Today’s topic is “Living According to Principles.”  I think one of the main reasons many people are unhappy with themselves, and unhappy in general, is that they live opposite to what they know is right.  People realize they’ve sold out.  To get ahead and achieve success, they’ve had to become a person they don’t like, a person who lives by what is expedient, a person who is always willing to “go along to get along.”  They get up in the mornings and they look that person in the eye in the mirror, and they don’t like what they see.  They’re not living by what they know is right.

Now here I’m not talking about morality, living according to some kind of moral code.  And I’m not talking about hypocrisy.  I’m talking about something much deeper.  I’m talking about living by principles.  Principles are not the same as moral rules.  Principles are those basic, fundamental values in life that we know in our hearts are right.  Now if you look yourself in the mirror every morning, and you see a person who does not live by those basic, fundamental values you know are right, that can be devastating.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

I knew a man who was one of the best Christian ministers I’ve ever known, one of the best preachers I’ve ever known.  I developed a tremendous amount of respect for him.  He knew the Gospel; he preached the Gospel; he knew what was right.  But when the time came that standing with his principles would have possibly endangered his job and the lifestyle that came with it, he let his principles go and went along to get along.  He backed off from what he knew was right in a major way, and he did it to protect his income and his position.  He didn’t violate moral rules about sex, drinking, gambling, or anything we would normally associate with “morality;” it went much deeper than that.  He had turned his back on the principles he knew deep in his heart were right.

And it wasn’t long before it began to eat away at him.  He had spent his entire adult life proclaiming “this is the way to live,” and yet when push came to shove, and actually living according to that could have cost him dearly, he was unwilling to pay the price.  He turned his back on the principles he knew were right, and in the end, he had to look in the mirror and see a man who was no different from the people he had so criticized in the past.  Over a period of time, it ate on him and ate on him and ate on him to the point where he literally had a breakdown.  I personally witnessed it and saw it play out over a period of time.

He recovered a little bit but soon died of cancer.  From a medical standpoint, he may have had cancer, but what really ate him from the inside was the knowledge that, when push came to shove and it would have cost him something, he backed off from the principles he knew were right and had preached for 30 years.  He sold out, and then he could no longer face that man in the mirror every morning.

One of the saddest things I have ever seen, and it happened to a truly good person.

But I know another man.  This man was also a minister of a church.  Early in his career, some 40 years ago, he felt that the denomination he was a part of was moving in directions he was convinced were wrong.  For a while he tried to just ignore it, rationalize it, put it out of his mind, but he couldn’t.  He reached the point where he could no longer in good conscience remain associated with that denomination.  And so he left.

His brother was also a minister in that denomination, and although his brother shared his conviction that the denomination was fast moving in wrong directions, his brother was able to rationalize it and ignore it, and he stayed as a minister in that denomination.

About 10 years ago, I had a conversation with the man who left.  He was telling me all this, about how all that had happened years ago, about how he had left but how his brother had stayed.  And he said, “Now my brother is retired as a minister from that denomination with a hefty pension and all kinds of benefits, and I have nothing.  But I don’t regret what I did for a minute, because I had to stand where I believed.”

Not long ago, my wife and I saw this man and his wife at a local restaurant.  They are older now, but they seemed happy.  He seemed his usual, happy self, although he’s bound to be deep in his 70’s and still working.  He works at a funeral home.  He has to keep working because he doesn’t have the retirement check coming in every month that he would have had if he had stayed in his old denomination, but he has something money can’t buy—the knowledge that he lived according to his principles, and he did that even though it cost him.

We may or may not agree with this man on the specific issues he left his denomination over, but that’s not the point.  The point is that I have the highest respect for him because he was willing to stand for what he believed was right even though it cost him.  He could have gone along to get along, and today he and his wife could be traveling the United States in a motor home or whatever they wanted to do.  But he didn’t.  He stood for what he believed.  He refused to compromise the principles he believed in, and he held to that even when it cost him dearly.  To him, principles were more important than getting ahead, and when push came to shove, he stood with his principles even though it meant sacrificing getting ahead.

Very few people would have done that.  Most people would have gone along to get along and tried to rationalize it in their own minds.  They might have had a retirement traveling the United States in a motor home, but would it have been worth it?

Think for a minute.  If it truly is worth it, why are so many people in the United States unhappy?

From the political world to the business world to the religious world, to whatever area of life you can think of, the thing we lack most in this country is people who will stand on their principles, even when it costs them.  But we have very few of those people.  We have people who live according to “go along to get along.”  And by so doing, they may very well get ahead.  But was it worth it?

Not living according to the principles we know are right makes us have no self-respect.  We may have gotten ahead and achieved much by going along to get along, but beneath the gilded exterior is a person who knows that they sold their soul and that it wasn’t worth it.

The New Testament talks a lot about suffering for your faith.  A lot of times, we think that’s talking about the persecution of Christians that happened back then, when just being a Christian could get you arrested or even killed.

But I think there’s a deeper meaning to the idea of suffering for your faith.  If you live according to principles and refuse to go along to get along, you’ll have to pay a price.  You may not get ahead; you may not achieve what you could have.  That’s suffering for your faith.  You will have to make sacrifices in order to live according to the principles you know are right.

So, really, we face a choice.  Are we going to sacrifice our principles in order to get ahead?  Or are we going to sacrifice getting ahead in order to live according to our principles?  We’re going to have to sacrifice something; don’t kid yourself about that.  There will be a price to pay for living according to our principles.  But there will also be a price to pay for going along to get along.  Which is the larger price?  I maintain that it costs more in the long run to sacrifice your principles than it does to sacrifice getting ahead.

Why?

Because true satisfaction in life comes from living according to the principles, the values, we know, deep in our hearts, are right.  That’s the only way to get up in the mornings and like the person you see looking back at you in the mirror.

We live in a society that has told us the way to happiness is through material things, that what we should strive for in life are material things because that’s what will make us happy.  But it didn’t work out that way.  “The finer things in life,” as they are sometimes called, didn’t make us happy.  Why not?  Because we had to sell our souls to get them, and we know that in the end, it wasn’t worth it.

If you haven’t lived your life according to the principles you know are right, if you don’t like that person who faces you in the mirror each morning, now is the opportunity to change it.  Now is the opportunity to begin living according to the principles you know are right, even if it costs you.

And when you do, the good news of Christianity is that all the things in the past, the way you used to live, are wiped out, as though they never even happened.  Today is the time for a new start, a new dedication to live as you know you should, to stand on principles, even if it costs you.  If you don’t like the person who looks back at you in the mirror every morning, now is the time to change it.  It’s not too late.

The good news of Christianity is that it’s not what we’ve done in the past that’s important; it’s what we’re doing now.  God doesn’t hold what you’ve done in the past against you.  God is concerned with what you’re doing now.

For true happiness in life, for true satisfaction in life, there is no other way than to live according to the principles we know are right—to take a stand and refuse to go along to get along, no matter what the cost.  And to know that even if we haven’t done that in the past, we can begin doing it today, and the past is wiped clean.