Understanding the Vernacular


Christian vernacular, or rather the language of the Christian religion (aka Christian slang), is bizarre and sometimes incomprehensible and exclusive to the new and non-believer. As a non-believer sitting through church services I often found myself turned off by and even angered by many of the terms used. Terms such as “lost”, “hell bound”, “unsaved” were offensive while terms such as “bathed in the blood of the lamb” and “born again” didn’t make sense to me when said in passing as I didn’t have the background and left me feeling like an outsider. Not to mention all the eye-rolling worthy terms like “knee-mail” (prayer), “clap offering”(applause), “Jesus is the reason for the season” (Christmas or Easter), “thirst for the Word”, and “divine appointment”. Barf.

I’m not going to stick up for any of the cheesy things Christians say. I’ve been known to talk with other believers about how much I thirst for the Word currently and where I feel like I’m being fed. I think when you’re talking with other believers that this sort of thing is okay- though if I hear you say knee-mail I might still punch you.  What I do want to do is give you a little of a background on some of the terms for your benefit so that you may have a better understanding.

urban-998216_640Lost- Terms such as “lost”, “unsaved”, and “salvation” were some of my least favorite. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t understand these terms, but the audacity- here were a bunch of people who didn’t seem anymore righteous than me telling me I was lost and going to hell while they were on the first train to heaven. They didn’t even know me, who were they to say I was lost?!

What I didn’t understand is that Christians use the analogy of a shepherd and his flock quite frequently; Jesus himself used it. It is important to know this to understand Christian slang. Jesus is referred to as the shepherd and we (all people) are his flock. When Christians talk about the lost, the are talking about non-believers as if they have wandered away from the rest of the flock much like a sheep who has wandered off and lost it’s way. The important thing to know is that our shepherd is always searching for us. When they use the term “lost” it is not said derivatively even though it can feel that way.

The other thing I didn’t understand at the time was that I was lost, but in a much greater sense- perhaps why I became so immediately defensive. Every time life was hard I was alone, deep and utterly alone. When I suffered with bouts of deep depression there was no promise of things getting better, there was no light in the darkness. The universe was a vastly enormous space and I was but a small, unimportant speck in all of it. That was perhaps why I started searching. I didn’t want that to be true. However, Christianity, or any other spiritual system, was not something I took lightly or just jumped headfirst into simply because I wanted it to be true. It was something I questioned relentlessly, that I wrestled with, that I tried to shake off but couldn’t. Do I still battle with depression? Yes. Do I still have hardships? Yes. Is my life any easier? No and Yes. I have all the same troubles, but a new reassurance that I will endure it and that if I don’t, it is only a blip in time before something better comes along. That though things are hard, so very very hard, I am no longer a lost sheep but one who is guarded and looked well after.

Unsaved- is a harder term and one I don’t like to use. There is no quicker way to turn a person off from God than to speak of damnation, if you ask me. Besides that, only God can see into another man’s heart. To assume that those of us attending church are saved and those that aren’t are unsaved is an unfair and dangerous assumption. Not all people who call themselves Christian will be “saved”.

Generally, Christians believe that only those who are true believers in the trinity (God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) and live their lives believing in Christ and living as he taught (to the best of any human ability) will be saved or allowed into heaven. Non-believers will not. I can’t sugar coat that one. It’s a tough truth to swallow. I personally know many amazing men and women who are not Christians that I cannot imagine doomed to hell. The only thing I’ve had to wrap my mind around this is the Bible. What the Bible tells me is that neither I nor anyone else will get into heaven by good deeds. We cannot earn God’s favor. The only way to heaven is through our belief in and our reliance on Christ.

Tied with this, you will often here people speak about “Sinners”. This is something I want to make abundantly clear. We are ALL sinners. No one man, other than Christ, has lived a sin free life. No one. When the Church speaks about sinners it means everyone- believers and non-believers alike. You may hear people speak about how we are all abhorrently evil and full of sin, each of us deserving sin in God’s eyes. The truth here is that there is no such thing as a “good” person. That was something I struggled with. After all, I thought of myself as a generally good person who put others first and was caring. Knowing that, why would I be unsaved? What sort of hateful God was this anyway? Really, it isn’t about me. It’s about God and sin. Sin is detestable to God. He hates it as it is the antithesis of God himself. Because we are all sinners we are not deserving to sit with Him in heaven. Think about it for a second: No sooner does a child learn to walk and talk they they begin to do things that are sinful- they begin to lie in order to stay out of trouble because they know what they did was wrong. We carry that on through adulthood. Many of our deeds and interactions are selfish- we may do good things, but often for our own pride and praise. We are steeped deeply in sin. It is our nature. But because God was so loving and full of grace he redeemed us and forgave our sin by putting his own Son into our hands to sacrifice. So when Christians or the Church tell you that you are not a good person, it is true- ungracefully said, but true. There is no such thing. Don’t take it personally. It’s not just you.

Born Again- This is another odd phrase that Christians use frequently and one I found quite odd. It’s a reference used to talk about moving forward as someone who professes a belief in God & Christ. The transformation of a non-believer to a believer. I cannot say that I ever saw much difference between people in my hometown church vs anywhere else so I wasn’t sure what a “born again” Christian was supposed to look like. Were those the crazy people standing on street corners with bill-boards? Were they supposed to look different? Shinier or something?

It wasn’t until I felt I could call myself a Christian that I could begin to understand this. Some people will tell you they can tell you the exact day and time they were “born again”. Personally, I find this to be the minority. For most Christians it is a slow process to becoming a full-fledged or “true” believer. But what I found was that I as my belief grew, I myself was changing. Little things mostly. I found myself listening to different music- yes Christian music (this isn’t a must so don’t be scared. I wanted to kick my own a** when I first started it!). I wanted to sing my praise. I wanted to listen to something that made me feel good, that reminded me of what God has done for me. I found myself making decisions differently- looking at what would be His way vs the world’s way- things like stretching the truth on a job application, what to do with the $20 I found on the sidewalk, etc. I found my motivations changing. This is what is meant by “born again”- it’s almost like shedding your old cocoon and stepping forward into the world new & different. Do I still mess up- yes, royally! I’m still human, after all; still a sinner. I still make mistakes, many times intentionally or repeatedly. My motivation has changed. I no longer want to live to better myself or protect myself.

Blood of the Lamb- Here is another reference within the shepherd/lamb analogy. Besides being our Shepherd, Jesus is also the lamb in that he was God’s sacrifice for our sins. In the Old Testament a sacrifice was given to God in order to be right with him, to have one’s sins forgiven. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice; his blood was shed for us so that we may have everlasting forgiveness. Jesus was “Like a sheep…led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth” (Acts 8:32). It may sound like an antiquated way to explain things, but it was perhaps the best way to describe it at the time and it stuck. People weren’t always well educated or literate. Stories and truths were passed down verbally. They needed visuals in order to comprehend and retain information and what better than a graphic phrase like this that already tied into rituals they had been doing for thousands of years.

bible-1089968_640Thirst & Fed- These are two terms I hear often and find myself using as well. They maybe aren’t as confusing as some of the others, but maybe more toward the cheesy side. Thirsting for the Word is perhaps used as much as it is because there really is no better way to say it. It’s such a hard thing to explain, but there is something about reading the Bible, about getting to know God, that leaves me wanting more. The more I read the more I want to read, to hear, to learn. It’s like thirsting for water- water is life giving and we physically crave it. God’s word is similar.

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.  -Psalms 63:1

Being fed is similar yet different. It’s more about what fulfills you, what builds you up. For some it is reading the Bible or attending church, for some it is spending time with others talking about God, asking questions, or attending a faith conference. Think about your average day and how work or your kids can drain you, but ___ (insert hobby) can fill your bucket back up to the brim. This is being fed. As a Christian there are only certain activities that feed that spiritual part of my soul.


Like I said, Christian slang can leave you feeling excluded. But I beg you, don’t let it chase you away. And if you are reading this as a Christian I beg you to carefully chose your words when talking to new or non-believers. Keep it simple. Heck, if your a pastor you should consider this too. Not everyone in the congregation each Sunday is a believer. Some are searching, some just testing the waters. Include them, don’t leave them feeling left out. We aren’t the cool kids looking to keep other kids out of the club. We are the kids that scoot over to make room at the lunch table for the newbies.

What phrases do you struggle with?