For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. - Galatians 1:10 (ESV)
People who live by principle rather than convenience have often found themselves in the unfortunate position of annoying those around them. By living by principle, I mean a person whose conduct conforms to a moral code without being moved by selfish motives or changing circumstances. Of course, no one other than Christ has lived by principle perfectly, so everyone else only approximates it. And if they become arrogant they are inevitably hypocritical at the same time.
Principle > Convenience
What does it mean to live by principle over convenience? I am referring to the attempt to do something or not based on what is understood to be good, right, and/or true regardless of the consequences. This can, of course, be based on a faulty or distorted understanding of the good, right, and true, since none of us, again, is flawless in our understanding (much less our practice) of these things.
Nevertheless, we live in an age where ethical dilemmas are resolved by examining the consequences of an action rather than that action's conformity to God's character and commands. We are largely utilitarian or consequentialist. That is, we tend to define and decide what is right based on the foreseen effect(s) rather than on what God has said about it.
This trend tends to divert the Christian's attention away from God and his will to ourselves and our will. We tend to ask ourselves, "What seems best to me?" rather than the more important question, "What is God's will on the matter?" We are, in short, devoted to ourselves and our own conception of the good rather than God and his revelation of the good. And because our minds are trained in our own direction, our affections follow in their wake.
What do I mean by the idea that our affections follow in our mind's wake? It's a bit like driving a car. One simple way to stay between the lines is by focusing attention at a point straight ahead and toward the horizon. This makes it easier to drive straight because we tend to drift in the direction of our attention. If we look left, we drift left. If we look at our feet, we will veer off the road. You cannot stay between the lines if your attention is elsewhere.
Our minds and affections are like this. Our affections -that is, our hopes, fears, expectations, desires, and reactions- will tend in the direction of our minds as a car will tend in the direction of the driver's focus. Our affections flow in the direction of our mind's focus.
And this gets us to what is perhaps the crux of the issue for this post: when our affections are earth-bound, extending no further than the bounds of our own perspective and place, we find ourselves with interests divided among a thousand different cares, worries, and preoccupations. We find ourselves balancing, or attempting to balance, more priorities than we can possibly manage. And because we have unnaturally arrogated to ourselves the right to decide the right, we naturally feel the weight of the pressure to get it right on our own shoulders. As a result, we often find that we are embittered by our own affections rather than impassioned and emboldened by them.
We are half-hearted creatures, attempting to juggle disparate interests and personal pursuits while ostensibly also serving God. But the problem is the same as a lion chasing two antelope at once: to attempt to have both for dinner will always result in a missed meal.
I believe part of the result of this is that Christians are often stunted in their growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18). And because their new nature as those who have been regenerated by the Spirit is not flourishing due to their fruitless attempts to keep their old self while putting on the new, they generally find themselves frustrated and even exasperated.
This frustration and exasperation causes confusion, which breeds fear, which breeds anger or timidity. This anger or timidity in turn causes all manner of friction between brothers and sisters in Christ in the church. We begin to treat one another from within a disposition of fear rather than of faith, resulting in a lack of trust in one another. This lack of trust in each other is grounded ultimately in a lack of trust in and dependence on God.
This analysis brings me back to the beginning. People who live by principle are not half-hearted. They throw full-throated support behind one set of principles and intend not only to live by them but also to die by them. They are governed by faith, whatever the object of that faith may be, and not fear.
Leaving aside the wrong objects of faith, what about the Christian? Should not the Christian of all people live by principle rather than convenience? Of course he should. There is no category in the Bible for halfhearted devotion, yet Christians often live like there is; so when another Christian assumes total devotion with all the entailing emotion they are surprised and confounded.
The love of God requires total commitment, not halfhearted commitment. Just consider Deuteronomy 6:5: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (ESV). There is no category for multiple loves. There is one priority in life: love for God with all that we are for all that we can. God demands total devotion in all that we do. He is the singular priority that determines the shape and character of every aspect of our lives.
Psalm 119:139 says, "My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget your words" (ESV). Does our zeal consume us? Are we eaten up by a burning passion for the glory of God and the holiness without which no one will see him? Or is our zeal diminished because our passions are scattered like so many coals across too large an area?
If we want to be consumed by zeal for the LORD, we must consolidate our passions like coals before him. When coals are lumped together, the heat grows stronger and more intense. When scattered, they lose their heat more quickly. If we would live for God with all our hearts, we must make God the object of all our passion. Anything else will result in half-hearted living for God.