“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” -Proverbs 4:23
“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” -1 Timothy 4:16
The Word of God is clear – God requires holiness, integrity, and virtue of His people. The pages of the Bible are full of reminders, admonitions, and exhortations to remain holy as God Himself is holy. To add to the resounding echo, God’s Word makes it clear that those who hold positions of authority in the church are to be particularly careful with their integrity. James 3, 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1 remind us of that the bar of church leadership must be set very high.
Perhaps you’re wondering what has prompted such a straightforward opening to this post. As I write this post, I currently have three friends (2 fellow tennis coaches and a fellow Youth Pastor) in jail for inappropriate sexual behavior with students. Another friend was recently let go from his position at his church because of moral failure. In each case, I was blown away. How did this happen? How did they get to this point? What compromises did they make along the way? How did they get from “helping” students to such a violation and betrayal?
My hope is to encourage you to dig in and re-commit to personal integrity for the good of you, your family, and your church and ministry. As I issue this challenge, here are some things to think about.
1. The foundation doesn’t collapse overnight.
I don’t believe for one second that a moral failure happens in one huge compromise. Moral failure that costs ministry, family, and freedom comes through a long series of choices that chip away at the foundation of integrity. Perhaps it starts with an addiction to pornography, or some compromises in a physical relationship. But you don’t go from devoting your life to students to sexting a 13-year old in one swoop.
So I ask you – are there any areas where you have made compromises, no matter how small, that you need to repair and guard against?
2. Sin always has consequences.
Whether spiritual, emotional, or physical, our sin always has an impact. I once heard a speaker compare our sin to a rock being thrown into a peaceful creek. He explained that our sin causes “ripples,” just like the rock. The problem, he continued, is that we often WANT the first or second ripple. But we rarely think about the ninth ripple. Our sin WILL have effect, and more often than not, those later ripples are not ones we considered or wanted.
So I ask you – what has your sin cost you in the past? If you are captured in sin now, what is that later ripple that scares you to death?
3. Our sin always affects other people.
Remember the story of Achan in Joshua 7? The Israelites won a major victory over Jericho, but Achan stole some of the things that were supposed to be devoted to the Lord, and he kept them for himself. In the next battle against the tiny city of Ai, thirty-six men lost their lives as a direct result of Achan’s sin. Our sin ALWAYS affects others. Think of the Youth Pastor who betrayed trust at his church. What about his family? What about his church? What about the young girl involved? What about her family? What about the NEXT Youth Minister at that church? What about the atheist who lives across the street?
So I ask you – what impact might your sin have on those you love and care about? How might your failure affect the Kingdom work in your community?
4. Confession is biblical and healthy.
James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for one another.” We don’t do this well as Christians, because we want everyone to think we have our act together. We don’t want people to know that we struggle, fall, and sometimes fail. But one of the greatest ploys of the evil one is to isolate us, to make us think we are all alone in our battle, and to separate us from our community. Confession combats that isolation, and leads to healing, forgiveness, and restoration.
So I ask you – is there anything you need to confess today? Who do you have in your life to confide in?
5. Grace and forgiveness are the result of repentance.
After David’s moral failure with Bathsheba, he wrote, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” When you are truly repentant, when your heart breaks at the thought of your sin, then you will find the forgiveness and grace that God alone can offer. And what a joyous place to be – the arms of the Only One who can cleanse you and restore you. Acts 3:19 reminds us to “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”
So I ask you – are you ready for the grace of God? Where does repentance start for you?
May we be a people who seek after God’s holiness. May we be people of integrity. May we recognize the impact our sin will have on us and others. And most importantly, may we rest in the loving arms of the One who loves, saves, forgives, redeems, and restores.