Hosea / chapter 8 (read the chapter)
When I really want to accomplish a lot, I make a list to keep myself on track. When I want to re-establish control over my life in certain areas, I make a list to keep myself on track. Making lists doesn’t necessarily come naturally to me, but as I get older (and as I am influenced more by my mother!), I see that they are indeed a valuable tool.
A checklist helps me make a plan and stick to it. I decide ahead of time what needs to be done, and then I methodically go through those tasks, without needing to think, checking them off one at a time. If I have been a good list-maker, I can be guaranteed that when everything is checked off my list, I will have accomplished what I set out to do.
I was thinking about checklists today as I read Hosea 8 and realized that God doesn’t make them. What? you ask. Ever heard of the Ten Commandments? It’s the most famous list there is! And, of course, that would be right. But when I say that God doesn’t make checklists, I’m talking about in the ultimate sense. He hasn’t based our salvation on a checklist, and this chapter of Hosea demonstrates why: “Though Ephraim built many altars for sin offerings, these have become altars for sinning.” (vs 11)
Why did Ephraim build many altars for sin offerings? Because that was one of the things on their checklist! God told them to erect these altars for a specific reason—so He could come to know them through their interaction with Him there. But, the problem was, Ephraim actually managed to avoid interaction with God at their altars. Once they had finished that particular item on the checklist, they went on with the business of their sin and eventually turned the places God had mandated to help them overcome sin into more opportunities to sin!
For me, that’s a really sobering thought.
However, we have the advantage of living as New Testament Christians, right? Now that Christ has come and put the law in its rightful place, we’re home-free. We aren’t in danger of repeating the mistakes of Israel, right?
It was Jesus Himself who warned us against the very thing we’re now beginning to see in the Christian church—turning the altars of love offerings (to our fellow man) into altars for sinning: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matt 7:22-23)
It’s stunning, isn’t it? Jesus says He will call some of the people who have spoken truth, released captives, and healed and fed their fellow men evildoers! How could doing any of those things ever be evil?
I’ll tell you how. They are evil when done outside of The Greatest Commandment. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and soul. Anything that is done outside of that relationship of love is evil. If you end world hunger outside of that relationship, it is evil. If you heal every person on the face of the planet outside of that relationship, it is evil. If you work for justice and mercy and kindness and truth outside of that relationship, it is evil.
I must admit, as I write those words, it’s even hard for me to believe. But aren’t those the implications of what Jesus said? It doesn’t matter what we do or don’t do. If we don’t know God, we are evildoers.
Showing love to our fellow man has become the current clarion call of modern Christianity. And, of course, there is nothing wrong with loving our fellow man—when it is done in the context of our own relationship of love with God. But, as those Israelites of old, we must be careful not to turn the altar of loving our neighbor into an altar for sinning.
God doesn’t make checklists. Our salvation is not dependent upon how many bodies we clothe, how many mouths we feed, how many diseases we heal, or how many wars we stop. Our salvation is dependent upon knowing God.