7 Common Misquotes of Jesus We Should Avoid

Contributing Writer
Updated May 31, 2024
7 Common Misquotes of Jesus We Should Avoid

Every culture has certain phrases, repeated like foundational truths. These statements call everyone to a common morality or standard. 

But what if they’re wrong? 

For instance, a former generation used to say, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Usually, parents say this to get their kids to clean their rooms. And while there’s value to the discipline of keeping things orderly, this statement can’t be found in the Bible. Nowhere in the authoritative written Word of God does it equate cleanliness with being like God. To place a common or cultural phrase with biblical wisdom carries a certain amount of danger, whether an unrealistic standard or even leading people into deception. 

Western culture has a number of such phrases, said with religious fervor, and we use these statements in conversation, counsel, movies, songs, and more. Yet the Bible expresses a different, contrary truth. And since the biblical truth leads us to Christ, who is life, we should correct our thinking and speech to align with what is good. 

Here are 7 things Jesus never said that we should stop saying.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/AaronAmat

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1. Follow Your Heart

In movies and songs, we hear the phrase “follow your heart” often. When making a decision or seeking guidance, this statement encourages people to instead listen to their own desires above all else. But Jesus never says, “Follow your heart.” 

On the contrary, throughout the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly calls individuals to “follow me.” In Matthew 4:19, he invites Simon Peter and Andrew, saying, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Similarly, he calls Matthew, the tax collector, with the simple, “Follow me” (Matthew 9:9). Jesus’ call is not a vague suggestion to listen to our inner inclinations but a clear directive to align our life with his teachings and example.

The absence of “follow your heart” in the Bible reflects a deeper truth about human nature. Jeremiah 17:9 warns, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Our hearts know very little, and our desires change constantly. Rather than trusting our fickle and easily deceived hearts, Jesus calls us to trust him as the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), which leads us to contentment, peace, love, and more. 

Following Jesus requires radical commitment, obedience, and surrender to his will above our desires. Jesus calls us from fleeting emotions to the absolute truth of his Word and the promise of eternal life. As we do, we embark on the transformative and fulfilling journey of faith. 

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2. Be True to Yourself

Our culture encourages a focus on self and self-identity. Even as young people, we are encouraged to “be true to yourself,” generally meaning to make choices consistent with who we are, what we like, and what we understand as our identity. 

In truth, these things prove transitory—what we believe about ourselves or how we identify with beliefs. People change over time, and our understanding of self contains several problems, from personal bias, outside influence, and general ignorance. “Being true” to such a moving target seems a faulty foundation. 

Instead, Jesus calls us to radical self-denial unto God, and within that self-denial, we discover who we truly are. Jesus says in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Rather than exalting self, he calls for renunciation of our desires and ambitions. This self-denial has a focus and a purpose. 

Jesus also says, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24) God isn’t a sadist. And he doesn’t ask us to lose our life for nothing. People do that every day. He calls us to give our lives for him and the Gospel. The result won’t be a loss but ultimate gain, realizing and finding our real identity in Christ

Then we are true to that. 

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proud looking business woman working at a desk pointing to herself

3. Believe in Yourself

Along with the focus on self, our culture encourages us to believe in ourselves. Heroes in movies become invincible when they suddenly “believe in themselves.” This statement tells us to trust in our own abilities and thinking and a certain amount of self-confidence. Of course, we can all remember times we failed miserably, and we know our own limitations. 

Instead, Jesus calls us to believe in God, the Son, and the Father. In John 14:1, Christ declares, “Believe in God; believe also in me.” Here, he equates belief in himself with belief in God the Father, emphasizing the inseparable relationship between the two. Jesus is not merely a moral teacher or inspirational figure but the incarnate Son of God, deserving of our unwavering trust and allegiance. 

The most famous verse might be John 3:16, where Jesus states that God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son that whoever believed in the Son wouldn’t perish but have everlasting life. Again, while contrary to the popular “believe in yourself,” God seeks our good. Believing in ourselves, we perish. Trusting completely in Christ, believing in him, he gives us eternal life. Jesus promises himself eternal life: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Khosrork

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4. Live Your Truth

We live in a war of truth these days. Due to changes in philosophy over the years, from post-modernism to other perspectives, truth is subjective. Everything exists as a matter of perspective. “There are no absolutes” becomes, ironically, a modern absolute. People view truth from their own perspective, using terms like “your truth” and “my truth,” leading to the encouragement to “live your truth.” 

Jesus never says to “live your truth.” Instead, he proclaims himself as the ultimate truth. 

In John 14:6, Jesus declares, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Here, Jesus unequivocally identifies himself as the embodiment of truth, the exclusive path to God the Father. In a world marked by moral relativism and shifting ideologies, Jesus offers an unchanging and transcendent truth that provides ultimate meaning and direction. 

Once more, Jesus speaks this out of love. To “live your truth” means to live a lie, a deception that places us in bondage to our own limited understanding and perspectives. The truth of Christ sets us free. “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). The verb, know, here in Greek, describes a oneness, a relationship with God, who is truth. Within this relationship, God liberates us from sin and falsehood, offering freedom and new life in Christ. 

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5. Do What Makes You Happy

Happiness has become the goal of our culture. When we self-evaluate, we ask, “Am I happy?” When making decisions, connected to “follow your heart,” our culture says, “Do what makes you happy?” Unhappiness, then, becomes an evil. But what if what makes me happy harms myself or countless others? 

Like many of these sentiments, happiness proves temporary, based on desires and changing circumstances rather than deeper realities of contentment and joy. Fortunately, Jesus never tells us to be happy or to “do what makes you happy.” Instead, Jesus challenges us to consider the eternal consequences of our actions. 

In Mark 8:36, Jesus asks a sobering question: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Here, Jesus emphasizes the futility of pursuing worldly success and pleasures at the expense of our souls. He calls attention to the fleeting nature of earthly riches and achievements compared to the eternal life available to us. 

Instead of seeking happiness, Jesus teaches, “But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) Seeking eternal, kingdom life, we find the things we need, and God adds to our lives the fruit of joy and peace and contentment, all greater and more stable than happiness.

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6. Everyone Goes to Heaven

Often, at funerals and more, our society believes every person goes to heaven. Perhaps really evil people like Hitler go to hell, but most people go to heaven when they die. At least, that’s what we say. 

Jesus never says this. In fact, he teaches the opposite, that very few experience the benefit of eternal life. Jesus declares in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Here, Jesus vividly contrasts the broad path of destruction, which many follow, with the narrow path of life, which few find. This imagery underscores the challenging and counter-cultural nature of discipleship.

Further emphasizing the narrowness of the path to life, Jesus teaches in Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Jesus encourages us to intentionally seek the narrow door of salvation. For many, the opportunity may pass. Repentance stands at the root of Jesus’ Gospel—“Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2

Jesus’ teaching underscores the importance of making a deliberate and committed choice to follow him as the only way to attain eternal life. Salvation is not universal or automatic but requires a personal decision to enter through the narrow gate of Christ. 

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7. Follow Jesus and You Won't Have Trouble

7. Follow Jesus and You Won't Have Trouble

This idea comes in a couple of different forms. First, those who reject Christ think problems and tragedies prove God is evil if he does exist. Second, the church perpetuates this to some degree, with many fellowships and pastors either implying or stating how when we come to Jesus, he will fix our marriages, our kids, our careers, and more. 

Following Jesus has absolute benefits, but he never promised his followers a life free from trouble. Instead, he prepared us for the opposition we face for our faith. Since we have a spiritual enemy, our faith brings resistance and battle. 

In John 16:33, Jesus warns his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Here, Jesus acknowledges the inevitability of trouble and tribulation in our lives. Yet he adds a second part to the promise of trouble—Jesus has overcome the world, including its problems, corruption, and evil. Stick with him, follow him, and we will also overcome. 

Jesus explicitly teaches about the persecution his disciples will encounter. In John 15:20, he states, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” The world rejected and crucified Jesus. His followers suffer the same. Yet, this persecution isn’t final. We enjoy blessings from trouble, if we remain faithful, including owning the Kingdom and having great eternal reward (Matthew 5:10-12). 

We are transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2). The change begins in our thinking, aligning our thoughts with truth. Jesus spoke to reveal the eternal reality, the unseen, to teach us what’s most important and the dangers of lies. If we love others, we will cease saying or participating in expressing the statements listed here. This will make us odd, misfits, and counter-cultural. As Jesus was. At the same time, we will help lead people to the truths which will set us free and bring us life. 

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/tuaindeed

Britt MooneyBritt Mooney lives and tells great stories. As an author of fiction and non -iction, he is passionate about teaching ministries and nonprofits the power of storytelling to inspire and spread truth. Mooney has a podcast called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author of We Were Reborn for This: The Jesus Model for Living Heaven on Earth as well as Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.

Originally published Thursday, 25 April 2024.