This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases . . . can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain. (George Orwell, Why I Write, “Politics and the English Language” at 117)

Our market-savvy, theologized preachers have conjured up modish little phrases like "imputed righteousness" and "just a sinner saved by grace" for the gospel. As these ready-made phrases are blared into our inner consciousness by repeated broadcasts, books, product promotions, and the like, they so transmogrify our climate of thought that we don’t realize that our faith has left the building.

for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me (John 17.8, NASB)

I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (John 17.14, NASB)

In his prayer, Jesus refers to God’s actions in Christ to redeem us as his word and his words. God chose to give us the mystery of Christ wrapped up in words. So we must deem the individual words forming the mosaic as possessing the same importance and authority as the entire mystery. In other words, each of the words are just as God-breathed as the whole book is. This idea—it's not just the “word of God” we preach, but the “words of God” too—is backed up by Acts:

But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life. (Acts 5.19-20, KJV)

Consequently, we must not refashion the "words of this life" without crystal clear clarity about what those words mean. We asked our rock star theologian Cheesy Mac to give us an example of some modern-day gloss. He took a butter-stained napkin from the table and wrote out 2 Corinthians 5:21's text.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (NASB)

He brought up some ready-made phrases about the scripture.

On the cross, God treated Christ as if He had committed all the sins of every believer who would ever believe, so that he could treat believers as if they had lived Christ’s perfect life. (John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles, Sermon 2000)

He scrawled out these notes before putting on his hat and heading out to a theological powwow:

  • “On the cross” - The verse doesn't say “on the cross.” While it may be true that 2 Corinthians 5.21 occurred on the cross, we need to be sure that “on the cross” is an accurate portrayal of the verse. For instance, did we “become the righteousness of God” on the cross or later on?
  • “God treated Christ as if” - The verse doesn't appear to create a legal fiction. The grammatical structure of the verse says “He made Him sin” which is quite different from “treated as if.” Why I could treat my dog as a low-down, good-for-nuthin’ mutt, but that doesn’t mean that he actually is a low-down, good-for-nuthin’ mutt. “Treated as if” is light years away from the actual words of the text.
  • “He had committed all the sins” - In the Greek, the word “sin” is singular in both instances. “All the sins” isn’t in the verse at all.
  • “Every believer who would ever believe” - That’s quite a hop, skip, and jump from “we.” Being the theologian I am, I know that this little ditty carries with it that theological bomb that some people are predestined to go to hell no matter what they do. 1 John 2.2 - “sins for the whole world” comes to mind. Again, it is a wide deviation from the text.
  • “He could treat believers” - Again, “treat as if” is the rendition of a legal fiction that doesn’t appear anywhere in the text. Look above about my dog.
  • “Christ’s perfect life” - “Christ’s perfect life” is absolutely nowhere in the text. The words say “righteousness of God.” I really don’t know how you get “Christ’s perfect life” out of “righteousness of God.”

The last line on the napkin was "Maybe that’s why I never get invited to speak at any of these things."

A repost from 2007.

GospelPeter Smythe