Image of a woman lost in the forest.
Don't Call Me Lost.


Ever ask a guy if he is lost? This is one of those issues from the battle of the sexes back in the days before electronic maps. A guy hates being told he is lost. His wife knows they are lost but he refuses to pull over and look at the huge paper map that fills half the windshield and shows the turn he missed.

Everyone hates being called LOST, but we like nice and neat categories like Greeks and Barbarians, Jews, and Gentiles. And the church has used “saved” and “lost” for centuries. But it turns out that the lost do not like be called LOST[1]. Interesting!  I decided to study how the Bible used the word “lost.”

How the word lost is used in the Bible

In this case the word of interest is an English word rather than a Greek word, so it becomes the translator’s preference as to how to use the word. Fortunately, the better translations are consistent in their usage most of the time.

Someone must own or be in possession of a thing before it can be lost. You can’t lose something you never had. Luke 15 has several parables about something that is lost. There is the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. All of these were in someone’s possession before getting lost. In Mark 2:22 we find new wine is “lost” if the old wine skins burst. Again, the new wine was in someone’s possession before it was lost.

Going back to saved versus lost, what about using the word lost to refer to the un-saved?  Jesus speaks of “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6, 15:24). Jesus tells Zacchaeus, He came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). Zacchaeus was an Israelite. “The house of Israel” refers to God’s chosen people, who were the Israelites. They are God’s people and His possession (Exodus 19:5–6, Malachi 3:17–18). They can be lost because God had them in His possession. This is why Jesus can refer to them as lost. Jesus speaking of the twelve apostles said, “Of those whom You have given Me I lost not one.” (John 18:9 NASB95)  The twelve apostles had been His closest followers. The Bible uses the same Greek word for the un-saved non-Israelite, for the Israelites were God’s possession. Most translators generally use some form of “perish.”


In English, the “lost” can refer to un-saved Israelites but no one else. It seems that most of the people we are calling lost do not qualify as “lost.” The only problem now is that the “un-saved” do not like to be called “un-saved” either. We best drop the labels and talk with them as people as we explain one’s need for Christ, or we may offend them unnecessarily and become an obstacle standing in their way to the cross.



[1] Kinnaman, D., & Lyons, G. (2007). UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity … and Why It Matters (p. 194). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.