Several months ago, The Gospel Coalition published an excellent piece debunking a popular Christian saying. Mitch Chase writes:
The saying “God will never give you more than you can handle” strikes a tone of fairness we instinctually like. There’s something pleasing about the idea that the scales are in balance, that God has assessed what we can handle and permits trials accordingly.
There’s never a good time for your life to be wrecked. But the saying ‘God will never give you more than you can handle’ tells me I have what it takes. It tells me I can bear whatever comes my way. It tells me God permits trials according to my ability to endure.
Chase’s article got me thinking about Christian clichés. If you grew up in the church, as I did, you probably just accepted some of them as, well … gospel truth.
God is in control.
Everything happens for a reason.
God has a wonderful plan for your life.
The thing is, it’s hard to avoid clichés, because at some level they’re true. For example, God is in control. He tells us in His Word that He is the sovereign Creator of the universe, intimately involved in the affairs of humans. Therefore, He’s in control in the fullest sense of the word. But when we throw these platitudes at the pain and struggle of life, they can fall flat at best and be theologically inaccurate at worst.
Here are four Christian clichés that I think need a makeover:
1. “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.”
I think the error with this statement lies in your definition of “safe.” Generally, we tend to think of safety as being protected from harm. It’s a nice thought that simply obeying God will keep you alive and well. But what about the young woman from my college who died from a snake bite while on a missions trip to Indonesia? I’m sure she was in God’s will, sharing the Gospel there, but was she safe?
In C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mr. Beaver tells the children that Aslan is a fearsome lion. Lucy responds:
“Then he isn’t safe?”
“Safe? […] Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Lewis’ assessment is more true to the God we find in the Bible. It’s also more powerful.
Makeover: “God is not safe, but He’s good.”
2. “You can’t out-give God.”
You may have heard this one at a fundraiser or in regard to a church building project. But what does it even mean? Has God challenged us to some kind of giving contest? Of course I can’t out-give God; He owns everything. But if I choose to give away everything, God doesn’t promise to replace my funds or make me wealthy. He simply tells us to give out of obedience and with joy.
Consider 2 Corinthians 9:7 (ESV): “ Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” This verse advocates a thoughtful and joyful approach to giving — not a reckless, emotional one that anticipates a financial reward.
Makeover: “Joyfully give the amount you have decided in your heart.”
3. “I don’t feel led.”
Let’s be honest. This is often just the Christianese way of saying no. It’s true there is a biblical precedent for the concept of being led. Our Shepherd (Jesus) leads us (Psalm 23). But in Matthew 5:37 (ESV), He also says, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”
Consider giving the actual reason: “I don’t have time” or “I’m over-committed” or “My favorite TV show is on at that time.” And if you actually feel like God has spoken definitively on the matter, consider offering an explanation. A few weeks ago, one of my mentors said she had been approached to teach kids for the midweek program at our church. “I just didn’t feel led,” she told me. “God has been opening up the opportunity for me to serve moms with young children, and I want to do that instead.”
Makeover: “I need to say no, and here’s why.”
4. “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
With some recent high-profile scandals, I saw this one a lot. People like to say this to sympathize with the person who’s in hot water. Essentially, they say, “I could have been the one who committed adultery, but God’s grace kept me from it.” My question is: Where was God’s grace for the person involved in the scandal? This statement implies that God’s grace restrains you but didn’t quite work for them.
I think a more biblical thought is found in Galatians 6:7 (ESV): “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” A sin such as adultery is rarely an impulsive mistake. Many choices lead up to the actual fall. The Bible speaks plainly — and often — about paths and how to stay on the right one (Proverbs 3:6 , Psalm 23:3, Psalm 119:105). God’s grace is available to all of us as we make daily choices that lead to righteousness.
Makeover: “God’s grace is for everyone, and daily decisions matter.”
Again, clichés are popular for a reason: There’s some truth in them. But before we use our favorite clichés again, let’s make sure they line up with the truth of God’s Word.