Some Nonsensical Things Christians Say
We have all been guilty of saying things that, upon careful examination, are nonsensical. Sometimes this happens when we unthinkingly repeat slogans, cliches or sayings we hear that resonate with us on an emotional, “gut level.” Even well-meaning, faithful Christians with the best of intentions can at times be guilty of speaking forth silly, illogical, or nonsensical tripe. This is no small deal. After all, Scripture exhorts and commands us as believers to be careful and circumspect with our speech; to have our speech “seasoned with salt”; to “speak the truth in love”; to control our tongues (that “unruly member” as James puts it); it warns us that we will give an account on Judgment Day for every careless word we speak; in other words, Scripture indicates that discipleship is not just a matter of belief and behavior, but also a matter of the words we speak. We who confess Christ as our Lord ought to be careful to speak words of truth and reason, words which are faithful to God’s Word; therefore we ought to strive to avoid speaking nonsense (even well-intentioned nonsense).
Some examples of nonsensical things Christians can be heard saying include:
1. “Preach the gospel; if necessary, use words.”
This pious, well-intentioned statement (attributed, I believe, to Saint Francis of Assisi) is pure nonsense. Now, don’t misunderstand me: the sentiment behind this saying is good. It seems that when many Christians repeat this saying what they really mean to say is, “We need to live out the implications of the gospel in our lives” or “We need adorn our profession of the gospel by a life of good works.” To which we should all be able to add a hearty “Amen!” The gospel message is not merely something that is suppose to float around in our heads but make absolutely no impact on our lives. Rather, the gospel, once believed and embraced, should radically transform our lives. Our lives should show that we believe the gospel. Faith without works is dead. But, at the same time, you can’t “preach” the gospel without using words, because the gospel (which means “good news”) is a message that can only be conveyed through the use of words (whether those words be written or spoken). The gospel (“good news”) is an announcement of what God has done to save sinners through the Incarnation, obedient life, atoning death, glorious resurrection and ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is a message that God has ordained should be “preached” through human preachers employing their vocal chords and sending forth sound waves which reach the ears of their auditors, and which (by the grace and blessing of the Holy Spirit) creates saving faith within the souls of hearers whom God has chosen to save. As the Apostle Paul asks, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14-15a, ESV; emphasis added) This passage of Scripture indicates that the gospel is information – a definite message – that must be proclaimed by a human voice and heard by the human ear (or at the very least read by the human eye). The use of words is absolutely necessary to “preach” the gospel, so this popular saying is a nonsensical statement that we would do well to avoid.
2. “Christianity is not a religion; it is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ!”
I will not say much about this nonsensical statement, since I have addressed it in detail in a previous article. But, briefly, I will say that it is a statement that contains a kernel of truth. It seems to me that when many believers make statements like this, what they are really trying to say is that Christianity is not a system of works-righteousness whereby we “climb the ladder” to God and earn His favor by our own works and merits; rather, true Christianity is God in His grace coming to us in the Person of Jesus Christ and granting us salvation as a free gift, received by faith in Christ alone. If this is what is meant by the above statement, then all biblical Christians would add a hearty “Amen!” However, the statement itself makes a false distinction. It is self-evident (at least to those outside of the Christian Faith) that biblical, historic Christianity is a “religion.” After all, it is a system of doctrines and beliefs about ultimate things (God, the meaning of life, salvation, etc.), and it involves religious rites and practices (for example, praise, worship, liturgy, sacraments, ordination, etc.). So Christianity is most certainly a “religion.” But it is not merely or only a religion. Rather, it is the one true religion, the “religion” revealed by God Himself in Holy Scripture, a “religion” which is the gift of God given to bring us sinners into a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ (which is sometimes spoken of today as a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ”). It’s not an “either/or” thing (i.e., Christianity is either a “religion” or a “relationship” with Jesus); it is a “both/and” thing (i.e., Christianity is both a religion and a relationship with Jesus; indeed, it is a “religion” that creates and nurtures a relationship with Jesus). So this is another nonsensical statement that Christians would do well to avoid.
3. “Christianity is not a doctrine; it is a life.”
Again, this is an utterly nonsensical statement, and it is a false dichotomy. Christianity is most certainly a doctrine to be believed and confessed. In order to be a Christian (at least as that term “Christian” has been used historically) you must believe and confess certain things taught in the Bible (for example, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; that Christ died for our sins and rose again on the third day; etc.). Now, I think I know what well-meaning Christians are trying to communicate when they say things like this. I think many believers who say this are trying to say, “Hey, Christianity is not just about going to church on Sunday; it impacts every area of our lives! We don’t stop living out our Christianity when we step out of the church building or when we step into our homes or our places of work!” To which I would say a hearty “Amen!” Christianity most certainly is a life to be lived; but this does not mean that it is only a life to be lived, and not a doctrine to be believed. Rather, Christianity is a doctrine that leads to and results in a certain way of living. (This Christian lifestyle can be described as “discipleship.”) But without Christian doctrine, there is no Christian living. No doctrine, no discipleship.
4. “Deeds, not creeds!”
This is a nonsensical statement that is closely related to the previous one. Like the previous statement, it also involves a false dichotomy. Why do “deeds” have to be set in contrast to “creeds”? Why not “Creeds and Deeds!”? Or, better yet, “Creeds that lead to Deeds!”? Furthermore, this statement is insidious because it confuses law and gospel. The law (meaning God’s law revealed in Scripture) contains our duty to God and to our fellow man. The law is something we “do.” The law is good and holy and just. But it is powerless to save sinners who are in bondage to sin and Satan. In contrast, the gospel (meaning the “good news” of Jesus Christ) is the message of what God has done for us and for our salvation through His Son Jesus Christ. The gospel is not something we do; rather, it is something that God does to us. We don’t “do” the gospel; we believe the gospel. We receive Christ (John 1:12-13) by faith. And believing the gospel inevitably involves a creed (from the word, “credo,” which simply means “I believe”). Christianity is fundamentally a “creed” to be believed (though it is not merely or only a creed), a gift to be received. It is not fundamentally “deeds” to be offered as our gift to God (though it produces good deeds in the lives of those who believe and confess it). So, once again, we would do well to avoid this insidious, nonsensical statement.
5. “Be the gospel!”
Again, it seems to me that when many well-meaning Christians use this saying, what they are really trying to say is that “We’ve got to live out the implications of the gospel in our lives.” What biblical Christian would disagree with that? However, the statement itself is nonsensical — and, I would argue, dangerously so. Like the previous nonsensical statement, this one also confuses law and gospel. To put it bluntly, none of us can “be” the gospel, because the gospel is not about us; it is about Jesus Christ, about Him crucified for sinners and raised again for our justification! No matter what spiritual heights of spiritual maturity, sanctification and holiness I might attain to in this life, I can never “be” the good news, for in this life I will always be imperfectly sanctified, always falling far short of God’s perfect holy standard, always a “work in progress.” And even when I go to be with Jesus in heaven and am made perfectly sinless in glory, Jesus – not Geoff Willour (or any other saint or angel in glory, not even Mary nor the highest archangel) – will always and only “be” the gospel. Brothers and sisters, let’s drop this popular but nonsensical saying from our Christian talk.
I’m sure there are other examples of nonsensical statements that could be offered, but the point here is that we Christians are called to honor Christ and His truth with our words. Discipleship should impact our speech, and part of what that means is that we should strive to purge our speech of nonsense and nonsensical statements. God is a God of truth, and Jesus is the living Truth (John 14:6). God is not honored by nonsense, no matter how well-intentioned or sincere that nonsense may be. So let us strive to speak words of truth, purity, reason and logic. By the grace of God may our speech be seasoned with the salt of God’s Word, and may we seek to honor Christ’s Lordship not only with our beliefs and our behavior, but also in the realm of our words.