Lord, Search My Heart

Breaking the Power of Canceled Sin

I usually walk when I pray. For me, it’s practical: I concentrate better and don’t fall asleep. It’s also allegorical: a frequent biblical metaphor of the life of faith is “walking with God” (Genesis 5:24; Deuteronomy 11:22; Colossians 1:10).

I was prayer-walking recently when Micah 6:8 came to mind with the kind of sharp clarity that often proves to be the prompting of the Spirit. I pulled it up on my phone app and read it:

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? (Micah 6:8)

Two words stopped me in my tracks: “Love kindness.” The imperative scanned my heart like a searchlight. Do I really love kindness? Or do I mainly love the idea of kindness? I frequently pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Psalm 139:23). He was taking me up on my invitation.

“To walk in repentance is not to walk in condemnation, but in freedom.”

This heart examination continued and spread through the rest of the verse: Do I really “do justice”? Or do I mainly affirm the idea of justice? Is my “doing justice” mainly “not doing injustice” myself, but rarely pursuing justice for others?

Micah 6:8 exposes me: I can love abstract ideas of justice and kindness, and neglect their concrete expression. It admonishes me: I cannot “do justice” or “love kindness” without loving real people. It humbles me, which is just what the Doctor ordered, if I’m really ready to walk with him.

Do Justice

My flesh would prefer the command to “love justice.” Phrased that way, justice subtly becomes more abstract, and it’s always easier to affirm what’s abstract than perform what’s concrete.

For example, if asked, virtually all people will say they love justice. But probe into how someone is specifically doing justice, and conversations turn awkward quickly. It’s much easier to “love justice” than to “do justice.” It’s much easier to rant against injustice than to take meaningful action to stop it. Ranting costs us little to nothing. Doing justice makes personal, time-consuming, heart-rending demands on us.

That’s why when people asked John the Baptist what repentance looked like, his answers were things such as, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none,” or, “Collect no more [taxes] than you are authorized to do,” or, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your [soldiers’] wages” (Luke 3:11–14). Feeling conviction over sin and getting dunked in water was good, but it wasn’t enough. The heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). Real heart transformation would be revealed in tangible, sacrificial acts of justice.

Loving the idea of justice is cheap. But doing justice almost always requires loving a vulnerable or oppressed person in a way that is personally costly to us. True love is not cheap, so God tests our hearts by making justice concrete, something we must do.

Love Kindness

When it comes to kindness, God flips this around and commands us to “love kindness,” not “do kindness.” Why? Because the command to “love kindness” has the same heart-revealing effect as the command to “do justice.”

“We can’t love kindness and love selfishness at the same time.”

My flesh would prefer (only slightly) the command to read, “Do kind things.” In this case, commanding action rather than affection is a bit more manageable and measurable (particularly when measured against others).

But the command to “love kindness” pierces to the heart of things. This is far more demanding than merely doing kind things, which can easily be reduced to “occasional kind acts.” Loving kindness demands a deep structure heart orientation that shapes all our actions.

This command is also abstraction-resistant. Loving kindness is a kind of loving, for “love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4). And we can’t love kindness without loving people. We might be able to get away with telling others we love justice without doing much justice. But it’s very difficult to get away with saying we love kindness if others know us to often be harsh, defensive, self-centered, impatient, irritable, critical, or willing to step on people to get our way.

We wear our love of kindness (or lack of it) on our sleeves.

And like doing justice, loving kindness is costly. It almost always requires loving people in ways that place their needs and preferences ahead of our own. We can’t love kindness and love selfishness at the same time. So, God tests our hearts by making kindness not merely things we do, but something we love.

Walk Humbly

As I stood that day, letting the Spirit shine the searchlight of Micah 6:8 into my heart, recent unkind words, actions, and nonactions flashed through my mind, along with the faces of those who had received my unkindness. I began, and continue, to repent of my failures to love kindness. And as the searchlight has exposed my failures to do justice, I am repenting of that too, and trying to discern what doing justice should look like for me.

The Spirit is using this verse in my heart to fulfill what it commands. He once again has told me what he requires; and in the telling, he is exposing my sin; and in the exposing, he is kindly leading me to repentance (Romans 2:4); and in leading me to repentance, he is teaching me to walk humbly with my God.

“When the Spirit convicts Christians of sin, he never condemns them.”

Walking humbly with God is to walk in repentance. That’s why Martin Luther said in his first of 95 Theses, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” To walk in repentance is not to walk in condemnation, but in freedom. For the Father so loved us in kindness (Ephesians 2:7), that he sent his only Son to do justice for us (Romans 3:26), in supreme humility (Philippians 2:5–8), that we might have eternal life in which to know and enjoy him (John 3:16; Philippians 3:8–11).

The glorious gospel miracle is that what God requires of us in Micah 6:8, he purchases for us and accomplishes in us. So, when the Spirit convicts a Christian of sin, he never condemns (Romans 8:1). His searchlight is redemptive. He exposes us only to break the power of canceled sin and set us increasingly free to walk as Christ walked (1 John 2:6): doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.