Go to Bethel and sin . . . Bring your sacrifices every morning . . . Amos 4:4 (NIV)
Long ago, I attended Northwestern College (MN), which sat just across the lake from its closest rival, Bethel College. Today’s passage was a long running nerdy joke – Go to Bethel and sin – between the two Christian colleges. Though I found it amusing, I never understood the passage until I reread it yesterday. As it turns out, the passage describes me, when I’ve pursued my destructive appetites.
Under the old system (before Christ), when God’s people committed a moral failure, he required an animal’s life for forgiveness (a blood offering). Forgiveness required some personal sacrifice (loss of the animal). Amos however, lived during a time of prosperity, when giving up an animal was no big deal. The Israelites figured out that if they had a lot of animals, they could sin freely and just keep sacrificing. I can live however I want and be forgiven!
This is the same thing that I’ve said to God when I’ve gone my own way. Because Christ died for my all my sins, I can live however I want. It’s as if there were a swear-jar that I had to put a quarter in every time I said a bad word. If it cost me something, I might be careful about my speech. In Christ though, I have an infinite number of quarters, so in my perversion of his grace, I believe I can cuss freely.
We are saved by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8). We do not save ourselves with our good behavior. It is a false faith however, that consists only of a knowledge of a thing (James 2:19). Amos, with razor sharp sarcasm in today’s passage, points out that it is ridiculous to think that we can sin as much as we want, simply because God is forgiving.
God’s grace leads to transformation (Romans 2:4). If we simply embrace forgiveness without ever repenting, we don’t have faith, we have a false-grace, perverted by our own flawed nature. If we truly want faith, and if we desire life, joy, and peace, then we must daily work at abandoning our destructive behavior to follow God. God’s grace, if it is real to us, leads not to more sin, but to transformation.