He has shown you, O mortal, 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. Micah 6:8 (NIV)
The longer I am a believer, the more I find how simple and difficult this walk of faith is. This verse from the prophet Micah is a great example.
God is calling his people Israel to account for their actions. He tells them all he has done for them and yet they have not followed him. The people respond by asking God if a list of outwardly impressive actions would be enough to show their sincerity. Their suggestions get progressively more extravagant, beginning with the sacrifices God has given them in the law, to a great magnitude of the sacrifices,to an extreme that God has never required:
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? Micah 6:6-7 (NIV)
Micah’s response to their question cuts through the noise and exaggeration. To paraphrase, he says, “You are making this too hard. God isn’t calling you to do stuff that will impress him. Just do what God has already told you to do: act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him.”
I understand what the people were saying. Somewhere along the way, I also developed the idea that the best way to show God I love Him and want to follow Him is by doing stuff for Him. As a modern believer, my list is different from the list of responses the people offered. I don’t sacrifice animals or make other offerings like that as part of my worship. I do other things: I go to church, I serve, I give, I lead, I follow . . . You get the point and you probably have a similar list.
The things on my list are good things, but I began to see they said nothing about who I am. I could go to church, serve, give, lead, follow and much more all from an impure heart and bad motives, trying to impress God or others. And, I found that if I was good at it, I could appear to others to be someone I was not. This is when God began to show me one of the simple yet difficult truths I refer to in the opening sentence, God cares more about who I am than about what I do.
Why is this so hard? Because, it is much easier to “do” than to “be.” Back to today’s verse. God is not asking me to impress Him with what I do. Instead, he wants me to be just, to be merciful and to be humble. I can’t be those things on my own. It is contrary to my human nature and contrary to what our culture expects and rewards. To be just and merciful and humble, I must begin by allowing God to change who I am.
Paul talks about this process of transformation in Romans 12:1-2. He says there are two options, we can be conformed to the world or we can be transformed by God. Conforming is what happens when we press up against something for a long time. You have seen it when you lean against a surface with a pattern on it. After a while, you take on that pattern. The same thing happens when we lean against the cultural patterns around us. After a while, we begin to look like our culture. Now, if our culture is good, the patterns will be good. But, if our culture is bad, the patterns will be bad. The problem is that patterns imposed from the outside are only skin deep and don’t have any effect on what is inside us. The other option is transformation. When we are transformed, we are changed from the inside out. Our hearts are made new and the newness spreads to the surface. We begin to look and act differently. Unlike conformation, transformation lasts. We no longer change when we lean against the culture. Instead, we change the culture.
Conformation is doing things intended to impress God and the people around us. Transformation is being who God wants us to be and allowing Him to change us, so we can change our world. To be transformed, pursue the inner disciplines that bring you closer in your relationship to God. Pray daily. Read the Bible to get to know God better and to understand His will and purpose for us. Ask God to change you on the inside so that you will have a greater impact on the outside. You will see and feel the transformation. You will begin to do things, but from a different motive and the things you do will have a different result. You will experience the power of being the person God has made you to be.