We hear a lot of talk today about 'principles'. These are not people who are over a school. Those are principals. My teacher told me that you can remember the difference because of the word 'pal' that is found in 'principal'. The man in charge of the school is your pal. Hmmm... that was always difficult to imagine... especially whenever I was sitting outside of his office I didn't feel very chummy with him. But I digress.
Like many of our words, the word 'principle' has multiple meanings, but for our purpose today a principle is...
"A moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions."
Each person has certain principles. Principles are the moral foundation for our belief and activity. Most of us have shared principles. These principles were taught to us by our parents, teachers, preachers, and even the neighbors up and down the street. Principles keep us on the right track. They are boundary markers. Principles keep us from stealing, cheating, committing adultery, raping, cursing at people, being violent, gossiping etc.
Think of your principles as a homing device or alert system. Maybe a shock collar. The closer you get to a place you are not supposed to be, the more you will feel a resistance in your spirit. When faced with a moral decision, your principles sound off. Principle says, "Nope... I know you are hungry. But you don't steal. Stealing food is not the way to be filled. You will not be satisfied if you steal food to remove hunger. You are better off hungry than you are being a thief. I know everyone else is stealing food. But you aren't everyone else. You won't answer according to everyone else. You have me. You will answer for how your actions measure up with me."
If you are a person of principle, you will act upon your principle. If you act against your principle, you are not a person of principle. You aren't a principled person. It used to be that many people were principled people. Many people had this moral compass that told them the right thing to do in various situations... and since they were principled people, they actually lived according to their principles.
But then it became popular for people to act however they wanted against their principles and excuse or justify their actions by saying, "Well, in a perfect world, I would do what I know is right, but I have to do what I know is wrong in order to live." This is ironic. First... we never live in a perfect world here. So if that is justification for doing what is wrong when we know what is right, then everyone can do wrong and no one can complain about it. And you certainly can't complain about the world not being perfect if you are going to live imperfectly yourself.
After this became the common path of decision and action, principles became something of a dinosaur. It used to be that people would generally do the right thing regardless of the outcome. This is acting on principle. When a man rushes to a burning car and works hard to rescue a child from certain death, he is considered brave. If he dies because it was an impossible rescue, he is considered a hero. He acted on principle. He did the right thing even though there was little chance of success. He knew he may die, but he knew he had to try and save the child regardless.
The American founding fathers signed their lives away on a piece of paper saying they would fight against tyranny, realizing that they may not actually gain freedom, but believing that it was better to die for what is right than live in the wrong. That is principled living. Our principles must play out in our actions or else they are just nice thoughts. If we only act according to our principles when we think it will work out in our favor, we are not principled people. In other words, if I do what I know is wrong for the sake of getting what I want, I do not have 'a moral rule or belief that helps me know what is right and wrong and that influences my actions.'
The Bible is very clear that we should be people of principle. In fact, some would say the entirety of Scripture is God expressing and explaining what is right and wrong, and expecting us to live according to that in every situation... not just the easy ones. We are to love... our enemies, not just our friends. We are to give... to the point of sacrifice, not just when our bank account is flush. We are to obey... at all times, not just when everyone else is. Living a principled life will not make you many friends. Being 'principled' has become a dirty word in our modern culture. But our culture should not move us from principles.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah exhorted the people of God, "Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is My instruction: do not fear disgrace by men, and do not be shattered by their taunts." (Isaiah 51:7) God has written on our hearts a set of moral rules and these are true regardless of place or time. When we make decisions, we should make them according to these principles given by God. We should not allow fear to guide us away from our principles. We should do everything according to our principles, or else they aren't our principles.
The world is watching you today. You can say you are against evil and perversion. But if your actions do not back that up, the world will see you for you who you are. Going against my stated principles just so I can get a promotion, or make life better for myself, or even to keep someone else from doing something wrong will come off as hypocritical. How can I complain about the evil of another if I cast my lot in with evil-doers?
The apostle James writes, "It is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it." (James 4:17) Don't tell me you are doing something wrong in order to do something right. If you know something is wrong, yet you engage in it or promote it, you are doing the wrong thing. Our minds are professional justifiers. We can justify any wrong action by saying we are doing it for a more important good. But God does not condone that. God is a God who values principles, and rewards people of principle.
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My name is David, and I want to know God more, and help other people find Him.