Last night I grabbed a copy of the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible, JPS translation), settled into my grandmother’s chair and read the book of Amos.  (Now, before anybody gets the idea that I am boasting about having read an entire OT book in one sitting, bear in mind that Amos is only nine chapters long and a very easy read – even if you slow down to absorb the message, which I would hope we all do when reading Scripture!)

You gotta love Amos, the Non-Prophet Prophet.  You would have had to have been called by God to be an OT prophet.  Makes for a great episode of “Dangerous Jobs.”  Ride into town, give God’s Word to the people, find yourself boiled in oil or dismembered or being fated to any one of a number of painful, ghastly endings. When Amaziah seeks to run Amos out of town, I love the prophet’s response: “I’m no prophet!  Nor am I the son of one!  I’m just a shepherd and fig farmer.” 

Then Amos explains why he is in town to spread such a dire message of impending doom: The LORD told him to leave his flock and his figs and warn the people of Israel.  Let them know what’s about to happen.  Explain how their wickedness has led to this.  Make them understand their destruction is at hand.  And let them know there is still hope.


Israel has become deeply sinful.  Great gain brought with it great pride, immorality and faithlessness,  The rich prey on the poor.  Sexual immorality and “carousing” now prevail.  They are no purer than the godless nations that surround them.  Worst of all, God has been all but forgotten.  Service to the LORD has become empty religious exercise.  Does any of this sound familiar?

God has sent painful circumstances to get their attention: hunger, thirst, failed crops, locust… He is trying to get their attention.  The LORD is trying to get them to understand that they need Him.  They cannot simply rely on their riches and strength.  Does any of this sound familiar?

Since they refuse to turn away from their wickedness and turn back to God, He will destroy them and leave them for dead.  Israel will no longer exist in the form that it has.  Mourning and misery will reign. Indeed, very soon this all came to play when the Northern Kingdom was invaded and subjugated by the Assyrians.

But still… there is hope.

“Seek the LORD and live.”  If Israel will repent – turn away from evil and run back to God, wholeheartedly, truthfully…  they will live.  It is the same message Jesus gives us: “Seek first his kingdom, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33, NIV).

Seek God’s ways first.  Follow His Word and do not reject it.  Do not follow the feel good path of self indulgence, but do what God calls you to do.  Seek Him and live!

Does any of this sound familiar?

To “Be” or Not To “Be”

The Pre-Dawn Theological Society has been meeting every Monday morning (well… almost every Monday morning) for over a year now.  Throughout these fifty-odd early morning meetings, we have been thoroughly combing through the Gospel of John.  (We are currently at chapter 14.  We’re in no rush.)  So, naturally, yesterday we discussed Romans 12:2.

Now, you may well ask, “What on earth has Romans 12:2 got to do with John’s gospel?”  Directly, not a lot.  But, if you take a holistic approach to studying Scripture (and I do because, despite having 40 or so writers, the Bible has One Author with a remarkably diverse yet cohesive message for His people), then it has everything to do with it.  You see, Romans 12:2 really expresses what our approach to life should / should not be.  If you truly are seeking God’s will for your life (and I do mean truly – not using the Magic 8-Ball method of trying to find what to do, but wanting wholeheartedly to be changed in your very innermost being to who God wants you to be), here it is.  Sit down.  Read this.  Memorize this.  Be like Madge with her bottle of dish soap: soak in this. 

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:2 (NIV)

Now… some of you may well be thinking, “I thought Chris was an ESV man.”  And you’d be right.  However, despite my preference for The ESV Study Bible, we in the Pre-Dawn Theological Society do not practice translational snobbery.  We have guys who, like me, appreciate the closer accuracy of the ESV, while others are more comfortable with the NIV or the NKJV, or even the tried, true and trusted KJV.  (And, personally, I also hold a deep fondness for The NIV Archaeological Study Bible.)

And, in the case of Romans 12:2, the NIV rendering holds a small idiosyncrasy that I believe makes it just a bit more accurate.  It is the omission of the word “be” from the beginning of the verse.  Read the ESV version:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Such a subtle yet sizeable difference that little two-letter word “be” makes.  The ESV / KJV / NKJV versions all seem to suggest that there is some force outside ourselves that is causing us to “be conformed to this world.”  And they are correct.  That force is called sin and, thanks to Adam and Eve, it is practically part of our DNA.  As Paul points out,

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” – Romans 7:18-20 (ESV)

What Paul is pointing out in Romans 7 is the simple fact that the law won’t save you.  The law shows us wrong from right.  It defines what is evil, and what is good.  And Paul teaches us, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9, NIV).  So, clearly, we have a choice to make.

This is where no longer conforming (as opposed to being conformed) comes in to play.  What saves us?  Well… faith in Jesus Christ.  Salvation is a gift of God’s grace provided through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross to cover the sin of the world.  Not merely our individual sins, but sin as an entity.  Once we are saved – the process of sanctification having begun within us – we no longer desire the junk that once littered our lives.  We want to live rightly – to abhor evil and crave what the Lord says is good. 

But, as we read, we can’t pull it off.  Do not set a goal of making yourself perfect.  Nobody transforms themselves.  We are saved by grace, and it is the power of God that is transformational.  And, while we cannot save ourselves, that does not mean we should go on living as we did pre-salvation.  We must make a choice: conform, or let God transform us.  And Joshua makes clear that this is a choice we must make:

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:14-15 (ESV).

Yes, what we do is important.  If we choose to follow God, we will stumble along the way.  Sin can slip in and slip us up.  Okay… repent, seek forgiveness, and move on in Christ.  If we choose to conform to the world’s ways – to continue in the sin we were once neck-deep in – then we need to consider the honesty of our alleged salvation.  For salvation brings about transformation – a change of heart, a soul turned toward Christ and His will. 

The point is this: don’t let your “salvation” be an excuse to willfully continue in sin.  Like it or not, you are either a slave to sin or a slave to Christ.  Sin brings death – it is bondage of the worst sort.  However, being a slave to Christ brings great freedom and joy!  You cannot serve two masters.  You must choose to no longer conform to the ways of the world and commit to Christ, allowing Him to strengthen and guide you through the lifelong process of sanctification.

Let’s let Paul have the last word on the subject today:

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” – Romans 6:1-14 (ESV)