Have you ever considered the difference a few prudent uses of the word “no” could have made in the course of mankind’s history? The word “no” used properly can open as many doors as it closes, for “no” is not necessarily a negative word, although it is always powerful.

We see the word “no” many times during the course of an average day. “No” can even save your life. A roadway sign at an intersection is a “no” sign—“No” proceeding without first stopping and making sure it is safe. Many two-lane rural roads have no-passing zones; these are signs that prevent accidents. They are a “no” that saves lives. Some beaches have “no swimming” signs. Why is this? Because there are undercurrents in those areas, currents unseen, but deadly. You can see how the word “no” can be life-saving. The Bible has many examples where the word “no”, or rather the lack of the word “no”, literally changed the course of history.

We are all familiar with the temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden. What would life have been like if Eve had said “no” to the serpent? What if Adam had said “no” to Eve?

We know that Jacob (Israel) had twelve sons, and of these twelve sons Reuben was the first born, but despite this he did not receive the greatest blessing as was the custom. Reuben disqualified himself by his sin with Bilhah who was one of Jacob’s concubines (Gen: 35:22 and Gen. 49:3-4). Would the entire history of Reuben’s family be different if he had said “no” to temptation?

In the book of I Samuel we read of Eli the priest. Eli had two corrupt sons, Hophni and Phinehas, and you can read of their corruption in I Samuel 2: 12-17. Beginning in verse 22 we learn Eli was aware of his son’s sins, and he spoke to them about their behavior. Put in today’s vernacular, Eli said, “You boys shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing.” Eli merely expressed disapproval and cautioned them, he did not stop them. He didn’t really say “no”. Eli was the priest, he was their father, and could have put an end to what was happening. He did not do so, however, and God held Eli responsible for failing to stop something that was within his authority to stop. In God’s eyes Eli was honoring Hophni and Phinehas more than he was honoring God. All of this could have been different if Eli had said “no” to his son’s behavior. Undoubtedly Eli cared deeply for his sons. Perhaps he just couldn’t bring himself to take the stand he knew he should. Whatever the reason, God held him responsible, and there were horrible consequences as a result of Eli’s ambivalent approach. What a difference an unequivocal “no” would have meant to Eli and his family.

What about you and your family? Is your family affected by your hesitance to use “no”? As parents there are times that we must say “no” to our children or spouses. That “no” should spring from your knowledge and understanding, not from your emotion, fatigue, or impatience. When the principles contained in God’s word make it clear the answer should be “no”, then say “no” and do not deviate. There may be more hanging in the balance than you could ever imagine. It’s doubtful that Adam, Rueben, or Eli had any inkling of the long term repercussions of their decisions. Often, that is how life unfolds. We acquiesce on some seemingly inconsequential issue and then months or years later we realize the needless suffering that resulted from our failure to stay the course. Often we use yes in order to have peace; only to find out later the peace was short lived, followed by long-term suffering.

The individual we most need to practice using the word “no” with is ourselves. Of all the people our human nature hates to say “no” to, we head the list! Unfortunately human nature tends to be very indulgent of itself. In Jeremiah 17:9, God tells us “the heart is deceitful above all things.”

Quite often, the person one deceives the most is one’s own self. A person will reason, rationalize, spiritualize, and intellectualize himself into problem after problem. He will justify himself into possession of whatever he desires. Then when the fruit of his own doing comes back upon his head, he declares he is under attack from Satan. Make no mistake, Satan is real and he does strike at God’s people at every opportune moment, but all too often, when we find ourselves in serious problems, they are of our own making. We allow ourselves to be enticed by our desires and then fail to say “no” to ourselves. Consider James 1:13-15; Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God” for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

If you have been in God’s church for several years or more, you possess a reasonable understanding of God’s law. You know right from wrong. But seldom is a lack of knowledge concerning God’s law the problem. The problem is often lack of application of that law to our lives. Our desires entice us, and we fail to say “no”. Do not allow your desires or your fears to convince you that “no” is not necessary. If “no” is needed, then use it and stick to it.

Remember the account of Nebuchadnezzar’s huge golden image (Daniel 3)? After having it erected, Nebuchadnezzar commanded that everyone should bow down and worship it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego refused to comply, even in the face of Nebuchadnezzar’s rage and fury. They knew the consequences of their refusal. There are times when we must say “no” to man in order to say “yes” to God. If there is a conflict, “we ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). It is worth noting that God respected the three men’s obedience to Him, and preserved their lives.

There is a technique that can help; us in this struggle to say “no”; Work to change some of your desires. Remember James 1:14 where it is written, “a person is drawn away by his own desires.” We must each affect a transformation of the way we think and what we desire. We each spent any number of years in this world before God began to work with us. During this time, we went along with the world to one degree or another. We thought as the world thought; we behaved as the world behaved; and the inordinate evil desires of the world became our inordinate evil desires.

Also, refer to I Peter 4:1-3: “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in licentiousness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.”

Those evil desires will change if you will set your mind on those things that are above and not the things on this earth (see Col.3:1-2). This can be done, not by might or power, but by the Spirit of God working in you, if you will yield to it. If you are yielding to God’s Spirit, you will correspondently be saying “no” to the desires that once ruled your life. In Philippians 2:5 we read, “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” As we allow that mind to be in us, many incorrect desires will, in a slow but sure process, begin to change. We will desire, above all else, to please God by obeying Him. An important aspect of pleasing God is to say “no” to desires that do not please Him.

Enjoy the freedom that “no” can bring, and realize that in exercising that freedom you are saying “yes” to God’s way of life, and ultimately to your place in His Kingdom.