I walked into my general bishop's office today, and the first thing I saw was a motivational picture with the word "INTEGRITY" in big, bold letters. And tonight my friend Sherene spoke at a women's service at our church, and her main text was Matthew 22:14, which reads, "For many are called, but few are chosen." Around 3:00 this morning I was lying in bed, trying to sleep, and I was actually thinking about that very verse, not knowing Sherene was going to speak on it tonight. I think it has a lot to do with integrity.
I can't remember whether it was C. S. Lewis or A. W. Tozer (I think it was Tozer), but I read a statement by one of them a few years ago that has always stuck with me. He said we Christians tend to draw two vertical lines in front of us; one represents me, and one represents the world. And no matter how much the "world" line moves, as long as the "me" line stays so far away from the world, we think we are doing okay. The reasoning is like this, "Yes, I know I used to have higher standards, and before, I would never have done this...but look at them! At least I'm doing better than they are." But this is not how we should view our personal moral standard. We should never measure ourselves against the world, but always and only by the Word of God. The"me" line should never move.
People don't like conservativism. Even those who call themselves conservative don't like conservativism when it comes to Christianity. We hear a lot of sermons on the sufficiency of grace and the security of salvation...so when someone feels conviction for sin, we pat them on the back and tell them, "As long as you're trying, God understands. Don't beat yourself up." And to an extent, this is true. God's grace is sufficient, and our salvation is secure, and it is based on His grace and not our own feeble works...but He does expect something of us! He does describe a standard of conduct in Scripture that He expects us to live by! And the danger of our laxity is that after so long hearing "God understands," we quit trying to do better. The end result is that most "Christians" today do not live a life any different at all than anyone else in the world. They talk the same talk, go to the same places, value the same things...and they are offended by anyone who says Christianity should look different.
My friend Mark often says, "We reproduce what we are." So true. I read a book last week by Peter Scazzero called The Emotionally Healthy Church. In it he said that, looking back, he has no idea how he thought that someone as emotionally immature, with an equally immature marriage/family life as he had, could pastor and cultivate a church of spiritually mature people. just the same, if I want to pastor people who are spiritually healthy, people who have a high level of personal integrity - who live the same strong, devoted Christian life behind locked doors and drawn blinds as they do on Sunday morning while they clap their hands and sing Hillsong music, then I must be spiritually healthy and maintain a high level of integrity myself.
"Many are called, but few are chosen." A few chapters earlier, Matthew 7:13, 14 says, "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." In verses 21-23 it goes on to say that not everyone who claims to be a Christian is going to heaven. The sad thing is, we who lead them will be held responsible for always telling them, "It's okay. God understands. Don't be too hard on yourself."
It is okay to make mistakes, as long as we get back up and try again. No human is perfect, and that is what grace is for. But to be a Christian is to turn from a previous life and enter a new one, one that is led by His Spirit and that brings Him glory. If our life does not look any different than it did before we "got saved," then chances are, we are still on the same broad path we were on before, and headed for destruction.
I do try to live a life of integrity, but there are areas I could improve on...areas where I could better practice what I preach. Though some would call my fears of being less-than-pleasing to God "irrational," I choose not to measure myself by their standards, but by the Word of God. It doesn't matter whether my entire congregation thinks I am the holiest saint that ever lived. If God sees me behaving differently when no one else is looking, that's all that matters. And if my life is off-kilter in one area, it will knock everything else off-balance, too, and there will be no hope that my ministry will bring forth truly good fruit. It will all be tainted.
As ministers we must strive for a higher level of integrity! If we have not this, then we will not have anything else successfully. I must do better.