The beginnings of the new professional football season are underway. Soon enough, fans across the world will excitedly greet the much anticipated TV commercials of Super Bowl Sunday. Each company will spend millions of dollars to develop an advertisement with a catchy slogan and then spend millions more to air it on national TV.
The rule of the advertising world is that if you can develop a good enough slogan, the product will sell. When spiritual leaders and those concerned with matters of the soul (as we all should be) adopt a similar slogan-selling approach, then we’re in trouble . . . BIG trouble!
It has become a religious pastime to condense all of theology into one-liners, catchy “spiritual slogans,” and rallying cries for society. At times the names “Jesus” and “Christ” and religious phrases are spread around in such a way that leaves the impression that all will be well just by using the words often enough and with enough enthusiasm.
This is not to say that there can not be some benefit in compressing a biblical truth into an easily remembered phrase, but before the “condensed version” can ever be used with value, the “expanded version” must first be known, understood, and appreciated.
There are pithy statements of truth presented in Scripture itself, especially in the book of Proverbs. There are recurring themes and phrases throughout the Bible. Still, the books of the Bible are more than a collection of clichés and slogans. Rather, God’s Word uses the short proverbs and standard themes together with its in-depth presentation of truth.
There is a grave danger in allowing the Savior to become nothing more than a slogan. The words sound great, but where’s the substance? We can talk about Jesus all day but if we don’t know who He really is, we have nothing. “Jesus” is a great name. His is a name above every one name, God says (Philippians 2:9), but that is only true when it is attached to Jesus from Nazareth who is true God and true man and when it keeps in mind the work that this Jesus has done. Anything else leaves “Jesus” an empty shell of five letters that may still look good on paper and sound good in the ear but leaves the soul helpless.
We can speak about the love of God, but if we don’t know who the true God is, or don’t know how totally undeserving each of us is for His love, or don’t understand why His love is so amazing and so necessary, then we are missing an important ingredient. If a slogan advertises God is amazing and so necessary, then we are missing an important ingredient. If a slogan advertises God’s amazing love but never comprehends that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), then we have a slogan but are lacking a Savior.
We can talk about all the changes that a relationship with Jesus will make in lives and in actions, but such talk will only be legitimate if we do not forget the substance of the great change Jesus accomplished concerning our soul’s life and eternity. Slogans are awfully good at saying that Jesus will make a difference in your life, but what does that mean? Why will He make a difference? How? The difference doesn’t come from a well-worded, energizing sales punch. The difference will come from the Savior behind the slogan who has made the difference by dying for our sins to free us from eternal damnation. The difference is found in the fullness of God’s Word.
The danger that surrounds religious slogans and overused religious words is that they are said so easily and repeatedly that they soon are spoken without thought or understanding. Some of the most common words used in the Bible, such as faith, love, forgiveness, spiritual, blessing, repentance etc. flow so easily from the lips. However, if we take time to try to define them accurately and fully we might have to stop and think a bit because, for example, “love . . . we . . . hmm . . . well, you know . . . hmm . . . well, it’s just love!”
Jesus speaks of empty words in connection with prayer. He warned against prayers being said over and over again as if there would be some merit in the repetition itself, even if comprehension, mental focus, knowledge and trust in God were lacking. “When you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do, for they think they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7).
The modern market place is consumed with a desire for things that are “light” and fat-free. Sadly, it seems that there are similar desires for “light religion.” Cream cheese-lite and fat-free chips may be better for the body, but Bible-lite and substance-free theology will kill the soul. “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Peter 2:2-3).
(This article first appeared in the pastor’s column for a Florida newspaper last Fall when its author, Pastor Wayne Eichstadt, was serving as Missionary-at-large in Live Oak. Eichstadt now serves as associate pastor at Immanuel, Mankato, Minn.)