Words have a way of evolving — of losing meaning, of gaining meaning — depending on how we use them. But some of the words Christians hold dear have lost something. Some have had outside meanings imposed on them, others have been misused by Christians, but the result is that their truest meanings have been overshadowed, forgotten, replaced.
Each of these words means something more — more beautiful, more precious — than what we commonly know them to mean now. So, here are five words Christians should reclaim:
We’ve turned the idea of a “calling” into this hyper-spiritual, practically unknowable, mysterious aligning-of-the-stars thing. I used to feel that way — and it gave me so much anxiety. Until a pastor friend of mine explained it this way: your calling is simply a combination of feeling burdened (also: passionate) about something and being gifted in that area. God created us with very specific, yet varying capacities. It’s a safe bet that if you’re pursuing what you love and doing so for God’s glory, you’ve found your calling — especially if you’re provided the opportunities to do so.
On a grand scale, a calling isn’t merely your vocation — though, the word does come from the Latin vocare, meaning to call. Rather, all Christians also share a calling — mainly to follow Jesus and to live as he lived. “A calling, you see, is usually just a specialization in an assignment given to all believers,” writes pastor J.D. Greear.
Biblical submission does not mean subjugation. Or control. Or command. This is true both in terms of submission in marriage (wives to their husbands) and in terms of the Christian submitting to Christ. Regarding marriage: man’s headship is meant to be humble and loving and serving; woman’s submission is meant to be intelligent and free and willing and refining — just as the church’s submission to Christ is meant to be.
As the gospel has it, submission (or obedience) actually brings about freedom. This isn’t freedom in the popular sense of the word — autonomy, free will — but in its truest sense. Professor Roger Olson writes, “True freedom is found not in insisting on one’s own rights, but in freely giving them up by being a servant to Jesus Christ first and the people of God second.”
The word “blessed” has been utterly abused. People constantly humble-brag on themselves by appending a tweet or status with #blessed. The people are blessed with game wins, amazing boyfriends, and perfect milk-to-cereal ratios. (Yes, I just saw each of those on Twitter.) We’ve simultaneously twisted the word’s true meaning and devalued it.
Here’s a look at the most popular use of “blessed” in the Bible — the Beatitudes. Who does Jesus say is blessed? The gist is this: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake . . . you get the picture. So, not me for a treadmill opening up right when I get to the gym? Hm. While it’s right to praise God for his provision, the popular thinking around being “blessed” treads dangerously close to the prosperity gospel. True blessing is the joy of belonging to God, who (in Jesus) rescues from sin and death — which is as true on a vacation in Maui as it is in a hospital bed.
4. BORN AGAIN
When a friend of mine found out I was a Christian, her first question was, “But you’re not one of those born-again Christians, right?” I knew what she meant. She meant, “You don’t scream Bible verses at people on the subway, right?” Right. And there are still others who hear “born again” and immediately conjure up images of hypocritical Christians whose lifestyles are no more Christ-like than anyone else’s.
We’ve made a mess of a really beautiful term. So what does it really means to be “born again”? For a full take, read pastor John Piper’s (free) book, Finally Alive, wherein he explains the phrase and its implications. In short, it comes from the Bible. In John 3:3, Jesus tells Nicodemus, a Pharisee, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Here’s how it works, à la Piper: “From God’s side, we are united to Christ in the new birth. That’s what the Holy Spirit does. From our side, we experience this union by faith in Jesus.”
It’s where you go on Sundays — whether steeple building, unassuming storefront, or casual coffee shop — to sit and listen to a pastor preach through part of the Bible. Right? Well, no. Actually, Christians are the church — we don’t go to church. Sure, we gather on Sundays for teaching and singing and fellowship. But that’s a small part of what it means to be part of the church.
Church isn’t something you can compartmentalize to one hour spent one day of the week in one location. It’s life as the body of Christ. Which means that it’s a lot greater of a commitment than we often allow it to be. If you let it — and . . . you should — “church” invades your whole life, as it did for the early Christians. (Check out Soma, a community trying to live this out.) Here’s what Acts 2 says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” This was daily done — in homes, on the streets, and in the temple.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.