In the Old Testament one of the major themes is sin and its consequences, and in particular the sins of the people of God. So the questions that Christians might ask are “What does all that have to do with us today, is sin really such a big deal to God, and maybe there is something important in all those prophets talking of judgment, but does that mean I need to confront others about their sins? I don’t want to sound like one of the Pharisees, and we are under grace, not the law, so we don’t have to worry about all that gloomy sounding stuff right?” Therefore, such things must be considered carefully before we make statements about God that do not factor in his justice and vengeance.
Let us begin with how God views wickedness in regards to Israel and then a foreign nation. In Jeremiah 30:11-15, God begins with saying in verse eleven how he will save Israel and “will make a full end of all the nations among whom I scattered you,” which one would expect. After all, “God must protect and save his people right?” That certainly is true, but what does the rest of verse eleven say? It says that God will also discipline Israel and not leave Israel unpunished.
Through verses 12-15 God speaks of the “wound” that has been dealt to his people and how they have been “forgotten” by their “lovers”. And who has given Israel its wound? Verse 14 says “for I have dealt you the blow of an enemy,” which indicates God himself has done this. And in that same verse God says why “because your guilt is great, because your sins are flagrant.”
So, in Jeremiah 30:11-15 several things can be seen. First, God will save his people Israel from its oppressors. That God dealt harshly with those that scattered and did violence to his people. But, God because of Israel’s great sin, was willing to treat them like an enemy and could not allow their sin to go unpunished. So, it is clear God would not tolerate continued sin among the people of Israel and would punish their sins with great severity.
However, “That was Israel, if they did not obey the covenant of course they would suffer God’s judgment. But we are not subject to the old covenant since we are not Israel. So, we need not worry about God’s judgment us, especially in this life.” Is the conclusion some might come to, but God did not judge Israel exclusively and leave other nations to their own wickedness. So let us look at another passage of scripture that features judgment.
Nahum 1:2-5 is a passage directed at the nation of Assyria. God talks of himself in terms of being, an “avenging God”, “wrathful”, and “powerful”. And in verse 3 it states “the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.” Now, Assyria was a wicked pagan nation, and one that attacked Israel, so it is quite natural to think that God would be particularly “wrathful” to them and they would be “guilty” of many things. Therefore, God being harsh with them is no surprise, but let us look at verse 5. Scripture says “the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it.” Though, the focus of the book is on Assyria, this verse makes it seem like God is not only passing judgment on a particular group. But, God is also issuing a warning to all nations, that he will ultimately judge all wickedness and “by no means clear the guilty.”
Therefore, we have an example of God destroying a wicked pagan nation and an example of him disciplining very severely his chosen people Israel for their sin. But what does that say about God and what does that mean for us? First, God is a god of perfect justice, and cannot stand sin and will punish the wicked in the last judgment and even in this life, if God so decrees. So let us not think that God will no longer stand in judgment of the nations.
Also, since God cannot tolerate sin, he will definitely not tolerate it among his own people. So even though we Christians are under the law of grace, we will be disciplined by God if we purposely disobey him and when we are disciplined it may well be with “the blow of an enemy.” For, since we are under grace, I can only imagine that God may perhaps be even more ready to punish unfaithfulness on our part. Let us remember we are representatives of Christ, and therefore, God will not allow us to live as we please and bring dishonor to his name without facing severe consequences from him.
Now the question may move onto “But why is sin so bad and can it really affect our walk with God that much? And should we not be tolerant of what is commonly viewed as acceptable in our culture?” For that we must look to Israel to see the effects of such thinking and practices had on the people of God. And also to see why God demonstrated his wrath so frequently to Israel.
In Hosea 4:4-14 we are faced with the corrupting nature of sin and why God had to bring great punishment upon the nation of Israel. First, it is revealed that not only the people but the priests of God rejected him. Indeed, going by what is said in verse 4 it looks like the priests played the major role in starting the cycle of rejecting the knowledge of God. Which caused the priests and prophets to become even blinder to the things of God. That led to the people to become blind and fall into the worship of idols of their own making.
The priests instead of trying to turn the people back to God, let the people continue in their wickedness and even profited from the peoples’ deeds. In verse 9 God says, “And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.” In fact, the punishment seems to be that the people will fall more and more into their wickedness but will not be satisfied. And so both the priests and the people continued with their wickedness. Verse 14 is indeed fitting for this situation “a people without understanding shall come to ruin.” It would seem to mean that a people without an “understanding” of God, can only “come to ruin”.
What does this passage mean to us? It means quite a bit, none of which would be popular even among evangelicals I suspect. Because it means firstly, that those that are in positions of spiritual authority have a duty to teach the people in the knowledge of God. Also, if the people turn away from God they must be told to repent and those in the ministry must also combat any part of the culture that goes against the law of God. Because if those in the ministry do not teach the things of God, and condemn wicked practices, who will?
The duties of the people of God is to obey God and listen to teaching. That they might grow in the knowledge of God, so they might know what is good and what is wicked in the eyes of the Lord. And that the people must not allow themselves to become ensnared in evil practices even if they are deemed “socially acceptable behavior” at the time. Indeed, in such times God’s people must stand even stronger and be even more shining reflections of God’s holiness to a dark world. But what is our responsibility in regard to knowing about God’s justice, the dire consequences of sin and warning others of the judgment of God?
For answers let us look at Ezekiel 3:17-21. In this passage God tells Ezekiel of the responsibility he has as “watchman” for Israel. Indeed, his duty is an unpleasant, and very burdensome task. But a very simple task none the less. When God tells him to, Ezekiel must tell people not to sin whether they are wicked or righteous. And if he does not God says, “his blood I will require at your hand.”
However, there is another part of this passage that is worth noting. God says to Ezekiel that even if Ezekiel does not warn someone and they commit an evil deed. That individual will still be held responsible and suffer for their wickedness. Which seems to further indicate the severity with which God views sin.
Now let us consider what this means for us. We must remember that all will ultimately be held accountable for their own wickedness, which should be a motivation for us to humbly warn others of the consequence of sin. Also, as Christians we have the knowledge of the gospel and the teachings of scripture. Therefore, while not all will listen to the warnings of God’s people. It would seem to be the case we have the responsibility to warn people of the judgment of God they will suffer if they refuse to repent, regardless of what we think their response will be. Because it may well be the person that we would more readily describe as “wicked” who might repent, than the person who is regarded by men as “righteous” (This itself is a point worth meditating upon, for it reveals the mercy of God and should kindle humility in our hearts). Lastly, let us remember we serve a God who will not allow wickedness to continue; he will destroy the wicked but what is perhaps more sobering for the Christian, is that God will also not allow us to engage in evil practices without suffering his discipline, if indeed we are his children.