The prophet Micah answered the question: What does the Lord require of His children. He said, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). The answer Micah gave was not a new revelation and did not represent a change in God’s moral law (Exodus 20:3-17). It only explained the core and nature of our attitude towards God and man.
The goal of the plan of salvation is restoring the image of God in man (Genesis 1:26,27). This knowledge was confirmed through the personal testimony of the Spirit (Romans 8:16) and enlarged through succeeding revelations of the prophets. The people of Micah’s day had the Pentateuch in writing, and other portions of the Bible, as well as the testimony of contemporary prophets such as Isaiah and Hosea (Isaiah 1:1; Hosea 1:1; Micah 1:1). However, they seemed to have forgotten that external obedience to God is worthless without true love and godliness.
The Lord Requires Heart Obedience
The prophets were to teach the people that mere outward religious observance could not substitute the inner character and heart obedience. “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22 also Isaiah 1:11–17; Hosea 6:6; Jeremiah 6:20; 7:3–7; John 4:23, 24).
God wanted not merely their worship but their love; not their works but their heart. “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; you do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise” (Psalms 51:16- 17).
Justice, Mercy and Humility
When men walk with God (Genesis 5:22; 6:9) they order their lives in harmony with His will. “To walk humbly with thy God” is to live according to the principles of the first table of the Decalogue: “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:37, 38). This is God-ward virtue.
To do justice and mercy is to walk according to the “judgments” of God. These are man-ward qualities and are summarized in the second table of the Ten Commandments: “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:39, 40). Love expressed in action with respect to God and to our fellow men is “good”; it is all that the Lord requires, for “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10).
Love the Motive for Obedience
Love to God makes keeping the first four commandments (which concern God – Exodus 20:3-11) a pleasure, and love toward our neighbor makes keeping the last six (which concern man – Exodus 20:12-17) a joy.
Love fulfills the law by taking away the labor of mere obedience and by turning law-keeping into a joy (Psalm 40:8). When we truly love a person, honoring him becomes a joy. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). The Bible says, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
The Goal of Religion
The purpose of true religion is character development. External ceremony is important only if it supports such development. But because it is often easier to do external service than to change the evil mind, people have ever been more ready to do external worship than grow the Christian graces. Thus, it was with the religious leaders of Israel whom Christ rebuked. They conscientiously protected against any violation in the matter of tithing but neglected the “weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” (Matthew 23:23).
In His service,