And you, who were dead in your trespasses …, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. — Colossians 2:13-14
As I read deeper into Hosea, it causes me to flinch and recoil. I want to look away. The Israelites’ determination to sin, and God’s impending judgment are just too awful. Like watching a graphic battle scene at the movies I want to hide my face until it’s over. But I must look. For the Israelite’s darkness causes God’s mercy in the gospel to shine all the more brilliantly. And their predicament is not unique to them.
When God told Israel that like Adam they have transgressed the covenant (6:7), he was going to the heart of the reason for their unfaithfulness. The reason why they failed to press in to know the LORD and to return his steadfast love is because Adam broke covenant with God, therefore they, and all humanity—in Adam—are covenant breakers.
What is a covenant? A covenant is a binding agreement, establishing a committed relationship between parties. A covenant may include obligations between the parties, with rewards for keeping the obligations and sanctions for failing to keep them. And so it was in the Garden of Eden, when God made the Covenant of Works with our representative, Adam.
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” — Genesis 2:16-17
In this, the Covenant of Works, God commanded Adam to obey him perfectly. The implied reward for perfect obedience was life; the sanction for disobedience was death.
We know how this worked out. Adam disobeyed, plunging all mankind into spiritual death, severing our relationship of loving obedience and trusting fellowship with our Creator God. And so Hosea pinpoints the fountainhead of Israel’s faithlessness as Adam’s sin. Adam, as our representative, broke the Covenant of Works, and the consequences fell on every one of his natural descendants. This is the doctrine of Original Sin. Not merely that Adam sinned the first and therefore the original sin, but that Adam’s sin fundamentally changed human nature from a nature with the ability to not sin to a nature without the ability to not sin. Put another way, we aren’t sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.
And just in case you wonder if the only sin credited to your account is Adam’s sin— it’s not. Because we are unable to choose to not sin, we begin sinning as early as possible and we keep sinning daily. Sinning is what we do. We sin like it’s our job. We’re good at sin—practice makes perfect, and we are well-practiced at sinning. Israel wasn’t unique in their sin-problem, for it is the problem of all mankind. It’s your problem, and it’s my problem.
To solve this problem we need a new covenant and we need a new representative.
We need Jesus.
Jesus is the only human ever born without Original Sin, and therefore truly at liberty to choose and with the moral ability to obey God his Father. Jesus fulfilled the Covenant of Works by perfectly obeying the Father every moment of his life on earth, humbly submitting himself even to death on a cross. Therefore, for all who place their faith in Christ, his obedience is credited to them and their disobedience is nailed to the cross where he died to pay the price—suffering the sanctions—of their sins. This is the Great Exchange. Therefore, as spelled out in Colossians 2:13-14, our death is exchanged for life!
Jesus is the representative of the Covenant of Grace, by which all who believe on him by faith are forgiven and redeemed by the great mercy and steadfast love of the Lord. He died the death that they deserved so that they would have eternal life.
The Israelites in Hosea’s day had forgotten the knowledge of the LORD and the meaning of the sacrifices he commanded them to bring in worship. Those sacrifices were his gracious gift to them. For in the sacrifices, rightly offered with a heart of repentance, they were reminded of the cost of their own sins. In every horrid, bloody, lifeless carcass they saw their need for a substitute to pay for their sin. But Israel had forgotten the gracious gift and simply went through the motions, “worshipping” the LORD without spiritually embracing by faith the redemption promised in the rituals.
Beloved, we must not forget the cost of our sins. If you are in Christ, he paid your debt with his life, dying on the cross so that you might be forgiven and have life in him. If you are not in Christ, then, like the Israelites of Hosea’s day, you must bear the cost of your own sins, and God’s righteous judgment against you is destruction and death. Please, oh please, take a moment to examine your heart. Dear one, are you in Christ?
[I]f you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” . . . . For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” — Romans 10:9-11, 13
Pray With Me
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me. — Psalm 51:1-2, 7, 10