Somebody Changed the Sign
Have you observed the importance of signs? One can hardly go anywhere or do anything without being in some way dependent on signs. We use them to mark highways and identify streets. They are used to warn of dangers of various sorts. They show locations of all sorts of places like filling stations, restaurants, motels, and stores.
Are you aware that God also has used signs to indicate both His will and His warnings. They are found most of all in the Book; but they are also in God’s providential dealings with us, in the voice of the church, in the moral sense of the human race, and sometimes just in a still, small voice.
We live in an age when there has been a shift in the signs or sometimes a total removal of them. The moral climate of our day resembles what would happen if someone would tamper with the traffic signs we use. People would be going the wrong direction, stopping at the wrong places, and demonstrating a grand mix-up in every way.
This is like the moral and spiritual situation condemned so strongly by the prophet Isaiah: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).
“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil;
that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).
In recent years there seems to be a concerted attempt to change the vocabulary of the English language in such a way as to cover up sin and make it sound acceptable. It seems as if the printed page and the silver screen vie with each other to make the sordid and licentious look attractive and harmless.
- What used to be known as drunkenness is now a disease.
- What was once sodomy came to be called homosexuality and now has become merely an “alternate lifestyle.”
- What was once adultery is now just merely “having an affair.”
But we need to remember that changing a name does not change the character of something. If I call a rattlesnake a harmless garter snake, it does not change the poison of the viper; it only changes the thinking of people until they are no longer afraid of the poison; they have only substituted a new label.
Along with this sign-changing trend there is also the growing emphasis in the thinking of people that guilt twists and deforms one’s personality. These two tendencies are related to each other and both have the same effect, which is to nullify God’s warnings about sin and its consequences. We must remember that changing names does not change the real character of anything. It only muddles our thinking.
But it has a more disastrous effect than that. It removes the sense of guilt. This is a tragedy far worse than a mixed-up vocabulary. If we remove guilt there remains no possibility of repentance, for we think we have nothing for which to repent. And if we remove the possibility of repentance, we close fast the door of eternity, for it is still true, as Jesus stated, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
Someone might be inclined to give a glib retort, “What difference can the meaning of a few words make?” But we need to consider the relationship between our speech and our thought. It is true that our words reveal our thinking. But it is equally true that our words mold our thinking, and then our thoughts bear fruit in actions. Mixed words such as we have considered will change our attitudes toward issues that are eternal in their outcome. If the signs have been changed, we will end up at the wrong destination.
Rev. Dr. Leslie Wilcox was a well-known theologian, church administrator, and GBS faculty member. This article, condensed by Larry D. Smith, is reprinted from the April 6, 1989, issue of God’s Revivalist.
Dr. Leslie Wilcox (1907–1991) was a well-known scholar and writer who served with distinction for many years at God’s Bible School & College.