One of the most frustrating things for me as a communicator occurs when I realize that my audience and I are using the same words but different dictionaries.

It happens more often than we realize. And when it does, it can result in true words leading people down a false path.

For instance, tolerance used to mean allowing people to be wrong. Now it means acknowledging everyone is right. So if I take a passage like 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 or 2 Timothy 2:24-26 and plead with my congregation to be more tolerant, they don’t hear gentleness, humility, and patience toward those who don’t yet know the truth. They hear a call to support and defend the gay agenda.

I’m convinced the same thing has happened to the word faith. It no longer means what it used to mean. Worse, for most people, it conjures up an image that has nothing to do with the Biblical concept of faith.

I find that most people today (Christians and non-Christians) define Faith as a feeling of optimism and confidence. It means believing we can still win the game even though we’re five runs down with two outs in the ninth. It means planning a three year project even though the doctors have given us two months to live. It’s the mental gymnastics of positive thinking that rejects all thoughts of defeat.

That’s why I’m not using the word faith much these days. Instead, whenever possible, I’ve started to use the word trust. It’s much closer to what Jesus and the apostles had in mind.

No one thinks of trust as magically shielding them from defeat. Instead, we think of it as something people have in the midst of defeat – when things don’t make sense – when nothing works out as expected.

It’s what Job had when all hell broke loose. It’s what Jesus had in the garden. It’s what the ancient prophet Habakkuk had when he penned these powerful words: Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength . . . Habakkuk 3:17-19

And isn’t that what we and our people need in these challenging times?

What do you think?

9 Comments

  1. Doug Kyle on February 13, 2009 at 10:59 am

    So I saw the title of your article and I was already thinking, “Yeah, a better word is TRUST.” So obviously I’m right with you on this. Even more profound is the concept of thinking about how standard Christian vocab can be misunderstood today (your example with the word tolerance was perfect – never thought of it like that). Nice post.

  2. Tom Shelton on February 13, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    Great Post Larry! Sometimes the definitions of words change with the times. Other times they change because someone wants to push an agenda. Like the word Progressive. This has changed from good to bad and back again over time…

  3. Fred Lybrand on February 13, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    Larry,

    You know I think you are right because I’ve watched you for too long! You have really good instincts!!!

    On the other hand, I have a hard time buying it because it a language shift that could dictate meaning into the Word. Faith and trust aren’t the same…just as replacing ‘christian’ with ‘follower of Jesus’ really isn’t accurate either (Judas was a Jesus follower).

    In my neck of the woods (San Antonio) we could dump Jesus because their are so many Jesuses (Hay-zus-es) from our great Hispanic seasoning.

    At some level I think we might just have to teach people the meaning of words again. Right now I’m teaching a series called “How to Get Your Faith Back Again (and what to do next)”…which seems to really be connecting with our folks.

    A feeling of optimism and confidence about Christ’s promise of eternal life (John 3:16) sounds like a pretty fair definition of faith.

    At any rate…we’re stuck teaching the untaught.

    I’m probably all wet!

    Grace and Peace (Gift and Serenity),

    Fred

  4. Larry Osborne on February 13, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Fred –

    I would hardly say you’re all wet – your points are well taken.

    At the same time, I’d point out that the words in our English Bibles are merely translations of the original Greek and Hebrew words. So, while the original texts are sacred (and without error in my view) the same cannot be said of our various translations – whether in English, French or whatever.

    A word that accurately conveyed a certain meaning at one time may no longer convey the same meaning at a later time in history. For instance, I don’t think anyone objects to the change from “charity” to “love” in our translations of 1 Corinthians 13.

    So I’m just wondering if the same thing is currently happening with the way the average man or woman hears and uses the word “faith” today. I certainly haven’t stopped using it altogether. I don’t expect I will either. But I have noticed that “trust” sometimes seems to get the idea of Biblical faith across better than any other English word I know.

  5. Fred Lybrand on February 14, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Larry,

    I’m with you on those points…Rudolf Flesch was right when he pointed out that language is the most democratic thing out there.

    I suppose what I’m wrestling with is the nature of history and theology. It seems there is a bit of a disservice we perpetuate when we adopt words that have a long history in our literature. Indeed, charity is still used and understood in its basic meaning (88,000,000 Google hits!).

    If some our disciples (mentees!)go on to study the Bible, theology, and history…won’t they have to grapple with the nature of the word ‘faith’ as it is used in such continual and profound ways (like ‘faith alone in Christ alone’)?

    I think we, as teachers, always grapple with definitions as we help others learn. Trust, however, seems to be a bit of a step away from faith as it embraces the notions of commitment and a ‘pact’ toward action. Biblically, that really isn’t the notion of faith as a broad-sweep idea…the same problem with those who merge faith & works together. Nonetheless, faith and trust are quite related.

    Personally, ‘believe’ is still pretty good…plus, I’m not seeing the misnomer with ‘faith’ anymore than I do the rest of these words under discussion.

    I may need to look at my resources; I’m probably 5 years behind the times!

    Keep leading,

    Fred

  6. Gregg Stutts on February 18, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Larry,
    Just read your post about using trust, not faith. I do like “trust” better or even “believe.” My blog is called “I Believe God.”

    For me, it’s a continuing battle to trust or believe God as opposed to what I see, hear and feel everyday. “I Believe God” is a reminder for me as much as anything.

    Also just read your article on “Is It A Sin to Be Average?” The timing of it was excellent as I’ve been wrestling with something very similar. Thank you.

    Gregg

  7. Stephen on May 29, 2009 at 5:31 am

    Fred

    Good points. Funny you brought it up, because from my watch I don’t see how Larry adheres to “faith alone in Christ alone.” In fact I expect he would admit that he sees that statement off the mark of accuracy.

    Alone still means “seperate and by itself” right?

    It would be nice to hear that Jesus’ promise in John 3:16 is as simple as it sounds. Instead, I can grab a packet with hours of sermons to explain to me what “giving Jesus the Steering Wheel of my Life” means.

    • Larry Osborne on May 29, 2009 at 11:05 am

      Stephen

      Not sure what you mean by “faith alone in Christ alone.” But I would point out that it’s not a phrase found anywhere in the Bible. It’s a theological summation. It’s always interesting to me how we can get all worked up and divide over whether or not someone adheres to a term not even used in the Bible. But here goes how I respond to the phrase “faith alone in Christ alone.”

      If by “faith alone” you mean an intellectual assent that matches the way the demons’ believe in Jesus (James 2:19) then I have to plead guilty as charged. If you mean by “faith alone” that we can claim to have faith in Christ and live like hell (and still count that empty faith as saving faith) – then I’m guilty as charged.

      If you mean by “faith alone” the same kind of faith that Jesus and NT writers define – then I’m all in. If you mean that salvation can only be found through faith in Christ and can never be found or furthered by our good deeds or the works of the OT law – then I’m all in.

      The Apostle John wrote a very simple test to help us determine if we know God. I see no reason to redefine or tweak his words – after all, they are scripture, and all of our theological ruminations are not. Here’s what he says in 1 John 2:3-6

      We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

  8. fredlybrand on August 29, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Hey Larry,

    My book Back to Faith will be off the press in just a few weeks. I hope you’ll read Chapter 4…I revisit the James 2 stuff in a helpful (I hope) way.

    You’re the bomb! (that’s a good thing in Texas!)

    Fred

Leave a Comment