Speaking Christianese: Breaking down common Christian phrases — part 3

Bryant Golden Blog

If you’re a Christian, you might not have noticed that we have a lot of weird Christian phrases. If you’re not a Christian, then you have definitely noticed some of the strange sayings we like to use.

We’re here to help people decipher the mysterious language of Christianese by breaking down common Christian phrases in the third part of this new series:

“Born again”

To be fair, this one has its roots in the Bible. It’s just used so frequently in daily Christin language that we assume everyone knows what it means. This phrase comes from John 3:3 (ESV): 

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Jesus goes on to elaborate that one must be born of the water and of the Spirit, not to literally be reborn as an infant, which we imagine is obvious to you. By being born of the water and the Spirit, Jesus is referring to being baptized and to inviting the Holy Spirit to live in and through you. Baptism is a sacrament demonstrating one cleansing themselves of their former selves and embracing their new selves in Christ. Accepting the Holy Spirit into your life is acknowledging that you’ll live in Christ’s example, striving to follow His ways while relying on Him as your source of peace, comfort and hope.

“God works in mysterious ways”

Unlike the previous phrase, this one does not appear in the Bible. This phrase has been used by Christians for a long time to dismiss things they do not understand about the Bible or the world. However, many Biblical scholars argue that not only does this not appear in the Bible, but it is anti-theological too.

Of course, no person can claim to fully understand God and all of His ways, but God gives us wisdom and the faculties to understand and learn mysteries as we move through our lives:

But only if you listen obediently to God, your God, and keep the commandments and regulations written in this Book of Revelation. Nothing halfhearted here; you must return to God, your God, totally, heart and soul, holding nothing back.

This commandment that I’m commanding you today isn’t too much for you, it’s not out of your reach. It’s not on a high mountain — you don’t have to get mountaineers to climb the peak and bring it down to your level and explain it before you can live it. And it’s not across the ocean — you don’t have to send sailors out to get it, bring it back, and then explain it before you can live it. No. The word is right here and now — as near as the tongue in your mouth, as near as the heart in your chest. Just do it! (Deuteronomy 30:10-14 MSG)

When you don’t understand what’s going on, it’s OK to acknowledge that you don’t understand. But it could be unwise to shrug off the responsibility of striving to understand or learn by shifting all responsibility on God and essentially blaming Him for being mysterious and keeping the ability to learn away from you. You will likely never figure out the answers to many things, but on a path of wisdom and learning, you can grow closer to God and become more like Christ in the process.

“God helps those who help themselves”

This one is rough. We especially love to use it in American Christianity, but it’s not actually in the Bible either. And sadly, when someone says this phrase, they are usually using it as an excuse not to help those in need, which ironically goes against many of the teachings of Jesus. Instead, this phrase comes more from Western culture and a misunderstanding of 2 Thessalonians 3:10-13 (MSG):

Don’t you remember the rule we had when we lived with you? “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” And now we’re getting reports that a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings are taking advantage of you. This must not be tolerated. We command them to get to work immediately — no excuses, no arguments — and earn their own keep. Friends, don’t slack off in doing your duty.

There is important context to apply when reading these verses. First, it is from a letter to a specific group of people and is to be learned from but not applied blindly to our lives. Second, it is referring to people living in a community not doing their share of work but wanting to reap from that of others. Which sounds fair enough if you think about it.

However, those who are disenfranchised, cheated, robbed, wounded, orphaned, widowed, sick, lost or otherwise helpless and alone are not refusing to help themselves. They are not members of a small community who are refusing to do their share for it. They have no community. They can’t help themselves and they certainly can’t help others. But we can. Imagine how different our nation and the world would be if we stopped refusing to help people because we cling to an non-biblical phrase and instead follow Jesus’ teachings to help and love those who need it.

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