Every group has its own distinct language, and Christianity is no different. Back when I was an unbeliever, a Christian friend approached me and said, “Jim, I’ve been convicted lately, and God has put you on my heart. God told me you need to be born again; you need to come to repentance and experience a conversion. It’s time for you to deal with the sin in your life and have a true spiritual rebirth. Why don’t you invite Jesus into your heart and make Him the Lord of your life? If you have faith you can be saved. You can be washed by the Blood of the Lamb, and sanctified so you can enjoy fellowship with your Christian brethren.” OK, he didn’t actually put it quite like that. But he might as well have. I couldn’t understand a thing he said. His “Christianese” was fluent and mine was not. Years later, I found myself using much of the same language with my unbelieving friends, only to find them equally confused and alienated. So, here’s a list of common Christian expressions I’ve decided to translate for all my friends who are still speaking the language of the secular culture:
#1. “God has put you (or something) on my heart. / God told me.”
Really? As an atheist, I was offended by this kind of language. What makes you Christians so sure you know what God is thinking? Are you actually hearing a voice from Heaven? Does it sound like Morgan Freeman? Sounds a bit presumptuous to me.
Try this instead: “Jim, I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. You come to mind when I am praying and talking to God.”
#2. “Be ‘born again.’ / Have a spiritual rebirth.”
Is “Born Again” a political party or something you want me to join? Aren’t all Christians “born again?” If so, why are you using the additional adjective? Are “Born Agains” the true, hardcore Christians? Are they political activists like the modern day “Birthers”? Sorry, I’m too busy to become a fanatic or join a movement.
Try this instead: “Reconsider your beliefs and begin a new life as a Christian.”
#3. “You need to come to repentance. / Experience a conversion.”
My mother used to take me to Catholic Mass occasionally when I was a small boy. I hated it. I never understood what those priests were saying, but I’m sure it had something to do with “penance,” “penitence,” or “repentance.” Didn’t King James die a long time ago? Why are we still trying to talk like him?
Try this instead: “You and I might be ‘good’ at times but we’re not ‘perfect.’ If God is all-powerful, He has the ability to be perfect. The only way imperfect creatures like you and I can be united to a perfect God is to accept the pardon He’s offering for our imperfection.”
#4. “Deal with your sin.”
You go ahead and deal with your sin if you want to. I’m too busy dealing with everyone else’s sin. I’m a police officer, for crying out loud; we’re the “good guys.” We put the “bad guys” in jail, and most of the folks I arrest tell me they’re Christians. Please Mr. “Holier Than Thou,” don’t start talking to me about my “sin.” It’s offensive.
Try this instead: “The Bible says Jesus is God and the only perfect man who ever lived. Yet He died like a common criminal to pay the price for our daily ‘crimes’ of imperfection. If we are willing to accept what Jesus did for us on the cross, He’s willing to apply His perfection to us.”
#5. “Invite Jesus into your heart.”
You mean like a boyfriend? What exactly does that mean to have “Jesus in my heart?” I’m not an emotional kind of guy, so please don’t ask me to sing songs or hold hands with Jesus, especially in public. Do I have to emasculate myself to become a Christian? If so, thanks for reminding me why I’m not a Christian.
Try this instead: “When we admit our imperfections, believe Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for our mistakes, and accept His sacrifice, we can start a new relationship with God.”
#6. “Make Jesus the Lord of your life.”
Isn’t this the twenty-first century? Are there still serfs and lords? Was J.R. Tolkien the author of your Scripture? It kind of sounds that way. What is a “Lord” anyway? Is it like a “slave master”? Between bosses and supervisors, most of us have enough people trying to be our “Lord.” Thanks anyway.
Try this instead: “As you begin to appreciate the magnitude of God’s forgiveness and sacrifice, you’ll find yourself wanting to be more like Him.”
#7. “Have faith.”
If by “faith” you mean believing in something in spite of the evidence, no thanks. Blind faith is dangerous. I’m a cop; evidence matters to me. You can keep your “faith;” I’d rather have my “reason.” The world would be a better place if fewer people flew planes into buildings because they believed something blindly.
Try this instead: “Jesus gave us more than enough evidence to believe what He said about Himself. He never asked people to take an irrational, blind leap. He asked instead for a reasonable step of trust.”
#8. “Be saved.”
Saved from what and saved by who? Last time I checked, I’m the guy who usually does the saving. And doesn’t your holy book say “God helps those who help themselves?” I’ve been helping myself for thirty-five years now without a problem. No need to change that. I’m okay, but thanks for the offer.
Try this instead: “God doesn’t want anyone to be separated from Him. He’s given us a way home. All we have to do is accept His offer of forgiveness through Jesus.”
#9. “Be washed by the blood of the Lamb.”
Tell me you didn’t just say that. I know what a “blood bath” is, and it’s not usually a good thing. I’m not sure what a lamb has to do with it, but lamb’s not my favorite food anyway. Are you trying to get me excited about Christianity or chase me away?
Try this instead: “It turns out that the death of one man (Jesus) provides forgiveness for the rest of us.”
#10. “Be Sanctified.”
Is that kind of like “sanctimonious?” I sure know a lot of Christians who are smug and self-righteous. Is that what happens over time if I become a Christian? It certainly seems that way. “Sanctified” sounds a bit arrogant. I bet sanctified people think their pretty “special.” You can keep your pretentious “sanctification.”
Try this instead: “Grateful people are selfless people. Christians who understand how much they’ve been forgiven are changed over time.”
Bonus Expression #11. “Enjoy fellowship.”
What, another Lord of the Rings reference? Really? Do you people ever use language from this century? Christianity sounds a lot like an exclusive country club. If I join, it sounds like I’ll get to become a “fellow” of some sort. Do I have to give up having a beer with the fellas in order to hang out with the Christian fellows? Hmm, that kind of makes the decision easy for me.
Try this instead: “It’s encouraging to find grateful Christians who are struggling to become people of God. We’re out there and eager to have you join our community, regardless of what you may believe today.”
I understand the importance of our theologically rich Christian language, and as a Christian I often use similar words when talking with Christians. But when I’m talking with unbelievers, I try to think about how I used to hear and interpret these words before I became a Christian. How do I share what I believe? I take the time to translate important Christian concepts for those who might be willing to entertain the ideas if only I was willing to speak their language.
This post is excerpted from my article, “What Cops Can Teach Christians about the Critical Use of Language” first published in the Christian Research Journal. The Christian Research Journal equips Christians with the information they need to discern doctrinal errors, evangelize people of other faiths, and provide a strong defense of Christian beliefs and ethics.