By Frank Powell
Growing up, I played a game called “Broken Telephone.” The idea is straightforward. One person whispers a message to someone beside them, the message rolls around a circle of people and the final person announces the message to the entire group. What results is a distortion of the original message, ranging from humorous to inappropriate, depending on whether or not I’m playing.
While the game is weird, it teaches a great lesson: Messages are easily corrupted by indirect communication. Even though a message sounds logical, it might be a total distortion of its original intent. And here’s the thing. Even a slight distortion of the original truth can significantly change the meaning.
Christians are great at playing their own variation of “Broken Telephone” with the Bible. God’s word is the original message. But somewhere in the circle, some truths were distorted. So, what you have today are a collection of messages that many Christians believe are from the Bible.
And while it’s all fun and games when you play with friends, “Broken Telephone” is anything but when you play with the Bible. Perceived truths about God can cripple your understanding of him, rob your joy and damage your ability to point non-Christians to him.
Here are eight “Biblical” Christian phrases that are man-made, not God-given.
1.) “GOD’S LOVE IS UNCONDITIONAL.”
Several weeks, while eating lunch with a good friend, he dropped this bombshell on me. “Frank, I don’t think God’s love is unconditional.”
He then proceeded to tell a story of his encounter with an atheist. At some point in the dialogue with this atheist, my friend made the claim that God’s love is unconditional. To this, the atheist responded, “Is that so? Then why do I need to believe in Jesus?”
Here was the atheist’s point: God’s love has a condition. The condition is you must put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Christians throw this phrase around flippantly even though it sounds ridiculous to non-Christians and it never appears in the Bible. In fact, the term “unconditional” didn’t appear in Christian vernacular until the mid-1930s.
Now, there are elements of truth here. God willingly accepts you, regardless of your past sins, if you put your trust in Jesus. God loves the world from the standpoint that he wants the world to put their faith in Jesus Christ. He never sits in heaven thinking, “Gosh, did Frank really repent? I really don’t like that guy.” Not at all. God wants every person to repent and put their faith in Jesus.
But, unless you trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior, you can’t be in a relationship with God. And without a relationship with God, you can’t live eternally with God. That’s called a condition.
2.) “LET ME PLAY DEVIL’S ADVOCATE.”
Picture this. Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his death. While praying, he says, “Father, can I play Devil’s advocate? I know you sent me to die on the cross, but have you thought about how the people will perceive your son hanging on a cross? It’s kind of humiliating, especially for God. Maybe there’s a better way.”
Sounds ridiculous, right? But this phrase permeates Christian circles. And I know what some are thinking, “Frank, you’re making a mountain out a molehill.”
Here’s why. Jesus understood the power of Satan. To Jesus, I would think this phrase borders on blasphemy. Why does the Devil need advocates?
American Christianity, generally speaking, views Satan as more of a VBS character than the enemy of God. He has a cute tail, a plastic pitchfork and enjoys entertaining the kids. And while most Christians laugh at Satan’s jokes, Satan laughs at most Christians’ failure to grasp his true character. This “what’s the big deal?” attitude towards Satan plays exactly into his scheme. As long as he’s a VBS character, he doesn’t have to force his way into your heart. He can just walk through the front door. And, as he does, many Christians offer him a cold beverage, never realizing the purpose for his visit is to steal, kill and destroy your life.
But Jesus knew Satan’s power. He knew while on earth he walked on Satan’s territory. Jesus never allowed Satan to step into the neighborhood, not to mention his front door. You’re in a war against an enemy far stronger than you. An enemy who delights in destroying your life. That doesn’t sound like a molehill to me.
3.) “THE BIBLE CLEARLY SAYS…”
For years, I used this phrase to justify my position on a particular issue. Take instrumental music, for example. My fellowship doesn’t use instruments in corporate worship. I was taught that two verses “clearly said” instrumental music was wrong (Col. 3:16-17 and Eph. 5:19). The reality is neither of these verses “clearly say” anything about instrumental music in corporate worship.
Or take the issue of violence. I know people who believe in using weapons to ensure safety, enforce laws, etc. I also know people who believe the Bible is clear that Christians shouldn’t use weapons for any reason. Is it possible for the Bible to “clearly say” both of these are right? No, but it’s possible for both to defend their position using the Bible.
I’m not saying truth is relative. There are clear truths in Scripture. But the more time I spend in the Word, the more gray areas I see. Your perspective influences how you read the Bible. Approach God’s word with a spirit of humility, seeking fresh revelations of God instead of additional nails to solidify your current perspective.
4.) “GOD WANTS ME TO BE HAPPY.”
God doesn’t want you to be happy. He wants you to be obedient. Happiness allows emotions to drive the train, while obedience is driven by commitment.
Imagine Jesus saying this, “Hey Frank, God really values your happiness. He wants you to feel good. So, if it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.”
Happiness flies in the face of difficulty and hardship. Happiness sees hard times and runs the opposite direction…with lightning speed. But God sees hardships as a launching point to show the world his glory and mold you into his image. Find me a man or woman in the Bible who accomplishes something great for God, I will show you someone who endured severe difficulty.
If God valued your happiness, there would be no salvation because there would be no cross. Let’s drop this lie.
5.) “GOD WON’T GIVE ME MORE THAN I CAN HANDLE.”
While talking to a college student last week, he told me about a significant struggle he was facing. I felt it was my job to listen, so I sat silently. Several minutes into our conversation, however, he said this, “I know I will get through this. God will never give me more than I can handle.”
That statement broke my silence.
I wanted him to know God would give him more than he can handle. To be fair, I often believe this lie as well. I might not say it, but my actions reflect it. As life throws more on my shoulders, I try to muster up the strength to carry everything on my own. Meanwhile, Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
If you weren’t given more than you can handle, there would be no need for faith. But, if you turn completely to God, he will remove the load, giving you rest and renewing your strength.
6.) “EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON.”
This phrase most often shows up in a moment of awkward silence while trying to comfort someone who experienced tragedy. And, while life has few absolutes, I can’t imagine someone hearing this while dealing with a tragedy and saying, “You know what? You’re right. Let’s go grab lunch.”
Not to mention this phrase never appears in the Bible. The closest thing in Scripture is Ecc. 3:1, “To everything, there is a season.” That’s not exactly the same, unless you consider apples and oranges the same, in which case, you would be wrong. Therefore, it’s not the same.
The bigger issue with this phrase is what it implies. You and I, as Americans, love to have a reason for everything. Christian bookstores are filled with books trying to explain God logically. But, as Deut. 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord.”
Some tragedies have a clearly defined reason behind them. There are, however, experiences in life and questions about God that won’t have a clear answer. And that’s okay. At the end of the day, God is all-knowing and you aren’t. If there aren’t “secret things that belong to the Lord,” God isn’t much different from me. And if that’s the case, I’m not sure if he’s a God worth serving.
7.) “IS THAT GROUP, SONG, OR SCHOOL CHRISTIAN OR SECULAR?”
I was talking with a student recently who was discouraged because another Christian questioned him joining a “secular” club. You see, in some Christian circles, there’s a cultural pressure to attend “Christian” schools, join “Christian” organizations and listen to “Christian” music.
That’s what good Christians do.
But the distinction between “secular” and “Christian” doesn’t appear in the Bible. Here’s why. There isn’t a distinction. What makes something Christian is the people in that place. The children of God are ambassadors for God. So, jobs, schools, organizations and clubs become “Christian” when Christians show up.
Let’s stop drawing lines between Christian and secular. It further undergirds a toxic separatist mentality you won’t find in the Bible.
8.) “IT’S NOT MY PLACE TO JUDGE ANOTHER PERSON.”
“But Frank, that phrase isn’t unbiblical. Check Matthew 7:1.” Jesus does say, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” But you can’t stop reading there. Read the next several verses. Here’s what Jesus is saying: Don’t point out the flaws in others until you deal with your own flaws.
Many Christians, myself included, use this verse as an escape clause that prevents them from having to step into a difficult situation. “Hey, Billy’s marriage is falling apart, but it’s not my place to judge him. Sally is clearly gossiping, but it’s not my place to judge her.”
It is your place to step into Billy and Sally’s life, with love and humility, and point out what isn’t from God. But, be careful. Jesus also says with the measure you judge someone, you will be judged. If you point out another’s sin with a prideful, legalistic attitude, God will judge your life accordingly.
I write these “biblical” phrases Christians often say because, at some point, I said them. And I thought they were truth directly from God. Turns out they were distortions of God’s message that robbed me from experiencing God and others from encountering him.
God’s truth leads you to life. God’s truth also leads others to life. But until you and I get back to the original message, the Bible, and stop taking second-hand messages as first-hand truth, this life won’t be experienced. I point out these “biblical” phrases for that reason.
I love you all! To God be the glory forever. Amen!
About the Author: Frank Powell is a devoted follower of Christ, college/young adult minister, husband to
@tiffanipowell, dad to Noah and Micah, avid blogger/writer, sports fan. You can follow him on twitter here and read more blogs here!