Bible Thought

Religious Terms that Confuse Non-Christians

When talking with unbelievers about your faith in Christ you should try to avoid words and phrases that are confusing or easily misunderstood. This often happens when we are sharing our Christian testimony. We say the right words, but they are defined differently by the world or they mean nothing to people who have not spent much time in church.

Here are some words that can be misunderstood that might need a little bit of explaining to help your non-Christian friend understand what you mean.


Sin is disobedience to God, or not following God’s plan. It is breaking God’s law in some way. Often we define sin as doing something wrong or bad. The only problem with that simplistic definition of sin is that it does not explain who is the one who makes the rules. Many people in the world believe that right and wrong are defined by individual opinions and that there are no absolute rules. However, when we talk about sin, we are talking about God’s definition of right and wrong. A person should understand that their sin is a matter of breaking God’s law, not some man’s opinion.


When a Christian talks about being saved they mean that they are saved from punishment in hell, and separated for a reward in heaven. Obviously the world has a definition for the word saved that could mean rescued from any danger (big or small) or set apart for some type of special use. The definition is right, but we should define the specific danger and the specific special purpose.


The obvious confusion is that being lost in the Christian sense is much more than being misplaced, missing or not knowing where you are. When we say someone is lost we mean that a person is separated from God (because of their sin) and following a path that leads them away from Him.


Many people excuse their sin by saying, “I’m only human,” “everyone is doing it,” or “the devil made me do it.” Yet a better way to explain it is that you tell God you are sorry for breaking His laws which has led you away from Him and that you choose to turn away from a sinful life towards God and His ways.


Believing is having absolute assurance. It means you know and accept that something is true. We often use the word believe so casually that it has come to mean that one simply thinks or guesses that something is true with no strong conviction.

Ask Jesus to come into your heart

Can Jesus crawl up into your heart? Does He even indwell your life as a believer? We know that the Holy Spirit indwells believers (John 14:17, Acts 1 and 2, 1 Corinthians 6:19, etc.), but saying that you are accepting Jesus into your heart is confusing and doctrinally questionable. You accept Jesus as your savior, or ask Him to lead and guide your life, but you don’t take Jesus and shove Him into your heart.

Give your heart to Jesus

To an unsaved person, and especially a child, this can sound pretty morbid. You take the muscle out of your chest and give it to Jesus? That is pretty confusing. It is best to avoid this phrase completely. Or substitute something like, “give your life over to Jesus’ control.”

Trust Jesus to forgive you

This can be misunderstood to mean that you hope Jesus will forgive your mistake. There is no assurance that He will nor an acknowledgement that you have broken God’s laws. The phrase is not necessarily a bad one, but you must explain clearly what you mean instead of just using the phrase with an unbeliever.

Make a profession of faith

Is that like making a profession of being a plumber or a doctor? Obviously you are not talking about a career path, but it can easily be misunderstood in that way. This is another phrase that should probably be avoided around unsaved people you are trying to witness to.

Be born again

I know what you are thinking, “but Jesus used this phrase in John 3.” That is true. It certainly isn’t a bad phrase, but think about how that sounds to someone unfamiliar with its meaning. They could interpret that as “you believe you were reincarnated and came back to earth again in a second birth.”┬áThe phrase is very descriptive and appropriate. When Jesus used it He took the time to explain it. Don’t just use a good term like born again without taking the time to explain what you mean.

Each of these terms are fine to use in appropriate places (well, maybe not ‘ask Jesus into your heart’). But knowing when and where that appropriate place is can sometimes be difficult. If you are in a church, bible study or prayer group where everyone is already saved and familiar with the terminology, then these words are not at all confusing. However, to an unsaved person we can often make them even more confused by using Christian jargon and not explaining what we mean by the words we say.

When preparing your testimony, take the time to pick words and phrases that are clear and mean what you intend them to mean—even to the unbeliever.

By dpeach

3 replies on “Religious Terms that Confuse Non-Christians”

David, this is most excellent. In fact, I believe this type of teaching out to be in any introductory course for New Christians. We are developing such a course for new believers to be rooted and grounded in the essentials. You nailed all of these spot on sir. My sincere compliments.

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