Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a friend about whether a believer could lose his place in heaven or not. My friend agreed we are all saved by grace, but he insisted that living a godly lifestyle was imperative to maintaining a relationship with the Lord. My question to him was ‘What constitutes godliness?’ Do you have to read the Bible and pray? If so, how much and for how long? Do you have to give 10% of your income? Or is 20% or 50% the right amount? What about serving? The Bible says to take care of widows and orphans. Is that what we have to do as well? What I was really asking him was, how does a person know how much pleases God?
Well, fortunately that isn’t a new question. Almost three thousand years ago, the prophet Micah addressed similar questions. In the sixth chapter of his book, the prophet penned God’s confrontation of the rebellious people of Israel and Judah, reminding them of His consistent loving-kindness. (Micah 6:3-5) The people recognized their guilt and inquired as to how they could repent and once again attain a right standing with Him. They made a list of what they considered to be acceptable and pleasing offerings that began with a sacrifice of a year old calf (vs 6), and quickly escalated to a suggestion of 1000 rams, then 10,000 rivers of oil. Lastly, the people wondered if God would be satisfied with the most valuable gift they could think of… a first born child. (vs 7) The prophet brushed aside those external offerings and identified the real measure of devotion to the Lord.
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.
In a brief reading, it might seem like Scripture is comprised mostly of do’s and don’ts, but God doesn’t just give us an ever-expanding list of spiritual obligations to abide by. In fact, He is less interested in what we do, and more concerned with who we are. So if God places more value on acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly (as this one verse indicates,) it’s profoundly important to understand and cultivate these things in our lives. For the next three weeks, I want to briefly examine justice, mercy and humility as key characteristics that should define believers.
When you were a kid, perhaps your mother told you to be a “good” boy or girl. That’s a hard thing for a kid to do. It’s even harder for a child of God. Scripture tells us the only way for a person to be “good” is to follow the Old Testament Laws completely and perfectly without ever breaking a single command… Ever! (I told you it was hard!) The good news is that God knows we couldn’t live up to such a standard, so He didn’t even ask us to try. Instead, He sent Jesus to do it for us. As we were reminded this past Easter Sunday, Christ lived the perfect life and through His death on the cross made it possible for our failures to be erased when we put our faith in HIm. But that’s only half the good news! Jesus not only takes our sin; He gives us His righteousness in return. (2 Cor 5:21) Since righteousness is synonymous with justice in scripture, it’s critical that our spirits are changed by God before we are ever able to behave in a just way toward others.
The outgrowth of this transformation should be the pursuit of practical, everyday holiness. It’s here that you might expect me to give an outline of what Christian “justice” entails by pointing out a few worthy organizations or activities that need our attention, but it’s really more simple than joining a group or upping your charitable activity. “Justice” in its most basic sense just means to “do what’s right” and of course, the only way to know “what’s right” is to know God’s Word. However, don’t make the mistake of trying to generate a list of binding New Testament commands to keep. “Acting justly” won’t come from just following rules– It will come from following the Rule-Maker! The closer you get to Him, the easier it will be to sense His guidance and know what He wants you to do. Then, you’ll see Christ’s life expressed through yours into the lives of others. Remember that God is the one who saves, He’s the one who transforms, and through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, He’s also the One Who gives us the ability live justly and make a lasting impact on the world.
The LORD longs to be gracious to you;
He rises to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for Him!