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Reformed Christians talk a great deal about grace. This is understandable, given the Reformation’s emphasis the truth that God’s salvation comes to us by grace alone. Our preaching, rightly, does not tip the theological scales in the direction of sin but always points to the hope of forgiveness and cleansing in Christ, by God’s grace.

Nonetheless, gospel-believing Christians do not entirely ignore the reality of sin. We recognise our sin proclivity and pray to God for the power to overcome sin. Confession of sin is a regular part of our corporate worship, as it should be of our private worship.

Hosea 5 talks a great deal about Israel’s sins and warns of the great misery that sin would invite. But this misery was redemptive. “I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me” (v. 15).

The Heidelberg Catechism, one of the most beloved Reformed Catechisms, divides into three major sections. The first deals with human misery, which, as here in Hosea 5, points us to God’s grace. One of the lessons we draw from Hosea 5 is that talk of sin and misery is not out of place in the Christian life and church, so long as that talk points us to Christ and his gospel.

In a theological article on the Heidelberg Catechism, particularly the section on human misery, R. S. Baard writes,

The gospel does not bypass sin, and the Reformed Christian needs to take the concept of sin very seriously, even if we are not to dwell on it. There are three reasons for this: first, sin-talk is not the same as moralism; second, sin-talk is intertwined with grace; and third, we have an ethical responsibility to talk of human sin and misery.

Baard’s three reasons for talking about, but not dwelling on, sin are helpful as we reflect on Hosea 5.

First, “sin-talk is not the same as moralism.” When God addressed Israel’s sins, he did not do so to persuade Israel to somehow earn his favour by obedience. Far from it: “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they know not the LORD” (v. 4).

As we talk about and reflect on sin, we must remember that we are powerless to earn merit with God. We do not confront sin—in us or in others—as a moralistic means to be made right with God. The misery that sin invites is indeed redemptive, but its redemptive value lies in pointing us to Christ and his gospel, not in urging us to earn favour with God by our obedience. It is only as we acknowledge our sin and seek God’s favour in Christ that sin serves its redemptive purpose for us.

Second, “sin-talk is intertwined with grace.” This reality is intimately connected to the first truth. If our sin focus does not point us to Christ and his gospel, we have failed to take sin as seriously as we ought to. Acknowledging our “guilt” and the “distress” it invites ought to point us to Christ.

Immediately following the section on human misery, the Heidelberg Catechism asks, “According to God’s righteous judgement we deserve punishment both now and in eternity: How then can we escape this punishment and return to God’s favour?” The answer is straightforward: “God requires that his justice be satisfied. Therefore the claims of this justice must be paid in full, either by ourselves or by another.” Asking who paid our sins in full, the catechism answers, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was given to us to completely deliver us and make us right with God.”

Do you allow your sin, and the misery it invites, to point you to the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Third, “we have an ethical responsibility to talk of human sin and misery.” God would not allow Israel to overlook its sin. “Blow the horn in Gibeah, the trumpet in Ramah. Sound the alarm at Beth-aven” (v. 8). The people needed to reckon with their sin if they would find the forgiveness that God offered. Recognition of sin was necessary to get to the gospel.

We ignore sin to our own eternal peril. Recognising our sin is the first step is coming to Christ for forgiveness. Daily recognition of sin reminds us of our daily need for the gospel. We are called to walk in the light. If we live in the Spirit, we must also walk in the Spirit. Frequent focus on sin serves the purpose of pointing us regularly to Christ as the means to walking as we should.

Do you ignore the reality of sin in your life, or do you use sin to remind you daily of your need for Christ? Do you allow your reflection on the darkness of your sin to spur you to seek Christ’s power to walk in the light?

As you reflect on Hosea 5 this morning, allow the misery that sin invites to drive you to seek Christ’s face in the gospel. Ask God for the grace to live before him in such a way that even your sins remind you of the riches of his grace.