Recently I read  a post on social media listing Five Things Jesus Did Not Say. I thought that it provided a helpful contrast between some common slogans in our culture and the teaching of Jesus. Here are my reflections on that list.

“Believe in Yourself”

There is a place for legitimate confidence in our abilities, but our ultimate trust cannot be in ourselves. The Bible teaches that we should trust in the Lord rather than our own understanding:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5)

Read the accounts in Scripture of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David,  Jeremiah, Daniel, or anyone who was called to do something great for God. All of these were people of great ability, but God did not tell any of them to “believe in yourself.” All those stories make it clear that their trust was in the Lord. For example, take a look at what David said to Goliath in 1 Sam. 17:45-47.

Jesus didn’t say “believe in yourself.” He said “believe in me” (Jn. 14:1).

“Follow Your Heart”

It’s difficult to find a TV show or movie that does not promote the idea that the key to happiness and satisfaction is to follow our hearts. In our culture, it feels somehow wrong and oppressive to tell people not to follow their hearts.

The problem is that our hearts can lead us astray. An unredeemed and unsanctified heart will often lead us away from God. As the prophet Jeremiah declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9, ESV)

Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to follow their dreams and passions. Instead, he called them to leave their fishing business behind and join his wandering mission team. He called them to adopt his goals as their goals.

We should only follow our hearts to the extent that they are aligned with God’s heart. An increasingly redeemed and sanctified heart will become a better guide to God’s heart. You can read more about this in my post on How to Cultivate a Healthy Heart.

Jesus didn’t say “follow your heart.” He said “follow me” (Mk. 1:16-17).

“Be True to Yourself”

When a church holds a seminar on understanding your personality and spiritual gifts, it is usually well attended. We love to learn about ourselves and our talents and abilities. We usually find learning about ourselves much more interesting than learning about God.

The concept of “self” and identity is complex and not easy to pin down. Each of us has an inner “self,” which is how we see ourselves. Our true self is the person that God has called us to be. But we are fallen creatures, so our “self” includes broken parts that lead us away from God. That’s why the process of sanctification and inner transformation is necessary to bring our concept of self into alignment with our true self.

When Scripture calls us to “deny ourselves,” or to “put to death” or “take off” our old self, it is referring to the sinful, rebellious, parts of us that are opposed to God. Those things need to change to make way for the “new self” that God has created in us (Col. 3:5-10; Eph. 4:17-24). You can read more about this process in my post on Freedom from Disordered Affections.

Jesus didn’t say “be true to yourself.” He said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk. 9:23, ESV).

“Live Your Truth”

In our increasingly post-modern age, it has become common to consider truth to be a social construct. In this environment, we are led to believe that we each have our own “truth.” So “live your truth” is similar to “follow your heart” and “be true to yourself.” All these slogans are extremely self-centered.

But we can’t each construct our own personal truth, and Jesus certainly never said anything like “live your truth.” Instead, Jesus calls us to conform our lives to God’s truth, which is the only absolute truth. God’s truth has been revealed in his written word, the Bible, and in his son Jesus (Heb. 1:1-4; Jn. 17:17).

Jesus didn’t say “live your truth.” He said “I am the truth” (Jn. 14:6).

“As Long as you are Happy”

Another common slogan is that everything is okay “as long as you are happy.” What makes you happy? Most people look to success, prosperity, family, and pleasure as the keys to a good life. Of course, these are all good things, but they are a poor substitute for the best thing. Even if we are “happy” but miss out on a relationship with God, we lose.

Jesus said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mk 8:36, ESV)

There is a joy and satisfaction that can only come from a right relationship with God. The first question in the Westminster Catechism emphasizes this point.

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”

We were created to glorify God and experience joy in his presence. Any lesser happiness is not enough.

Jesus didn’t say “As long as you are happy.” He said “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (Jn. 15:11, ESV).

What did Jesus Really Say?

Through constant repetition, the common slogans in our culture seep into our thinking and influence our outlook on life. They often show up at church, usually dressed up in religious language. But many of these ideas are fundamentally at odds with the teaching of Jesus. It is essential that we as Christians become intimately familiar with what Jesus really said. (Hint: You can find out by reading the Bible!)

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