Sanctification

Watch Your Language! 10 Christian Terms that Need to be Cleaned Up

What would you think of a surgeon who forgot to take his scalpel to work one day and decided his pocketknife would be an adequate substitute? Or a chef who ran out of vanilla and figured peppermint extract would work just fine in its place? At the very least, you’d probably think he was being a little sloppy and careless – not putting enough thought into his work. At worst, he could injure, sicken, or kill somebody.

When it comes to our Christian vernacular, we need to make sure we’re using the right word for the right task. “Well, she knows what I meant,” doesn’t cut it these days, as anyone on social media can attest. Sometimes, even as perfectly doctrinally sound Christians, we get a little sloppy with our phraseology, which can, at best, confuse people, and, at worst, defame God. We need to proactively think about the meanings of the words we use and be careful to say what we mean and mean what we say.

Let’s watch our language on these ten terms and phrases and determine to use more precise, God-exalting vocabulary instead:

1. Let or allow God to…
When the doctrinally sound Christians I know say they need to “let” or “allow” God to do something in their lives, they don’t mean: “I’m in charge here, and I call the shots. God can only do what I, as the boss, deign to permit Him to do.” What they mean is, “I need to stop doing things that are displeasing to God and obey His Word because He wants to grow me to greater Christlikeness.” Unfortunately, one of the tenets of Word of Faith and New Apostolic Reformation false doctrine is that Christians are the ones in authority and that God can only do what we allow Him to do. That’s blasphemy, and not something we even want to hint at with careless wording. We need to make sure our words communicate that God is in charge and we are His humble servants.

More God-exalting: “I need to submit to God’s will.” “I need to make sure I’m not standing in opposition to God’s work in my life.”

2. Accept Jesus or make Jesus Savior/Lord of your life
Again, “accept” and “make” put us in the driver’s seat and leave Jesus a puppet who moves at our whim. Jesus is King. We do not accept Him, He graciously accepts us. We do not “make” Him Savior or Lord. He already is Savior and Lord. We throw ourselves upon His mercy to save us and bow the knee to His Lordship.

More God-exalting:Ask God to save you.” “Believe the gospel.”

3. God said or told me; listen to God
Possibly the most prolific false teaching today is that God regularly speaks to individuals verbally, through dreams and visions, or through signs, outside of Scripture, about the mundane issues of life, despite the fact that God Himself tells us He doesn’t speak this way and that His written Word is sufficient for our every need. God speaks to us, and we hear Him, through His written Word, the Bible. When we talk about God speaking to us, we need to make sure we’re driving that idea home, not subtly reinforcing the false idea that God is speaking to us outside of Scripture.

More God-exalting: God tells us in Colossians 3:12…” “The Bible says in Proverbs 13:24…”

4. God showed up
No, He didn’t. God has never – in the history of all eternity, nor in eternity yet to come – “shown up.” When we say somebody “showed up,” the common understanding is that someone arrived on the scene who was not previously present. That has never been, and can never be, true of an eternal, omnipresent God. God has always been present everywhere. Sometimes what’s actually happening when people say “God showed up” at church is that they had an emotional response to the music, or experienced a temporary worldy sorrow over their sin. But when God really does seem to “show up,” what’s usually the case is that we “showed up” by prayerfully preparing our hearts for worship, by responding in repentance to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, by taking joy in praising and thanking God, or that God answered prayer or allowed us to see His hand at work in a situation.

More God-exalting: “It was a wonderful time of worship this morning!” “Thank you, God, for letting us see how You’re working!”

5. Tithes and offerings, or offerings over and above the tithe
Tithing, like making animal sacrifices or celebrating Israel’s various feasts and festivals, is an Old Testament law which Jesus fulfilled and is no longer binding on Christians. God’s instruction to Christians about giving is found in 2 Corinthians 9:7. When we try to impose Old Testament law upon New Testament Christians, we are violating God’s clear command that Christians are not to give under compulsion. On the other side of the coin (pun intended) merely plunking ten per cent of your earnings into the offering plate voluntarily and thinking you’re good to go with God isn’t right either. We are to follow Christ’s example of generosity and self-sacrifice as we minister to the church and others, giving up, if necessary, even our very lives.

More God-exalting: Offerings, gifts, generous giving, sacrificial giving

6. I have a peace about this
Often, this phrase reveals more than simple sloppy wording, it demonstrates that someone is relying more on her feelings, opinions, and experiences than on God’s Word to determine right from wrong. If there’s a Bible verse that tells us that a feeling of “peace” is what unequivocally confirms that we’re obeying God, I haven’t run across it. I’ve heard women say they have “a peace” about leaving their husbands for sinful reasons, or that they have “a peace” about opting out of church when God clearly commands the opposite. The fact of the matter is that our feelings are deceptive. We can have peaceful feelings about things that are ungodly, and anxious feelings even when carrying out the clear commands of Scripture. Scripture is our measuring stick for right and wrong, godly and ungodly, not our feelings.

More God-exalting: “I’m going to obey God’s Word and trust Him.”

7. What do you feel God would have you do?
Christians are not supposed to live our lives guided by our feelings. We are to live lives governed by the authority of God’s written Word. And it’s important that our vocabulary reflect that by being precise when we’re talking about making decisions. Our feelings are fleeting, fickle, and often false. What’s important – and what we’re to base all of our thoughts, words, and actions upon – is, “What does Scripture say about this?”

More God-exalting: What does the Bible say you should do?” “Let’s pray and ask God for wisdom to rightly apply Scripture to this situation.”

8. What is God’s will for my life?
Frequently, when Christians ask this question, it’s in the context of making a life-altering decision about which college to attend or career to choose, whom to marry, and if, when, and how many children to have. But that’s not what “God’s will” means as outlined by Scripture. God’s will is for Christians to get up every day and walk in obedience to His Word. That’s it. That’s God’s will for your life. When it comes to making decisions, we rightly apply Scripture to the situation, pray that God will give us wisdom and direction, and make the most godly decision we can, trusting that the God who’s completely aware that we’re frail and by no means omniscient, will direct our paths.

More God-exalting: “How can I walk in obedience to God today?” “God, please give me wisdom and direct my path in this situation.”

9. God can’t ____ unless we ____.
I beg your pardon, but God can do whatever He wants to do (that’s in keeping with His nature and character), and He’s not sitting around wringing His hands, hoping we’ll do the right thing so He can act. That’s a theology that makes man omnipotent and God impotent. Psalm 135:5-6 says it best: “For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all the deeps.”

More God-exalting:The Bible says in 1 John 1:9, if we ____, God will ___.”

10. The Mormon church, the Roman Catholic church, a New Apostolic Reformation church, etc.
It’s easy to fall into the habit of calling these religious organizations “churches” because that’s what they call themselves. But any gathering that doesn’t preach the biblical gospel is not a church, regardless of what the sign out front says. Human beings do not get to define what the church is. Only God gets to do that. And He has defined the church as Christ’s body, whom He died for and saved, of whom He is Head, and who submits to Him. Organizations which stand in opposition to clear Scripture or preach another gospel are not churches (Galatians 1:6-9 says they are “accursed” or “damned”), and verbal opposition to this misnomer would go a long way in helping to clarify that Mormons are not Christians, that Roman Catholic soteriology is not biblical, that Lakewood teaches false doctrine, and so on.

More God-exalting: Mormons, Catholicism, apostate church, organization, religion

What are some other “Christianese” words and phrases that need some cleaning up, and what are some other more precise and God-exalting terms we could use instead?

30 thoughts on “Watch Your Language! 10 Christian Terms that Need to be Cleaned Up”

  1. Reblogged this on Unified in Truth and commented:
    This is a great article from michellelesleybooks.com about the importance of picking our words carefully. When we throw around unbiblical terminology (usually unintentionally), we can confuse people and defame our Great God. This is a good one for all of us to read over and consider.

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  2. Pingback: Friday’s Finds
  3. I nearly teared up reading that much good stuff in one sitting.ha. Wonderful!! Thanks so much Michelle. So sad how much of this would be news to most in the “church” today.

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  4. “Possibly the most prolific false teaching today is that God regularly speaks to individuals verbally, through dreams and visions, or through signs, outside of Scripture, about the mundane issues of life, despite the fact that God Himself tells us He doesn’t speak this way and that His written Word is sufficient for our every need.”

    Where precisely does God say that he doesn’t speak that way? I can’t think of it.

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  5. Another phrase that I struggle with is “God can use XYZ event to save people”…..it could be a church car wash, free-food, etc.. My thought is, if His Word is not preached, then how can we make such a statement.

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    1. Yes, that’s one that makes me crazy, too. My husband and I talked about that one a while back, and I’ve noticed that when he prays in public now, he makes a point of saying, “We know that You’re with us,” or “Thank You for being with us,” :0)

      I’m sure, like with all these other terms, it’s just something people say without thinking. They probably mean they want to feel the comfort, strength, and peace of God’s presence.

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  6. Good post. I have often wondered why people would say “God showed up”, because usually when God “shows up” in the Bible, it’s not a good thing! The only thing I’m not in agreement with is the phrase “accept Jesus”. This would be because of verses such as John 1:12 “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God” and Col. 2:6 “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him”. There are other verses in the gospels with similar terminology. Accepting and receiving seem to be the same thing. It is passive, meaning God is still the one doing the work, we are just receiving His gift.

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    1. I think we’re pretty much on the same page, conceptually, we just disagree on the connotation of the word “accept” which, I believe, in common parlance, puts the person “accepting” in the position of power. I definitely agree with you on “receive,” I just don’t think the two words are synonymous.

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  7. Hooray! I’ve been trying to talk to other christians about this sort of language, especially about what the “What is God’s will for your life” nonsense for ages. I have been concerned about modern christsian’s tendency to use what seems to be a man-centred theology.

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    1. No, he was talking about the New Testament giving of offerings by the church that had nothing to do with the tithe because:

      1. The tithe was to support the work of the temple, which Christians both then and now don’t support because the temple is – in practicality – obsolete, post-resurrection, having done its job of pointing ahead to Christ. The church is not the temple. There’s not a one to one correlation there.

      2. Tithing was Old Testament, ceremonial law for the nation of Israel. Christ fulfilled that law. It is therefore no longer binding upon Christians. This is also why we do not see any New Testament instruction to Christians that we are to tithe.

      If you’d like more information on why Christians aren’t required to tithe (give generously, yes, but not tithe) click on the hyperlink in #5.

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  8. I like the idea for the article…we should take care how we speak of God…but I can think of a reasonable exception to every suggestion listed. I just don’t see the value of these kinds of hyper-literal semantic nitpicks. God knows what is in someone’s heart when they say they “made” Him the Lord of their life. He knows if that means they foolishly think they are in the driver’s seat, or whether they were truly drawn by Him and yielded to Him. Conversely, God also knows what’s in someone’s heart when their speech is full of doctrinally sound, carefully considered, God-exalting phrases yet their heart’s intent is to strike a moral posture and bully others (really more self-exalting). I get your frustration over people’s bad God-grammar. And Satan does use it to confuse and twist things. But on the other hand, we all know how annoying a grammar nazi can be. Should we rebuke Moses for writing that God “remembered” Rachel in Gen 30:22? After all, that tragic phrasing might imply that God forgets things or isn’t omniscient! Or how about later in the verse, when he writes that God “listened” to Rachel–is that an insult to God suggesting He isn’t omnipresent and doesn’t hear everything? No, we can figure out what is meant by the text.

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    1. Of course God knows what is in people’s hearts when they say these things. And if God were the only One people were talking to when they say these things, there wouldn’t be a problem. But God isn’t the only One who hears these things. Pastors say these things from the pulpit. Bible teachers say these things to their classes. Christian celebrities say these things to their audiences. More mature Christians say these things to less mature Christians. Saved people say these things to lost people. To say that this is nitpicky because “God understands what’s in our hearts” is to miss the entire point of the article. Although we should certainly honor God with our speech simply because He deserves that honor, we need to correct this stuff because of the people who hear it.

      As to rebuking Moses, of course not. The Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture. He did not allow any of His human writers to choose incorrect or improper wording. Anybody who has a problem with the wording of Scripture has a problem with God, not His human authors.

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  9. Oh Michelle, how I appreciate your thoroughly thought-out writing. Grammar-Nazi? Not. Concern for sloppy and way too casual talk about our heavenly Father? Yes, you are right on. I know you are not advocating harshly correcting people, especially those younger in the faith. By our words, insufficient as they may be, may we gently help those who may be using some doctrinally-incorrect phrases.

    And if the phrases are Scripturally wrong (and I agree that only God knows the heart) they actually can do damage. I, for one, can tell you they did with me as a new Christian many years ago. I had little assurance of salvation for years and a lot of it was fueled by hearing terms like “accept Jesus/make Jesus our Savior and Lord etc.” because I was concerned that I didn’t pray the “right prayer.” It wasn’t until God brought me to a church where I learned the Doctrines of Grace that I finally “got it!”

    When we compromise on things that are clear in Scripture just because we don’t want to be viewed as too strict, then it can become a slippery slope to compromise on other areas of Scripture. May God guide and direct our words. Psalm 19:14

    So, I am thankful for your writing and encouragement for us to refine our talk and encourage others to, also. SDG

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