Jeremiah 5-13…False confidence.
Paying attention to only part of what God says always gets us into trouble. Today, for example, we routinely hear people confess, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Many who do this, however, then affirm that one can be saved apart from Christ. Such individuals might confess that even a professed atheist will go to heaven as long as he treats others kindly. These people pass over the fact that in His love, God sent His only Son as the one way of salvation for the world (John 3:16; 14:6). In not heeding all that Scripture says about divine love, they reach false conclusions about the exclusivity of Jesus.
Modern people are not the first to read God’s Word selectively. Today’s passage records Jeremiah’s famous sermon against those who trusted in the words “this is the temple of the Lord” (Jer. 7:3–4). The threefold repetition of this phrase could indicate the ultimate confidence the Judahites placed in possessing the temple. Or, it could mean the words formed a mantra the people spoke whenever Jeremiah warned them of divine wrath. Either way, the Judahites thought God’s choice of the nation and His placement of the temple in Jerusalem meant He would never allow the city to fall. This selective reading of Scripture, however, ignored the Lord’s purpose in choosing Judah.
The Lord chose the children of Jacob to be a holy nation (Ex. 19:6), and failure to keep His covenant would bring about the ultimate penalty of exile (Deut. 28). Professing faith in the covenant Lord of Israel and having Abraham as one’s forefather were not enough for salvation; the people had to possess faith in the Almighty and demonstrate it via love of God and neighbor. Thus, Jeremiah told Judah that they had to care for the destitute (evidencing love of neighbor) and abandon other gods (evidencing love of God) to be preserved from destruction (Jer. 7:5–7). Dr. John L. Mackay comments, “The Temple guaranteed them nothing if they were living lives of rebellion” (Jeremiah, vol. 1, pp. 301–302).
We do not gain the righteous status by which we are justified and given citizenship in His kingdom by obeying the Lord. Faith alone in the promises of God alone avails for justification, which is fulfilled as we trust in Christ alone (Rom. 3:21–26). But the signs that we have justifying faith are repentance and a good-faith effort to follow the Lord. Judah forgot this in Jeremiah’s day, but they should have known better. After all, the people’s possession of the ark at Shiloh in the days of Eli was no help to the impenitent (Jer. 7:8–15; 1 Sam. 4).