|Volume 17 Number 1 January 2015||
I recently read an “eye-opening” illustration; it went like this: “A number of years ago a preacher delivered a sermon titled, ‘Twelve inches from God’. In it, the preacher maintained that many religious, ‘churchgoing’ people are indeed just twelve inches from God. You see the distance to which he referred was the approximate distance between the heart and the lips. Many profess a good religion with the lips, but their heart is just not in it.”
Of course this eye-opening illustration is exactly to what Jesus was referring when He warned, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it written, this people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Mark 7:6). The difference in just twelve inches is immense! The difference between sin and salvation, humility and hypocrisy, sincerity and shams is found in those twelve little inches. On the surface, “lip religion” may look good, but it lacks the substance that genuine Christianity demands. Those who practice “lip religion” expose their hypocrisy in a variety of ways.
They are quick to tell others how to live, but seldom do they follow their own advice. Jesus, referring to the scribes and Pharisees that sit in Moses’ seat, declared, “Therefore, all that they tell you, that observe and do. But do not according to their works, for they say and do not” (Matthew 23:3).
They often did good works, but merely to be seen of men. Jesus said that the hypocrites of His day were so concerned about man’s applause that they would stand in the streets and deliver lengthy prayers just to be seen of others. Certainly one thing that causes onlookers to detest Christianity is when religious people perform works with only the motive to be applauded by their peers. Good works are only to be done so others may see them and glorify God, not us (Matthew 5:16)!
They were very concerned about the exteriors and how things look outwardly, but the Pharisees and scribes cared nothing for the weightier matters of the heart. Jesus called them hypocrites because they paid “tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and …neglected the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith…” (Matthew 23:23).
They worked hard at demonstrating an outward show of respectability, but were little concerned about inner thought, motives and genuine love. “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25). The external must never be emphasized to the neglect of the internal!
We must remain on guard so as to never slip into this type of facade. Christianity is a heart religion. No wonder why the first and great commandment begins, “You shall love the lord your God with all your heart…” (Matthew 22:37). Many love God with their mouths, but their hearts are not engaged. Sadly, they are just “Twelve inches from God.” What about you?
For Our Admonition
As the old adage goes, “Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.” Such is true of Bible history as well. In fact, the examples of Israel are recorded in Holy Writ “…for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11b). The people of God during Hosea’s day had left all that was good and right, and they quickly spiraled out of control. Hosea’s message was primarily to the northern kingdom known as Israel. That nation was on the brink of being carried away and spread abroad by the wicked Assyrian army. God was going to use Assyria to defeat Israel because Israel had collapsed morally, spiritually and religiously. Hosea’s message was surely written “for our admonition” today.
Israel had collapsed morally. The morality and godly principles that the northern kingdom should have followed were swept away and overtaken by sin and moral depravation. Immorality included adultery (Hosea 7:4), alcohol (Hosea 7:5) and abominable leaders (Hosea 7:6-7; 8:4). So much was this immorality present that God affirmed that the “whole land” had left Him (Hosea 1:2; 4:1-3). Israel stands as a serious reminder, “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34)!
Israel had collapsed spiritually. Not only was the “world” depraved during Hosea’s time, but even many of them that were God’s children had forsaken Him (Hosea 7:13-16). The people of God had become complacent and slothful regarding their own salvation (Hosea 7:13), regarding their strength (Hosea 7:14) and even regarding their substance (Hosea 7:15). Complacency is always a danger and a threat to God’s people (Revelation 3:15-16), and as such, surely Israel stands as a warning to us today!
Israel had collapsed religiously. Part of the horrific sins of which Israel was guilty was not only sins of “commission” but also sins of “omission.” Not only did those people commit abominable acts, but they also compromised and left undone righteous things. Israel was to be a separate people (Exodus 19:5-6). They were to conquer and have no covenants with foreigners (Deuteronomy 7:1-6). However, in this they failed miserably! Israel had blended in with those around them (Hosea 7:8), and even boasted about it (Hosea 7:10). Surely distinctiveness is what God expected then and now. We, as God’s elect today, must act before it is too late!
Sadly, Israel’s sins doomed her to death and destruction! God set before the citizens of that nation life and death (Deuteronomy 30:19), but many chose death. Today, many in the kingdom of Christ (the church) are in equal peril of collapse and will surely be assigned death and destruction if they refuse God (Romans 11:20-21). The warning is clear; how will we react? We need not make the same mistakes as Israel of old did, because, “…all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Let’s act before it’s too late!