Words Fitly Spoken
Solomon once said that, “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a network of silver” (Prov. 25:11). This proverb likely describes the beauty of a word spoken appropriately and at the right time. Perhaps the pithy saying could be a reminder to God’s people today that their own words should be wisely chosen for the time in which we live.
Of all earth’s biological creatures, none communicates by symbols called “words” — except those who have been created in the very image of God, human beings. Moreover, the Creator has chosen to reveal his great plan for human redemption in a series of documents composed of inspired words (1 Cor. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). It is certain that words are tremendously important vehicles of communication. It is crucial, therefore, that Christians attempt to make their language as precise as possible.
It appears to be the case, however, that word use, even on the part of the Lord’s people, is becoming increasingly sloppy. Bible words that are designed to convey special ideas are being stretched beyond legitimate limits by careless verbiage. A few examples will illustrate this misuse.
The term “miracle” has become such a carelessly used word in modern society (e.g., “miracle drugs,” a “miracle rescue”), that this popular sense tends to detract from the biblical usage. It neuters the sacred record of the thrust of what a “miracle” actually is in the divine scheme of things.
A “miracle,” as that concept is commonly portrayed in Scripture (reflecting three basic words in the Greek Testament; see Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:4), is an event that is the result of the direct action of God. This stands in contrast, for example, with the indirect activity of Deity, as implemented through natural law, which is generally termed “providence.”
Depending upon how the total is tabulated, there is the record of at least thirty-five specific miracles performed by the Savior during his earthly ministry. A careful analysis of the characteristics of these events will reveal that nothing remotely parallel to these supernatural works occurs in today’s world.
A miracle is a self-authenticating event. It cannot be explained reasonably in any naturalistic fashion. Even Christ’s enemies were forced to acknowledge his supernatural ability (see Mt. 27:42; Jn. 11:47), though they sought to rationalize the signs by assigning to them a sinister power (cf. Mt. 12:24).
When New Testament revelation was concluded, the purpose of miracles was fulfilled (Mk. 16:20; Heb. 2:3-4), and supernatural signs were removed from the church’s possession (1 Cor. 13:8ff; Eph. 4:8ff). God’s people today ought not to be using the term “miracle” in a misleading fashion.
In the modern world of “Christendom,” the term “faith” frequently is employed in a format that is entirely alien to that generally found in the New Testament. Some see “faith” as a mystical feeling of the “eternal,” that each person crafts for himself. The refrain commonly is, “well my faith is ....” For many “faith” is a purely subjective experience that may vary in its character from place to place.
Recently, in this writer’s city, the long-time minister of the Universalist Unitarian Church died. His “faith” was widely proclaimed, though he himself was a self-professed atheist.
It is not uncommon to hear some contend that “faith” bears no relationship to “fact.” One writer recently professed his “faith” in the resurrection of Christ, yet he argued that there is no evidence providing substance for this view. He suggested that the Gospel accounts are but mere hearsay, and not a reliable basis for belief.
“Faith,” therefore, for many constitutes a mystical “leap in the dark” that does not depend upon any sort of objective evidence. This is not biblical faith.
Though the term “faith” is used subjectively in the New Testament (i.e., one’s personal faith; see Romans 1:8, “your faith”), even this form of faith is not that which is created and formed by the autocratic exercise of one’s personal volition. Rather, true faith is conviction generated by divine revelation. In ancient times it derived from inspired spokesmen; today, it comes by means of the Scriptures (Rom. 10:17).
Actually, a synthesis of the biblical data reveals that genuine “faith” reflects three elements.
First, there is a confidence in reality of certain events of antiquity (e.g., the historical facts regarding Jesus of Nazareth).
Second, there is the willingness to trust Christ as Savior.
Finally, there is the submission to him as the Lord of one’s life.
It is no coincidence that in a grand epistle that sets forth the principle that “the just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17), like guardian sentinels
-at both the beginning and at the conclusion of the document - the apostle mentions the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26).
The term “faith” is also employed objectively in the New Testament. One thus reads of those who were “obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). This is the “one faith” (Eph. 4:5), “the faith” which Paul proclaimed (Gal. 1:23), that for which the Christian is obligated to contend (Jude 3), and which must never be denied (1 Tim. 5:8). This use of “faith” involves a body of teaching to be believed, obligations to be assumed, and promises to be embraced.
Christians should hone their language skills, and use the expression “faith” in a legitimate, biblical sense, rather than in the capricious, baseless way that has become so common in today’s religious community.
The term “spiritual” has suffered its own misfortune in modern discourse. There are those who describe a glorious sunset as a “spiritual” experience. A man, with profound awe, observes the birth of his own child, and describes the event as “spiritual.” As emotionally stimulating as such circumstances may be, they are not “spiritual” in the biblical sense of the expression.
Some folks are characterized as “spiritual” because they live ascetic, sacrificial lives. Others see a strong sense of morality, or that of a benevolent disposition, as the essence of the “spiritual.” While strong ethics and a helpful disposition are important, certainly they are not the sum of true spirituality.
The genuinely spiritual person is the one who strives to know God with all the facilities of his mind, and who seeks a relationship with the Creator by learning and obeying his will as such is revealed in the Scriptures. See Ezra 7:10, where the principle of spirituality is illustrated by an Old Testament hero who helped to lead the Lord’s people out of captivity.
The spiritual soul is “led,” “walks,” and “lives” by the instruction of the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:16,18,25). That instruction has been revealed in the New Testament (Eph. 6:17). The spiritual individual cultivates the “fruit of the Spirit” (so beautifully cataloged by Paul in Galatians 5:22ff.). The Christian who so disciplines himself is the “spiritual” person who is able to help others — even those who have been overtaken in sin (Gal. 6:1).
It is a tragedy of indescribable proportion that some have hijacked one of the most thrilling words of the New Testament and turned it into a code-term for human irresponsibility (cf. Jude 4).
Salvation is by “grace” (Eph. 2:8-10). This is a breath-taking truth that no informed Christian denies.It is alleged, however, (and increasingly by some within the church who fancy themselves “grace-centered”) that divine commands, e.g., immersion in water for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16), are dispensable components of God’s redemptive plan. God’s grace is seen as some sort of magical blanket that is thrown over the sinner
-irrespective of what he believes or does - so long as he exudes some sense of piety.
While divine grace has been made available to the whole of humanity (Tit. 2:11), it is clear that not all will be saved (Mt. 7:13-14). The plan for accessing Heaven’s grace has been made known through an instructional system (Jn. 6:45; 8:32; Tit. 2:12). And the reception of that grace is conditional.
Though Paul affirmed that one is saved by grace, he also declared that the exercise of faith is a companion requirement (Eph. 2:8-9). Additionally, in the same epistle, the apostle insisted that the sinner’s cleansing is accomplished by the “washing of water” in conjunction with the word of truth (Eph. 5:26). Scholars are virtually unanimous in their view that the “water” of this passage is a reference to baptism, even though they otherwise may disassociate baptism from salvation.
It is a matter of considerable alarm that some within the congregations of Christ now openly proclaim the dogma of Calvin, that the child of God cannot surrender the “grace” that enhances his soul, and thus be finally lost. But we must remind ourselves that divine grace, once received, must be continued in (Acts 13:43), for if the Christian does not pursue fidelity, he will “fall” from Heaven’s grace (Gal. 5:4), having received it “in vain” (2 Cor. 6:1; cf. Heb. 12:15).
Illumination of the Spirit
There are numerous other expressions, commonly employed by some people, which have dangerous connotations. An increasing number, for example, speak or write about receiving an “illumination” of the Holy Spirit as an aid to their understanding of the Bible. This is the legacy handed down from certain Protestant reformers who alleged that man is flawed by a depraved nature as a result of Adam’s sin. Consequently, it is supposed that one cannot understand God’s word apart from a special operation of the Holy Spirit.
But here is an intriguing question: If the Holy Spirit was incapable in making his words clear, as they are recorded in the sacred Scriptures, how might one have any assurance that he would do a more competent job by means of the second-go-around “illumination” process?
Further, since Christians are commanded to “understand” the will of God (Ephesians 5:17), if they do not, whose fault would that be — under the theory just described?
Without question, some Christian people who misuse certain biblical expressions do so out of motives that are not sinister. Nonetheless, false ideas are being conveyed by an imprecise vocabulary. Christians need to be careful of their speech so that it edifies (Eph. 5:29), and does not confuse. We should seek to use biblical terms in their purest sense.