The other day, I took my bride on one of her favorite field trips: She loves to go shopping! We spent the afternoon one day last week on a shopping spree that pleased her like nothing else – not because she was shopping, but because she got some really great bargains!
In fact, at the end of the day, when the tally was complete, we had spent only 15% of the original prices on all that we purchased that day! The sheer magnitude of the savings made the whole day a great success!
But one incident that day almost put a damper on the whole experience.
We walked into one store and noticed that the ads all over the store were proclaiming a discount on sale items of 75% off the original price. Now, this was a great bargain, and we profited greatly from those discounted prices.
But after we made our purchases and were on our way to our parked car, we noticed an advertisement saying that if you used your store credit card, or opened a new credit account with that store, you would receive an additional 15% off the original price!
Checking our receipts, we noticed that we had not received that additional discount. Being just stubborn enough to question the cashier about this “error”, I was informed that the credit card discount only applied to “SALE” items. We had purchased “CLEARANCE” items, and not “SALE” items!
I learned an important lesson that day! I learned that it is necessary to be very careful how you read the advertising that some establishments use in attempting to lure customers into their stores.
In a word, IT IS ALL IN THE VOCABULARY!
I would never have believed that there was a difference in a storewide clearance sale and a storewide sale, especially when they are both going on at the same time, and when the clearance items are intermixed with the sale items rack by rack throughout the store.
But according to that young cashier that day, there is definitely a difference. Sale is sale, and clearance is clearance and never the twain shall meet!
But the more I have thought about that situation that day, the more I have come to realize that no matter what the situation, it is all in the vocabulary. And that is especially true in the spiritual realm.
In the past several months I have encountered any number of people who use the same vocabulary that I use to describe the spiritual experiences, but they mean entirely different things when they use those terms.
For example, what is the true meaning of the expression, “For by grace are you saved through faith”? Now almost everyone I know would understand this expression to be a reference to the deliverance one receives from eternal damnation in hell and to eternal bliss in heaven.
But when you ask how that is achieved, there is any number of explanations. One group may take “grace” to mean “the unmerited favor of God as revealed to us through the church.”
While that may sound good on the surface, the great danger here is that we then may think that what the church has to say about a subject is more important than what God has to say about it. And that is wrong! Dead wrong!
Another group may take “faith” to mean “trusting in Christ to do His part in your salvation while you do your part.” But this understanding of that term impugns the supreme role of the death of Christ on the cross, saying in effect that Christ’s dying for our sins on the cross was a good thing, but it just was not enough to purchase my eternal life without my help.
I come back to the statement – IT IS ALL IN THE VOCABULARY!
When Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me,” He did not mean that He was “a way” or even “most of the way.”
He meant just what He said – “THE way.” He did not mean that He was only part of the truth. He meant He was THE truth. And He did not mean that He was 90% of the Life. He meant that life is obtained ONLY through Him. He said “no man comes to the Father but through Me,” and He was teaching the exclusivity of the Christian life.
The only way to heaven is through Christ. It comes not through meditation or through martyrdom or hegiras or any of the five pillars or through the eight-fold path or through washings or baptisms or through any other way. It comes only through Christ. God calls each and every one of us to simply trust Him.
Jesus said it best when in John 6:47 He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.”
While you may think I am playing word games, or trafficking in semantics, the issue is an issue of terms, but even more an issue of theology: If we are not careful our theology will dictate how we understand the meaning of the terms.
Jesus calls us simply to believe. Does that mean “believe plus do good works” or “believe plus be baptized” or “believe plus obey the church fathers”? Or does it simply mean “believe”?
Does Clearance mean Clearance and Sale mean Sale? Yes! Don’t read any more into it than is there!
And the same is true for “Believe!” Simply trusting in the death of Christ as sufficient payment for your sin is all that is required for you to receive the free gift of eternal life!
It is not free if you HAVE to do something else in payment for it!
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the News Journal and a former pastor in the area. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.