Hear what the LORD says:
Arise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the indictment of the LORD,
and you enduring foundations of the earth,
for the LORD has an indictment against his people,
and he will contend with Israel.
“O my people, what have I done to you?
How have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt
and redeemed you from the house of slavery,
and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember what Balak king of Moab devised,
and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the righteous acts of the LORD.”
“With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
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?”
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the LORD require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
The voice of the LORD cries to the city—
and it is sound wisdom to fear your name:
“Hear of the rod and of him who appointed it!
Can I forget any longer the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked,
and the scant measure that is accursed?
Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales
and with a bag of deceitful weights?
Your rich men are full of violence;
your inhabitants speak lies,
and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth.
Therefore I strike you with a grievous blow,
making you desolate because of your sins.
You shall eat, but not be satisfied,
and there shall be hunger within you;
you shall put away, but not preserve,
and what you preserve I will give to the sword.
You shall sow, but not reap;
you shall tread olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil;
you shall tread grapes, but not drink wine.
For you have kept the statutes of Omri,
and all the works of the house of Ahab;
and you have walked in their counsels,
that I may make you a desolation, and your inhabitants a hissing;
so you shall bear the scorn of my people.”
(Micah 6 ESV)
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
(Luke 15 ESV)
For the Love of God
THERE IS IMPORTANT COMMON GROUND IN Micah 6 and Luke 15. Yet I shall approach it obliquely.
One of the slogans of the Reformation was simul justus et peccator, a Latin phrase meaning something like “simultaneously just[ified] and a sinner.” It was a way of getting at the legal nature of justification as expounded by Paul. On the ground of Christ’s death, God declares guilty sinners just — not because, from the act of justification itself, they are in their actions and thoughts truly just or righteous, but because they have been acquitted before the bar of God’s justice. Because Christ has paid their penalty, they are just in God’s eyes, even though, at the level of their very being, they are sinners still. Nevertheless, the Reformers never argued that justification stands by itself. Justification is part of salvation, but it is not all of it. The Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin and regeneration; the ultimate step is the final transformation of God’s people in body and spirit at the last day. These elements and more belong together, and all who are truly saved ultimately experience all of them. So while justification in and of itself leaves a person a sinner still, justification never operates all by itself. Genuine salvation not only forgives us but transforms us.
Micah understands this. He does not so much deal with the ground of Israel’s acceptance before God (which is finally tied to God’s grace, Deut. 9) as insist that, if the covenantal relationship with God is genuine, it will not be soaked in idolatry, syncretism, and injustice. So how shall I come before the Lord? Shall I sacrifice the prescribed yearling? (6:6). How about thousands of rams? Or how about sacrificing my own son: will that pay “for the sin of my soul” (6:7)? What the Lord requires is this: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8).
Micah is not alone on this point, of course. Jesus preached something similar, quoting Hosea (Matt. 9:13). Paul insists that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-11). He does not mean that only the perennial goody-goody will make it, for he goes on to say that some of his readers once practiced astonishing evil. But if they have been truly saved, transformation must manifest itself. That is equally true in the parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11- 27). He is received by the father’s grace. Yet in the complexity of the return, the son abandons his sin even as he casts himself on his father’s mercy. As critically important as simul justus et peccator is, it must never, never be used to justify the practice of sin.