Semantics and the Gospel, Part 2 (Understanding God’s Great Salvation #4)

The Bible says in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Allow me to share with you some commentary on this passage from the Bible Knowledge Commentary by Dr. John F. Walvoord and Dr. Roy B. Zuck:

The wages of sin is death (eternal death here is contrasted with “eternal life”). This death is eternal separation from God in hell, in which unbelievers suffer conscious torment forever. This is the wages they have earned and deserve because of their sin. By contrast, the gift of God is eternal life. Eternal life is a gift that cannot be earned. Three times in this chapter Paul wrote that sin results in death. But believers have been set free from sin and are no longer slaves to it but are “slaves to righteousness.” Because they are alive to God and have eternal life they should present themselves to Him and live accordingly, not letting sin master them.

Today’s quote is from C.S. Lewis. He said: “Christ died for men precisely because men are not worth dying for; to make them worth it.”

Our topic today is titled “Semantics and the Gospel (Part 2)” from the book, “So Great Salvation: What it Means to Believe in Jesus Christ” by Dr. Charles Ryrie.

Observe this random sampling of expressions of the Gospel taken from tracts, sermons, books, and radio and TV messages. I list them without documentation since the point is not who said these but to show what was said and to illustrate how varied and confusing these statements are. If we gave even half of them to an unsaved person, what would he be expected to believe?

Here they are:

1. Repent, believe, confess your sin to God, and confess Him before man and you will be saved.

2. The clearest statement of the Gospel in the New Testament is found in Luke 9:23: “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

3. Perhaps the most comprehensive invitation to salvation in the Epistles comes in James 4:7-10: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.

4. May the Lord reveal to the sinners that the only way for them to be saved from their sins is to repent with a godly sorrow in their hearts to the Lord.

5. Utter the prayer of the Prodigal Son—ask Jesus to be your Lord and Master.

6. Come forward and follow Christ in baptism.

7. Place your hand in the nail-scarred hands of Jesus.

8. Find Christ by praying through to Him.

9. Believe in Him, trust Him, accept Him, commit your life to Him.

10. We have the warning of Christ that He will not receive us into His kingdom until we are ready to give up all, until we are ready to turn from all sin in our lives.

11. God offers eternal life freely to sinners who will surrender to Him in humble, repentant faith.

12. Do we literally have to give away everything we own to become Christians? No, but we do
have to be willing to forsake all.

13. Matthew 7:13-14 is pure Gospel: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

14. No one can receive Christ as his Savior while he rejects Him as his Lord.

15. Give your heart to Christ.

16. Ask Jesus to come into your heart.

Not all these statements are incorrect or equally good or bad. But they are not all saying the same thing. They are not expressing the same truth only in different words. The differences cannot be harmonized by saying, “It’s only a matter of semantics.” And yet they all purport to be explaining the way of salvation.

Just as words were the means God used to record the Gospel in the Scriptures, so words are the means we use to explain the Gospel to others. Therefore, a correct choice of words is important, even essential, in stating the Gospel well.

We will continue looking at the topic of Semantics & the Gospel in our next broadcast.

Semantics and the Gospel, Part 1

The Bible says in Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”

Today’s quote is from Saint Augustine. He said: “He who created us without our help will not save us without our consent.”

Our topic today is titled “Semantics and the Gospel (Part 1)” from the book, “So Great Salvation: What it Means to Believe in Jesus Christ” by Charles Ryrie.

A good choice of words is essential if we are to state the Gospel clearly and accurately.

I have often heard the retort, “it is only a matter of semantics.” In my experience it usually came from students using it as a defense mechanism to justify a poor answer to a question. And usually the question involved defining or explaining carefully the meaning of a biblical doctrine or concept. “A matter of semantics” was supposed to excuse fuzzy thinking and a poor, if not wrong, choice of words.

Is semantics important? Actually, semantics is not an excuse, nor is it incidental; it is the whole point. Semantics involves the study of meanings of words; so if a person uses words that do not convey the meaning he or she is attempting to express, then a different meaning comes across. If semantics is the study of meanings, then one has to be alert to semantics in all communication. For example, when an attorney draws up a contract, he or she must pay careful attention to semantics. The choice of words may determine whether or not the contract, if challenged, will remain in force or can be broken. The meaning of the words — semantics — forms the basis for the validity and intention of that contract.

Likewise, Bible students and preachers must pay careful attention to semantics. How careful they express the meanings of verses, passages, and doctrines will determine the effectiveness and accuracy of communicating God’s message to others. (I am not speaking of the matter of differing interpretations. One can hold a wrong interpretation of a passage and yet express it clearly; so too may one have a correct interpretation and express it badly.)

What is the purpose of language?

Language was given by God for the purpose of His being able to communicate with man. To be sure, man has corrupted language; but God saw to it that He had sufficient vehicles in languages with which He could communicate to us and we to Him. Although language was confused at the Tower of Babel so that people could no longer understand each other’s speech, God nevertheless chose Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic as sufficient and adequate languages to convey His revelation of truth in the Bible. And, in the other direction, we find English and German and French and any other language on earth adequate to carry our communication in prayer to God.

The Christian philosopher Gordon Clark wrote: “If God created man in His own rational image and endowed him with the power of speech, then a purpose of language, in fact the chief purpose of language, would naturally be the revelation of truth to man and the prayers of man to God. In a theistic philosophy one ought not to say that all language has been devised in order to describe and discuss the finite objects of our sense-experience…. On the contrary, language was devised by God, that is, God created man rational for the purpose of theological expression.”

If we acknowledge that language came from God so that He can communicate to us (and we to Him), then semantics, which studies the meanings of words, is crucial if we wish to communicate His truth accurately.

Furthermore, it seems to me that those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible ought especially to be concerned with accuracy in communicating the truth. All the Bible is without error and important to us. Certainly how we as Christians express the Gospel ought to be our greatest concern. We do not want to confuse or shortchange or obscure God’s good news of his grace—how He gave His Son so that we might have eternal life through faith in Him. Semantics is key in understanding and communicating the Gospel.