This week in our study of Hosea chapter 8, we continue learning the cost of Israel’s iniquities. Their many sins in breaking God’s covenant and rebelling against his law, which included idolatry, alliances with pagan nations, hypocrisy in worship, and self-reliance, trace directly to the root of forgetting the God who made them (8:14). Therefore the God to whom they should have turned for protection has decreed their demise. Instead of crying out to the LORD who covenanted to be their refuge, they have turned to the neighboring nations seeking security, employing worldly solutions to their degenerating foreign affairs. Meanwhile, Assyria is circling like a vulture overhead and will soon swoop down upon them with unrelenting destruction (8:1).
And yet it is evident that the Israelites believed that they were on good terms with God. Appealing to him that, “My God, we—Israel—know you” (8:2). But they have “spurned the good” (8:3), rejecting (with disdain and contempt) the covenant and laws by which he made himself known to them and called them to walk in his ways as his own people. They are pursuing relationship with their Creator not on his terms, but their own. By forsaking their exclusive calling to be set apart from the nations and live according to God’s holy laws, they made a mockery of their faithless worship of him.
Jesus spoke without equivocation to the hypocrisy of religious observance and the doing of ‘good works’ devoid of true and saving faith:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ — Matthew 7:21-23
Notice that these hypocrites of whom Jesus speaks, like the Israelites, believe they are on good terms with the Lord. They are doing “all the right stuff,” and yet Jesus declares that he never knew them and that they are workers of lawlessness. It seems that merely doing all the right stuff isn’t enough to gain entry to the kingdom of heaven. What then makes the difference? Jesus reveals the answer in the following parable:
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” — Luke 6:46-49
The difference is that, before the ‘stuff‘ we do, before all the religious activity and ‘do-gooding,’ we must come to him, dig deep, and lay our foundation on the rock. This sounds well and good, but what does it mean? Paul gives us more than a clue in the second chapter of Ephesians when he, too, refers to a reliable foundation upon which to build.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. — Ephesians 2:19-22
The only reliable foundation upon which we can build a life of faith and good works is the foundation of the Word of God—the Holy Scriptures—which God wrote by the pens of the apostles and prophets, and which are plumb, true, and secure only as they rest against Jesus Christ himself, the chief cornerstone of the holy temple of God. But note the subtle shift in the action of building in Paul’s account. Those he calls fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God aren’t doing the digging and building, but are built on the foundation, being joined together, grow[ing], and being built together by the Spirit. We are not the architects of our faith, but the recipients. The holy temple of the Lord is being built on himself, by himself, and for himself!
We cannot lift a finger to dig or build unless God himself gives us life in Christ by the Spirit. Paul make it clear at the beginning of Ephesians chapter 2 that we are dead in our sins and utterly incapable of saving ourselves (2:1-3), and dead people don’t build. But…
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved . . . . For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. — Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9
Yes, Jesus did say that those who hear his words are to do them, but he made it clear that the doing begins with being built on the foundation that he has laid, not on the foundation of our own choosing. Paul echoes this also: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). And this is precisely where Israel got it wrong. “They did not neglect their ‘religion,’ but they neglected the heart of their identity in God: the covenant, which was their saving bond with God in faith, and the Law, which was their God-given instruction for worship and life. [they were] grasping at worldly solutions while neglecting the Word, faith, and [true] obedience.”
What is self-reliance, but prideful boasting? Rather than rely on the LORD their God in humble submission to his Covenant and living by his Law, they were pridefully choosing their own way in every realm of their lives. They forgot that they owed him everything—their identity as a people and nation, their homes, their well-being, and their security. Again, Jesus called out this sort of prideful self-reliance in another parable “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous”:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” — Luke 18:10-14
In Hosea chapter 8 we see that Israel’s sin is a warning today to those who call themselves believers but do not think it necessary to humbly submit their minds, hearts, and lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ; those who pridefully reject the mercy of God in salvation, exalting themselves and relying on their own foundation of works. Just as God rejected Israel because they went through the motions of worship while rejecting God himself (8:2, 3 13), so also will the Lord Jesus reject one who “calls herself a Christian, when neither her faith nor life reflect the Bible’s teaching.”
Sisters, we must, must, live in careful observation of and humble submission to the Word of God, relying, through faith, on God’s abundant mercy in Christ, as we are being built by the Spirit into the holy temple of God and walking in the good works which he prepared for us to do, because we are his workmanship, not our own.
O Lord, How can I keep my way pure? Only by guarding it according to your word. Cause me, Lord, to seek you with my whole heart; let me not wander from your commandments! Help me to store up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes, that with my lips I may declare all the rules of your mouth and in the way of your testimonies I would delight, as much as in all riches. Bring to my mind all your precepts, that I may meditate on them, fixing my eyes on your ways. For when I delight in your statutes I will not forget your word. (adapted from Psalm 119:9-16)
 Richard D. Phillips, Reap The Whirlwind, sermon on Hosea 8:1-14, at Second Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC, 7/28/2019, https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=729191254346958 [Likely more of a paraphrase than direct quote, as I scribbled notes as fast as I could while listening.]