Appendix:Christian figures of speech
This is a glossary of Christian figures of speech in English. These are figures of speech that indicate or make reference to ideas, experiences, doctrine, or other things related to the Bible or the Christian experience. As with all figures of speech, they are idiomatic and may not be readily understandable without familiarity with the corresponding Bible account or Christian conventions. Some of these expressions are derived from Scripture (see lay out a fleece) while others are simply phrases that have found popularity in Christian circles (see be plugged in).
This list is organized in alphabetical order. Because most of these figures of speech are multi-word phrases, and thus include many repeated articles, prepositions and the like, they are sorted according to the key word in each phrase. Generally, the key word in a multi-word phrase is the noun that contributes most to the idiom's meaning; the key word in an adjective + noun phrase is the adjective.
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- a renewed mind, often through repentance.
- apple of my eye
- means that someone is deeply cherished, usually above all others. Originates from the scriptures in Deuteronomy 32:10 and Zechariah 2:8
- to no longer follow the teachings of Christ and to remove oneself from Christian gatherings, without formally renouncing them. Used commonly in Christian groups which teach the doctrine of eternal security; those who do not teach this doctrine do not use this phrase as those followers believe the person is lost (see below).
- brother's keeper, Am I my brother's keeper?
- A response to an inquiry about someone who the speaker does not feel responsible for. Taken from the Bible account when God asked Cain where his brother Abel was. Cain replied "Am I my brother's keeper?" as recorded in Genesis 4:9.
- called to do (or say) [something]
- to nail to the cross, to lay at the cross
- to acknowledge a personal habit or custom as wrong and trust Jesus to help one keep his commitment in stopping it
- drop in the bucket
- A very small portion of a whole. Taken from Isaiah 40:15
- (to have or be granted) favor with someone
- felt needs
- the perceived needs and desires of someone not currently a Christian. Used frequently in churches such as Willow Creek Community Church and their followers as a means of evangelism (i.e., determine one's felt needs, then show how the Gospel can meet them), but with groups opposed to Willow Creek's practices, to meet one's "felt needs" is considered a compromise.
- on fire for God
- to have a strong witness
- lay out a fleece
- to ask God to answer a specific request, as a means of determining whether a prior word from God was genuine. Taken from the Biblical story of Gideon.
- be foundational
- bear fruit
- to display evidence of God's working within oneself. Some of the fruits of the Holy Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (from Galatians 5:22-23; see also Luke 6:44 and Matthew 12:23).
- glean, gleaning
- to take from the excess of others in the congregation in order to maintain yourself in Christian activity or, in the case of the poor, to maintain a living. Taken from a law of the Mosaic Law found in Leviticus 19:9, 10 that allowed the poor, afflicted, foreigners, orphans, and widows to take fruit that had fallen from trees or the perimeter of a crop from another person's land.
- Golden Rule
- Ethic of reciprocity, or to treat others as one would like to be treated, based on the text at Matthew 7:12. Often quoted "Do unto other as you would have others do unto you".
- God spoke to me
- The beleif one has a message from God through prayer or a revelation
- Good Samaritan
- Someone who helps a needy stranger and expects no compensation. Taken from the parable of a kind-hearted Samaritan recorded in Luke 10:30-33.
- God laid it on my heart to say (or do) [something]
- believing that God has given one a specific task.
- God gave me a heart for [someone or something]
- To believe that God has given one a specific personal ministry. Similar to above but usually involving more commitment (in terms of time, resources, etc.).
- (to) guard one's heart
- restraining from activities that would negatively impact one's Christian witness. Commonly used when dealing with interpersonal relationships.
- (to) have a heart for [someone]
- to care for someone's well-being
- (to) have a heart for the nations
- (to be) intentional about [something]
- (to) fight on one's knees
- to pray
- the Lord
- Jesus Christ
- the lost
- people who have not made a commitment to Jesus Christ (Luke 19:10; Matthew 18:11)
- heart for the lost
- an especial awareness of the necessity of evangelization
- passion for the lost
- similar to heart for the lost above, but perhaps associated with activity as well as awareness. Example: I met Jack on a mission trip to Quito last year, and boy does he have a passion for the lost. He was out there every morning handing out tracts and answering folks' questions.
- (to) reach the lost
- to undertake evangelical and missionary efforts
- mission trip
- a visit to another place (often far from home) for the purpose of evangelizing the people there. Short-term missions can (and often do) provide practical assistance such as medical services or construction help in addition to evangelism. Example: My Bible study went on a short-term mission trip to this little town in Mexico where we built a school and told people about Jesus.
- offer [something] up
- To unite your sufferings to those of Christ; to take a misfortune as an opportunity to "take up your cross and follow Christ."
- as old as Methuselah
- To indicate that something that is extremely old. Refers to the oldest bible character, who is reported to have lived 969 years in Geneis 5:25-27.
- (the) Our Father
- Refers to the model prayer that Jesus prayed during his Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 6. Called this because in many languages, the first two words of the prayer are our father; in Spanish, the prayer is commonly called the "padrenuestro" or, in Latin, the "pater noster".
- patience of Job
- extreme patience, in reference to the much-persecuted bible character Job
- one who has little involvement in church activities outside of attending services
- (to be) plugged in
- to be significantly involved in one's church activities and ministries
- quiet time
- a period of private prayer and Bible study or devotional reading. Many Christians have their quiet time in the morning. Example: I've started waking up 15 minutes earlier each day so I can have some quiet time with the Lord before I head off to work.
- (to be or get) saved
- to accept Jesus Christ as one's savior and have one's sins forgiven. Some churches stress that there is a particular moment when a believer accepts Jesus Christ, and so they will talk about when they got saved. But not in all cases can a person pin down at what moment they first began to believe. Example: I wasn't saved until college, when I gave up trying to run my own life and asked Jesus to be the lord of my life instead.
- (to be) unsaved
- to still bear the weight of one's sins
- the activity of sharing the Gospel with people in the hopes they will accept Christ
- spiritual walk
- a person's relationship with God
- spiritual conversation
- the kind of conversation about God and religion and other "big questions" that is often an opportunity to present the Gospel. Example: Over lunch the past few weeks, Joey and I have been having some really interesting spiritual conversations. She seems pretty curious about what the Bible says about Jesus.
- an area of a believer's life that hasn't yet been given over to God; often, a sinful habit or pattern that is made conspicuous by positive changes in other areas of the person's life. Example: His anxiety over whether God has truly forgiven all his sins is a real stronghold for him.
- cause one to stumble: to sin, usually as a result of some kind of temptation. Example: When I stay in hotel rooms, I don't even turn on the cable channels because I don't want to stumble.
- money used for ministry (usually missionary) work; a shorthand expression for financial support. Example: Susan's raised about half the support she'll need to spend the summer in Spain volunteering at a church.
- sword drill
- a game where the first person to locate a particular Scripture verse in the Bible wins. It tends to be pretty organized: for example, with all the players holding their Bibles closed in one hand before the verse reference is called out. Example: We had a few minutes left in Sunday School, so the teacher ran us through some sword drills.
- The practice of supporting one's ministry or missionary work by keeping a secular job. The Book of Acts notes that Paul was a tent-maker by trade (Acts 18:3) and Paul makes occasional references in his letters to his continuing to work in that trade to support himself on his mission trips (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8)
- Doubting Thomas
- In a Christian context, someone who has doubts in their faith. In a secular sense, anyone who doubts. Taken from John 20:25, when Thomas doubted the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- A thorn in the flesh
- A persistent trial or annoyance. Taken from the unspecified "thorn in the flesh" of the Apostle Paul mentioned in Corinthians 12:7
- A gift (charism) imparted by the Holy Spirit as evidenced by the speaking in other, hitherto-unlearned languages, and often accompanying the initial infilling of the Holy Ghost. Also called Glossolalia.
- (to have) victory over [something]
- to be freed from an addiction or stronghold, often after a long struggle with it
- (to) wait upon the Lord
- 1) after having prayed over a matter, to see how the Lord will respond; or 2) to not do something until receiving positive confirmation from the Lord.
- (to) witness
- to tell someone about Jesus Christ. Synonyms include: share the good news (or gospel) with someone; tell someone the good news (or gospel).
- (to) ruin one's witness
- to engage in sinful activities, in the presence of nonbelievers, that will cause them to have a negative view of Christianity and the person in particular, thus making them less receptive to the Gospel
- save one's witness
- opposite of above.
- (to be a) good witness
- to live one's life in a manner that will cause nonbelievers to have a positive view of Christianity and the person in particular, thus making them more receptive to the Gospel
- a word from the Lord
- a clear and unmistakable instruction from God, often received during prayer or worship. Example: I'm not saying I have a word from the Lord on this, but I think we should really explore putting in another parking lot behind the church.
- (to be or spend time) [[in the Word
- to read the Bible on a regular basis (see Quiet Time)
- to hear a word from the Lord
- (the) writing's on the wall
- Used to indicate that some future occurrence is guaranteed to happen based on the signs. Taken from the incident recorded in the Bible book of Daniel when the Babylonian king received a vision of a hand that wrote a message on a wall that foretold the future of his nation. (Example: Tom and Jill are going to break up; the writing's on the wall.)