It can happen even in careful systematic theology. How much more so in popular parlance? We take what the Bible actually teaches, rephrase it so we can understand it, and end up believing our own phrasing, rather than the actual biblical truth. It’s not malicious, but it is dangerous. What follows are five common thoughts, common expressions, within the evangelical church that just aren’t so.
“All sins are equal in the sight of God.” Well, no. It is true enough that every sin is worthy of God’s eternal wrath. It is true enough that if we have broken part of the law we have broken the law (James actually says this.) It is true enough that unjust anger is a violation of the commandment against murder (Jesus actually says this.) None of this, however, means all sins are equal in the sight of God. To say that because all sins deserve eternal wrath means they are all equal is like saying that all numbers over 100 are equal. The truth is that Jesus said of the Pharisees that while they rightly tithed their mint and their cumin, they neglected the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). No sin is weightless, but some weigh more than others.
“Hell is the absence of God.” Well, no. If God is omnipresent, and He is, is there anywhere He can not be? David understood this, and thus affirmed, “If I make my bed in Sheol, Thou art there” (Psalm 139:8). Hell isn’t the absence of God, but the presence of His wrath. God is there, but His grace, His kindness, His peace are not. God is the great horror of hell.
“Jesus saves us from our sins.” Well, no. It is absolutely true that Jesus saves us. When we face trouble, He is the one we should be crying out to for deliverance. But the great problem with our sins isn’t our sins, but the wrath of God. The trouble I need to be delivered from is the wrath of God. Hell is not my sins, but the wrath of God. We don’t need to be saved from our sins. We need to be saved from the wrath due for our sins.
“God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Well, not if your name is Esau. Okay, there certainly is a kind of universal love that God has for all mankind. And certainly all those who repent and believe will be blessed. And certainly God calls all men everywhere to repent. But it is also true that God has prepared vessels for destruction (Romans 9:22). Being prepared for destruction likely wouldn’t be considered “wonderful” by anyone. We don’t know God’s hidden plans, and thus should preach the gospel to all the world. But we shouldn’t, in so preaching, promise what He hasn’t promised.
“Money is the root of all evil.” Well, no. Actually this one is wrong on two counts. First, the text (I Timothy 6:10) tells us that it is the love of money, not money, and that it is all sorts of evil, not all evil. If money were the root of all evil, all we would need to do to bring paradise on earth would be to have no more money. If money were the root of all evil, the problem would be out there, rather than in our hearts. Sin is not an it problem, but an us problem.
The devil isn’t lazy. He will take the breaks we give him. Myths and half-truths are perfect opportunities for us to miss who we are, who God is, and how He reconciles His own to Himself. Perhaps were we more faithful to His Word, we might just be more faithful.