Someone once remarked that working too hard without taking care of yourself was like "burning the candle at both ends." It was a good analogy, but it has been used so much that it has become a cliché.
It is the same with sayings like "Every cloud has a silver lining" and "All's well that ends well." They have become stereotyped and hackneyed by overuse.
That's the trouble with clichés — their very familiarity works against them to blunt their impact.
No writer or speaker who is "worth his salt" (oops) dares risk clichés. If he wants to "strike while the iron is hot" (sorry about that) he must find a different, less predictable way to make a point.
This is particularly important when making a religious point. Religious writing is sprinkled with terms like grace, glory, sanctified, redeemed, righteousness, faith and born again. You probably recognize these words, especially if you've grown up with some contact with the Bible and traditional religion.
But have you become so familiar with them that you no longer stop to think about what they mean? Have they become clichés — religious clichés?
Even entire scriptures from the Bible have become clichés. Favorites like "God so loved the world" and "The Lord is my shepherd" and "Thy word is truth" crop up all the time, even on greeting cards and souvenirs. They are standard fare for comforting, inspiring and encouraging, and they generally make people feel better for a while.
But do we let them off too lightly? Are we content with only a superficial understanding of these scriptures?
Take, for instance, the expression "Jesus died for you." You've heard that all your life. But have you ever thought about what it means? Let's look at it more carefully. Jesus (the Son of God) died (gave up His existence, allowing Himself to be put to death) for you (so that you would not have to have the same thing happen to you).
Now, have you ever seriously asked yourself why Jesus had to die like that for you? What have you done that deserved death? Surely God would not have allowed Jesus to be tortured to death just to get some concept across to help us "feel better."
Jesus had to die so that you wouldn't have to.
More "old favorites" Several other popular (perhaps too popular) scriptures should explain this point further. I'm sure that you've heard that "the wages of sin is death" — a quote from Paul's epistle to the Romans (Romans 6:23). What that means is that what you earn if you break God's law is the loss of your life, your consciousness, your total existence. Putting it bluntly, it means that if you sin, you are finished. You have received a death sentence and are doomed to destruction.
"The soul that sinneth, it shall die," wrote the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 18:4, Authorized Version). That also has become a cliché, its meaning dimmed. Most people still seem to believe that their souls are immortal, and that the souls of sinners live on forever in hell fire.
Perhaps the most popular scripture of all is the so-called golden verse: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
But wait a minute. If you have an immortal soul that is going to live forever in either heaven or hell, why do you have to believe in Jesus Christ in order to get everlasting life? Don't you already have it? But then, if you have it, how can the soul that sins die?
Do you see the trouble with clichés? You accept them without really stopping to think about what they actually mean. If you let the true significance sink in, you would quickly realize that there is something drastically wrong with some of the popularly held ideas about religion.
Here's another example. Everyone knows the "beatitudes." "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," said Jesus in Matthew 5:3. Now that's clear enough, isn't it? If you are "poor in spirit" — that is, humble, not proud or conceited — you will go to heaven when you die, won't you?
But two verses later, Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). Now does this mean that the poor in spirit go to heaven, while the meek remain on earth? Does that make any sense?
Does any of it make any sense?
Don't blame the Bible It is not surprising that many people who start to seriously study the Bible give up in frustration. The Bible may be a great book for spiritual-sounding quotes and comforting platitudes, but when you try to put it all together, it seems to dissolve into a mass of contradictions.
But that is not the Bible's fault. Too often we bring to our study of the Bible some firmly held beliefs that are just plain wrong.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus warned His disciples, "Why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). That warning is just as important today. Don't be so sure that you know what Jesus said. Can you explain clearly what the Kingdom of God, sanctified, glory, redeemed and righteousness really mean?
And what exactly is sin? Different churches and denominations have their own definitions — dancing, drinking, playing cards, eating meat or drinking tea, coffee and alcohol. But what does the Bible say sin is?
The answer is in I John 3:4, AV: "Sin is the transgression of the law." (That is one scripture that has never become a cliché — most people don't even know it's there.) Transgress means "to infringe, overstep or violate."
So sin is the violating of God's law. A popular teaching today is that the law was "nailed to the cross," and so after Jesus' death we aren't bound to keep it anymore. But have you ever seen that in the Bible? Are you sure that Jesus taught His disciples to believe it?
Because if He didn't, then maybe the law is still in effect, and maybe you've been transgressing it. And that, according to I John 3:4, is sin, and the wages you get for sinning is death, remember (Romans 6:23).
Could you, then, in spite of what you have always believed, have been lulled into a false security, because you have not really thought deeply about these favorite scriptures and concepts?
Now if you are indeed guilty of sin, you need help. Either you need a pardon, or you need to have someone pay the penalty for you.
You can't expect a pardon. That would involve a waiving or dismissing of the penalty, and sin is too serious for that. God doesn't just overlook the transgression of His law as if it was some minor offense — a slap on the hand and "try not to do it again." Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin, explained Paul in Hebrews 9:22.
God will, however, accept someone else's death in your place. But who can take that death penalty for you? "All have sinned," said Paul (Romans 3:23), so everyone else has received the death sentence.
Except one. Jesus Christ never sinned. He is the only person ever to live and not earn the wages of sin (I Peter 2:21-22). So He and He alone can pay the death penalty that your sins have earned you.
That is why He allowed Himself to be cruelly put to death. That is what "Jesus died for you" means. It is a matter of life and death — yours!
Clearing up clichés Once you let yourself think beyond a superficial understanding of these easily digested clichés, you will find that the Bible does not contradict itself. On the contrary, it begins to make wonderful sense. Words like sanctified and redeemed and concepts like glory and Kingdom of God will explode into new and rich meaning.
When you fully comprehend what Jesus Christ meant by being born again, it will change the direction of your life forever. Don't assume that you know — you could cheat yourself from finding out. "Born again" has become a cliché — and clichés are roadblocks to understanding. Dig deeper.
Have you noticed that many of the booklets and articles that the publishers of this magazine have to offer are designed to confront clichés head-on? Challenging titles like Just What Do You Mean... Kingdom Of God?, What Is The Reward Of The Saved? and Just What Do You Mean... Born Again? are designed to clear away the fuzzy concepts that you may have now, and make the truth startlingly clear.
They have helped thousands of people to really begin to grow in "grace and knowledge" (II Peter 3:18). "Knowledge" hasn't become a cliché yet. But I wish there was another word for "grace."