I have a confession: Sometimes I use words without knowing what they mean. This habit began in the first grade with the “Pledge of Allegiance.” I said “republic, liberty, and justice,” but I really did not know what they meant. Even when I memorized the definition, I didn’t fully grasp all the power of the words until adulthood.

If I do not know a word now, I just use the context to make a guess and keep on reading. I gave up trying to keep up with teen slang about a decade ago. The reason I bring this up is that when I talk with or about Christians lately, we have to define terms. Words that I have used for almost 50 years seem to have a different meaning.

Sin.

As a child, I thought sin was bad behavior. As an adult, I hear people calling sin a mistake. However, Jesus is more concerned about someone’s heart than his conduct.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27, 28, NIV)

Sinful thoughts become wickedness. The people’s thinking was the catalyst for the flood.

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. (Genesis 6:5 NIV)

Paul’s explanation for sin included not believing God, and believing untruths.

“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:11-13, NIV)

definGod judges our sin by where our mind wanders, by the selfish intent of our deed, and our obedience to Him.

Repentance.

Commentaries use “change” in the definition of repentance: a turn in direction, new way of thinking, or altered actions. The Bible includes remorse and regret as appropriate emotional responses.

“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10, ESV)

. . . and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors and say, “We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly” . . . (1 Kings 8:47, NIV)

Most believers find themselves in a cycle of sin, repentance, forgiveness, and the same sin again. The most vivid description of repentance I’ve heard: “When you walk into the wrong restroom for your gender, you don’t consider staying. You leave quickly, hoping no one observed you. For the next several weeks, you will double-check every restroom door before entering.” Repentance is acknowledging our wickedness with such a strong revulsion, humiliation, or pain that we will not even ponder the sin again.

Christian.

“Christian” is the term most often misunderstood. For some, “Christian” describes someone who is kind and generous. When others call themselves “Christian,” they are saying, “I am not an atheist and I do not practice Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam.” It is assumed that if you attend a Protestant or Catholic church and you were baptized at some point in your life, you are a “Christian.” The Bible seldom uses the word, however, calling the followers of Jesus Christ “disciples” instead.

The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. ( Acts 11:26c NIV)

Christians are expected to suffer for the cause of Christ and to love each other.

“However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (1 Peter 4:16, NIV)

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35, NIV)

People are saved by asking for God’s forgiving grace provided by Jesus’ death, not by their good deeds. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV) When hearts are transformed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, attitudes and actions will also follow. (1 John 3:10 ESV; James 1:22) Jesus said behavior demonstrates belief.

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:38 ESV)

Paul often called the committed followers of Jesus “saints.” (Ephesians 2:19 NASB) Saints are unified with the purpose of growing the body of Christ, the kingdom of God, aka the church.

“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13, NASB)

A Christian is someone who knows they are a sinner. They believe so strongly that Jesus died on a cross to pay the cost of their sins, that they have accepted Jesus’ forgiveness as the only way to God. They have surrendered the right to choose the direction of their life. Failing often, they continue to seek God’s guidance and help daily. (Romans 6:28, ESV; Romans 3:23, 24, ESV; John 14:6, ESV; John 3:16-18, ESV; Luke 24:46-48, ESV; Matthew 10:32-33 ESV)

 

Therefore, a Christian is a forgiven sinner, who is attempting to obey Jesus. It does not refer to how nice someone is, or church membership, or baptism. People using terms like sin, repentance, and Christian without understanding what they mean leads to confusion. Unfortunately, the world is judging Christians by frauds. Some people are imposters deceived into believing that their repetition of some important biblical phrases initiated them into the “Christian Club.”

Intelligent discussion requires unity in understanding. Hopefully “You Got Schooled” not only in the definitions of sin, repentance, and Christian, but also considered whether you meet the criteria to be called a Christian.

  • Have you discovered other biblical terms misused?
  • How do you explain “Christian”?

Click here to leave a comment.

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About Jayna Coppedge

Jayna Coppedge, married for 30+ years, has 2 adult children. She empowers people to be all that God created them to be. When she can't physically come alongside the parent, the preschool teacher, or the growing Christian, to guide and cheer them further in their relationships. She uses her blog "A Woman Trusting God" and Facebook ministry. Jayna just published Parenting with the End In Mind: Practical Guidance with Biblical Principles
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