Language and word choice is a big deal. And as Christians, we have some church sayings that need to go into the dumpster
Growing up in the church, I wasn’t aware that Christians had their own “special” language. Even worse, I thought everyone else spoke it too. When I entered the public school system in the early 80s, my language associations, and thus a large part of my worldview, revolved around Spirit-filled Christian-ese. This meant I quickly became “the weird kid” (and this wasn’t helped by the fact that mom made me carry a briefcase to school and dressed me like a young calculus professor… sans pocket-protector. Oh the memories).
As I have advanced in age, I have come to the conclusion that while this language differential wasn’t the sole mitigating factor in my departing of the Christian faith in my younger years…it sure as heck didn’t help.
It was the 80s. Ever see a John Hughes flick? Being the weird kid wasn’t cool then.
In coming back into the fold over the last few years, it seems that I have again picked up the church sayings and Christian cliches. You just can’t help it. Get enough language flung at you, eventually some of it sticks like monkey poo in a zoo. Yet in stepping away from the faith, and being found again, I am now much more cognizant of the effect that Christian-ese has on my, and others, worldview and faith.
The effect of language upon a person’s perspective is quite amazing. And ladies and gents, there are a heckuva lot of things we say in our Christian lingo that are off-base and ultimately twist up our worldviews pretty badly.
From a Biblical perspective, some of these church sayings do not even make any sense. But that doesn’t stop us from saying them day to day and week to week. Over and over. And over and over. And over and over again. Even worse, when we spit them out we usually pat ourselves on the back because we think they make us look like we know what we are talking about or we have just landed a good zinger. But in truth, these sayings just don’t cut the mustard.
In fact, these sayings cut the cheese and need to be retired.
Some of these sayings are good in theory and are rooted in fantastic Biblical verses (albeit taken out of context). Some are just plain wrong. Some are lies. And in truth, I can’t help but feel that much of our Christian-ese is pretty far away from what the good Lord intended.
Maybe I’m right. Maybe I’m wrong. Either way, give them a read, and tell me what you think.
5 Church sayings that need to be retired (or at least used correctly)
1. “He who is forgiven much is loved much”
Well, gee. I don’t believe in wading slowly into the pool, do I? This particular saying is downright canon for some folks. You can hear it at any church on just about any given Sunday. I imagine the fire crackling on people’s fingers all over internet-land as they begin to plan a fiery retort for me wanting to retire something that Jesus Himself presumably <ahem> said. But before you begin to train your gun-sights on me, I ask that you calmly read on and then make a judgment on whether or not you are going to pull the trigger.
This saying is often used by Christians to describe other, usually newer, Christians who led horrendously dismal lives before being found by the Lord. And once this special breed are saved, these particular newbies get filled with Holy fire and just explode onto the Christian scene. It seems like all of a sudden they just hit the magical Holy Spirit accelerator button and become some kind of super-Christian. They publish books, become leaders, become public speakers, lead conferences. And all the while, Christian folks who’ve been in the faith much longer are looking at the newcomers, their fruit and their acceleration and explain, “well the reason this is happening for them this fast and nothing is going on for me is because they have done so many things wrong and have now turned to Christ. So the Lord is rewarding them. You know brother/sister, He who is forgiven much is loved much.”
And I get it. I even bought into it for awhile.
The problem with this saying is not that it is untrue. Because it is true. Someone who is forgiven much is indeed loved much. The problem with this saying is that it is erroneously used to imply that God utilizes some type of sin grading system and dishes out rewards or punishments based upon it.
And that is just plain old un-Biblical.
There is no such thing as a sin grading system.
All sin is equal in the eyes of the Lord in regard to both eternal consequences and salvation (Romans 6:23). And before truly coming to Christ, we are all equally guilty of violating all of the Law. James had a little to say about this very thing. He said “Indeed, if you keep the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. But if you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails at one point, is guilty of breaking it all. For He who said Do not commit adultery, also said, Do not murder. So if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you are a lawbreaker.”
So it doesn’t matter if you have only told a single white lie in your entire life and have been perfect otherwise. In breaking that one commandment, you are just as guilty as the worst sinner in the history of mankind. That’s kind of, um, sobering. In God’s eyes, before Jesus took away my sins, my sins made me just as guilty as Hitler or Pol Pot.
Freak out if you like, but its true.
Sin flat out sucks.
Good thing Jesus loves all of us equally. When we are in Christ, we have ALL been forgiven to the same degree. There is no extra-bonus incentive program for leading a crappy life and then turning to God. There is no special after-burner button. No special degree awarded for being super-duper down at the bottom of a pit, lost and now radiantly found.
The saying is actually a misinterpretation, and a shallow view, of a lesson Jesus was teaching to Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50). After accepting an invitation to dine at Simon’s house, a sinful woman (whom many scholars presume was the town prostitute) came to Jesus and poured fragrant oil upon Him, washing His feet with her tears. The Pharisee reprimands Jesus, telling Him that if He were truly a prophet, then He would know she was a sinner and that she should not touch Him.
Undaunted (because He is cool like that), Jesus asks Simon the Pharisee if a creditor had two debtors, one owing 500 and the other owing 50, each unable to pay, who would love the creditor more if those debts were forgiven? The Pharisee responds the one owing the greater amount. Jesus says that he is correct, and then proceeds to reprimand Simon for his own lack of hospitality (a sin) for Jesus as a guest by saying:
44 …“Have you noticed this woman? When I came into your home, you didn’t give me any water so I could wash my feet. But she has washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You didn’t even pour olive oil on my head,[b]but she has poured expensive perfume on my feet. 47 So I tell you that all her sins are forgiven, and that is why she has shown great love. But anyone who has been forgiven for only a little will show only a little love.”
See the difference in that and the saying that is often bantered around on Sunday morning?
The saying we should be using is He who is forgiven much, loves much.
But let’s jump into the deeper end of the pool!
Here is the catch and the kicker that the Pharisee (and many believers) did not understand because of a self-righteous attitude and because he did not understand who Jesus really was. Go back and look at James 2:10 again. Break one commandment, you are responsible for them all. Therefore all of us should be showing great love because all of us, before Jesus, had a debt that was impossible to repay. It doesn’t matter if we owe 50 or 500. In breaking one commandment we are each responsible for breaking all 613 commandments of the Law. But because of Jesus, that debt has been wiped clean. We are all forgiven exactly the same. So therefore we are all loved equally.
I don’t know about you, but that kinda blows my mind.
When a new Christian comes to Christ, we too often try to explain away their passion for the Lord and the heights that passion may take them. We say things like He who is forgiven much is loved much to try to explain away our own laziness, lukewarm attitudes or lack of passion. And that just plain old sucks.
So let’s do away with that saying, shall we? We are all forgiven equally. We are all loved equally. So all of us should be loving like crazy!
The knowledge of that may just change your life.
2 & 3. “I’ll pray for you,” or even worse, “I’ll pray about it and let you know”
Ruh, roh Shaggy. Here I’ve gone and pissed off even more people.
But, but, but Ken…aren’t we supposed to ask for prayer in church?
Absolutely. James 5 is quite clear about the subject. Prayer is not the problem. The issue is that whereas many folks have no problem uttering these two church sayings, most people don’t actually do them.
Yeah. I said it.
Let’s tackle I’ll pray for you first. Really what most people mean when they say they will pray for you is that they will think about you a little bit (10 seconds max), but that’s about it. And forget the follow-up to see if the prayer has been answered … because they never really prayed in the first place. I mean, people have lives. They get busy. We have ourselves to worry about after all (note- if your sarcasm meter isn’t buzzing…it should be). Most people, in saying I’ll pray for you, don’t really mean that they are going to spend a few minutes standing before the Lord on the great sea of glass petitioning the Almighty. Granted, I do know some people with an intercessory heart that indeed do these things, but they are few and far between in today’s church culture. And this has to change.
Prayer changes things. Prayer is amazing. The disciples didn’t ask Jesus how to preach or heal the sick or cast out demons. They asked Him how to pray.
Dude, prayer is a weapon.
When you say you are going to pray for someone, let it be a big freaking deal in your life. Take some time to converse with God about that person. Because when you tell someone you are going to pray for them, it is a big deal!
Even better, instead of saying I’ll pray for you, how about changing it to, let’s pray about it right now…and actually pray for the person in the presence of that person! And how about praying out loud? Whoa. Talk about something that will shift mindsets and alter lives. Trust me, that will mean so much more to them than just throwing out some cliché and then going about your merry way. Take some time with the person. Get uncomfortable with that person. And just pray it out!
By the way, why do so many Christians freak out when they are asked to pray out loud? I guess that’s a blog entry deserving for another time.
And don’t forget about number 3 on this list- I will pray about it and let you know.
Let’s just cut through the crap.
When someone utters this saying it usually means they are uncomfortable telling you NO to your face, so instead opt for this familiar cliché. Some people are so afraid of letting people down, committing to, or offending others, they instead try to make it look like God is to blame for their inaction.
He doesn’t like that.
The next time you are tempted to say I will pray about it and let you know, I dare you to actually do it.
I admit, in the past I have been guilty of using this cliché.
I even did it recently, but this time, I actually did spend some time in prayer about what I was asked to do…just to see what would happen, of course. Wink, wink.
I was asked to volunteer to lead a church youth group while someone was on mission. And I said the dreaded words, I will pray about it and let you know.
Now, let me preface this by saying that I look at teaching children as a very big deal, since I refuse to view church youth groups as daycare or pizza party sessions. If Philip Mantofa can lead a church of 30,000 people mostly under the age of 30, with small groups being led by 8 year olds…if I can visit a missions base in Kansas City where I witnessed 5 year olds praying for 4 year olds who were then getting laid out in the Holy Spirit…if Jesus said that unless I change and become like a child I will never enter the kingdom of Heaven (Matt 18:3)…to me, teaching kids is the biggest of deals. I daresay, possibly even more important than the big kids sermon.
So I actually did need to pray about it! It’s a weighty responsibility. I would hate to teach incorrectly and end up with a millstone around my neck. So I did pray. But when I finally felt I was ready, someone else had taken the place that I was asked to fill.
So I figured the answer was no. The subject was never brought back up and I let it go.
And then three weeks later the elementary kids youth pastor got a nasty case of the flu bug.
Guess who got the call to fill in after someone else had been praying and my face mysteriously came to mind?
The Lord had given me a pretty clear answer. Now I wasn’t going to be teaching the pre-K’s. I was teaching the kids who weren’t afraid to challenge you. And man, it was so. Much. Fun.
See, if you actually do pray about the things you say you are going to, He just might give you clear answers too.
But until then, stop blaming Him for your indecision.
I don’t think I have gone a week of my Christian life without hearing someone say this.
And folks, the madness has to stop.
It’s not that the saying isn’t true. Its only partly true.
We all sin. But because I am in Christ, my failures no longer define me. Jesus defines me. Jesus’ sacrifice covered my sin debt. This does not give me the right to sin (Paul has a lengthy discourse on this in Romans 6), but Christ’s sacrifice allows me to not focus on my sinful nature and instead focus on my Father-given identity, that of a son.
If I recall, in regards to the whole sin thing, Jesus said “It is finished.”
So is it finished or isn’t it?
But, but, but, but what about…
I know what you are going for. 1st Timothy 1:15. Paul tells Timothy that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I am the worst of them.”
So if Paul is the worst of sinners, where in the world would that rank us?
Well, its all about context. And Paul was indeed a horrible sinner. He hunted down and murdered Christians before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus. But even as a terrible sinner, he was shown grace in order to show God’s patience and love to the rest of the world (1st Tim 1:16). What makes Paul so amazing is that he was willing to demonstrate his imperfections as an ambassador for Christ. Paul is on record as discussing his own battles with sin (Romans 7), but his sin did not define who he was. In fact, whenever I hear someone say “I’m just a sinner saved by grace,” I follow up with He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Folks, this is all about identity.
You are more than a sinner saved by grace. You are the righteousness of God in Christ.
Isn’t it time to start acting like it?
Its all about what you focus on. Which mentality do you want to operate from? Do you focus on your sin, or do you focus on God? Because here is a little factoid for you. Sin and God cannot share the same space. In fact, sin is separated from God as far as the East is from the West. They exist at alternate points of the universe. If you focus on your sin, can you focus on God? If you focus on God, can you focus on your sin? You can only look in one direction at one time. This is what Paul means when he says to keep your eyes on the things above, not of the earth (Col 3:2).
If you look in the mirror and see a constant sinner, what are you constantly going to do? If you look in the mirror and see yourself as a constant son or daughter, what are you going to be?
I’m a son. I’m not a sinner. I may occasionally sin, and when I am made aware, I repent. I renew my mind. My body is flesh, sold into bondage to sin. But this does not define me. For I am forgiven. My spirit is greater than my flesh. I am a son. And although I fail daily, my Father is always there to help me back up so that I may rise to the occasion.
My Father is there to pick me up. Not shove me down. Good Fathers don’t do that.
People, we have GOT to get our perspectives right.
I am an ambassador for Christ, as are you.
Jesus nor Paul taught “lowly worm theology.” So why do we in the church desperately try to hold onto it? The fact is that none of us deserve Heaven through the actions of our lives. But Jesus thought we were worth it. He looked at me at my very worst and said, “Yup, I want that guy.” If the value of something is established by the price that is paid for it, Heaven paid the ultimate price for you. You’re more than just a sinner. Jesus died, and most importantly rose again, so that you could be the righteousness of God in Christ.
Let that sink in. And the next time you think you are just a sinner saved by grace, remember that Jesus prayed to the Father and gave us the same glory that He was given.
Its time to start living like it.
So let’s retire that saying, shall we? I think we can all do without the false-humility.
And finally without further ado, I give you number 5…which is one of the biggest untruths out there today…
5. God won’t give you more than you can handle
This is another one of those sayings that I heard a ton when I was a kid.
Then I actually read my Bible instead of depending on others to feed it to me.
You know what I found out?
There are a whole lot of people in the Bible who were given way more in life than they could handle. Here are a few: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Job, Gideon, Samson, Saul, David, Solomon, Daniel, Peter, John, Paul…and I left out another few hundred. They are all there in the Bible. Look ‘em up. I’ll wait.
(A few weeks pass of you reading through your Bible)
Hello! Welcome back. Nice to see you again. How was your time away?
Enlightening, you say?
I thought so.
Truth is, this world is going to throw plenty at you that you cannot overcome on your own: hurt, pain, unfairness, betrayal, anxiety, stress, frustration…and death. And you know what, God isn’t the thief who comes in the night to steal, kill and destroy. Last time I checked, that’s the other guy. And he is the one who controls the terrible things of things of this world. You know, that whole thing that happened because of the Garden of Eden and all.
YOU were never designed to handle everything on your own, and life will absolutely throw more at you than you can handle.
At its root, this Christian-ese cliché is rooted in the sin of selfishness and implies that God designed it that YOU and YOU ALONE are the one who can handle everything in your life. And folks, that is just not true. You may be able to get around some things, but in the end, death is going to win out. Last time I checked, tens of billions of people have lived on the Earth, and only a few have never tasted death. Statistically, you’re on the losing end.
The saying God will never give you more than you can handle is an absolute betrayal and spit in the eye of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the whole reason Jesus stepped down from His throne in Heaven to come to Earth to live like a man, suffer as a man, and rise as a Risen King. He did these things so that your Foundation could be rooted in something greater than yourself, that you could have something, some One and some Power greater than your own to yoke up to. And He is also the only One who defeated death, thus enabling you to do so.
So let’s get it right. Let’s just totally remove this horrible cliché from our language. Because in saying it, your are implying that God is cruel, Jesus is not the solution and it’s all about you.
Last time I checked, it is all about Him. Keep that as your focus, and trust me, you will see your worldview begin to turn. After all, I think the actual saying should be, I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.
Language is powerful, my friends. Use it well.