A Warning to the Church
A constant threat in one’s spiritual life is to not take one’s relationship with God seriously enough. And the soft preaching of too many churches these days contributes to this. As a tragic consequence, many who think of themselves as Christians fail to live out their professed faith in Jesus and thus stand in danger of their souls.
This is nothing new. Many instances of God’s people failing to be sincere and real in their relationship with God are recorded in his Word. So too are recorded God’s judgment of such disobedience. Such records are meant to be a warning to us as well (1 Cor. 10:11). The question is, are we listening to those warnings of old (Is. 53:1)?
“Who among you will pay attention to this? Who will listen attentively in the future? Who handed Jacob over to the robber? Who handed Israel over to the looters? Was it not the Lord, against whom we sinned? They refused to follow his commands; they disobeyed his law.
”So he poured out his fierce anger on them, along with the devastation of war. Its flames encircled them, but they did not realize it; it burned against them, but they did notice” (Is. 42:23-25 NET).
We are meant to learn from the past (Rom. 15:4). Scripture here asks who will do this. We are the future ones mentioned in this ancient passage, we who are in the last days of this world. Will we indeed listen and learn? Two points of this message will be emphasized here in what follows: the disobedience and lack of repentance mentioned, and the lack of awareness of God’s righteous wrath against this disobedience. One account in particular will be used here, that of Amos, chapter three.
The message of Amos, chapter three, begins with this statement:
“Hear this word the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel–against the whole family I brought up out of Egypt: ‘You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins'” (Amos 3:1,2 NIV).
All four of the main points mentioned here by the prophet Amos apply as well to God’s people today:
First, we who believe in Jesus are the spiritual nation of Israel (Rom. 2:28,29). Second, Jesus has brought us out of slavery to our sins, as symbolized by the Israelites being freed from Egypt (Gal. 5:1). Third, we have been chosen by God (Jn. 15:19; 1 Ptr. 2:9). And fourth, nevertheless, God will also punish those who do not repent of their sins (Jude 5).
It is this last similarity that is focused on here. For there is, sadly, much false teaching in some churches in these last days that contradicts God’s own Word and which make him out to be soft and weak, not judging those who are believers in name only and do not live out their professed faith in Christ. Some claim that all will be saved (universalism) and that there is no hell. They should read and heed Amos three.
There are seven rhetorical questions in Amos three, six of which involve situations of danger or disaster, life and death. But the first question, posed in verse three, has no obvious such reference. All it speaks of is two people walking together: a seemingly innocent, commonplace event. So why is it included in the list of dire circumstances that follow? It seems out of place.
The answer has less to do with the outwardly visible conflicts between warring parties mentioned afterwards and more to do with the unseen, inward reasons for why those conflicts have arisen. The simple act of two people walking together is not as simple as it first appears. Hidden beneath this ordinary act is an extraordinary piece of knowledge: The two separate individuals are joined in a common purpose–or else how could they walk together? Their walking together implies agreement.
And just what is it that these two agree upon? Given that the other six situations involve a predator and prey, attack by an enemy, the implication is that the two are in one accord regarding some sort of attack on God’s people. This is nothing new. God’s people have always been attacked by the people of the world (Gal. 4:29). But what will be dramatically different about a certain attack discussed below, here, is that one of these two is God himself! He will be in agreement with the enemies of God’s people, that they are to be attacked!
How can this be? Is not God the protector of his own people? How then can he turn and agree with the enemy for them to be attacked? This also is nothing new. Whenever his people turn their backs on their God, he allows their enemies to turn on them. God uses the enemy to mete out his discipline and punishment for the disobedience of his people to their covenant with him. In Isaiah 45, God says that he will use Cyrus, a pagan ruler, to conquer peoples, even though he does not acknowledge God as Lord (Is. 45:5). Likewise, he raised up Pharaoh of Egypt for the same reason, to accomplish his purposes (Ex. 9:16). And, in Jeremiah 25, Scripture records another instance where God himself raised up an enemy, Babylon and others, to punish his own people. Here are God’s own words regarding this:
“I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm in anger and fury and great wrath” (Jer. 21:5 NIV).
Yes, God himself does fight even against his own people when they no longer truly revere him as their God, as proved by how they live their lives. Strange? Indeed (Is. 28:21)–but entirely consistent with God’s warning all through his history of dealing with his people that when they abandon the covenant they make with him to be his people and he their God, this is exactly what he warns will happen:
“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse–the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known” (Dt. 11:26-28 NIV).
This is not to say that all is lost if we fail at times to keep God’s laws and commands perfectly. We are sinful human beings and God has given us the way to be forgiven through his Son, Jesus Christ. Legalism is not being espoused here. Rather it is the hypocrisy and insincerity of a supposed relationship of love and obedience to God. That is what God judges and when he fights against the very ones who claim to belong to him but do not live out their profession.
This is all made worse by a certain form of prosperity preaching in vogue today, and by a general softening of God’s laws in certain church circles. They claim that all is well with the parishioners’ souls, when they are actually in great danger of God himself coming against them. Jeremiah was another prophet who had to deal with this preaching of this horrible distortion of God’s grace:
“Then I said, ‘Ah, Sovereign Lord, how completely you have deceived this people and Jerusalem by saying, “You will have peace,” when the sword is at our throats'” (Jer. 4:10 NIV).
Jeremiah said this because the false prophets had lulled Jerusalem into a false sense of peace that their enemies would not conquer them. Yet notice that he says that it is God himself who deceived the people. How can this be? Because after many warnings to them to repent and their constant refusal to do so, God gives them up to the sort of easy, sinful life that they so desire (Rom. 1:28). If the people consistently reject God’s many pleas to repent, the time may come when he stops giving them a chance to repent and simply abandons them to the consequences of what they want. That is their just due and punishment. And, in the end of things, God will once again himself allow those who desire deception, to be deceived.
“The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness” (2 Ths. 2:9-12 NIV).
“They say to the seers, ‘See no more visions!’ and to the prophets, ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!'” (Is. 30:10,11 NIV).
Very well, if that is what they want, that is what God will give to them: He will abandon them to themselves and their enemies. He himself will raise up an enemy to punish them for their idolatry. For any time God’s people prefer anything other than God to rule over their lives, they have become idolators. When God does this, however, it is never that God is the author of evil; he simply lets those who desire it have their own way–and that way is evil.
Many are they who are deceived by their hearts. They may go to church, read God’s Word, think that they are in good standing with God; but they have never truly surrendered their heart to God. And they think that God cannot see that non-surrender in their heart.
“‘The people of Israel and Judah are full of treachery against me’ says the Lord. ‘They have lied and said, ‘He won’t bother us! No evil will come upon us! There will be neither famine nor war!'” (Jer. 5:11,12 TLB).
How utterly foolish that people should think that they can sin all they want, and thus defy God and disrespect him, and still think that all is well between them and that he won’t punish them. Do they not go to church? Do they not believe in Jesus? And has not Scripture said that their body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19)? How then could God come against his own temple? Perhaps they should listen to the prophet of old.
In Old Testament times, the Jews prided themselves on the fact that the temple of God was in Jerusalem. They thought that because of the presence of God’s temple, they would suffer no ill, no matter how they lived their lives. For this, the prophet Jeremiah remonstrated against them.
“Do you think that because the temple is here, you will never suffer? Don’t fool yourselves! Do you really think that you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and worship Baal and all these new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, ‘We are saved!’–only to go right back to all those evil things again?” (Jer. 7:8-10 TLB).
What lack of awareness! What deception! Jesus issued a stern warning of the consequence of such an attitude.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 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 perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Mt. 7:21-23 NIV).
The frightening part about this prophecy of Jesus is that he is speaking of those who think they belong to him, not referring to blatantly obvious evildoers. Elsewhere, Jesus points out their lack of understanding of what it means to belong to Christ by asking one, simple but pointed question: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).
It is not a question of legalism, that is, trying to please God by doing good works. It is simply a matter of being true and honest and living out the relationship one claims to exist between oneself and Jesus. “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Rom. 2:13 NIV).
What, then, is to be done to prevent ourselves from becoming one of these oblivious hypocrites? A good place to start might be to obey the admonition of 2 Cor. 13:5: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test?”
But, as we have seen earlier here, it is all too easy for us to fool ourselves and think all is well when it is, in fact, far from it. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9 NIV).
So, beyond our own, possibly faulty self-examination, it is wise to ask the Holy Spirit to search our heart as well. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23,24 NIV).
We can be sure that the Holy Spirit of God will reveal any sin or weaknesses within us, and do it in love, not condemnation (Rom. 8:1). What then? John the Baptist gives us the correct response: Repent! (Mark 1:4). “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near'” (Mt. 3:1,2 NIV).
That is the message we need to hear today as well. “And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11 NIV).
Much nearer. The days of this earth are numbered. And that number has become very small. The message for our day? Repent! And, further, let our lives show that this repentance is real. We should pay strict attention to John the Baptist’s further message to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Mt. 3:8 NIV).
To this end, let this message from John the Baptist be our closing warning here:
“The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Mt. 3:10-12 NIV).