“When Necessary Use Words” and Other Misleading Christian Phrases

I suppose the phrases on this list aren’t like outright lies, they’re just horribly incomplete or extremely misleading. Even if I know what they are going for, I’d rather just replace them with better phrases that can catch on. So here are the phrases on today’s chopping block:

“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”

“God helps those that help themselves.”

“Everything Happens for a Reason”

“Only God can Judge Me”

St. Francis of Assisi has this quote attributed to him: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” Well, despite the fact he probably didn’t say that (and the fact that some claim he spoke to animals), I really just don’t like the sentiments. I’m obviously totally down with living a godly life that reflects the truths contained in the Gospel, but to insinuate that the Gospel doesn’t need “words” to convey its truth is weird and wrong.

There’s no chance of opening the door for someone and them responding with, “Wow, thank-you, Jesus surely died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead!” You couldn’t give money to someone in need and have them start contemplating, “Hmm, so Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead?” There is no loving action, no matter how great that could communicate that Jesus died on the cross for their sins and rose again 3 days later. While we’re at it, I don’t think there is a painting, sculpture, or LiteBrite creation that can articulate that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and that we must believe and trust in Him. This concept takes words. Words whether spoken or written (or signed for my hearing impaired friends) are necessary to communicate the truths of the Gospel. So, words are always necessary. Perhaps the expression should say, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and be ready for every situation to use words.”

Another phrase I don’t like is “God helps those that help themselves.” I guess the statement is true, God does help people who do their absolute best and try their absolute hardest. However, God also helps those that don’t help themselves. He helps all sorts of people: lazy, ungrateful, entitled, weak, poor, hard-hearted, sinful, and every other kind of human you can think of. In fact, I think God has a particular affinity for helping people with serious flaws that allow God’s power to shine through more clearly. Saying that “God helps those that help themselves” is an “out” to take away their responsibility in helping their fellow man as they are able. Instead of providing a meal or lending a helping hand we say, well God helps those that help themselves. They feel like their success came from hard work (which it probably did) and thus other people can work hard and achieve the same. Successful people usually view God in such simple terms as a “helper” or “the wind beneath my wings.” He’s the point-guard that gets no credit for your awesome dunk. Yeah, someone needed to toss the ball up there… thanks God. But the phrase is most problematic in regards to salvation. I don’t think the phrase was meant to describe the Grace of God but because the phrase is so simple and just “out there,” Christians need to be clear that the phrase does not describe the free gift of eternal life. The Gospel in its essence is that mankind was hopeless and helpless when it comes to saving their soul from damnation in Hell. Jesus comes and saves us. “God helps those who could not help themselves.”

I kind of view this phrase as the opposite of the previous one – “Everything happens for a reason.” Any time something negative happens we are supposed to turn that frown upside-down because this bad thing is happening for “reasons.” Here are several hypotheticals, which are not by any means exhaustive. Sometimes we go to jail for committing crimes. Sometimes we go to the hospital because of a lifetime of neglecting our health. Sometimes we don’t get the job we want because there were more qualified applicants. I just rattle those off to say that God isn’t looking for us to never be introspective when unfortunate and unexpected events occur. Yes, He’s in control of the universe, but to just resign yourself to believe that God must have His reasons doesn’t usually get to the heart of the issue. Does God want you to stop doing something? Does God want you to start doing something? Does God want you to change in some way, shape, or form? These should be the first questions we ask ourselves, followed by seeking after Him in prayer and in His Word to determine these answers. This obviously doesn’t prove the phrase “Everything happens for a reason” as being wrong. The problem is the application of the phrase has turned us into essentially quoting Morpheus from the unnecessarily confusing Matrix Reloaded – “What happened, happened and it couldn’t have happened any other way.” Wow Morpheus, thanks for the pseudo-philosophy. All we want is slow-mo fighting. Say whatever you need to say to get back to slow-mo fighting. Here’s the better phrase, but it’s just not catchy – “Everything happens for a reason so let’s figure out if God is trying to tell us something.”

One last one, and I’ll take a breather for a couple weeks – “Only God can judge me.” First of all, people that usually say that should be scared to death that God will judge them one day, but the bottom line is, the phrase is just misleading. It’s true that in an eternal sense, God is the judge, jury, and executioner (like Judge Dredd but with love in His heart.) But let’s be honest. Lot’s of people “can” judge you. Judges can judge you for one. People judge you constantly. You might not like it, but it doesn’t change it from happening. To flip this around a bit, you should want your church family to judge you. You should want them to examine your life and help you see where you are falling short of God’s expectation. They might notice something as cataclysmically important as you don’t have any fruit or evidence of being a Christian. Fortunately, people don’t get to vote when it comes to the Heaven’s Entrance Exam, but you sure as heck (should I have said Hell there?) would want to know if you are not acting like a Believer.   You either need to figure out what’s going on in your life that’s preventing others from seeing the fruit of the Spirit and other evidence in your life that you have trusted Christ or you better humble yourself before the Creator of the universe and beg for His forgiveness and free gift of salvation. He’s not the one withholding. You might be the one not really interested. So instead the simple reminder that one day “God will judge me” might be the better phrase, and hopefully doesn’t look so negatively on the thoughts that present day people might have.

Any other phrases that particularly stick in your craw? Comment below and maybe I’ll go on another rant.

One thought on ““When Necessary Use Words” and Other Misleading Christian Phrases

  1. I suppose when people quote only half of Romans 8:28. Um, IF you are called according to God’s purpose, He will work all things out for good… But that’s an important if.
    Also, “I know the plans I have for you” verse in cutesy letters annoys me immensely. Pretty much any verse in cutesy letters annoys me, haha. We, even girls, need Biblical truth dinners, not frothy deserts. :)

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