“Put to death … what is earthly in you” (Col. 3:5a).
In many passages from the prophets and the historical books throughout the Old Testament, the people of God are described as “stiff-necked,” i.e., refusing to bow before God, and God is revealed as supremely angry over their routine rebellion. The punishment is sometimes severe, even catastrophic. We see this most dreadfully in the utter destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel by foreign invaders, followed a hundred years later by the devastation of the southern kingdom of Judah — a devastation that included the looting and burning of the Temple in Jerusalem, and its royal family and nobles being taken as captives to Babylon.
Today’s lesson from Hosea is arrestingly moving in that oft-repeated pattern of God’s call to repentance, the people’s refusal to obey, and the ensuing punishment. The prophecy in Hosea shows that God loves his people tenderly and is deeply troubled and pained by their rebellion and the consequences that that rebellion requires. The same theme is found in the words of the prophet Ezekiel (18:31-32), where God said, “Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”
But surely there is no more moving and heartbreaking expression of this same teaching than that found in Hosea (11:1-4): “When Israel was a child, I loved him . . . it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of kindness, .. . I bent down to them and fed them.” And yet, “The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept … burning offerings to idols.”
Centuries passed and things changed dramatically, for Jesus the eternal Savior was crucified and raised, and the Holy Spirit was conferred upon believers. Then in this new context Paul’s teaching to the church in Colossae addresses the identical phenomenon: the call to persevere in repentance and lead a life without sin, along with the statement that “On account of these [sins] the wrath of God is coming” (Col. 3:6). But for Christians there is a difference, since they have “been raised with Christ” and “have died” and now live “a life hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1,3). Yet even in this radically new context there is the demand for holiness with the assurance of consequences for persistent refusal to follow it.
Look It Up
Compare today’s reading from Colossians with Rom. 6:1-11.
Think About It
What behaviors and habits are in your life that are clearly contrary to the will of God? What keeps you from “putting them to death”? What will it take for you to do so? Consider both the tender love of God for you and his abhorrence of sin and the consequences of willful rebellion.