Lost in Translation

A common aspect of any subculture is a jargon unique to that culture. It should come as no surprise, then, to discover that Evangelicals in America have a particular vocabulary related to their faith community. While this vocabulary is generally understood by the community itself, it is often not accessible to the larger population. Consequently, when a person becomes a Christian he must first familiarize himself with this vocabulary if he is to fit into the circles in which he will now run.

Having been in the Evangelical community for most of my life I can tell you that our vocabulary is very important to us. It makes us feel safe. It assures us that a person is one of us. Therefore, when we talk to a new believer we want to hear that he has “accepted Christ into his heart” or “prayed THE prayer.” If he has not done these things we become uncomfortable and begin to question whether or not he is a believer at all. But are these two things essential to become a Christian? Must a person “accept Christ into his heart” or “pray THE prayer” to be saved?

In Ephesians 2:8-9 the apostle Paul writes “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (NIV).” Paul’s emphasis is grace received through faith. Yet what do we communicate to new believers when we explain the gospel with our unique terminology? To tell someone that they have to pray to accept Christ is to require something of them that the Bible never requires. It emphasizes doing over believing. When we ask someone if he has “accepted Christ into his heart” we transform a result of salvation (Christ in us) into a contingency for salvation and make the gospel into something it is not. Salvation is by grace through faith. It is not received through a specific prayer or asking for a result of the gospel. If faith is what pleases God and is the means through which He bestows salvation, then we must emphasize faith. Rather than asking someone if he has “prayed THE prayer” or if he has “accepted Christ into his heart,” ask him if he believes.

John, an apostle and disciple of Jesus, wrote his gospel account for a specific reason. Concerning the content in his account he writes, “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31; NIV).” John’s desire was that those who would read his account would be brought to faith in Jesus as Christ, or Messiah (therefore the gospel’s constitution provides the content for one’s faith). If the Bible emphasizes faith, shouldn’t we?

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One Response to “Lost in Translation”

  1. abbyhoff Says:

    As inspired by you, I typed out my testimony (another word which makes your point for you). I just typed it the way I’ve always told it. THEN I read back through it as someone who had never heard any of it before, and I was surprised by how many words I wouldn’t have known! Lines like “my parents were both believers,” “I didn’t own my faith,” and “so I dug into the Word for myself” – what on earth do those things even mean?! Thanks for helping me take the time to really analyze my vocabulary as a member of the Christian community.

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