It is somewhat baffling to me how more of our theology as Christians can actually be more influenced by our Christian clichés than biblical doctrine. We hear them from pulpits, not because their actually true, but because they make for some great punch lines. It tickles the ears, they’re memorable, and they sound cool. We hear it in evangelism, not because it’s faithful to the gospel, but because (I suppose) it makes us feel better about the offensiveness of the gospel. And, we apply them to our Christian living… because it’s just so much easier than actually living by the standard God has called us to. Unfortunately though, we really don’t give these words a whole lot of though, and don’t even consider how they might actually undermine what the Bible teaches rather than clarifying it. So, to initiate a discussion evaluating just a few off the top of my head, I critiqued the popular clichés below.
- Let go, let God. This is a philosophy of Keswick psychology, rooted in grossly unbiblical theory. It promotes passivity (“let go”) in order to receive a kind of Wesleyan-like second blessing experience (“let God”). It has a faulty understanding of sanctification, advocating a post-salvific enlightenment. It advocates a passive approach to growing in holiness, rather than discipline and the pursuit for holiness (if you’re interested, you can read my more thorough critique of Keswick theology here). After all, Paul said, “I beat my body and makes it my slave so that in the end, I might not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Cor. 9:27). He admonishes us to do the same.
- Live the gospel. This is a self-defeating statement. The “gospel” is a noun. It’s a message. Yes, our lives must reflect what we profess to believe (Matt. 7:21-23), but you should say that instead. Most people use this as a cop-out of evangelism and the sharing of the gospel we’re mandated to proclaim. Many pastors aren’t helping the case though. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve heard from the pulpit, “Always preach the Gospel, if necessary, use words.” Well, that was a phrase attributed to Thomas Aquinas (not exactly a theologian we want to be identified with anyway) by the Roman Catholic Church. Even so, it has been proven time and again that Aquinas never actually said it, but he himself actually preached, on many occasions, up to five sermons a day.
- It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship. This one, quite frankly, drives me crazy. I remember growing up hearing it ALL THE TIME. It seems by mere popularity it inherently became accepted as true somewhere along the way – except it’s really nonsense. Christianity is a religion, and it doesn’t help your evangelistic efforts by pretending it’s not one. Spend your time instead explaining why it’s the one true religion instead. After all, even the God who inspired the Scriptures refers to Christianity as “religion,” so why would you want to pretend it’s not one (James 1:27)?
- I’ll be praying for you/Let me pray about it. Certainly in and of itself, this is a very good thing. We should certainly take everything to the Lord in prayer (Phil. 4:6)! In fact, I myself frequently use this one. My problem with it though is the way we often use it. Do you actually pray for the person you say you’ll be praying for? Or do you just say it because it’s appropriate Christianese? Or maybe you throw out the phrase, “Let me pray about it,” either as a dodge to get out of something someone asked you to do (“Let me pray about it” sounds better than “Let me get back to you while I formulate a good way to say, ‘no.'”), or they use it in somewhat of a charismatic sense. They won’t make a decision until God “speaks” to them. It’s sort of the modern day Gideon syndrome (Judges 6), except instead of putting out sheepskins to accumulate dew, we wait for whatever “feeling” we’re looking for from God.
- God helps those who help themselves. I’ve never quite understood what this phrase actually means, so I’ll take it at face value – which seems to communicate a message that God owes you something for your hard work. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just like the next cliché below, this phrase is often quoted as if it’s Scripture (Who knows? Maybe some people think it is)! The problem is, it was actually written by Benjamin Franklin (a deist according to his autobiography) in the Farmer’s Almanac in 1757. That makes sense, because the phrase seems to be a message that advocates a life of independence from God. It’s the prayer of the man who says, “God, I don’t know why I’m thanking you for this meal. It was by my hands that I tilled the soil and planted, and by my sweat that I reaped the harvest, but thank you anyway.”
- Neither a borrower nor a lender be. I have heard dozens of Christians appeal to this verse, either to admonish those who take out loans or to find an excuse for being too tight-fisted with their money. Either way, the Bible does not condemn loans, nor does it praise the ungenerous. Jim Rickard, friend of The Master’s Seminary and founder of the Stewardship Services Foundation is well known for pointing out this out. Isn’t it somewhere in the Bible… like, the Proverbs or something? Eh… no. It’s from Shakespeare’s Hamlet – Act 1, Scene 3. You’d do well not to confuse the two. And by the way, I hope you do actually know your Bible better than Hamlet 🙂
- Love the sinner; hate the sin. If we have a biblical understanding of where sin comes from, then this is a logical impossibility, and it actually has condemning implications if put into practice. It treats sin as though it’s foreign from the individual. If you hate the sin, then how can you not hate it’s source, right? I’m not calling us to hate our fellow man (Matt. 5:44), but at the same time, we should. In other words, if you just hate the sin, then you might be able to get the person to stop sinning (on the outside), but all you’ve done is made a good Pharisee. If we hate the soul – the inner man and source of the sin (Prov. 4:23; Matt. 12:34; 15:19; Lk. 6:45), then we’ll seek to put that to death by sharing the Gospel. Ironically, that’s also the greatest expression of love toward our fellow man. For a more thorough critique, click here.
- You need to hold me accountable. If I only had a dime for how many times I’ve heard this, but do you understand what this actually means!? I’ll be glad to hold you accountable! Absolutely! That’s something we should be doing in the church of God, but when you ask me to hold you accountable, it means you’ve just admitted to me that there’s a sin issue in your life that you struggle with. So what does it mean that I “hold you accountable?” Well… I’m not going to sit down with you over coffee every week while we share our shortcomings and moral failures. If you have a sin in your life that you are unrepentant of (which means more than you’re just sorry for it, but rather that you’ve forsaken and abolished it), and I’m holding you accountable, then that means I’m holding you accountable to the Lord and His church. Accountability means the process of church discipline in Matthew 18. Don’t let that be a deterrent to prevent you from asking for accountability. Just take the meaning of “accountability” seriously.
So there you are… at least those are the first seven that come to mind. Undoubtedly you’ve heard many more. To say the least we should be careful to practice discernment, and avoid statements that promote a confusing message, even as popular and memorable as our cute little Christian clichés might be.