“Cliché-anity” is when short sayings or clichés substitute for real theology and deep thinking. It happens like this: Christians get used to hearing a catchy phrase that may have at the time been helpful, but then uncritically adopt it longer than we should. (And in some cases, we adopt it when we shouldn’t.)
What was once a helpful saying becomes enormously unhelpful. And when that happens, the cliché’s start to do theology for us instead of letting the Bible take our every thought captive. That’s when Cliché -anity happens. Clichés take the “Christ” out of Christ-ianity.
So here are five of the most annoying clichés you’ll never find in the Bible. We should replace each of these with biblical wisdom instead.
1. “God never gives you more than you can handle.”
This is one of those phrases people reach for in difficult times so I can understand why it’s said. Trying to comfort a hurting friend, we say “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” But is that true biblically?
In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, the apostle Paul shares openly:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.
Whatever circumstances he faced had pushed him over the edge. Paul was beyond his own resources. It was bigger than he could handle.
What we learn from Paul’s example is that sometimes, God actually gives us more than we can handle. That’s why we need him. If we could handle everything by ourselves, why would we even need to trust in the Lord to provide us with what we don’t have but can find in him?
2. “When God closes a door, he opens a window.”
No doubt, this is well-intended advice. But like the first cliché, it’s biblically dishonest. Sometimes God closes the door and he shuts the window. Sometimes, God doesn’t permit us to do what we want to do, go where we want to go, and be who we want to be.
In Romans 8:38–39, Paul writes:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What this reveals to us is that, even if nothing goes our way and everything stands against us—every door and window is shut in our face. If even, life is taken from us, nothing can keep us from the love of God in Christ because he has conquered death.
As true as that is and as comforting as this should be, we are nowhere promised that God will open a window once a door is shut.
It’s possible that every option can run out and we are left with nothing but Jesus.
3. “God helps those who help themselves.”
Ask someone where this is in the Bible and they’ll probably take a guess. Of course, it’s not there. This cliché was coined by Benjamin Franklin, and it should never be used by Christians who believe that the Bible is God’s truth.
We are so far from being capable of helping ourselves that the Bible says we’re not just helpless, but we are spiritually dead. What this means is that God helps us when we can’t even help ourselves. As Ephesians 2:4-5 teaches:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.
While we were still hopeless sinners, Jesus Christ died for us. God helps the helpless.
4. “Nobody’s perfect.” (Or “Everyone makes mistakes.”)
When someone messes up, this is a common response that even Christians use. And we shouldn’t, because the problem with us according to the Bible isn’t that we make mistakes—our problem is that we sin and we are sinners.
True, nobody’s perfect, but saying this implies that since nobody is perfect everyone is okay—and that everyone’s sinful behavior, thoughts, and speech should be excused.
After telling us that the perfect law of God shuts our mouth (Rom 3:19), Paul says in Romans 3:23: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
What we find throughout the Bible is not an excuse for our sin and wrongdoing, but a real solution provided through the body and blood and in the life and death of Jesus (Rom 3:24-25).
5. Hate the sin, love the sinner.
The first time the Bible cast this saying out of me was when I was reading through the Psalms for the first time. (And by that I mean a serious and intentional reading of the Psalms—not just hopping around, picking a verse here or there).
Early in the Psalter, we encounter some bold, and frankly, intolerant language for our tolerant age:
“The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” (Psalm 5:5–6)
Here, David says of the Lord that he doesn’t just hate the evil that people commit, but he explicitly hates those who do evil—”evildoers.” In other words, God hates sin and the sinner. At first sight, this sounds awful, but it makes total theological sense. God is holy. He cannot love evil.
What’s so outstanding about the gospel, though, is that in Christ, God hated sin so much that he became sin himself to pay the penalty for it. And in doing so, he could love and be with his people forever.
As Christians, we do not hate people but love them. And we display love for all people when we encourage them to turn away from sin and believe in the gospel.
Seek Christ, Not Clichés
Instead of offering people more bad advice via Cliché-anity, let’s turn to offer them the whole truth, being fully honest so that we can always lead them toward the good news of Christianity. Let’s refrain from using clichés in our conversations with others. Let’s put “Christ” back into Christ-ianity.
This is news that you’ll always find everywhere in the Bible.