There is a nagging uncertainty that frequently besets new believers and also believers who have spent a significant amount of time wandering at the outer edges of faith. Seasoned believers aren’t immune from it either. Those so afflicted wrestle with an assurance of their salvation. They realize all too well how far short they fall from the spiritual ideal. They hardly need hellfire and brimstone sermons to convince them of their shortcomings. They are quite aware of those, thank you very much! And if the church pews are to be populated only by the saintly, or those who pretend to be so, then those who are painfully aware of their deficiencies feel unwelcome and understandably question their legitimate inclusion among such a group. They conclude that maybe they aren’t “saved” after all.
The book of Hosea should matter to us because it directly addresses the basis for confidence in our relationship with God. And that confidence has nothing to do with the worthiness of any of us. The message of Hosea is that we are all as worthy of God’s love as Hosea’s immoral wife, Gomer, was worthy of his. That is, we are not worthy of it at all. So, if we’re looking for something good within us as the basis for God’s love for us, then we’ll be as successful as someone looking for water in the Sahara. You might think you see it there occasionally, but it always turns out to be just a mirage. No one—not the “saint” in the pew or the “sinner” in the alley—deserves God’s love. Anyone looking at their own praiseworthiness as the basis for a relationship with God is right to wrestle with the assurance of their salvation, because that assurance cannot be found there.
The prophet Hosea reminds us that it is God himself who is the basis for our confidence in our relationship with him. He is the One who establishes that relationship, even if we can never understand the selfless love and relentless grace that would motivate him to do so. And God himself secures that relationship with him forever by providing the God-man for all of us Gomers. God came in the flesh as Jesus Christ, the only perfect human being, to secure an eternal, unbreakable relationship with God for every Gomer who puts faith in him. The fact that our relationship with God is based on his own perfection and not on our imperfection should give us tremendous confidence. We are justified in doubting our relationship with God only if we could imagine God being dissatisfied with the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our representative.
God’s love is a forgiving love, and it is a restoring love, but it is also a penetrating love. God’s love does not just restore his broken relationship with human beings. It certainly does that. But it also penetrates into those human beings to alter their spiritual genetic structure from the inside out. In other words, God’s love makes us new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17) who love him back. Hosea prophesies about a day in the future, a day realized through Christ. God promises his people that, on that day,
I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD. (Hosea 2:19–20)
The five attributes listed—righteousness, justice, love, compassion, and faithfulness—are those that God himself provides on our behalf through Jesus Christ. And they are also those attributes that God causes to be increasingly characteristic of the lives of those in relationship with him. This is the process of sanctification, the work of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to realize more fully the depths of this relationship that has already been secured for us forever. This is the meaning of the Hebrew word (yd') translated as “acknowledge” above. It doesn’t mean simple familiarity or assent. In this context, it means an intimate, personal knowledge of the sort shared by married couples whose long, caring, shared experience together has forged them into an inseparable unity. That is the relationship God desires with us. That is the relationship that yields the fullest possible human existence. That is the message of Hosea, and it should matter to every Christian, and indeed to every human being, who searches for meaning, purpose, significance, and security in life.