Rev. Kuiper is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Byron Center, Michigan.
Having considered the effect of the fall on language, we must now examine the relationship between language and salvation. Two distinct aspects of this relationship must be noted: first, God uses language to save us, and second, we must use language to show Him our gratitude for that salvation.
That God uses language has been demonstrated in an earlier article (Standard Bearer, August 1997). How does He use language for our salvation?
He did so, first, in sending Christ, the Word of God (John 1:1). The fundamental idea of this profound concept is that Christ is the expression of God’s counsel. Central to God’s counsel is the decree to glorify Himself in all His works. He determined also that the chief way to realize this glory was the salvation of His people, on the basis of the atoning death of His only begotten Son on the cross. Just as we reveal our thoughts to others through words, so God also revealed His thoughts—His eternal counsel—to His people through the Word, that is, Christ.
In addition to revealing the counsel of God, Jesus Christ, the Word, revealed Jehovah God Himself. Jehovah God is a God of mercy and grace, a longsuffering God, abounding in goodness and truth, forgiving elect sinners on the basis of Christ’s death, and justly punishing those who do not repent (Ex. 34:6). In His person and in His work, Jesus Christ revealed these attributes of God—thus revealing the glory of God Himself! Therefore the apostle John says, in speaking of the Word: “and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
God uses language to save us, secondly, in giving us the Scriptures, His written Word. Scripture is the fuller and more complete revelation of the triune God in Christ. It is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Tim. 3:16). In brief, this means that Scripture teaches us all that is necessary to know in order to enjoy our salvation and to live a godly life. God uses language—written words—to teach us these things.
Third, God uses language to save us by means of the preaching of the Word. The preaching of the Word is the speech of Christ Himself, according to the proper translation of Romans 10:14 (“how shall they believe in him whom [rather than ‘of whom’] they have not heard?”). Christ speaks through His Spirit, whom He bestows upon men called to the work of preaching. This speech is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). God’s speech, then, not only tells us that we are saved, but actually works that salvation in us; He works faith in His people through the preaching.
God’s use of language, especially in Scripture and in the preaching, effectually works in us the consciousness of our salvation. His language can work this consciousness in us because the content of His language is truth. We know, of course, that God could never speak anything other than truth; He cannot lie! His Word is reliable and trustworthy. So we can believe it, unto salvation.
Here we can notice the similarity and the difference between how God saves us, and how Satan attempts to prevent God from saving us. The similarity is that both God and Satan use language to accomplish their purpose. Through language, Satan brought the whole human race into bondage. By the same means of language, God saves us from that bondage! The difference is that Satan spoke the lie, while God speaks truth. It is the truth which makes us free (John 8:32). This is freedom from the guilt of sin, and the freedom of knowing God. Through the truth, God draws us into covenant fellowship with Himself.
This similarity and difference remind us of the righteousness and holiness of God. Although God and Satan use language to accomplish their respective purposes, God uses it righteously and holily, while Satan uses it wickedly. In our use of language, therefore, we reveal ourselves either to be like God, or to be like Satan.
It is the calling of redeemed saints to use language in a way which shows gratitude to God for salvation. But can we do this? We saw in the last article that, due to the fall, and apart from grace, we cannot use language to convey truth, in righteousness and holiness, as God does. By nature we can use language only as Satan does, to lie and to show our hatred of God and the neighbor.
The saving, atoning, sanctifying work of Christ, however, makes it possible for the child of God once more to use language properly. Christ took away the guilt for all our sins, including those of lying and speaking wickedly. By restoring to us the image of God, He enables us to know and to speak the truth again. We can, and must, use language in the service of God!
Let us examine some specifics in that regard.
First, being sanctified, we can speak the truth. This is our calling, in obedience to the ninth commandment. Are we doing this?
Speaking the truth involves more than simply being sure we never lie. We must actively promote the truth, by speaking it. In our homes to our children, in the factory or office to fellow workers, in the church to fellow saints, we must tell what God has done for His people. Speaking the truth requires that we confess Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, to be our Lord and Savior. In this way we show gratitude to God for our salvation.
Second, being sanctified, we can use our tongues to show love for the neighbor. The Heidelberg Catechism’s explanation of the ninth commandment teaches us how to do this: we must abstain from false witness, slander, backbiting, and rash judgment, and must defend and promote the honor and good character of our neighbor.
In addition, we show love to fellow saints by fellowshiping with them. This requires us to use language. With our speech we build up the brother or sister in the faith; we comfort the fellow saint who is grieving or ill; we encourage the brother or sister who is discouraged; we rebuke the one who must be admonished. Such is the proper use of our tongue in the communion of saints.
Third, being sanctified, we can use our tongues to show love for God. Particularly we do this by worshiping Him, whether publicly or privately, corporately or individually. This is why singing and prayer are serious matters: we are coming into God’s presence, to speak to Him! Using our tongue to show love for God also means that we do not take His name in vain, but always use it with fear and reverence.
What has been described is the proper use of the tongue both antithetically and covenantally. We must use our tongues to fight sin and to show ourselves separate from the ungodly, as well as to live righteously and to show ourselves to be one with God and His people. This is the practical importance of God’s gift of language. Is that how you speak? The child of God must show, also (especially!) by his language, that he is a Christian, a partaker of Christ’s anointing, a prophet, priest, and king of God.
Salvation is experienced in this life, but perfected in the next. Accordingly, while the child of God can begin in this life to glorify God through his speech, he cannot do so perfectly until he is in heaven. We close this article and series of articles, therefore, by considering what will be true of our use of language in heaven.
We must note, first, that those who love to speak lies on earth will not be in heaven. The apostle John says that all liars “shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8). He says also that those who do not do God’s commandments, and specifically “whosoever loveth and maketh a lie,” will not enter the gates of the new Jerusalem (Rev. 22:15). In the day of judgment, God will justly punish these people! It is true that John has not described those who love the truth by God’s grace, but has described those who hate the truth and impenitently persist in speaking the lie. Nevertheless, we must examine ourselves: do we love to speak the lie? Those will enter the gates of the new Jerusalem who loved the truth in this life.
Second, those who loved the truth in this life will speak it perfectly in heaven. The child of God cannot speak the truth perfectly on earth, while the old man of sin remains in him. When he is taken to heaven, that old man will be completely destroyed! We will speak only the truth! God teaches this in Zechariah 3:13: “The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth.” Zechariah is speaking of the day of the Lord, the day of salvation. Because that day has come in Christ, what Zechariah says about Israel is true of the citizens of the kingdom of God already now, in principle. But this prophecy will be finally and completely fulfilled in the new heavens and new earth. The knowledge of this must kindle in the heart of the child of God a fervent desire for the perfection which is promised us.
Third, our use of language in heaven will show perfect unity with fellow saints, and perfect love for God. Speaking again of the day when God judges His enemies and saves His people, Zechariah says: “For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent” (Zech. 3:9). With this language—the language of unadulterated truth—we will show perfect love for God by calling upon His name and serving Him. This language will manifest the unity of the whole church, in that all saints will join together as one body in calling upon God’s name. In heaven, we will use language to manifest the covenant relationship which God has established with us! So the proper, Reformed use of language will continue in heaven.
The reason we will speak the truth is because God will give us the truth to speak. He will “turn to the people a pure language.” Earlier in this series we showed that earthly language is a gift from God, making it possible for us to know and speak the truth. Also that pure language in heaven will be God’s gift to His people.
Such is a Reformed view of language.