We live in a postmodern world. While that term involves many different things to different people, one universally accepted characteristic is that truth is viewed widely as being relative. This means that there is no absolute truth, so what is true for one person may not necessarily be true for another.
This mindset is applied to all areas of life, including morality. This in turn leads many to see the idea of sin (at least apart from murder and stealing) as an archaic religious notion that no longer fits in our 21st century society. While the reason most often given for this mindset is to avoid offending anyone by appearing to be judging them, it often is an attempt to evade feeling guilt or conviction over one’s own actions.
Feeding this mindset is the idea that any morally offensive act is the result of some psychological disorder that removes all sense of personal responsibility.
Where do we get this inherent knowledge of right and wrong? If all truly is relative, what is the basis for seeing any act as morally offensive?
As we study the Bible, we learn there is, in fact, a moral order which God built into creation, and this moral order is based on absolute truth which defines right and wrong. Because this is built into creation, it applies equally to all people at all times and in all places. The Bible also defines the actions and attitudes which violate this moral order.
The prophet Hosea spoke to a sinful nation in helping them and us to see some of the underlying causes of sin we should avoid.
Lawless society (Hosea 4:1-3)
The denial of an absolute basis of truth or moral behavior is not new to our postmodern world. Hosea’s message of judgment indicates the people of ancient Israel were guilty of the same denial.
The term often translated “faithfulness” in verse 1 also may be translated “truth.” The people denied absolute truth so each person could determine his or her own truth and standard of behavior. They broke all the bonds the law placed on them and were guilty of many different sins. As in the days of the judges, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
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Verse 1 also states this denial of truth was accompanied by a failure to acknowledge God. It is no coincidence these two things always go together. As people come to think they no longer need God, personal pride and ambition become the guiding forces in life, and there is a loss of love for neighbor and concern for the least of these which lie at the heart of God’s moral law. Without an awareness of the truth and acknowledgment of God, all sense of law and moral order breaks down creating fertile ground for sin.
Failed spiritual leadership (Hosea 4:4-6)
While each person bears his or her own guilt, the denial of truth and failure to acknowledge God would not happen if those called to be spiritual leaders remained faithful themselves. The ones who stand and accuse and condemn sin in others are themselves guilty before God. In verse 4, Hosea directs his message of judgment to the priests who had the responsibility of teaching and guiding the people in their relationship with God.
In verses 7-11, Hosea states the priests are guilty of the same sins as the people and have used their position as spiritual leaders to take advantage of the people for their own gain. While they were responsible for teaching the people the truth, they have rejected the truth and thus withheld understanding from the people. They use guilt to extort money from the people. They twist God’s word and tell the people what they want to hear. Because of this, the spiritual leaders will suffer the same punishment as the people.
Today there are far too many people in places of spiritual leadership who water down the truth for a variety of reasons. It still is true that many of God’s people fall into sin and are “destroyed for lack of knowledge” (v. 6) because spiritual leaders fail to teach the whole truth.
False religion (Hosea 4:12-14)
Although the leaders have failed in their duties, the people still are responsible for their own sin before God. In these verses, Hosea describes various examples of pagan worship the people had become involved in. They had built sacred pagan shrines on every hill and under every tree in the land and continually participated in the often sexually immoral activities that were a part of the worship rituals there.
While we may no longer have the temptation to worship literal wooden idols or visit sacred prostitutes, many today are guilty of putting their trust in false religious ideas that also provide fertile ground for sin by creating a false sense that their religious activity makes them right before God. This happens as people compartmentalize their life so that they do enough “religious stuff” (like attending church, singing in the choir, giving financially, etc.) on Sunday to take care of that part of life and so they can feel “covered” for Monday through Saturday. They have enough Jesus to save them but not so much that he interferes in their daily life.
Our right standing before God has nothing to do with religious activity or rituals performed once a week. It is based solely on a relationship with one who came to show what life can truly be and died to secure that life for anyone who would enter that relationship. It is only as we live out that relationship by walking daily in his presence that we are able to avoid the things that so easily lead us into sin.