You cannot "speak things that are not as though they are"

There are scads of beliefs I hear among Christians that just make me itch. I hear “verses” “quoted” with authority, but they are either taken wholly out of context, or simply not found in the bible at all! I have sat and percolated long enough, and can no longer just let them fly by. As Christians, we believe in an absolute truth, and as such we should have a higher standard. If not, we are worse than crazy people forwarding urban legends to everyone in our contact list.

I figured tonight I’d start with one that has bothered me for years, but I’ve heard it in passing a few times this past weekend. It is THE POWER OF THE TONGUE. Oooooooooooh. (Cue dramatic music.) This concept is most commonly found in the horribly disturbing (and heretical, btw) Word of Faith movement. It is also referred to as “positive confession”, “speaking life (or death)”, and other odd phrases. Besides being churchy jargon that sounds impressive in a testimony, it is also wholly baseless and unbiblical. There are no verses that state that we can bring literal life into existence. We are never instructed to “speak life into” a situation. There are also no examples of the disciples doing so. And perhaps most importantly, Jesus never told us to do so!

This doctrine is a very loose patchwork of verses that does not hold water. The phrase that I’m sure you have heard repeated on more than one occasion is that we should “call things that are not as though they were”. This sounds like faith, right? Actually – no. This appears one place in the bible. It is in Romans 4:17 when Paul is identifying God to a Roman audience. He wants to differentiate God from the other gods. Not Zeus. Not Apollo. Not any of the other gods Paul encountered on Mars Hill. The God of creation as recounted in the Jews’ books of Genesis. The God who spoke “let there be”, and there was. This is Paul being very clear with his listeners who knew LOTS of gods. He was making a point. “I’m talking about the God of Abraham. Heard of him? I am referring to the God who calls things which are not as though they were. Know the guy? Yeah – him.” Paul made his point. But the Word of Faith movement has cut the tail end of this verse and has pasted it into lots of other verses that mention the tongue. The trouble is – God didn’t do that. Jesus never made such a connection either. The only biblical references to speaking things into existence make it clear that this is God’s domain – not ours.

One of the cut-and-paste verses popularly associated with the Romans phrase is Psalms 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” This is not God instructing us how to get what we want. This is God instructing us how to want what we get. If we truly delight in the Lord, will we really desire anything selfish? No – if truly find our delight in the Lord, that means we are becoming more like him. And if we become like him, what grieves him grieves us. What brings him joy brings us joy. His desires become our desires. Then we will see the desires of our heart because we have a new heart. Jesus expanded on this same principle in Luke 12. In short – don’t worry about food, clothes, or even your very life, because God knows what you need. Seek God’s kingdom, and these things will be given to you. For wherever your treasure is, your heart will follow. Doesn’t that sound kind of like “delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart”? No speaking. No claiming. No positive confessions. Just good old Micah 6:8: “…act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

So does the bible say anything about the tongue having power? Absolutely! Not that kind of power though. Solomon was a wise man, so he wrote with a lot of metaphors. He described things with flowery language to make an impact. So rather than saying “what you say can make people feel good or bad”, he said “your tongue has the power of life and death!”. Sounds cooler, doesn’t it? And it gets the message across quite plainly. Too many people trying to build a doctrine around Romans 4:17 use tons of Proverbs (and other scriptures) in their cut-and-paste theology.

In case you still have doubts, look at another commonly used verse – Proverbs 18:21 … “The tongue has the power of life and death” Wow! Sounds powerful! Wait – read the rest of it too: “…and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Do you have fruit growing out of your tongue? If you have bananas and limes springing from your mouth, call me! Because to claim that this verse is to be taken literally, you had better be making fruit salad right out of your mouth.

The true meaning is better expressed in Prov 15:1-4:
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly… The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”

Makes sense, doesn’t it? How good do you feel after someone encourages you? Doesn’t that bring you life, in a sense? It is invigorating! It affirms us and motivates us to press on! Similarly, how deeply is our heart cut when we are criticized or shamed? Don’t you just feel like dying? It kills our hopes and dreams, and demoralizes us completely.

Yes, the tongue is incredibly powerful. Yes, it brings life or death, but to our souls and to our relationships. We are to make disciples of all nations. We are to encourage one another and care for one another. Doesn’t this require that we speak to one another? How important then is it that we think before we speak? Our prayer should be like David’s “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Ps 141:3)

The power of the tongue lies in its ability to affirm and love in order to initiate and build relationships. The negative potential does not bring physical death to a person, but the end of relationship and the wounding of a heart. This reinforces the entire NT message of the importance of community.

If you think I’m just picking verses that reinforce my interpretation of the tongue’s power, try the following – or search for yourself. The bible is quite clear on the topic. I just didn’t want to take any more space than I already have! Pr. 10:31, Pr. 12:18, Ps. 34:13, Is. 50:4, Col. 4:6, Pr. 10:11, Pr. 18:4, Pr. 12:25, Pr. 13:3, Pr. 21:23.

This concept and teaching is yet another example of what Paul warned us to watch out for in 2 Timothy 4:3-4

“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

*** Addition ***

It occurred to me this morning that I missed another popular aspect of this teaching. Since I was a kid, I have encountered people who seemingly live in terror over getting sick. Oddly, they express this as faith. Here’s what I mean:

They take those same scriptures about the tongue having power of life and death, but read it as health and sickness. They use the phrases I mentioned before. They will say “I will not confess with my tongue that I am sick – that is agreeing with the enemy.” Or, “I do not have the flu. I merely have all the symptoms of the flu. I will not claim that.” Actually, you do have the flu. Also, you are silly. Sickness exists in a fallen world. It is not the evidence of having “let something into your life” or the result of a “negative confession”. It is the result of being in a place where viruses, bacteria, fungi and other nasties hang out – namely, earth.

  • Oh, I could go off so bad about this! You put it well, though, Scott. My wife comes from something just barely touching this nonsense.

    Part of the issue with this “school” of thought (more like a drunken party than a school … then again, I won’t go off on the current state of college life, either) is that these deceivers (many of whom are themselves deceived, granted) use snippets of Genesis as connectors into this heresy. They note that God “spoke creation into existence,” using His words (or maybe The Word as described in John 1:1-10? No, that doesn’t fit our belief system.), and we are made in the “image of God,” therefore we have the same capabilities He does, as long as we have the same Faith that God does.

    Yes, one teacher of this Hell-spawned thesis (I won’t mention Charles Capps’ name) actually says that God “uses His Faith” to make things happen!

    That leaves some interesting thoughts here. First, we are essentially “little Gods.” Second, God is not at the pinnacle of power; He depends on a higher power called Faith. Third, God doesn’t enter into the picture when we want to make something happen; it’s all our own Faith.

    Doesn’t that sound like something a certain fallen angel aspires to become?

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  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Remember the stage magicians' all-purpose incantation?

    “Abracabra” = slurred Aramaic for “I speak and it is so.”

  • I didn't know that. Same thing though, isn't it? But that is bad and this “claiming” is good… Something isn't right.


  • Crackedpotts

    Oy Vey! This article made me happy and angry all at the same time. Good stuff, Mr. Scott!

  • Well thanks Amy. As long as I can make people both happy AND angry, my job is done! 🙂

  • Donnie Gray

    Jesus sent His disciple out to do the same works that He showed them and they came back very excited telling Jesus that they was able to do all the things that Jesus did. They also said,that the demons had no authority over them. They were able to do all because the Lord had given them the authority to do so.

  • Donnie Gray

    You are saying that only a few Churches believe speaking things into existence. Well,did you know that God works with a few and not many. The Bible says,”Wide is the road that lead to destruction and MANY find it, but narrow is the road that leads to life and FEW find it. I think I will stay with my Lord and stay with the FEW. Mat.7:13-14 KJV.

  • Donnie Gray

    When I am sick and need healing I say,” I rebuke you satan because by His stripe I was healed in Jesus Name not am healed, for Jesus died on the cross for my sins and for all,my healings. That is,through the Spirit, calling things that are not,as though they were. Positive thinking,through thr Spirit,not though the physical.

  • Donnie Gray

    So you are saying that there is power in negative thinking,right? So that men’s that there is also power in positive thinking. I agree completely.

  • Donnie Gray

    After Jesus gave His disciple the authority to three on adders (satan). They went out with positive thoughts in their minds saying,” The Master has said that we can heal the sick,raise the dead,give sight to the blind. They even knew that they had power over all the demons. Now,that sounds like ,”Positive thinking,”to me,how about you?

  • Donnie Gray

    John.14:12,” Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that Believeth on me, the works that I do (like healing, open blind eyes and RAISING THE DEAD) shall he do also; and GREATER WORKS than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father”. Jesus was not just talking to His 12 disciples but all who believe on Him. And raising the dead was in there also. Now that sounds like positive thinking all around,Him saying it and them believing what He said,they could do. What do you think?

  • Donnie Gray

    Abraham believed by faith. Now if anything is positive speaking or thinking , it is “Faith”

  • nobodyinparticular

    Well said! Great article! It’s very sad to see so many Christians fall for these lies, thinking that by “speaking” things into existence they can have whatever they want. Many will say “I’m not being greedy” to defend themselves, but let’s face it…do you think God should give you whatever you “speak”? You can quote all the scripture you want, but have you taken it into context, or are you just accepting what these false teachers say to be true?

    God is not a sugar daddy. If you aren’t wealthy, He may have good reason for you not to be. If you don’t have scads of material possesions, He probably has a good reason for that too, That’s simply the truth. There are some (many?) people who might not use the wealth for the right purposes, if God were to give it to them. And He doesn’t want us to lay up treasures on earth but in heaven. He knows us better than we know ourselves, so instead of trying to play God and tell Him what to do, why don’t we start by asking HIM what can WE do instead?

  • Gina

    you have to study to show yourself approved and rightly divide the word of truth. Rightly divide. Calling the thing that be as though it were simply means don’t say what you have whether it is lack or sickness. Death and life are in the power of the tongue and you have what you say whether it be good or bad. So call into existence what you want to see. Wealth and riches abide in my house, I am healed. Christians operate on faith. We are in a whole different system. We walk by faith not by our senses. In the book of proverbs count how many scriptures there are on the mouth. Try complaining and then tell me how your life turns out. You r trying to figure stuff out with head knowledge and not asking God to give you wisdom on what you are reading. You know he will give it to you liberally?

  • truthburnsgood

    To Sarcastic Xtian: God Bless You, In The Name Of The Lord Jesus!

    My dear, you wrote, “It is also referred to as “positive confession “, ” speaking life (or death)”, and other odd phrases.

    ” Actually, Sarcastic Xitian, the Bible DOES say it and here’s where you can read it: Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they who indulge in it shall eat the fruit of it (for death or life).” So you see, my dear, you are inaccurate as well as nealy your entire script. As it stands, you are an advocate for satan as you lead people away from our Creator & His Word, while pretending to be an authority of His Word. This is called blasphemy & it is one of THE worst sins you can commit! Is this your intension, my dear?

    I don’t tend to believe it is your intension, because I see that you are greatly frustrated from the inability to make sense of God’s Word, which has resulted in your overwhelming fear & anger, so now you are lashing out at your Creator. But, know my dear, that you DON’T have to live like this! Here’s what you can do to gain the understanding you are seeking:

    These things will bring to you accurate understanding, provide peace of mind & satisfy your soul:
    (1) Read, “Power Words” by Joyce Meyer. Its $10 @ Barnes & Nobel. An in-depth clarity of what the Bible actually says.
    (2) Listen to any of the following on TV & take notes & also read their books: they are exceptionally accurate! (And, if you can’t bare a certain personality, ASK our Father-God to heal your resistance to hear His Word, & He will!): Joseph Prince, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, David Jeremiah, John Hagee, Jentzen Franklin, Jimmy Evans, Samuel Rodriguez, Hal Lindsey, Leon Fontain, Sid Roth, Charles Stanley, Jack Hayford, Michael Youseff, Brian Houston, Joel Osteen, Grant Jefferies, Louis Palau, James Kennedy, Jonathan Berknis, Greg Laurie, James McDonald, Perry Stone.
    (3) Put into your own words the following & speak with our Father-God directly: “Father-God, I want to know who You actually are; I want great accuracy! I ask You to bring Your Word to me & to provide in-depth understanding. I ask that You, Father-God, to forgive me of my every sin, both known & unknown to me – – let me see them; I ask You to give me great faith in You & the power to overcome those things within me, that should not be there! I ask You in the name of the Lord Jesus, to come into my heart and save me from my sins! Thank You, Father-God, for I am now saved, according to Your Word! Amen!”

  • Stephanie Friesen


    Read your article.

    Also read a bit of context before and after Mark 11. Jesus seemed to be in a bad mood. He curses a tree that isn’t even supposed to have fruit yet…next He’s holy enraged with the use of His house for gain…the tree withers…Jesus says, (NIV, I know it’s not the best) “I tell you the truth, if ANYONE *says* to this mountain (not sure what mountain He is meaning)…and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he *says* will happen, it will will be done for him (being done FOR HIM is interesting). Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask (noted to ask) for in prayer, believe that you have received it (pretty sure this means believe it before it actual happens), and it will be yours.”
    After He makes a comment about forgiveness as if it may be related to God answering prayer. Jesus did heal many saying “your” faith has made you well and/or your sins are forgiven.

    The last part seems pretty cut and dry to me, so what am I missing. “Believe you receive it and it will be yours.” All within the context of praying the will of God and having His desires…

    If ANYONE will say to this mountain……..How is this not literally giving an example of speaking + not doubting? And right after Jesus literally cursed a real physical tree?

    Is it that the emphasis in more on “believe and don’t doubt?” Rather than whether you speak or ask it? If so, what is the point of saying the first part at all, “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain…” is that part of the verse pointless?

    I’d really appreciate you to spell out what this verse is meaning to mean. In simple and childlike language preferably. I am not highly educated and can get lost in fancy wording, and broad statements.

    I truly want to grasp this. I struggle as someone who was raised on word faith, but have seen God’s own powerful words as I prayed them, deliver me from overwhelming depression and anxiety. I also note that there are scientific studies showing the correlation between what a person thinks and how it literally affects the body. And wouldn’t that be how God designed it? He is the designer after all. Also studies on how water and plants respond to negativity and positivity. I don’t want to take any Glory away from God or be duped by the enemy. I don’t want to take control of my life, but I also know I have choice and responsibility. I could ramble on about being caught in the middle here. That’s what I really feel…

  • kevin strait

    Prov 23:7> For as a man thinketh in his heart, so he is.
    Luke 6:45> What you say flows from what is in your heart.
    Mark 11:24> “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer {while connected in Spirit}, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” – Jesus
    John 14:12-14> “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”Jesus
    “God does nothing but by prayer, and everything with it.” — John Wesley
    If we think we do so by our own power, it borders on sorcery, but if by God’s power, according to His will, all things are possible.