What Does God Require of Men?

The Second Great Commandment in the Prophets

4 min

True Christianity at its heart is not a religion per se, but a personal relationship with God. However, in terms of “religious experience,” it is a practical religion. Religion that is merely confined to the head is vain and empty. Religion that is merely a motion of the hands is a religion of external works that profit nothing. True religion springs from the heart, is expressed in the deeds of one’s hands, and is the love of God manifested through our love for others. Thus, the Apostle James wrote: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

This emphasis on practical religion can be found throughout the writing and preaching of the prophets. Prophets, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah, preached daily obedience. In the sixth chapter of the prophet Micah’s book, however, we have one of the best places to see the true religion emphasis.

The prophet Micah asked God’s people a series of profound questions: “Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” (Micah 6:6–7).

The age-old questions, as expressed by the prophet, are relevant questions for our own day, considering the wide-ranging methods of contemporary worship. How can I please God? Is it by bowing down? Is it by giving lavish gifts to charity? Is it by imparting abundant donations to my church? Is it by dedicating my children to God’s service?

The ancient pagan religions that surrounded Israel required human sacrifice. Devotees of the false god Molech would actually throw their babies into the ready arms of the grotesque idol when it was heated to red-hot. No doubt the ignorant souls that performed such cruelties did so in the sincere belief that they were doing what Moloch required. But, in contrast, what does the God of the Bible require?

Micah answered that question by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).

These three practical areas of loving obedience have their foundation in the heart and expression through our hands. The acts of love are rooted in our love for God, and they blossom and bear fruit in our obedience to the second greatest commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:39).

  1. To do justly
    “To do justly” is to walk in daily righteousness. This is not the ordinary and expected word for righteousness. Rather, this is the meaning of the Hebrew word מִשְׁפָּט (mishpat). The word is often used in the sense of formal judgment in a court of law. The title “judge” comes from the same Hebrew root. A judge is one who makes a choice; in this context, it is a choice between right and wrong, obedience and disobedience, and good and evil. Every day, we make countless choices: choices of which words we speak, what deeds we do, and what thoughts we think. Our choices are to be guided by God’s Word, which is the only righteous, absolute standard of judgment. “To do justly” is to make your every decision based on the Word of God.
  2. To love mercy
    The word the prophet used here is the Hebrew word חֶסֶד (hesed). This word is often translated as “lovingkindness” in the Book of Psalms. There is a balancing truth here presented in the way that we should love our neighbor. Daily, we are making choices and should always choose righteousness. But we should pursue that righteousness with a spirit of mercy. Our judgment, like our Heavenly Father’s, is to be tempered with mercy. This pursuit is not a compromise between the two attributes, but a full, simultaneous expression of both of them. Just as a faithful judge in a court must always temper justice with mercy, so also in our love for our neighbor, we should always maintain a spirit of mercy in our pursuit of righteousness.
  3. To walk humbly with our God
    Humility is what makes our justice and our mercy of any value. If justice is practiced with a spirit of pride, then it is not justice at all. If mercy is exercised with a condescending attitude of self-importance, then it is not mercy at all. Our neighbors, coworkers, other Christians, and our wives and children can easily detect a spirit of pride in us. This pride can ruin any good that we are otherwise trying to accomplish. Are the ones you love and serve able to detect in you a spirit of lowliness and humility in your attitudes and words? Our Lord said of Himself, “I am meek and lowly of heart.” This spirit of lowliness and meekness is what marked the character of Jesus; it is what should mark our character as followers of the Lamb.

When Jesus was rebuking the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, He gave reference to the same matter of the heart that the prophet Micah had addressed: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matthew 23:23). In pulling out their scales to get an exact measurement for the tithe of herbs, they had failed to prioritize judgment, mercy, and faith. Although Jesus substitutes faith for humility here, the connection with Micah 6:8 is clear. Faith is impossible without humility, and humility is a part of genuine faith.

According to God’s Word, “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly” with our God by faith is at the heart of true religion in both the Old and New Testaments. In our own day, there is an abundance of every sort of religion. But God is still looking for men whose religion springs from a faithful heart and is expressed by obedient hands. God is looking for men who will do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. Will you be such a man?

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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