We must exercise great care with our words — all of them. This is especially true when it comes to conveying the truths of what we believe about God, His Word, and ourselves. While there is some truth in many of our Christian expressions, there is often far more error, revealed as we filter these sayings through the grid of infallible and holy Scripture.
To be clear, I am not advocating an elitist or hypercritical attitude. We can easily become guilty of overthinking and reading into everything, picking people and words apart in a way that is not helpful or biblical. And we certainly ought not to condemn or look down on others for the use of such phrases. Additionally, there is nothing wrong with simple sayings that convey God’s truth (see the entire book of Proverbs!).
Nevertheless, what I am advocating is the idea that each believer ought to carefully evaluate the ideas and words he uses, especially when it comes to words that seek to express the truths of Scripture. To adopt or ascribe to a Christian cliché without considering if it is truly biblical and accurately communicates what we say we believe is careless. Since all our words matter, and careless speech happens when we just don’t stop to think, then we have to start thinking. If it doesn’t line up with God’s Word or it dumbs down the truth of the Scriptures, it ought to be avoided.
This is a challenge that the Lord has been working in my heart and life over the past several years. The more I am taught and learn of God’s wonderful truths, the greater responsibility I have to accurately and precisely communicate such when I speak. Here are just a few common Christian clichés and phrases that God has impressed on my heart are not biblical and why.
1. “God will not give you more than you can handle.”
While it seems this statement is trying to encourage the believer to remain steadfast in trials and keep the faith, it’s message simply isn’t true. First, God will give us more than we can handle because in all truth, we cannot handle anything. We are finite, weak, and in desperate need of God’s grace, both for salvation and daily living.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
Second, this statement is not true because God regularly gives us adversities, all of which are beyond our capability, but not His. He grows us in our faith through these trials and reveals our need for dependence on Him.
This saying is likely a misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 10:13. “[God] will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
The misinterpretation occurs because the verse is taken from its context and so its meaning is at best obscured and at worst completely altered. In this passage, Paul is giving very direct teaching on sin and temptation. He is speaking to believers living in a community of idolatry and instructing them how to overcome such temptation. When observed in its context, two things become very clear about this verse:
We are no longer slaves to sin, bound by its power. We’ve been redeemed by and belong to God, and He always gives us the means to flee sin and choose obedience. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to depend on God and His grace in the face of temptation, not on any human ability to resist, because there is none. Even on our “best days” we cannot handle life in a fallen world. If we are to encourage each other to remain steadfast, let us do it with statements of the truth of God’s faithfulness and character and not our own.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
2. “What this verse means to me . . .”
If you’ve ever been in a Bible study or small group, you’ve likely heard, “What this verse means to me is . . .” I know I have. In fact, I’ve often been the one saying it. As the Lord has grown me and brought many faithful teachers into my life, I have come to understand that it does not matter what a verse means to me. What matters is what the verse means.
Scripture is clear we have a serious responsibility to rightly study and interpret its words.
“Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.” 2 Peter 1:20
One the best examples we have in the Bible of believers dedicating themselves to an accurate and thorough study of God’s Word is the church in Berea found in Acts 17:10-15. These believers made the Word their authoritative standard for truth. As Paul and Silas taught them, they didn’t just accept their words outright, but rather they tested them against God’s Word and “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
So how do we emulate the Bereans? How do we rightly handle the Word of truth and avoid making ourselves the standard for interpreting the Bible? Here are just a few guiding questions as we seek to study and know the God’s Word:
3. “Marriage/Parenting is the most sanctifying thing in the life of the believer.”
When I was engaged to my husband, I was often told, “Marriage is the most sanctifying thing in the life of the believer.” Years later, as my husband and I waited for the birth of our daughter I repeatedly heard, “Parenting is the most sanctifying thing in the life of the believer.” There is truth in both of these statements. God does intend for Biblical marriage to be a means of growth, refinement, and sanctification. The same is true for parenting. As both a wife and a mom, I have had patterns of my sinfulness exposed as well as attitudes and behaviors that are not becoming of a child of God revealed. I’ve experienced God’s grace through showing me my sin and enabling me to overcome temptation and grow in my faith as a result.
Both marriage and parenting are important tools God uses to expose areas of weakness and to grow us in holiness. But to say they are the most sanctifying things just isn’t true. Why?
First, God does not call all believers to marriage. There are those he has designed for singleness. God has not called all married couples to parenting. There are those he has set apart to childlessness.
Second, neither singleness nor childlessness is a second-class experience. We are often prone to think of marriage and children as “God’s best.” This is because they are good gifts from God and appear as such to our human understanding. But even though they may lack the appearance of being good or a gift, singleness and childlessness are still God’s best for many believers in the church.
We know this because God has promised us His best. He has promised to sanctify us and make us more like His Son. In fact, He is utterly committed to it.
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
To say that any one tool of God’s sanctification is the highest, the best, or the most is to imply that that God’s doesn’t give His best to every believer, that there are second-rate or lesser tools that some must resign themselves to. This is not Biblical thinking. God gives all believers His best as He works to grow us in holiness. Just because it does not appear to the human eye as good doesn’t mean it is any less than God’s absolute best.
Furthermore, the Lord knows that the church needs all kinds of people, in all stations, situations, and seasons of life. The church benefits greatly from this variety—widows and widowers, singles, marrieds, parents, those without children, etc. The variety of ways in which God chooses to sanctify His people provides a depth of wisdom and experience that we can in turn share with our fellow brothers and sisters to further the growth of the body.
In my life, marriage and parenting have been immensely sanctifying, but so have singleness and childlessness. I did not meet and marry my husband until my thirties, and we struggled for years to make a family. Every season and station God has provided has been a time of difficulty but also great growth for me. They are precious gifts in the story of my life and how God is sanctifying me. Singleness and childlessness can be hard. So are marriage and parenting. Tools of refinement and sanctification are not always those of ease and comfort. But they are always a gift, and they are always God’s absolute best. Therefore, we ought to be mindful of ever implying anything to the contrary. As a follower of Christ, I must take great care and consider the words I use to communicate what I believe about God and His Word. I should be wary of ever misleading someone as to God’s truth. I am His ambassador and as such, I have a responsibility to be conscientious to accurately represent Him in all that I say.
I greatly appreciate the challenge of Jeremiah Johnson when he says,
“Doctrinal precision matters. And it will remain elusive and unattainable for God’s people as long as we lazily lean on Christian clichés that confuse and corrupt the truth. For the sake of our own spiritual growth, and for the sake of the watching world that needs the clear truth of Scripture, we need to tidy up the way we talk about God and His work in our lives.”
How can we begin to live and speak in this way? We must immerse our hearts and minds in the truth of God’s Word. Bankers don’t make a practice of handling counterfeit bills. Rather, they become so well acquainted with the real thing that anything else is obvious and quickly recognized as false. Similarly, the more we study and know the Bible, the more quickly we will recognize error.
In any and every situation, we must ask ourselves, “What does God’s Word say about this?” Search. Seek. Study. Lord, help us to be faithful Bereans who love your Word and make it our authority for living and our standard for truth. And may our words always reflect this.
What careless Christian cliché have you discovered?
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