Big Christian Words

I was reading through the preface of my ESV Bible and read the following passage…

The ESV also carries forward classic translation principles in its literary style. Accordingly it retains theological terminology – words such as grace, faith, justification, sanctification, redemption, regeneration, reconciliation, propitiation – because of their central importance for Christian doctrine and also because other underlying Greek words were already becoming key words and technical terms in New Testament times.

If you look up the definitions of the words above, you will probably find deep theological definitions that are hard (if not impossible) to understand.  I believe that we all know the meanings of these words, whether or not we use these words specifically.  I thought it would be helpful to do a little research and provide a more laymen definition (aka something I could understand) for these words.

Important Point: I have used the links below to help backup my definitions.  An “official definition” usually avoids using emotion to describe a word.  For me, sometimes it is the emotional or practical definition that helps me understand the best.  I do not claim to be a theologian, only a believer of God and a desirer of knowing him more.


Laymen Definition: Grace is the undeserving favor or elevating of man from God’s other creations.

Background: Grace is a term that is used primarily in the New Testament (mostly in Paul’s writings.)  But anytime you might see God showing favor of something in the Old Testament this can be seen as grace also.  Noah and his family were shown favor in God’s eyes.  They was spared while all other men perished in the flood.  Paul speaks of grace as a holy gift from God so that we can use this gift to further his kingdom.  We are able to do what we do through this grace, for it elevates us up to perform God’s work.

Further study: Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology – Grace


Laymen Definition: Faith is a belief, trust, and loyalty in God and his promises, even when we do not understand how God works in our lives and the world around us.

Background: I like to think of faith as a promise that you can trust to be kept from God.  When God says he is going to bless or work in a particular way, we can trust that it will happen.  I think of faith as a reminder that the way God works is different than the way I think he should work.  That I must trust him over myself.  Also, if God is leading me towards something, even if I want to resist what God wants, I must be loyal to him and put his desires above my own.

Further Study: Backer’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology – Faith


Laymen Definition: Salvation is God setting free man through faith so he can see God’s big picture.

Background: Salvation is described in many different ways: to save, help in distress, set free, revelation, transition from death to life, gift of grace through faith not of works.  Salvation is an invention of God.  No man can create a way to save or free themselves.  Many have tried through living a good life or provide good works.  But God is the only person who can free us from the bonds of our sins.  Once we receive salvation from God, we are given the picture of his master plan through the Holy Spirit along with the drive to accomplish that which God wants.

Further Study: Backer’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology – Salvation


Laymen Definition: Righteousness is a state of being that conforms to the way God thinks, speaks, and acts.

Background: God is totally good.  He has no evil in him.  So wherever you find God speaking, thinking, or acting it is in a good and perfect way.  For a person to be righteous means that they are living in a way that mimics God.  A person might not be getting it right, but they are honestly trying to live their lives in a righteous way.  Righteousness also refers to the justice that God gives.  Because he is perfectly good, he knows when anything is anything but perfectly good.

Further Study: Backer’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology – Righteousness


Laymen Definition: Justification is where God pardons us from the punishment of being the guilty people we are simply because we have faith in him and belief that Jesus came to take on the guilty verdict in our place.

Background: We are all guilty.  We all have sin inside of us that disconnects us from God.  God does not judge one person different from another based on any earthly virtues (i.e. works, being a good person, doing the right thing, etc…)  If we were not “acquitted” in our trial where God judges us, we would all be found guilty.  We saw above that righteousness is described as a person who is living their lives according to how God (in a perfectly good state) wishes.  Unfortunately, we all fail at being righteous on our own.  Paul describes how Jesus came as a gift to man to redeem us (or make us righteous) from the sins of the first man (Adam.)  Paul says this comes through faith.  Justification is God’s way of giving us access (through Jesus) to him, in spite of our failures.

Further Study: Backer’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology – Justification


Laymen Definition: Sanctification is when something is separated and used for the purpose God intends.

Background: Sanctification in general usage means to use something for the purpose it was meant.  A pen is sanctified to write.  There are two ways that sanctification exists according to God’s purpose and design.

First we are made or created to be perfect (sanctified) by design.  We are the image bearers of God and originally made good.  Unfortunately we live in an “un-sanctified” way since Adam and Eve’s original sin.  We are then sanctified from sin by grace through faith.  Meaning, we are in a place that God intends for us to be where he will show us favor because we believe, trust, and are loyal to him and Jesus.

Secondly, God creates the means that lead to sanctification.  God uses people and things (even if those people or things are not willing or unbelieving.)  I see this as we are all created as a means to deliver sanctification to each other.  We all have gifts that God uses to minister.  Even the internet itself (with both good and evil attributes) can be sanctified to minister God’s desires.

Further Study: Backer’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology – Sanctification


Laymen Definition: Redemption is where God pays for our freedom from sin through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

Background: Redemption in a more general term can be seen as sacrificing something for the gaining of something else.  Forms of redemption might include buying something, setting free from from slavery, or exchanging one thing for another (trading.)  God wants to redeem us from sin.  He wants to be in a relationship with us, but sin disconnects us from God.  To redeem us, God paid the price by sending his son, Jesus, to take on our sins and to free us to reconnect with him.

Further Study: Backer’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology – Redemption

Regeneration or New Birth

Laymen Definition: Regeneration is the transformation or new birth a person experiences through one’s faith in Jesus as our redeemer.

Background: Jesus describes the “born again” concept to Nicodemus in John 3.  If we stand on our own, we are not worthy enough to enter the kingdom of God.  We must be born again or regenerated by believing in him (Jesus.)  When we are born, our soul is sinful and not worthy to be a son of God.  When we have faith in God, our soul is regenerated by God’s spirit to be made worthy to be in God’s family.

Further Study: Backer’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology – New Birth (Regeneration)


Laymen Definition: Reconciliation is when our wrong or missing relationship with God is fixed, and we now have a correct and joyous relationship with him.

Background: Through sin we have a wrong or missing relationship with God.  Our wrong relationship might be if we hate God or blame God for our problems that result from our sin.  A missing relationship is when someone denies God’s existence or believe they do not need God.  Paul tells us that when we are regenerated through God’s redemption, our relationship with him is reconciled and we become new.  Reconciliation can also be between man and man.  God seeks to reconcile our relationship with him.  In the same way, we are to reconcile our the relationships with each other.  Jesus describes this when he speaks in Matthew 5 that if there is a rift between you and your brother, leave you sacrifice to God and go reconcile that relationship first.

Further Study: Backer’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology – Reconciliation

Propitiation or Atonement

Laymen Definition: Propitiation is a way provided by God to reconcile our relationship with him.

Background: In the Old Testament the most common atonement to reconcile our relationship with God was with a sacrificial animal.  The sacrifice was to take on the punishment for sin thus atoning for the sin and providing a way for man to renew his relationship with God.  When God told Abraham to offer up his only son as a burnt offering, he proceeded without hesitation.  While ultimately God provided a ram to replace Isaac as the offering, it was Abraham’s faith in God that strengthened his relationship.  This story foreshadows the events of Jesus’ life.  God provided his only son as the offering of atonement for all man’s sins.  A secondary reason for propitiation is to cover all those sins (past, present, and future) not specifically confessed.  A offering is made to recognize that we are not perfect, but to also have faith that God has provided the propitiation to cover our failures.

Further Study: Backer’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology – Propitiation (Atonement)

Elect and Election

Laymen Definition: Election is the process that God has chosen that gives the opportunity of salvation to man.

Background: The verb “to elect” simply means “to choose”.  For man, we elect officials in office, husbands/wives, friends, and plans for our weekend.  For God, he makes decisions that fit into his ultimate plan.  He elects the processes, events, and people that fulfill his plan in the world.  In addition, God has chosen a process to receive salvation.  Anyone willing to live in faith and repent will be chosen for salvation by God (or becoming “the elect” of God.)

Further Study: Backer’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology – Elect (Election)


Laymen Definition: Repentance is the act of turning away from sin, confess you sins to God, and beginning to live in a godly way.

Background: The Old Testament has many statements regarding repentance.  It will commonly be translated as “turn” or “return” meaning to align yourself with God.  It is also required that one confess their sins as part of repentance to receive atonement and forgiveness.  The final requirement is to show obedience to God’s will for man.  And as Jesus points out in the Sermon on the Mount, this involves both physical obedience (prayer, tithing, marriage, etc…) but also mental obedience (lust, anger, worry, etc…)

Further Study: Backer’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology – Repentance

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