A Call to Repentance (Part One)

Hosea 6:1-6

Come, let us return to the Lord. For he has torn us, and he will heal us; he has wounded us, and he will bind up our wounds. He will revive us after two days, and on the third day he will raise us up so we can live in his presence. Let us strive to know the Lord. His appearance is as sure as the dawn. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring showers that water the land (6:1-3 CSB).

Religious people in our time have lost their hold on the reality of God, the living God, the God who is there. During the last few years in Christian writings, it has become necessary to revisit the basic teachings about God. For example, in some circles there is growing confusion about the Trinity, and in others there is a denial of God’s knowledge and sovereignty in what is called “Open Theism”. Since the tragic events of 9/11, some have become practical dualists in their theology, wrongly assuming that all good events come from God and all bad events from the devil. As we will see, such ideas shipwreck on the solid rock of this text.

We need the teaching of this text for another reason. This passage is like a ray of sunshine and hope before the storm breaks. Sometimes in the trials of life we lose sight of the mercy and love of God. Hopefully, we still confess the mercy and love of God, but the fog of life obscures the sight and pleasure of God’s wonderful grace to broken people. We become legalistic, wrongly assuming that God only likes people that resemble Mary Poppins— “practically perfect in every way!” The Bible knows of no perfect person but the Lord Jesus, and instead asserts the holiness of Christ and our total need of him. So this passage offers hope to people, regardless of their imperfection. Let us listen to God’s encouraging words.

The Lord Israel urged to repent (6:1-3). Hosea taught the people how to turn back to the Lord in these verses. God was behind this training; he wanted repentance. Hosea willingly joined with the people, both as an example, and a leader, and as one who recognized his own sinfulness, for no one is perfect.

Repentance described. A description is different from a definition. Repentance is defined as a “change of mind or heart.” Genuine repentance produces certain actions that describe how it looks. Two of these are the descriptions we read here.

It is described as the need to return to the Lord (6:1). Israel had abandoned the living God for dead idols. She needed to go back to the true and Living One (Jeremiah 2:13). The deepest truths are often the simplest! Where is the Lord in your life? What practical evidences are there of your interaction with him?

In our family we can point to specific events when we were together and can describe the fellowship that occurred during those times. You can do the same in your family. The same thing happens in the family of God, when people are in a vital relationship with the living God.

Have you wandered away from the Lord? What has come between God and you? Forsake it and return to him! You won’t return to the Lord as long as you hang onto what is keeping you away from him. A desire for “other things” can choke the Lord’s message to you (Matthew 13:22).

It is described as the need to know the Lord (6:3). Observe once again the importance of knowing God! See Jeremiah 9:23-24; John 17:3. God wants a diligent desire. He wanted them to pursue this knowledge. In other words, the Lord wants fellowship or communication.

Repentance encouraged

God encouraged it by a presentation of God’s grace. The Lord uses his kindness to lead people to repentance (Rm 2:4). He wins us by his love. The Almighty revealed himself in three ways.

  • God as Healer. The Lord is able to mend what he has torn.
  • God as Lifegiver. Notice the “third day” mentioned. This might be an allusion to Christ’s resurrection on the third day.
  • God as Renewer. Rain is essential for a proper harvest. In the same way, the life-giving grace of God is able to make them flourish spiritually.

Observe the idea of overflowing grace (Romans 5:20-21). His grace is greater than our sins. When you take care of young children, you find out that they can be messy, especially when they eat! Loving adults reach out to messy children and tenderly clean them. The living God is willing “to get his hands messy” to clean us up and to share life with us. He knows that to some extent, we will always have “messy faces and hands” in this life, but he still loves us!

God encouraged it by a presentation of their need: “that we may live….” Since God has endowed people with life and the ability to make rational judgments, he appeals to us in this way. Will you be able to live before God forever? If not, how will you be able to endure his wrath forever?

Grace and peace, David

Like Moth and Lion (Part Two)

Hosea 5:1-15

For I am like a lion to Ephraim and like a young lion to the house of Judah. Yes, I will tear them to pieces and depart. I will carry them off, and no one can rescue them. I will depart and return to my place until they recognize their guilt and seek my face; they will search for me in their distress (5:14-15 CSB).

After exposing Israel’s lack of repentance, failure to do God’s will, and her misdirected ideas, the Lord turned to talk about what awaited his wayward old covenant people.

The Lord God previewed Israel’s punishment. First we see that God will not help the unrepentant (5:6-7). Israel thought she could satisfy God with sacrifices and ritual celebrations. Sort of like the churchgoer who imagines God is pleased when he or she says the Lord’s Prayer, listens disinterestedly to a sermon, and throws a few dollars in the offering plate. God is not held captive by religious ritual, even if it is appointed by him. Grace cannot be earned! It is always a free gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9), and such grace always comes through the Lord Jesus Christ alone.

God told Israel that he would become their enemy (5:8-14). He would be like the silent destroyer. He would quietly bring ruin and decay like moth and rot do. Would you have ever imagined God picturing himself as a moth or rot? At times, the only thing that will gain our attention is shocking language. The Lord would be the ferocious predator. He would roar and attack like a bold lion, from whom there is no escape. Believers like the picture of God as a lion, boldly ravaging his enemies. But here, his enemy is Israel, his people! An uncomfortable thought! In either picture, God wanted Israel to have an “authentic meeting” with the living God. The Lord wants us out of our comfort zones to really meet him.

God declared Israel’s only escape (5:15). He corrected their wrong attitude. Israel had thought she could play religious games with the living God. “The Lord will forgive; that’s his job. Just bring him a few sacrifices once in awhile.” In our day people assume that they’re okay if they say a few “Jesus words”, even if they don’t really know him as risen Lord and Savior. However, the Lord solemnly said that he would withdraw from them, until they repented. Israel needed to have a proper fear of God and love for God.

He clarified the right way back to his favor. They needed to admit their guilt. The first step back to God is to confess openly that you have a serious problem, that you have offended the true and living God. They needed to confess their sin; that is, to take God’s side against their rebellious acts. Has this ever happened in your life?

They needed to turn to the Lord earnestly. God does not want us to play games with him. He wants a sincere, deeply-felt repentance from the core of our being (what the Bible calls the heart.) Forsake your old idols and look toward him. He wants us to seek Him, not merely His gifts. The only way back to the living God is through the Lord Jesus Christ. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12 ESV; cf. 1 Timothy 2:5).

It is time to seek the Lord!

Grace and peace, David

Like Moth and Lion (Part One)

Hosea 5:1-15

Their actions do not allow them to return to their God, for a spirit of promiscuity is among them, and they do not know the Lord… When Ephraim saw his sickness and Judah his wound, Ephraim went to Assyria and sent a delegation to the great king. But he cannot cure you or heal your wound (5:4, 13 CSB).

What is your view of God? What do you think he is like? No, this is not an exercise in allowing your imagination to run wild. The essence of idolatry is inventing a god from human imagination. Instead, I am asking what you know of God’s revelation of himself in the Holy Scriptures. God has communicated understandable and adequate truth about himself for life and godliness. Since he is God and our Maker, he is quite able to do this.

We should not be content with a minimal acquaintance with the Lord, for he is our Creator and Judge. What do you know of the One to whom you will give an account for your actions in this life? Can you provide others with an accurate picture of the Lord of the universe?

Old covenant Israel could not. The people that were called to be his witnesses could not even give an accurate testimony to themselves of God’s true nature, what he expected of them, and the way to find him. God’s prophet Hosea calls them back to the basics of spiritual reality, for in the spiritual realm, few things are as deadly as deception.

God exposed Israel’s lack of repentance. Here we observe a problem of the heart (5:4). Remember that the heart means the entire inner person, including the mind, emotions and will. It is the seat of your personality. Think of the importance of the motives of the heart. Here we encounter the deepest spiritual and psychological level of a person (Ezekiel 14:1-11; Hebrews 4:13). As we have seen, they pursued prostitution, whether sexual or spiritual, from their innermost desires. They did not know the Lord. Notice how the Holy Spirit keeps on emphasizing this point! Lack of knowledge of God is the empty space in the heart of a mere professor of religion. Such a person goes through the routine of worship without a personal relationship with the Lord. The true Christian knows the Lord (John 17:3; cf. 1 John 5:20; Hebrews 8:10-12).

God exposed their problem of performance (5:4). There are two ways of looking at this.

  • The sinner is held prisoner by their sins. He or she cannot run away from their master. They are slaves to sin, though they suppose themselves free (Romans 6:15-20).
  • The sinner’s mere profession to saving grace is betrayed by his or her actions (Romans 2:1-29). Before we judge others, we must first judge ourselves (Matthew 7:1-5).

A problem of misdirection (5:13)

Israel knew she had problems. When invading armies gather on your borders, it is hard not to notice.

Many Americans see our nation’s problems: escalating debt, troubling trade issues, increasing violence, deep, political hatred, the scourge of “new” diseases (HIV, Lyme’s, Autism, Alzheimer’s), declining literacy, and an entire litany of abuse (sexual, physical, substance, pornography, gambling). Not many can dare with a straight face to call this a golden age.

Israel decided to turn to her enemy for help! How deceived! Will one who seeks your destruction heal your sores? Yet they vainly hoped that Assyria would help them.

Israel turned to what was ineffective. Assyria would not have been able to help in any event, because Israel’s problem with God was beyond Assyria’s resources. (Recall that Assyria was the “superpower” of the day.)

The failure of our day is the ongoing human failure to recognize the depth of our problems. We have serious issues with God that the resources of American “superpower” cannot address and that tweaking our thinking with postmodern “insights” knows nothing about. May the Lord of all step into our lives in mercy and power.

Grace and peace, David

Purity (Part Two)

Hosea 4:10-19

Occasionally, people become interested in the environment, usually when there is some “health scare” or someone suggests putting a landfill for toxic waster in their immediate area or they watch a video about environmental disasters. Suddenly everyone becomes an environmentalist… for two weeks or a little more! “We must keep our land or air or water pure!” But our subject of purity is hardly one that will excite much interest in our time.

Previously, we considered the Biblical concept of covenantal purity, as seen from God’s design in creation and God’s law (his word).  As God made man and woman to commit to a covenantal relationship with each other and to remain faithful to each one in the marriage relationship, so God has called his people into a covenant relationship with him, and we are to be faithful to the Lord. In both cases we need a high “marriage esteem”.

Hosea wrote about Israel’s violation of covenant purity. He set forth Israel’s transgressions.

  • Israel was unfaithful to the Lord (4:10-13). Israel was married to the Lord in the old covenant, but they were turning away to false gods. To grasp the foolishness of their action, read Isaiah 44:9-20, where idolatry is graphically exposed. They had a spirit, a heart desire for prostitution. This was deep within them, influencing their inner person. Their core was in terrible shape.
  • Israel was deeply involved in sexual immorality. The pagan religions of their day practiced sexual immorality as part of their worship. They believed it was a way to seek favor from their gods (4:13-14). Note the equal treatment of men and women before God’s law. Males throughout history have tried to hide their sexual sins by setting up a low standard for males and another, purer standard for females. The living God has no part in such foolishness and hypocrisy.

Israel’s judgment: God abandoned his people to her sins.

First, Israel’s place of worship, Bethel (“house of God”), was renamed Beth Aven (“house of wickedness”, 4:15). God rejected any pretense that they worshipped him. People in our time need to realize that much of what they call the worship of God is really empty worship, because worship that is not in conformity with the Scriptures is empty worship (Matthew 15:7-9). To worship in conformity with human traditions is empty worship. To worship while condoning sexual immorality is empty worship (Ephesians 5:3-7).

Second, God rejected Israel (also called Ephraim, after the prominent northern tribe) by abandoning her to the idols she had chosen to love. Let them deliver her from the coming whirlwind of judgment (4:17-19)!

  • The word in verse 17 is chilling! How hopeless is someone’s situation when God abandons that person to his or her sins!
  • Notice carefully that physical troubles failed to move people to repentance. The drinks might be gone, but the spirit of prostitution in the heart is deeply seated. After the Black Death of 1347-1350, also called the Great Mortality, people did not live in a godly and holy manner. They might have become religious, but their lifestyle was wicked. Do not expect judgment to reform the western world. Our only hope is a new great awakening.
  • The only expectation for unrepentant people is judgment. A whirlwind would sweep the northern kingdom of Israel away.

God warned Judah to stay clear of Israel’s guilt (4:15). Building your house near a toxic waste site is a poor idea, regardless of how cheap the land is. People have been making human life cheap by pursuing cheap religion and cheap sex. Why not invest in something really worth having, instead of what makes you cheap and useless and empty?

Consider our current crisis. We must understand how deep our problems actually are.

Spiritually, since the 1960s, there has been a growing fascination with eastern religions among Americans. The greedy and the pleasure-seeking and those longing for physical wholeness have heard them promise peace and prosperity without consideration. However, a careful look at the poverty and degradation of the east would have disclosed the emptiness of their promises. Now what should we say about the American evangelical? If the Lord has designed us for a covenant relationship with him, our covenant Lord, do people sense this? Do we know what this means?

For example, a married woman is concerned about how she can please her husband (1 Corinthians 7:34). Since the church is married to Christ, we should be showing such love to him. Are we? Or has the church become a woman separated from her professed husband, more concerned about her career than her husband? Think on Colossians 2:19.

Sexually, our people accept and approve of sexual immorality that opposes God’s design and God’s laws. Such immorality is not an alternative lifestyle but rebellion against God. We must know what is contrary to God’s purposes and reject it. God’s purpose is our holiness. When I go to Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia, I want to watch a major league baseball game. I do not want to watch people acting silly who are dressed in clown suits, who hit a volleyball with a broomstick and run the bases backwards. Neither does God want to watch us make a mockery of his worship and human life.

What is the way out? First, there must be repentance, a change of mind. We must understand that what we believe about God determines our moral character. God cannot be treated with contempt. He does punish people by letting people experience the depths of their rebellion against God (Romans 1:24-27).

Second, true repentance produces reformation. We must practice pure devotion to the Lord. This includes recognition of his ruling providence, instead of luck or astrology. It also means the pursuit of sexual purity (1 Corinthians 6:13b-20).

The only way to purity is through Jesus Christ and his shed blood. Today is the day to have Christ purify your heart and life.

Grace and peace, David

Purity (Part One)

Hosea 4:10-19

They will eat but not be satisfied; they will be promiscuous but not multiply. For they have abandoned their devotion to the Lord. Promiscuity, wine, and new wine take away one’s understanding (4:10-11 CSB).

What we believe about God and the world directly influences how we live. We all live according to our worldview. Whether it is true or false, we make choices that we suppose are consistent with our basic presuppositions. For example, if you believe that good nutrition is crucial for your health, your diet will show it.

However, most people will not (or do not) consider that their doctrine of God affects their ethics and morals. They mistakenly assume that people can believe whatever they want about God and still maintain respect for human life, human rights, and some measure of order in society. God’s word reveals that doctrine, especially what we believe about God, produces moral or immoral conduct. When people reject God, they enter onto a dark path that leads to the oppression and abuse of others.

Let’s think about the Biblical concept of covenantal purity. First’ God’s design in creation was to demonstrate the glory of purity.

  • As a spiritual being, God made people for his pleasure. He made us to display his glory as a personal, sovereign being (Genesis 1:27-28). Mankind would honor God by faithfulness to God, as shown by fulfilling God’s purpose. God has designed you and me for worship, fellowship, discipleship, service, and mission. This is not a list that you can check one or two that sound interesting. Every Christian is to do all five.
  • As a physical and sexual being, God made the woman out of the man to be man’s helper and companion. God created male and female to join together to glorify God in love (Genesis 1:27; 2:18-25). Any rivalry and strife between the sexes arises from our rebellion against God, because what God has designed is very good (Genesis 1:31). Therefore, if males and females pursue the pleasure of God together, they will have harmonious relationships.

Now if you are going to work on a project with other people, what must you do? Communicate! Communicate in planning, in working, in project updates, in encouragement, in correction, etc.

Some of us might need more organized communication in our marriages and families—and our churches.

Second, God’s law (instruction, revelation of his will) reinforces this idea.

  • Spiritually, God requires us to honor God exclusively and faithfully. This is set forth in the first great commandment, to Israel in the first four commands of the law, and to us in the example of Christ and the repetition of the first three commands of the law covenant, in the Lord’s Supper, and in many commands to keep our minds focused on the Lord (Colossians 3:1-4). God by his grace has put us into a covenant relationship with our covenant Lord, Jesus Christ. The Lord calls us to relate to him by faith and love (1 Thessalonians 5:8) wholeheartedly and exclusively (1 Corinthians 6:17; cf. Romans 7:4).
  • Sexually, God requires us to honor him by only having sexual relations within the bond of a marriage covenant between one man and one woman (Deuteronomy 5:18; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; Ephesians 5:3). Sexual relations between a man and a woman married to each other are very good. God is not against sexual desires and relations. God created both! But he also ordered marriage between a man and a woman as the proper expression of both.

We need a high “marriage-esteem”. It is very good! Why would you want anything else? We need to remember that Christ’s people are related to him as his bride (Ephesians 5:25-32). We need to hold our spiritual relationship to the Lord of all as very precious.

Grace and peace, David

Destroyed from Lack of Knowledge (Part Two)

Hosea 4:4-9

They feed on the sin of my people; they have an appetite for their iniquity. The same judgment will happen to both people and priests. I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds (4:8-9 CSB).

Our current problem is that western nations are lands lacking in knowledge. This might seem like an incredibly wrong assertion, given our expanding technology. Although we live in a time of increasing information and technology, many lack an understanding of how to process information and how to discern truth from error. Most adults never read a serious book; they merely listen to talking head pundits and assume the know a subject. When we add in the suppression of the knowledge of God, the ignorance is astounding.

In our culture we are entering a new dark age. Consider some contributing factors to our decline and fall.

  • The collapse of true science. When our people first turned away from God, it looked to science, which people wrongly assumed would provide them answers to ultimate questions. Science could not provide the answers, because true science is a tool, not to interpret but to explore God’s creation. So people have turned to mysticism.
  • Closed-minded relativism. This is the absurd idea that the only true statement anyone can make is that nothing is true. Everything is relative to the situation. What may be “true” for you is not “true” for me.
  • A barrage of facts and observations without any standard or system for testing the accuracy and applicability of “the facts”. This is the controlling method in sociology and psychology. Spin out an idea and “prove it” with a number of emotionally compelling observations. This system is built on the false assumption that the observer is able to gather all the relevant data, compare it with apparently similar observations, and present an accurate evaluation.
  • The belief that humans are the measure or standard of all things. Another way to say this is that people assume that they can start from themselves and arrive at a proper understanding of reality.

Evangelicals have absorbed the viewpoints of the surrounding godless culture. Here are examples of this relativism.

  • “Christianity is a person, not a proposition.” [A proposition in this context is “an assertion; a statement wherein something is offered for consideration”.] In reply we agree that Christianity is certainly centered on the person of Christ, but you can make assertions about him. The Lord of all has defined who and what he is in the Bible.
  • “I have no creed but Jesus.” But who is this Jesus in whom you believe? Tell me about him. Remember that the apostle John warned of many antichrists (1 John 2:18-23; 2 John 1:7).
  • “This is what this verse means to me.” That would be cute, if it wasn’t off-kilter. But if it is the true and correct meaning, it will mean the same to me also.
  • “I know the verse might not be saying this, but it’s an interesting application.” This is actually false teaching. It ignores God’s word and replaces it with personal opinion. All true applications will flow out from the true meaning of the text.

Examples of a barrage of facts

  • Listing verse after verse, linked by apparent verbal similarities, without considering each verse in its context. It sounds impressive, but can you understand God’s message from the mere assemblage of a multitude of texts?
  • Presenting jokes, stories and opinions instead of Biblical truth. This is manipulates people by using stories or observations or humor to put pressure on their emotions or will. One Sunday night I listened to four different messages on the radio. You did not need a Bible for two of them. There was not any Bible in them.
  • Using tricks based on the emotions or the will to motivate. For example, you hear one verse, and then countless stories and examples. Perhaps this is one reason that many in our churches cannot define or explain the importance of justification.

Examples of human-centeredness.

  • “There are good people on both sides.” That may be true, but we’re not discussing people’s character but truth.
  • “That’s your interpretation.” The question is not, “Whose interpretation is it?” but “Is the interpretation correct?” What is your final authority—your mind or the word of God?
  • “Well, we’re not going to change each other’s minds anyway.” Then what hope do we have in changing an unbeliever’s mind? Are believers more hard-headed than unbelievers? And even more importantly, do we really accept the claims that the Bible makes about itself. See Psalm 19:7-11; 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

I close with some practical questions. How much are we thinking and acting like followers of the Lord Jesus Christ? Or are we actually worldly-minded with a thin veneer of Biblical religion? Are you ready to change your mind and to love God with all your mind? Our people are being destroyed by a lack of knowledge. Are you equipped to spread God’s light? Let’s shine for Christ now and always.

Grace and peace, David