Karl Marx famously called Christianity the opiate of the people, but I think it’s actually the smelling salts. Because when you really understand God’s grace, you wake up to injustice, and you are moved by compassion.

The reverse is true as well: When you are blind to the needs of the poor, it raises the question of whether or not you’ve actually ever believed the gospel, because you are unaware of your own pressing need for God’s merciful attention to you in your sin.

A failure to show concern for the poor shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel.

When the prophet Amos confronted the nation of Israel about their neglect and oppression of the poor, the excuses they gave may sound familiar to us today.

First, the Israelites said, “But we are God’s chosen people” (Amos 3:2). In other words, “We’re forgiven; we’re God’s favorites.” But God responded, “That makes your sin even worse! You not only knew me as lawgiver; you knew me as Father and Redeemer. To whom much is given, much will surely be required.”

Then they tried their second excuse: “Our religious zeal makes up for our moral shortcomings” (Amos 5:21). At this point in their history, Israel went to church all the time and put on a bunch of feasts. But God responded, “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.”

We use the same excuses today when we fail to show a concern for the poor: “Well, thank God that he accepts us by grace!” or “We’re not perfect, just forgiven.”

But we can’t excuse ourselves with grace. If we’ve really been forgiven, we’ll be more passionate about caring for the poor and fighting injustice, not less. Forgiveness is not a license to avoid these things. It’s a catalyst to drive us deeper into these things.

Amos 6:1 says, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion”—those who are playing through life when so many around them are suffering.

Charles Spurgeon identified three groups that are “at ease in Zion”:

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