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Forgotten metaphors

January 2004 | by Crawford Gribben

Scripture speaks of God’s people in the language of saints. We do not. Scripture speaks of Christians as a family. We do not

Why is there such a difference between the way the biblical writers describe us, and the way we describe ourselves?

Business people who attend ‘assertiveness’ classes are taught about the ‘power of positive thinking’. They learn the danger of negativity and the depressing consequences of working in an environment where their status is constantly undermined. If someone keeps talking you down, sooner or later you’ll feel yourself on the ground.

Talking ourselves down

The problem is that this kind of negativity has invaded the church – and we have unwittingly endorsed it. Modern Christians talk themselves down.

Older writers followed the biblical example and kept their descriptions of Christians high. For these people, Christians were ‘saints’ and, with respect to one another, were ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’.

But, by and large, we have abandoned these terms. We are prepared to think of ourselves as something less than ‘saints’. We treat one another as something less than brothers and sisters.

We have forgotten the metaphors and abandoned the power of biblical thinking. The metaphors are vitally important, because how we describe ourselves ultimately impacts upon how we behave.


Think about it – the way we describe ourselves reflects our self-image – who we think we are. And how we think about ourselves is basic to the way we act.

Isn’t this the reason we have forgotten the biblical identities we possess? We are reluctant to call each other ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ because we are not prepared to treat our fellow Christians as brothers and sisters.

We are reluctant to call ourselves ‘saints’ because we would rather not live under the expectations that name involves.

But these terms are important. Bible writers in both testaments use the term ‘saints’ to emphasise that God’s people are his ‘holy ones’.

The New Testament epistles constantly reiterate that these saints have been brought into a family relationship with their heavenly Father, and hence with one another.

Thomas Goodwin has something vital to say about our forgotten metaphors. We should keep on calling ourselves ‘saints’, he writes, ‘that the reality of the true religion be not lowered (as it is) by avoiding this title, which in these times is out of use; but it is [out of use] because true holiness is out of fashion’ (Works I, p.11).

Let us reinstate the metaphors. Let us recover our identity as ‘saints’. Let us embrace one another as brothers and sisters in the family of God.

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