Come, follow Me…” (Matthew 4:19). The call of the Bible is to pursue Christ and His will and purposes for life. When our heart wants what God wants, we will receive what we greatly crave. Jesus addresses our yearnings by being the ultimate fulfillment of those things that our heart aches for. Psalm 37:4 teaches, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Don’t follow your own heart. Instead, follow Jesus. 

6. “Do what makes you happy.” This saying is most often attributed to author Rachel Ann Nunes, who wrote, “Do what makes you happy, be with who makes you smile, laugh as much as you breathe, and love as long as you live.” Happiness is a sense of well-being or contentment. It’s an emotional state, based on one’s life circumstances. It’s often attributed to environmental factors—high income, education, a sense of importance in work, successful relationships. “Do what makes you happy” is a phrase of self-fulfillment. Jesus does want us to be happy but is deeply concerned about the source from which we find it. Jesus taught, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). He knew that we would not ultimately find happiness in the people and things of this world, but through an eternal relationship with Him. Romans 15:13 says, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

The danger posed by each of these philosophical statements is they point a leader to a self-centered answer to life and leadership, versus a Christ-centered answer. Each of these popular sayings have something in common—they all contain the self-focused words “you” or “your”. Jesus never, not once, told us to look inward to ourselves to find purpose, success, meaning, forgiveness, righteousness, happiness, or fulfillment. Jesus’ clear message throughout the Gospels was that He alone would bring us these things through His own sacrifice on the cross, reconnecting us to God by His atonement and resurrection. In John 10:10 Jesus explains, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”

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