5-2009: What's in a Word

What’s in a Word?

By Lyndelle Brower Chiomenti

Salvation. Antichrist. Perfection. Prayer. As Adventists, these words have great theological value for us. But how does this theology affect us as we sit impatiently in rush hour traffic, while we study for a test, or deal with family issues? Have you ever wondered how to make our doctrines personal? These are questions I had as I began reading the book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Grace. Between its covers, author Kathleen Norris examines the theology behind these words (and others) to discover just how that theology can transform our daily lives.

Take the word salvation, for instance. This doctrine includes the Great Controversy; the life, death, and resurrection of Christ; the experience of being saved; and growth in Christ.1 Studying all facets of this doctrine is a must for anyone who is serious about being a Christian. In the meantime, however, what does salvation mean to me as I face life’s daily challenges? Simply put, salvation in both the Old and New Testaments refers to God rescuing His people from destruction.2 So on a general level, salvation involves delivering us from the destruction of sin. On a daily basis, however, I might need to pray to be delivered from the destructive anger I feel when someone offends me in a small or large way. This rescuing, this being set free from personal traits or habits that can destroy me—this too is salvation.3

The word antichrist is full of theological meaning for Adventists. It is found only in 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; and 2 John 7. But we read about the spirit of antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2:2–12 and in Revelation 13:1–18. When we think of the antichrist, we think of it terms of an individual or an institution that seizes the rights that belong only to Christ.4 Yet on a very personal level, Norris wonders if “ ‘each one of us acts as an Antichrist . . . whenever we hear the gospel and do not do it.’ ”5

Perfection  is a word that strikes fear in the heart of numerous Christians. Many of us have been raised to be perfect, to never sin, to never make a mistake. Job was perfect (Job 1:1, KJV), as was Noah (Gen. 6:9, KJV). And Christ desires that we be perfect (Matt. 5:48). However, such texts as 1 Corinthians 2:6; Ephesians 4:13, 14; and Philippians 3:15 show us that this perfection refers to maturity in the way that an adult is to be more mature than a child.6 Norris believes that such maturity is exhibited in giving ourselves to others.7 Being aware of how we can do so as the minutes of each day tick by is a perfect way to live.

Anything we do on a regular basis soon becomes ordinary. Unfortunately, prayer can be one such activity. When do you pray? What do you pray for? Where do you pray? What do your answers to these questions say about how you define prayer? More often than not we quickly “say grace” before we eat and go to sleep. We might have a quick devotion and prayer before we leave for work or class. But Norris reminds us that “in the hardest of situations, all one can do is to ask [pray] for God’s mercy. . . .” or pray “ ‘Lord, what is it you want of me?’ ”8 And after all our prayers are said and done, she wonders of perhaps the best prayer of all is found in Psalm 46:1, “Be still, and know that I am God.” “This prayer can happen in an instant; in can also constitute a life’s work.”9 Amen!

Now let me leave you with this challenge: What words of faith do you need to personalize? Study their theological meanings. Then be still to hear what God might be saying about how to turn that meaning into something personal just for you.

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  1. Seventh-day Adventists Believe, sec. ed. Ministerial Association. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. (Nampa, Ida.: 2005), p. iii.
  2. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 4. George Arthur Buttrick, ed. (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), p. 169.
  3. Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, Kathleen Norris. (New York: Riverhead Books, 1998), pp. 21, 22.
  4. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, rev. ed. Donald Neufeld, ed. (Hagerstown, Md.: Review & Herald Publishing Assoc., 1979), p. 49.
  5. Norris, p. 15.
  6. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, rev. ed., p. 864.
  7. Norris, p. 57.
  8. Ibid., p. 60.
  9. Ibid., p. 61.