We must not only speak the truth; we must communicate it.
I am not only responsible for what I say. I am also responsible—to some degree—for what people think I said. We note this in the preaching of the Lord Jesus and in the writings of Paul. They would often frame the questions they knew might spring to the minds of their hearers from what had been said, and then answer them: “But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” (Mt. 9:4). “But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation…” (Lk. 11:17). “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?…What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace?… What shall we say then? Is the law sin?” (Rom. 6:1, 15; 7:7). In each case, Paul responds, “God forbid!” then clarifies their misunderstanding.
Are there things we regularly say that people could misunderstand? Please note: it is not because the statements are wrong in themselves, but often because people already have certain misunderstandings in their minds that contribute to further error. We regularly try to clarify (although not always successfully) people’s wrong ideas about “church” and “pastor.”
1. Here is one point of confusion, probably the biggest in the North American setting: “You must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ if you want to go to heaven.” True—if we understand what that means. It does not mean simply agreeing with certain historical or theological information. Both John and James show us that there are some who believe but who are not saved (Jn. 2:23-24; 8:31-45; Jas. 2:19). What does it mean to be among “those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:39)? John explains: to savingly believe means to “receive Him” (Jn. 1:12). It means, in light of those historical and theological facts, that I entrust my case wholly to the One who is making this amazing offer—the living Lord Jesus Christ.
If this is not made clear (I don’t think the idea of believing in your head vs. your heart is the most helpful way to do it, since I find no scriptural warrant for it), we find ourselves with multitudes who grew up exposed to some of those historical and theological ideas, and who insist that they always believed these things (contra Rom. 11:32); they never doubted them. It is not in accepting facts that we are saved, but in receiving the sinner’s Friend.
2. In a land awash with works-based Christianity, we must be careful when we declare that we are sure of heaven when we die. Again, that’s a glorious truth, but how do people understand that statement? If they have drummed into them week after week that good works are meritorious for entry to heaven, it may sound to them like you’re boasting, “I have such a warehouse of good works piled up, there’s no way God could turn me down!” We must add to such a statement the basis of our certain hope. We are not like those who “being ignorant of God’s righteousness” are “going about to establish their own righteousness.” Instead we have “submitted [our]selves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom 10:3). Heaven-bound indeed!
3. I’m wondering how closely we should associate ourselves with the term “Christian.” It is not a divinely inspired name like “believer,” “saint,” or “brother.” These need explanation as well, but don’t have the strong negative associations that cling to “Christianity.” Perhaps “I’m a follower of the Lord Jesus” would show more clearly the distinction between Christendom’s religion and the living relationship we enjoy. Just a thought for your consideration.