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A question of semantics
- Jacob Ninan
It often happens that people understand different things from the same words. There are many things that affect our understanding, and we are sometimes not even aware that what we intend to convey is not what some other people understand, and vice versa!
One example comes in the area of our salvation. Some people who understand that salvation is a gift of grace from God which we don't deserve find it difficult to accept that we need to have faith in order to receive it (Ep.2:8,9)! For them 'faith' is not associated with placing our trust in God but in mustering up enough 'faith' in order to meet God's criteria for granting some request. So they associate 'faith' with works (!), and that is blatantly contrary with their understanding of the doctrine of unmerited favour from God. They argue, "If you have to have faith in order to receive salvation from God, it is not longer a free gift!"
Another example is also in the area of salvation. When someone preaches that 'mere faith' that Jesus died for us and confessing our sins are not enough to receive salvation, but we need to repent first from our sin, some people get worked up! For them 'repent' means to change their sinful behaviour, which, they point out, comes as a result of salvation and not as a condition of salvation! But Biblical repentance is actually just a change of the heart's attitude towards sin--from being OK with sin to wanting to be saved from it--which causes us to recognise our need for a Saviour.
I read someone's comments on a certain preacher who used Mt.7:21, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter," to say that it was not enough to give lip service to faith, but that a genuine faith would be seen by the transformation of our life into doing God's will in practical ways. But his opponents took up Jn.6:29 to prove that the work of God that Jesus meant was only 'believing'! This preacher was only trying to clarify what a genuine 'believing' will do in a man's life, and saying that if our faith didn't result in genuine 'works' we would be deceiving ourselves (Jas.2:17).
We must recognise that we all make many mistakes (Jas.3:2). Who among us can claim to use all our words with exactness all the time? Some may be better at it than others, but no one does it perfectly. Why don't we make some efforts to understand what another is trying to say before we reply? Why are we so eager to come up with a fit reply that we aren't even listening to the others while they are speaking but preparing our rebuttal? Why don't we also try to make our meanings as clear as possible to the others?
Understanding others doesn't come easily. (They are also finding it difficult with us!) But don't we need to work on it consciously, learning from our mistakes and also from what we observe in others? Be quick to hear, slow to speak (Jas.1:19).