Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Clean up your language!

With the ushering in of a new year, we often shed some of the old and look forward to something new. We want to change our eating habits, replacing bad foods with ones that will do us more good than harm. We may try to kick bad organizational habits in order to get scheduled and tidy. But what about our vocabulary? Are there terms and words that are just played out? Do we need to break out the thesaurus and resolve to abolish some of the tired, worn out phrases that dominated 2008?

This is the 34th year for the annual Words to Be Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness. So what’s on the chopping block?

Green – Have you gone green yet? Or are you turning green from the overuse of the term of environmental endearment and all its variants such as “green technology” and “green solutions?” As one person said, “I'm all for being environmentally responsible, but this 'green' needs to be nipped in the bud.”

Carbon footprint – I have never been 100% sure what this term means, other than it is a measurable (or at least ‘they’ think it is) means of determining one’s impact on the environment. As for me, I think I left my carbon footprints in my socks.

Maverick – As PeeWee Herman would say, “You don’t wanna get mixed up with a man like me. I’m a loner, a rebel.”

Bailout – Months after the ‘bailout’ of some of the nation’s largest corporations, no one is yet sure what it really means. It’s actually a term for what your cousin needs when he calls you from jail at 2am.

Wall Street/Main Street – A term that was clever for about five minutes, quickly became a worn-out cliché in true, American fashion. It was intended to pit those in middle class economies against the big corporations. But I don’t seem to live on either. I think I live on Cow Pasture Lane.

What doesn’t make the list, however, are terms thrown about in Evangelicalism that should go. Many are not Biblical and flat out misleading, while others need to be exercised with more caution.

Accept/Ask Jesus Into Your Heart – Of all the Evangelical lingo, this is the one most used in evangelism and is probably heard every Sunday in 99% of churches across America. The phrase cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, which is not in and of itself bad, but the concept behind the words is missing as well. The phrase started with a quotation of Christ from the book of Revelation where He says, “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” In context, however, Christ was speaking to a church that sickened Him. MacArthur says of this passage that “rather than allowing for the common interpretation of Christ’s knocking on a person’s heart, the context demands that Christ was seeking to enter this church that bore His name but lacked a single true believer. This poignant letter was His knocking.” As Ray Comfort says, pleading with people to accept Christ portrays Him as the poor beggar, hat in hand, standing outside, pitifully asking to just come in. Is Christ there when a sinner repents? Yes! He is longsuffering! But He is not standing by, simply waiting and watching for what you will do, a victim of our choices. He calls us to repent today! Salvation begins and ends with God. It is not dependent upon our asking. This phrase caused a dilemma in my mind during all my years as a false convert. I felt as if something were majorly wrong. My life did not seem to coincide with what I saw as true Christianity. But I placated myself by saying, “But I did what I was supposed to do! I asked Jesus into my heart, and now He is obligated to save me.” I had reduced salvation down to a magical incantation.

Personal Relationship With Jesus - Once again, a decent concept, but very short of true Christianity. The amazing part of being a Christian is that God, through Christ, IS personal to us. We are to live our lives in communion with Him in ways we never imagined before, and Christians do have a personal relationship with Him. But for many, this cliché falls into the realm of modern language, and the ramifications of a “personal relationship” are lost. God is not the neighbor in the sky that we just need to get to know better. Getting to know who God is can affect salvation, but unless He changes us, we do not relate to Him at all. If we just examine the word “relate,” we may get a better understanding. As a sinner, how do you relate to God? According to Him, you don’t! You are dead in your sins, and spiritual understanding will elude you. How does God relate to you? His wrath abides on you! And to make things worse, you are storing up wrath for your final judgment. So right off the bat, the relationship is broken. It is only through Christ that God’s anger and wrath toward you can be assuaged, and you can be brought into a right standing before God. We think of relationship as how we are toward another person when it comes to interaction and thought. In human relationships, we can improve on things, even turning bad relationships into good ones by consideration, thoughtfulness, and action. But it cannot be so with God! As sinners, we cannot “work” on a better relationship with God. Christ rightly relates us to the Father. It is not of ourselves. This term and the one before normally get strung together to form the double whammy “you can have a personal relationship with Jesus by asking Him into your heart.”

Believe – This is a biggie. The word is certainly Biblical, and I am not suggesting the cessation of its use. But we must be careful in how we use and explain the word and watch cautiously as to how our audience perceives its meaning. In this word, we find the crux of salvation. Misused, it can lead many down a path of false conversion. What mostly occurs from using the word ‘believe’ is the Santa Claus complex. The thought is that if we just believe the facts about God and Christ that we will be saved. Just look up the ‘plan of salvation’ on most church websites and see what you get. Here is a sample line from a popular tract producer: 'Believe that Jesus Christ died for you, was buried, and rose from the dead.' In salvation, one must certainly cross the hurdle of intellectual belief. If you do not believe that Jesus is the one, true way to the Father, then intellectually, you are disqualified from salvation. But just believing that Jesus died for me will not cut it. If you notice, the King James will often translate it as “believeth on” (John 3:36, John 12:44, 1John 5:10). Doesn’t it mean something different in our modern language than “believe in?” To believe on someone is to trust them. To believe on Jesus is not to simply believe that He is the Son of God and that He died for you, but to take His words and what He has revealed to us upon faith and trust Him! But let’s look at the term “believe in.” If a man rescuing a lost and injured hiker in the woods had to hook himself and the injured man to a cable attached to a helicopter and fly them both to safety, and the man says to the rescuer, “I believe in you,” does that mean he simply believes the facts about the rescuer? No! He believes he came to save him, he believes he can save him, and when he says, “I believe in you,” he is fully placing his trust in the rescuer that he will save him. But let me back up and play out the scenario that to believe means only to believe the facts about Christ and God. The facts are these: Christ, fully God, fully man, suffered eternal punishment upon Himself for your sin. He died, but overcame death and hell by rising again. He stands in your stead, satisfying the judgment that calls out for your blood because of your sin. If you truly believe those facts, then how can that not move your heart to repent, fall at His feet, and live a life utterly given to Him? It is like the parable told of the man who found the pearl of great price and sold all he had to get it. Christ is the pearl, and we are to forsake all to gain Him. It doesn’t say that a man found a pearl of great price, and really believed that it was a valuable pearl. No, the information he believed moved him to radical action. But it takes much more than the intellectual belief. The Holy Spirit takes the word spoken to us about Christ and makes it a living word that changes not only our intellect, but our heart and our will.

In the end, the above evangelical terms can really only be understood rightly by one whom God has converted. To the unsaved man, the terms mean only what the definitions hold at face value. Only God can make the meanings behind them real to a man or woman, but as Christians, we should be careful in how we present them to sinners.

There are many more terms and words we could discuss, but I will leave it to you. What else would you like to see changed in evangelical lingo?


1 comment:

  1. I continually wonder why it is that precision in language is required for engineering, law, medicine, carpentry, pipefitting, you name it, but in the greates questions of life, imprecise and unbiblical language abounds.

    The Bible has so many quite good definitive and synonymous terms to command (Acts 17:30-31) men to believe, yet they are seldom used. What is wrong with "confess," "repent," or "believe?" The answer is, that nothing is wrong with the Biblical language; let me submit that the problem is that no machinations of human intellect, human persuasion, human guilt-mongering can cause a man to truly confess, repent, or believe. Terms that are the inventions of man are of a different sort. A human preacher can convince a lost man to follow a specious instruction that has no definite Biblical meaning--"repeat this prayer to invite Christ into your heart," for example, and many have listened to this siren call to a human salvation that does not save.