On Resisting the Temptation to Look Back

Studies on the Book of Amos 1:1-3

The Lord begins this passage in speaking to the people of Israel by stating that He has “spoken against you, against the whole family I brought out of Egypt.” As Israel of the Old Testament, so the Church of the New Testament, being as though in the New Testament, believers are called a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people.” (2 Peter 2:9). The Lord here is rebuking His people, this special nation, for innumerable sins against Him. But, what’s most important here to notice is not who He is rebuking, but rather, who He is not rebuking. He is not rebuking the world. He is not rebuking those who are non-believers, but rather He is rebuking those specifically who call on His name. He is rebuking the entire family that He brought out of Egypt. That’s important, because in our generation, we constantly hear that “all roads lead to heaven” because we are all “God’s children,” yet, when we look unto Scripture, we see otherwise. There is no one nationality or ethnicity or financial status or any such human labels that are God’s children, but rather those who are born of the promise of the Lord. The reason that Isaac was chosen and not Ishmael was because Isaac was born of the promise of the Lord, whereas Ishmael was born when Abram and Sarai wavered in their trust in the Lord. See, Scripture promises us that all who fully trust in the Lord will be born again, becoming “sons through adoption,” and thus becoming “joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). And Scripture details that adoption into the family of God means that the people of God are set apart. We who once were no people have become a people unto ourselves. And, in so doing, the apostle admonishes us, “as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to your former lusts…but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘be holy, as I am holy.'” (1 Peter 1:14-16).

See, Peter also warns us that “judgment begins at the house of God, and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17). And that is exactly what we see exemplified in this passage. The Lord has brought this word not agains tthe world, for they shall already suffer, having received their reward on earth. No, rather, He has brought this word against the “family He rescued out of Egypt.” Chrysostom, in his homily on this passage, states that “they deserved greater punishment, because they sinned after receiving the honours He had bestowed upon them.” And that makes perfect sense, considering the strong warning we receive in the Book of Hebrews, “if we sin willfully after receiving the knowledge of truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for our sins, but the fearful expectation of judgment.” (Hebrews 10:26-27). See, in this passage from the prophet Amos, the Lord is basically saying, I gave you all of these things, I rescued you from out of the world, and you have turned away from Me. He says, “out of all the famlies of the earth, I have especially known you. Therefore I shall exact vengence upon you for all your sins.”

I know this isn’t a popular thought for anyone to have, but when we turn to the Lord, He expects to be our Lord. When we proclaim that we are His followers, He expects us to follow Him. There are many things that the Lord expects of us, as believers, but one of the foremost things is obedience. In the gospel of John, Jesus tells us that “he who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21). See, it’s this idea that to love Jesus is to obey Him, it is the outward manifestation of our love. Much as “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” (John 3:16). Love always manifests itself in action, and the first of these actions is obedience. Speaking to the nation, the Lord tells us “hearing is better than a good sacrifice and obedience is better than the blood of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22). Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord tells us that “I did not speak to you fathers…concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. But…commanded them, saying ‘Obey My voice…and walk in all the ways that I have commanded you.'” (Jeremiah 7:22-23). Through the prophet Micah, we learn,” what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love merecy, and to walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8).

In this passage, the Lord asks us, “if two people walk together, will they not come to know one another?” Isn’t that the very way that we describe our faith with the Lord? That we walk with the Lord? If we are walking with Him, shouldn’t we be increasing in knowledge of Him, of His likes and dislikes, His affinities and offenses? See, logically, the longer we walk with God, the better we should come to know Him and the stronger our love for Him should grow. I’ve always noticed that the more time people spend around someone, the more like them they become. Have you ever noticed that? You begin to pick up speech patterns, certain expressions and idiosynchrosies. Maybe even some of their values and morals may “rub off on you,” (for better or worse). So too should it be in our walk with the Lord. The longer we walk with Him, the more we should become like Him. The holier we should become. John tells us that “by this we know if we know Him, if we keep His commandments. Whoever says ‘I know Him’ and does not keep His commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:3-4). If obedience is the manifestation of our love for the Lord, and the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and might, then it seems as though to fulfill His commandment is to love Him, and to love Him is to be obedient to Him. Jesus Himself questions, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).

The popular thinking in our culture is that since we are saved by grace and not through our own works, “we’re not perfect, just forgiven,” that there is to be no striving towards holiness. Our culture claims that we are assuredly saved no matter our own behaviors or sins, thus we need not worry about anything. There is a dangerous infection within the body of Christ, spreading like a plague, that states that attaching any works (which is defined besides actual works as including repentance, holiness or obedience to the Lord) is a heresy teaching works based salvation and needs to be stopped. But, then I look unto the Scripture and find that John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, Paul, and even Jesus Himself taught those very demands as conditions for salvation. In our generation, I think soon that requiring faith will be considered blasphemy against the sovereign grace of the Lord, since faith is something we have to willfully consider and commit to. John the Baptist admonishes us to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8) and Paul repeats a very similar statement when on trial before King Aggripa, explaining that he has been commissioned by God to save the Gentiles, teaching that they “repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.” (Acts 26:20). He also explains that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” (Ephesians 2:10).

The Lord in this passage is speaking to Israel, but His warning is for all believers. He is warning His chosen people, His royal nation, is being judged, not in spite of their knowledge of the Lord, but rather because of it. He had rescued them out of the world, and yet they chose to return to it. They chose the world over Him. And how often do we do exactly that? We look at His promises of the life to come, and then the temporal pleasures of the world, and, oh so often, we foolishly choose the temporary. We, like Esau, choose to sacrifice our eternal birthrite for a morsel, for a minor pleasure. I love the story of Esau, because, notice, when he trades his birthrite for the lentil stew; it doesn’t even say he enjoyed it. He ate it, got up and left. And so often, that’s us.

We must be fully guarded, my brothers and sisters, against this temptation to look back to the world. The Lord has rescued us from our own Egypt, our own world in which we were lost and trapped, and has brought us into the promise of the Kingdom. Let us “learn from Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). Once we have been rescued from our sins, let us not gaze longingly back on that world, but rather let us look forward unto the Lord, “pursuing peace with all people and holiness, without which none shall see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14). We must walk with the Lord in all holiness and righteousness, understanding that holiness belongs to God. We cannot attain it on our own, but rather we receive it from Him. And knowing that, we must choose to receive that holiness, we must choose to walk with Him, that we can truly grow to know Him.

May the grace of the Lord be with you, my beloved family.

 

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