Micah 6:6-8 (NIV): With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
People have never been able to work themselves into God’s good graces by sacrifices and spiritual acts of devotion. Many, either to make up for some wrong God has called to their attention, or to try to move Him in their favor, make extravagant promises, do acts of penance, or work long hours in the church or in a ministry. But even though some of these things are not bad in themselves, they cannot make up for a single sin, and they don’t move God’s heart at all to act in a person’s behalf. (Especially since God knows that the only reason the person is doing these things is not out of genuine love or devotion, but in a bid to try to manipulate Him.)
Paul had it exactly right: “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3 NIV) The people of Judah, horrified at the captivity of their brothers and sisters in the northern kingdom, and troubled that God was foretelling the same destiny for them, were all about trying to make it up to God by calling solemn fast days, bringing abundant sacrifices, making solemn pledges. But God had seen all of that before, clear back to the days of the judges. And all of it had only signaled a surface repentance, an attempt to placate Him until His anger had cooled down.
What God required for His people then is the same thing He requires of us now: repentance that results in a completely different direction, a completely different lifelong orientation of our lives toward Him and His way of doing things:
- · Act justly – Fair trading in every area of life. From refusing to deal sharply, or have fine print in our business dealings, to ensuring that all with whom we are associated hold to the same principles. This also includes coming to the aid of those who are powerless and mistreated, not to try and get them special treatment, but doing all that we can to help them get treated justly.
- · Love mercy – Another aspect of justice, with even farther-reaching implications. This includes showing mercy to the poor and downtrodden, especially those who are a part of the Church: feeding those who are hungry, giving water to those who thirst, inviting the homeless in, clothing those who lack adequate clothing, and visiting those who are sick or in prison. (cf. Matthew 25:31-46) It also includes pulling out all the stops for those who are still trapped in their sins and lost; working tirelessly to bring them out of the darkness and into the light. After all, what good does it do to make someone’s trip more comfortable if their destination is still hell?
- · Walk humbly with our God – This means that each person who wants to experience God’s grace and His presence must live by His rules: obeying His commands, avoiding sin and compromise at all costs, and seeking to know and to do His will.
It doesn’t matter what else a person does, if we do not clearly show forth these signs of spiritual life, all of the sacrifices we can make in the world won’t move God a single inch. But, to those who live lives of justice, mercy, and genuine holiness, God will give His presence and His power to enable us to do all of these things, and even greater things than these!
Father, what great promises! Help us all to truly turn from our own paths, to the life that You have not only commanded us to live, but the life that only You can empower us to live. Amen.