I have a problem. Or maybe I should say I have a concern.
My concern is the reputation that Christianity and Christians have — from both non-believers and those who have left the church, but still believe in God. Folks, it’s not great.
I have been told or read the following statements:
“Christians are all just a bunch of hypocrites.”
“I believe in God, but not religion. The church just wants to judge everyone.”
“I don’t need Christianity, I can be a good person without it.”
“The church ruined my life.”
“Christianity is for people who need to believe in things that aren’t real.”
“All they care about is rituals and telling people they’re going to hell.”
“Where was God when my life was falling apart?”
I know, there are some big statements there. And I could list more. There’s a lot of hurt and emotion in those statements. There’s also some misinformation. And it makes me so sad…all of it. Because I want everyone — every single person — to know the love of God. To experience the joy and beauty of forgiveness and grace.
Because it changed my life.
There’s a lot of healing, softening of hearts, loving, and truth telling that needs to happen before those statements can be turned around. As a church, we need to come together and work on this with unity. We need to be patient, compassionate, and listen more than we talk. We also need to make sure when we do speak it’s Truth we are speaking. With a capital “T”.
God’s word has been misrepresented and misinterpreted for a long time. Sometimes by people using it to further their own agendas, but I think more often it’s good people who get stuck on snippets of scripture not read in full context, or popular phrases that sound scripturally-based, but really aren’t.
And it’s that last part I want to try and counter today. Those popular phrases or “Christian clichés” that are often said in love, and meant with good intentions, but actually cause more harm than good. At best they’re seen as “Christian-ese”, trite answers that don’t really offer comfort or provide insight into tough questions. At worst, they are promoting ideas that are just not Biblically-sound.
Let me be the first to confess that I, too, have been guilty of saying these. I heard a lot of them growing up from the adults around me and in church and many of them just sound good. I never thought to question the validity or think about how these might make others feel. But hard questions, deep hurt, and tough situations require more from us than short quips or trite clichés. They require us to sit down with the other person and listen to their hurt, empathize with what they’re going through, desire to really understand their questions, and then together look at God’s word. Dig deep and find the hope, truth, and love found only in His word.
So I’m tackling five commonly said phrases, or clichés, and countering with truth that I have found in scripture.
1. Cliché: God helps those who help themselves. Truth: God helps those who ask.
Psalm 120 says: “I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me.” And this is a common theme throughout Psalms and much of scripture. When we call out to God, he hears us! Does that mean we should sit in the dark despairing about our problems and not doing anything to get ourselves out of a desperate situation? No. But there is nothing in scripture that says God only helps those who first help themselves. He is a loving Father and he answers the cries of all of his children.
2. Cliché: Cleanliness is next to godliness. Truth: Repentance is next to godliness.
As a mom, I can get behind a statement that encourages good personal hygiene. However, this old saying is just so trite and I have never found any support for it in scripture. So rather than pulling out this old, tired cliche, how about we speak some real truth into people’s lives? If you really want to get close to God then repenting for your sins is the surest way. Luke 5:10 says, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” The heavens literally rejoice whenever we repent of our sins! And just like the father in the story of the prodigal son, God welcomes us with open arms and celebrates each time we come to him asking for forgiveness.
3. Cliché: God will not give you more than you can handle. Truth: God absolutely will give you more than you can handle, because he wants you to rely on him more than you rely on yourself.
I get where this statement comes from. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “…And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Verse 13 uses the word tempted or tested, depending on your translation, which is not the same as bearing the weight of problems. Especially when you read in context of verses 1-12. Paul is talking specifically about the temptation of sin — idolatry and sexual immorality are specifically mentioned. This is not the same as grieving the loss of a loved one or dealing with a cancer diagnosis. But that’s when I hear the phrase “God won’t give you more than you can handle” used the most…in those hard places of life. These are overwhelmingly hard burdens to bear. Things I can’t do on my own…things I need to rely on God for.
I think the danger in saying that he will not give us more than we can carry is implying that we alone have the strength to either fight our troubles or be crushed under them. 1st Corinthians 10:3 makes it very clear that God has to be the one to show us a way out and endure. This is repeated all throughout scripture, like in Psalm 37:39-40, “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in times of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.”
4. Cliché: God works in mysterious ways. Truth: God works for those who love him.
OK, yes, God’s ways are definitely higher than my ways, and that means I can’t possibly understand what he is doing, why, or how. But really, how helpful is this saying? I hear it used often when people just don’t have an answer to why something is happening in life, but I find no comfort in this saying. Instead, when we or someone we love is searching for answers, let’s give them real answers. Romans 8:28 says: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Knowing that God always works for my good is not only an important scriptural truth, but it’s much more comforting than hearing that his ways are “mysterious”.
5. Cliché: Love the sinner, hate the sin. Truth: Love everyone, hate my own sin.
This is another cliche that I believe is said with good intentions. People are trying to promote love and say that we are all worthy of love even when we sin. However, the specific contexts in which I typically hear it used often results in feelings of judgement and alienation. “I love you, BUT I hate what you do, or how you live your life.” Where’s the love in that?
Pastor and sociologist Dr. Tony Campolo puts it this way, “I’m always uptight when someone says, ‘You don’t understand. I love the sinner. I just hate his sin.’ And my response is: That’s interesting, because that’s the exact opposite of what Jesus says. Jesus never says, ‘Love the sinner but hate his sin. Jesus says, ‘Love the sinner and hate your own sin, and after you get rid of the sin in your own life, then you may begin talking about the sin in your brother or sister’s life.‘”
In Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus says: “ “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Let’s take a cue from Jesus and love everyone, and focus on removing our own sin.
If you would like to help me promote the idea of truth over clichés, feel free to share this article, or any of the images used throughout with the hashtag #truthnotcliches