Avoiding False Religion (Part Two)

Hosea 8:1-14

When Ephraim multiplied his altars for sin, they became his altars for sinning. Though I were to write out for him ten thousand points of my instruction, they would be regarded as something strange. Though they offer sacrificial gifts and eat the flesh, the Lord does not accept them. Now he will remember their guilt and punish their sins; they will return to Egypt. Israel has forgotten his Maker and built palaces; Judah has also multiplied fortified cities. I will send fire on their cities, and it will consume their citadels (8:11-14 CSB).

They had a religion of self-will. God intends that our lives conform to the standard of the Scriptures (8:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). He expects us to be holy (set apart) as he is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). Our way of life from the inside out is to reflect God’s message and great aim, being set apart for his glory. But in Ephraimite (Ephraim is a name for the northern ten tribes) religion, the Holy Scriptures are regarded as something strange, “alien”, having no relevance to one’s life (8:12). The world thinks that godliness, marital faithfulness, self-control, prudence, humility and gentleness are strange things (cf. 1 Peter 4:4). The only relevance it knows is immediate self-gratification. This produces rebellion against God’s covenant law (8:1). Why obey something you think is weird and irrelevant?

When people refuse the Bible as God’s will for their lives, they become their own authority. What is right or wrong is then determined by human preference. Two ways Israel did this:

  • They chose rulers apart from God’s consent (8:4). A parallel in our day would be ordaining ministers apart from the requirements of God’s words; namely, setting up women as teaching pastors or tolerating ministers who do not have a firm hold of the faith once delivered to the saints. Churches look for managers or marketers, because they think their problem lies in their form rather than their substance. Sound teaching that sets forth God and his glory means little to many. “Just tell me enough so that I can live prosperously, and after I die, have a prosperous eternity.” God is forgotten! They tragically are unaware that eternal life involves knowing God and Christ (John 17:3).
  • They mixed themselves among the nations (8:8-10) Today the church mixes herself with the world by adopting unspiritual, ungodly, unbiblical attitudes and practices. How is the contemporary western church, claiming to be God’s nation, different from the world? What of the way she measures success? The way she markets herself? The lifestyle her members live?

They had a religion of empty ritual. Outwardly, everything seemed to be in order. Worshiping in a certain way (that is assumed to be attractive to the current lusts of the culture) is very important in Ephraimite religion. “This is the way we worship here.” Ephraim built altars for sin offerings (8:11). This looks good, doesn’t it? She seemed to confess the guilt of sin. Ephraim offered sacrifices to the Lord (8:13). Wasn’t she confessing her need for redemption and cleansing to the Lord? Do not read too much into what ritual and the recitation of the creeds are supposed to mean. Ask about the understanding of the heart. Is there love for the Lord and his truth? Are we set apart for what the Lord desires?

In reality, Ephraim’s situation was desperate. The altars were merely monuments to her sins, because she did not want to turn from her sins (8:11). It is one thing to sing the name of Jesus and speak of how kind and caring he is to affluent people in all their miseries; it is a very different matter to want to bring your life under his lordship. The Lord was not pleased with her sacrifices. She was ripe for judgment (8:13-14).

Are your sins taken away (Micah 7:18-19)? Do you have a promise from the living God that he will never remember them (Hebrews 8:12)? Such a promise and cleansing is found only in the Lord Jesus Christ and received through faith in him. Don’t build empty hopes on empty profession, your opinions, and religious rituals. Find the lasting, substantial joy of knowing God through Christ. When you come to know the Author of life, then you will experience life.

Grace and peace, David

Thoughts on the Reformation (Part One)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV).

The Reformation (1517-1648) was one of the great awakenings (like Pentecost and the First Great Awakening) in the spread of Christ’s kingdom on the earth. Centered in Northern Europe and Great Britain, the power of the Spirit of God and God’s word brought about a very strong witness to the good news of Christ and salvation. Many were born again from above, and a new way of life began in the regions it touched. It showed the value of human life in the here and now, and multitudes lived for the glory of God, including in the 1600s, North America. Like any matter in which people are involved, the Reformation was far from perfect, but that should not prevent us from rejoicing in the salvation of people and much good that resulted through people who had been brought from darkness into God’s marvelous light. Let us avoid the destructive trap of smashing good things because of a few flaws we perceive. It is right to point out errors, so that we can walk more precisely in the truth. But it is very wrong to reject God’s work because of the remaining sin among his people.

The Bible tells us that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, at his appointed time: But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son (Galatians 4:4 NIV). The Reformation also came in this way. The sovereign God prepared the times and the seasons for the quick spread of the good news through people chosen by him. Among the many preparations were the rediscovery of ancient languages (to rightly understand the Bible in its original languages) and the printing press (which enabled the inexpensive publication of the Bible and messages based on the Bible). God used many men to translate his word into the languages of people, so that men and women could hear, read, and meditate on his message to them.

This was an important development, because prior to this the corrupt medieval church had strictly controlled access to the Bible, and its leaders had told people that they could only know truth through the church. This meant that the church told people that the way of salvation was through its sacramental system. However, when people could read the Bible, they discovered that people are saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. When any sinner trusts in the Lord Jesus, he or she is declared right with God. With this in mind, we can appreciate why the first point of Reformation theology is “according to the Scriptures alone”.

In religion, we often see a divided authority. The usual scheme is a holy book, an accumulation of traditions and/or folk practices, and a group of “holy people” that interprets the holy book and the traditions for the adherents of the religion. In practice, this means that the “holy people” are the final authority. This is what happened in the medieval church. It had morphed into a religion that the bishops and priests controlled to keep people paying money in the sacramental system. As long as they controlled the authority structure, they controlled the people. As the Reformers studied the Scriptures, they came to realize that the Bible itself was the written word of God and therefore, our final authority for what we believe and our way of life. The Bible, not the church, declared the way of salvation. Anyone reading the written word of God in a normal manner can clearly understand how to know God and to be right with him, and how to please him.

This first point of Reformation has ongoing value. We do not have to rely on church traditions or her leaders. God wants us to listen to him directly. The practical questions are do we accept the final authority of God’s written word and do we read it carefully, so that we know what God has revealed to us?

Grace and peace, David