Today's journal entry from my morning quiet time with God.
Look: “What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears...For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:4, 6)
Hosea was called to speak God’s Word to Israel (the northern kingdom formed after King Solomon’s death, later to be known by the name Samaria). The people had prostituted themselves by worshiping false gods, ushering in an era of injustice, thievery, and general immorality. This idolatry drew them away from God, though they were part of God’s people. When they got into trouble, they sought the help of foreign kings, displacing God as their King.
This scenario, in turn, led to poor crops and poverty and vulnerability and eventually, cataclysmic results.
In chapter 5, priests and others call the people to what amounts to an inauthentic repentance. They’re in trouble; so they call on the God of their ancestors. But God knows that this is pro forma, like the false repentance of King Saul, who only sought forgiveness because he had been caught and humiliated by his sin. It’s the false repentance of Judas, who only felt foolish for being taken in by the priests with whom he’d made his deal to betray Jesus.
In these verses from Hosea, chapter 6, God calls Israel’s bluff. He says that like the dew that covers the ground in the early morning but soon disappears with the heat of the sun, Israel’s “repentance” is fleeting, gone before the pressures of everyday living.
Israel has a utilitarian “relationship” with God. They view Him as being like all the false deities with whom they prostitute themselves. They’re all like good luck charms, pieces of metal and wood to whom they ascribe supernatural powers that they can take advantage of if they go through the right motions, say the right words, invoke the proper formulae. These are deities they can control through their own behaviors, deities bound to dance to their tune if they jump the right religious hoops or climb the right religious ladders. So, they keep offering their sacrifices to God (and the false gods) while ignoring the will of God, God’s call and command to worship only Him--with their whole lives--and to show mercy to others.
The Living God of the universe isn’t like the dumb idols we manipulate for our purposes. He’s living, just and gracious, and He can smell a rat. He knows when we’re trying to game Him.
True repentance involves grief over breaking God’s heart, which is what we do when we unrepentantly sin.
True repentance entails a genuine desire for the help of God in turning away from our sins, even our favorite ones.
True repentance involves surrender to the only One Who can overcome our sin and the death it brings.
True repentance involves embracing God’s grace in the confident assurance that God loves nothing more than having a relationship with His people.
True repentance is a gift from God and it’s the means by which He covers us in His love and forgiveness.
When we are truly repentant, we don’t expect that God must or will shield us from the earthly consequences of our sins. Shielding will sometimes come and when it does, we need to thank God and ask God to help us use the earthly freedom the shielding brings to honor God. But a murderer who repents for sin and comes to authentic faith in Christ will not expect that earthly authorities will forgo prosecuting them. Similarly, a gossip who repents can’t expect that the time bombs of their hurtful words might not sometimes be detonated in their earthly lives and relationships. Yet repentant sinners will be empowered to face whatever comes knowing that they are now one with God.
Listen: When we see Jesus on the cross, we see, in ways that the people of Hosea’s day couldn’t, just how merciful and loving God is. God came into the world in human flesh, bore our sins on the cross, then rose from the dead to open up forgiveness, eternity, and a relationship with God to all who trust in Jesus. To believe in Jesus is to turn to Him and the Good News of new life that His death and resurrection offer us and to turn from sin. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
Repentance should never be pro forma. You can’t game God. But you can have new life and the power of the Holy Spirit to live differently today than you did yesterday, to be enabled to live as a grateful forgiven sinner who, in the Holy Spirit’s power, acts justly, loves mercy, and walks humbly with God (Micah 6:8).
Even then, while living in this present world, we stumble. We sin. But the God Who is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8) is quick to forgive those who refuse to game God or themselves about their sins and their need of God to live like human beings rather than as self-serving monsters.
Respond: Lord, I recognize that sometimes my confession of sin to You are pro forma, perfunctory. So too can my worship of You, simply words I say or sing. I don’t want to game You, Lord. I am willing, though not anxious, to accept whatever earthly consequences for my sin that you deem appropriate. But I want to be daily cleaned by Your grace, daily made new by You. Help me to be utterly honest with You, Lord, so that I can experience Your mercy and Your “saving help” again. So that I can be the faithful disciple of Jesus Christ that You call me to be, that I want to be. In Jesus’ name. Amen
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]