Worldliness is compared in Hosea to spiritual prostitution. Truly “Ephraim played the whore” (Hosea 5:3). Israel (here called by their nickname of the largest tribe of the north, Ephraim) thinks they can have God and the world. They think they can worship Jehovah and the gods of the Canaanite nations. Of course, Jesus tells us serving two masters is impossible (Mt 6:24). James says friendship with the world is hostility toward God (Jas 4:4). So God warns Israel: “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God” (5:4). They think they can repent anytime they want, not realizing that sin hardens the heart. The more we indulge with sin, the more impossible it is to return to God.
Jeroboam I set up an alternative altar at Bethel and Dan that was an architectural replica of the Temple at Jerusalem. Upon the altar was a golden calf that was set up in defiance of God’s decree that his name would be in Jerusalem. “I have chosen Jerusalem that my name may be there, and I have chosen David to be over my people Israel” (2 Chron 6:6). Israel thought they could love God and the world. It just doesn’t work that way.
We all know how to play the whore: spending time between God and the world. Calvin said, “The heart is an idol making factory.” If we don’t daily clean out God’s Temple (our heart), then idols will pop up and overtake us. What are some cures for worldliness?
Give yourself to godly disciplines. We play the whore by thinking we are stronger than we are. It takes daily spiritual exercise to be faithful to God. “While bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way…” (1 Tim 4:8). We are called to do the exercise of working out our own salvation (Phil 3:12-13). We need to make every effort to walk with God and meet with him (2 Pet 1:5-11). We have no lambs to sacrifice, but we are called to give our whole selves and all our treasures for the expansion of Jesus’ kingdom.
Be careful what you do with idle time. God’s people play the whore when they let themselves be idle and end up filling the pain of life with idols of all kinds, even good things (fun, music, sleep, isolation, ad infinitum) and bad things (binge watching, abuse of alcohol, worldly entertainment, fantasizing, etc.). Instead, make sure you fill your schedule and when you have down time, be sure to have people around. Never trust yourself.
Make disciples. If you are busy doing what Jesus commanded you to do before he ascended to heaven, you wouldn’t have time to play the whore. We are to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:18-20). This means we need to learn the Bible and teach the Bible to others as we faithfully live it out. If we could get busy loving on the Body of Christ, binding up the wounded, and pointing sinners to repentance, heaven would be rejoicing, and our whoring would come to an end.
Tear down the altars of idolatry. Sadly, the northern kingdom never tore the altars down. As long as the altars of idolatry stand in our lives, we cannot return to God. The only way back to God is to repent from our evil deeds of deviant worship, filling our hearts with Christ instead of empty idols and worldliness. Jesus said, we might have to pluck out an eye, sever a hand, or cut off a foot. Hyperbolic though it may be, we must radically amputate anything leads us to sin (even if it is good and useful like an eye). You cannot return to God unless you have a radical biblical heart of brokenness and repentance.