Evangelical Essentials

Vocabulary Lessons





The watering down of our terminology may explain the dumbing down of our congregations.

I have been disquieted that some churches have become so "seeker sensitive" that they bend over backward not to offend a lost person—including altering their theological vocabulary to the extent that words bear little relevance to that person's real need as revealed in Scripture.

There was not a hint of seeker-sensitive concern during the Welsh Revival, Azusa Street or the Great Awakening. I worry when a church blessed with tremendous growth—during which time they were not seeker sensitive—suddenly becomes seeker sensitive lest they lose the crowds that pay the bills. Having begun in the Spirit they apparently fear offending the flesh. The lifting of God's approval will follow.

The next great move of the Holy Spirit will not only be a return to the Bible but a return to the words used in the Bible—such as "sin," "atonement," "justification," "imputation," "salvation," "faith," "repentance"—not to mention "heaven" and "hell." The fact that people don't understand these words should have nothing whatever to do with whether we use them. Good preaching is good teaching—this means explaining terms people need to grasp for the sake of their souls. As for the lost outside the church not understanding some of the aforementioned words, neither do many inside it. It is time to learn.

Below are a few words I challenge you to consider carefully. I ask, do you understand them? Do you appreciate them? Do you want others to grasp them? After all, these are biblical words. If we value the greatest product of the Holy Spirit—the Bible, which He inspired—who are we to think that we can outgrow these words or the use of them merely because they are not common terms overheard in a supermarket or read in a newspaper?

Sin. If we were to feel how much God hates sin, I think that alone would put the fear of God in us. At the moment my own Bible-reading plan is taking me through Leviticus. Why all the sacrifices? What was the reason for the whole sacrificial system? The answer is in one word: "sin". Even "unintentional" sin needed to be atoned for (see Lev. 4:13,22,27).

Sin needs to be dealt with through the sacrifice of blood. Sin offends God and needs to be explained so that hearers are convicted of sexual sin, unbelief, pride, hate, greed, jealousy—words that people do understand. I am required to tell my hearers that these acts or attitudes are sin and that God is angry with their sin.

Atonement. The common meaning is "to make amends for." Biblical words for atonement in the original languages variously mean "to cover," "to wash away," "to set aside," "to cancel." The sacrificial system in the Old Testament is a comprehensive statement that demonstrates how sin is atoned for by the sacrifice of blood. The blood cancels one's sin; hence the blood of Jesus, who was the ultimate fulfillment of the sacrifices, renders our sin null and void as if we had never sinned.

Justification. This is Paul's word for what believing the promise does for us—it makes us just in God's sight. We are declared righteous—by God. We may not feel it, others may not see it, but God does, and His opinion is all that matters. Once this is grasped by us it will turn our world upside down.

Imputation. This is essential to justification: believing the promise means that God imputes—puts to our credit —the very righteousness of Jesus. It doesn't get better than that!

Salvation. This means being "saved from God's wrath" (see Rom. 5:9), which means you won't go to hell. Salvation means salvation from sin—that which God hates so much. That is the way the Bible mainly uses this word. People need to be told they need to be "saved"—don't ever be ashamed of that word.

Faith. Faith is believing God, that is, believing His Word—the promise of salvation from sin and hell. Faith is relying on the promise, trusting God's Word to be true. It is what Abraham did, and God put righteousness to his credit (see Gen. 15:6). God does that for us when we trust what Jesus did for us on the cross, not our works. The faith that saves, or justifies, is faith plus nothing—when the object of that faith is the blood of Jesus.

Repentance. This comes from the Greek word metanoia that means "change of mind." Repentance is something God requires but which he nonetheless grants. When repentance comes forth it is wonderful assurance that God has saved that person indeed.

The next Great Awakening will witness a focus on heaven and hell. All who are saved will go to heaven; those who are not will go to hell. While we wait for the next great move of the Holy Spirit I would lovingly ask, Are you regularly preaching this already? If not, I would plead with you on bended knee—begin immediately and get ready for the coming move of the Spirit.


R.T. Kendall was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years. He is the author of numerous books, including Total Forgiveness, The Anointing and The Word and the Spirit. His Web site is www.rtkendallministries.com.

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