Letting the Devil Redefine Words and Symbols
I’m gay and not ashamed to admit it. Yes, readers, I’m coming out of the closet and admitting that I am gay. I’m happy and carefree. That’s what the word gay means, you know, happy and carefree. At least that’s what it meant four or five decades ago, and that’s what I mean when I say I am gay. I mean that I am a happy, carefree guy. I’m a gay heterosexual man.
I refuse to call homosexuals gay. If I happen to meet a homosexual who is happy and carefree, I might call him a gay homosexual, but most of the homosexuals I have met do not seem very happy or carefree. They seem unhappy and miserable, not gay.
Another word the Enemy has hijacked is liberal. I’m liberal and not ashamed to admit it. I’m generous. That’s what the word liberal means, you know, generous. As in “The liberal soul shall be made fat” (Prov. 11:25), or Paul’s mention of the Corinthians’ “liberal distribution” to the poor saints (2 Cor. 9:13), or as in the way some restaurant menus say, “a liberal serving of French fries.” Liberal means generous. So I’m a liberal conservative. And as Proverbs 11:25 says, the liberal soul shall be made fat, which explains why I’ve added a few pounds as I’ve gotten older.
A theological term the Enemy has redefined and perverted is the term “the law.” If you are talking about the Bible and say something positive about “the law,” it raises red flags in the minds of some Christians. These Christians have let the Devil redefine God’s law as something negative and bad. They associate “the law” with ideas like bondage, legalism, oppression, religious hypocrisy, and nit-picky rules of the Pharisees. As a result, they think that God’s Torah is opposed to God’s grace and is something to be avoided and shunned. So they bend over backwards to prove that they are not legalists. They think that believers who want to obey the Torah are legalists - which, if true, would mean that believers who do not want to obey the Torah are illegalists.
A synonym for the word legal is lawful. The Bible says that a man is not crowned for his labor for the Lord “unless he strives lawfully” (2 Tim. 2:5). The Devil has redefined the word law, and he has modified its synonym legal with suffixes (legalism, legalist, legalistic) so that Christians rarely if ever think of the term legal in a theological sense unless it has the suffix -ism, -ist, or -istic attached to it (even though the words legalism, legalist, and legalistic do not appear anywhere in the Bible, at least not in the KJV).
So I guess I need to come out of the theological closet and admit that I’m a legalist. That is, I strive lawfully in my labor for the Lord. I do not transgress God’s laws in order to labor for God’s kingdom.
The Enemy has not only redefined words, he has also redefined symbols and symbolic actions to rob God’s people of blessings. He has redefined bad things as good. In the Roman Catholic Church, he has redefined pagan religious customs such as bowing down and reverencing graven images, praying to dead saints, and venerating relics of dead saints - bad things which displease the Lord - as good things which please the Lord.
The Enemy not only redefines bad things as good, he also redefines good things as bad. The rainbow, for example. From Genesis to Revelation, the rainbow is a good symbol in the Bible. In Genesis 9 the rainbow is a reminder of God’s promise to not flood the earth again. In Revelation 4 a rainbow circles the throne of God. But the Enemy has hijacked the rainbow and uses it as a symbol to celebrate sexual perversions which are abominations to God.
Because the perverts claim the rainbow as their symbol to celebrate sexual perversity, should Bible believers shun pictures of rainbows for fear that people might think they are celebrating sexual perversion?
I do not know what other believers think, but I say No. Why should we let the Enemy rob us of something good? I’m a gay, liberal, rainbow-loving legalist. But please don’t quote me out of context. In the context of this article, that just means I’m a happy, carefree, generous guy who appreciates the beauty of God’s creation and who lives within the boundaries of God’s laws. So I do not shun rainbows. Although I admit I would not wear a rainbow shirt in the vicinity of a Perverts’ Pride Parade.
It’s kind of funny yet sad how some believers just let the Enemy hijack words and symbols. If the Enemy lays claim to some word or symbol, we are not obligated to let go of it and shun it. Yet that is exactly what some Bible believers have done. Let’s look at a few examples.
Amish men believe they should grow beards, but they shave off the moustache above their lips. Why? Because hundreds of years ago, it was common for military leaders to have big moustaches. The Amish are pacifists. They did not want to be associated with military warfare, so they shaved off their moustaches to make a point. And they still shave them off today, even though moustaches are no longer thought of as a symbol of military warfare.
In the 1960s and 70s, shaggy hair and beards were associated with beatniks, hippies, and rebellion. As a result, shaggy hair and beards were frowned on in some churches. In the 1980s I was offered the position of principal at a Christian school. I was told that I would have to shave off my beard if I accepted the job. Some of the parents sending their children to the school believed that a Christian man should shave off the God-given beard from his face and make his face hair-free and smooth like a woman’s. That was the Christian thing to do, in their opinion, so it was wrong for a Christian man to have a beard, like Jesus and the Apostles did.
Even the choosing of baby names by believers has been affected by society’s tendency to stereotype people according to certain things. People in the world associate certain names with things like intelligence, appearance, and behavior. Most Americans expect a woman named Prudence to have high morals and to not be very cheerful. They expect a man named Rock to be a macho man with rather low morals. And he might be a bit dim-witted. This is not just my theory. I have read studies that prove this.
History likewise proves it. Many years ago I read a book, published in 1897, called Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature by Charles W. Bardsley. According to this book, the Protestant Reformation brought about major changes in English names. As Catholic influence declined and Protestant influence increased in England, people ceased naming their children after extra-Biblical saints. Such names sounded “too Catholic.” The names of the Apostles were also avoided, because those names were popular among the Catholics. Peter was especially avoided because it “smacked of popery.” People in Protestant England began using some of the more obscure and seldomly-used Bible names, especially ones from the Old Testament.
English parents began making almost exclusive use of Biblical names, so having a Bible name became the norm. Even sinners had names from the Bible. The Puritans wanted to do something to distinguish their children from the children of the im-Puritans. So instead of giving their children the names of Biblical people, the Puritans gave them names of Biblical principles or virtues, such as Joy, Grace, Faith, Hope, and Charity, names which are still acceptable for girls today.
Amiable, Blessed, Chaste, and many other descriptive words were used as names by the Puritans. Increase Mather is a name which students of American history should recognize. Often names like No-merit, Humiliation, Dust, and Ashes were given as reminders of the importance of humility before God. There are records of Puritan children named Forsaken, Sinner, Sorry, Lament, and Repentance.
Hyphenated phrases such as Sorry-for-Sin and Search-the-Scriptures were also used as names. These were real names of real people.
Sometimes an extremely long name would be shortened in actual usage. For example, there was a sea captain whose parents had named Through-Much-Tribulation-We-Enter-the-Kingdom-of-Heaven. He called himself “Tribby” for short. Another man with a long name was If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-would-have-been-damned Barebone. He was known as Damned Barebone. This trend continued among the Puritans until about 1640, though some cases are recorded as late as the eighteenth century.
Like the Amish shaving off their moustaches to distinguish themselves from military officers, or like the Puritans giving their children unusual names to distinguish them from the children of im-Puritans, so the Jews have instituted certain customs for the sole purpose of distinguishing themselves from the Gentiles. Standing for prayer, for example. Even though kneeling in prayer is mentioned in the Jewish Bible, Jews do not kneel in prayer. They stand to distinguish themselves from Christians who sometimes kneel in prayer.
I had a Messianic Jewish friend in New York who told me that before he was a believer in Yeshua, he once asked an Orthodox Jewish friend, “Why do we only pray the prayers that are written in the siddur [prayer book]? Why don’t we ever just use our own words to pray to God?”
His friend replied, “Because that’s goyish.” In other words, that’s how the Gentiles, the goyim, pray. We Jews are going to refrain from praying in our own words, to distinguish ourselves from the Gentiles. (To be fair, though, there are Jews who sometimes pray in their own words.)
Jews will even adopt customs to distinguish themselves from other Jews. I know of at least one Jewish custom that Orthodox Jews instituted for the sole purpose of distinguishing themselves from the Karaite Jews: the lighting of Sabbath candles. I have read in two different Jewish sources that the reason the rabbis started the custom of lighting Sabbath candles was to spite the Karaite Jews, who taught that it was unlawful not only to kindle a fire on Shabbat, but also unlawful to enjoy the benefit of a fire, even if it was kindled before Shabbat started. The rabbis said, in effect, “No, it is lawful to enjoy the benefits of a fire on Shabbat, provided it is started before Shabbat. And to make our point, we’re going to light candles shortly before the Sabbath, and enjoy those candles until they burn all the way down. So Shabbat Shalom, Karaites!”
There are probably some Messianic believers out there somewhere who make it a point to not light Sabbath candles just to spite the rabbis. “We’ll enjoy the Sabbath without following your man-made commandment to light candles. So Shabbat Shalom, rabbis!”
Some Jews will even make a point of using a different word than Gentiles use for the same thing. I read a story in The Jewish Press several years ago. The writer, a Jewish man who grew up in New York, said that one day when he was a boy he asked his mother for a dill pickle. His mother corrected him. “They’re sour pickles,” she said. “The goyim call them dill pickles. We call them sour pickles.”
Preferring one word over another, or even doing something like shaving off one’s moustache, or giving children unusual names, or lighting Sabbath candles to spite the Karaites (or not lighting candles to spite the rabbis) can be relatively harmless. However, Bible believers need to make sure that in their zeal to distinguish themselves from the heathens (or from the rabbis) they not do something that robs them of God’s blessings.
I once read an article in a Sacred Name magazine that said the heathens lifted up their hands when they praised and worshipped their false gods. The article had pictures of archeological finds which depicted heathens doing this. Therefore we should not lift up our hands when we praise and worship Yahweh, the article said, because our methods of worship should not be borrowed from the heathens. Apparently these Sacred Name folks do not realize who borrowed from whom. By their refusal to ever obey the Bible’s commandment to lift up holy hands in prayer, they let the Enemy rob them of a blessing.
A few years ago I saw a short video in which I saw another example of believers letting the Enemy redefine a Biblical symbol and thereby deprive themselves of blessings. The video was a very short documentary film about young Muslims in Iran who are abandoning Islam and coming to Christ. In Iran, this puts the believers’ lives at risk, so they have to meet in secret to pray and fellowship.
The basic content of the film was very good. It showed how zealous and bold and devoted these young believers in Iran are. They deserve our admiration and deep respect. But there was one thing that surprised and disappointed me. When the film showed one of their worship meetings, the very first thing the women did when they came into the room was to strip off their head coverings and cast them aside before they entered into worship.
The narrator of the film even made a point to mention this to the viewers. Why do the women so quickly and eagerly strip off their head coverings before they worship? Because Islam requires them to wear head coverings, and they therefore view the woman’s head covering as a symbol of oppression, misogyny, and false religion.
I can understand why these formerly-Muslim women feel that way about the woman’s head covering. But our feelings should be irrelevant to the question of whether or not a woman should wear a head covering. The only thing relevant to the head covering question is what the Bible says about it. According to the Bible, the woman’s head covering does not represent oppression, misogyny, or false religion. On the contrary, according to the Bible it represents submission and safety, purity and protection. (Of course feminists will say that submission is the same as oppression, but that’s true only if you let the God-hating, rebellious worldlings define submission. According to the Bible, submission to authority is good, not bad; it is something that we are commanded to do, not something to despise.)
These women in Iran are letting the Enemy hijack a good Biblical symbol, redefine its meaning, and thereby rob them of blessings. It reminds me of the words of the Bride in the Song of Solomon:
“The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the wall took away my veil from me” (Song 5:7).
The Enemy has used Islam to make something beautiful look ugly in the eyes of these daughters of God in Iran, and these daughters have believed the Enemy’s lie.
Whether we are talking about words or symbols, we do not have to accept the Devil’s redefinitions. We should not believe his lies that good things are bad, and bad things are good. The Devil does not have authority over our dictionaries. All authority in heaven and in earth has been given to Yeshua (Matt. 28:18), and that authority includes authority to declare what is good and what is bad.