Past Performance Is No Guarantee

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How can it be that those who lived with Jesus for three years—hearing every word he taught and seeing every miracle—could betray, deny, and abandon him? It must be that past reliance on God, if we are not vigilant, breeds present reliance on ourselves. In The Gulag Archipelago, author Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote, "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being."

There was a Sunday school teacher who finished a wonderful lesson on the Pharisee and the tax collector, where the model-citizen Pharisee is condemned by Jesus while the no-good tax collector is commended for his desperate reliance on God's grace (Luke 18:9-14). The teacher then prayed, "Dear God, we thank you that we aren't like that Pharisee." We laugh at how the teacher missed the whole point of the story. But we ourselves miss the whole point of Christian integrity if we forget what all the investment prospectuses say: "past performance is no guarantee of future results." Like the children of Israel in the desert, we must gather manna from heaven every day. If we try to use yesterday's, we will find, as they did, that it has grown moldy.

A pastor I know always asks prospective staff members if they think they might ever be tempted to commit adultery. Some candidates for a church position look aghast at being asked such a question. They assure her that there is no way they could ever do such a thing. Her response is always the same: "We only hire people who know they can be tempted to commit adultery . . . and who know they can be tempted to be greedy, angry, and prideful too." The secret to living incorruptible lives of integrity is knowing that we are corrupt and liable to dis-integrate spiritually at any moment.

This is not reason to despair of ever living a life of integrity. Instead, it is the prerequisite for it. The apostle Paul, toward the end of his life, did not say, "I sure am getting the hang of being holy!" On the contrary, he wrote to his dear friend Timothy that he was "the chief of sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15). This was not false modesty. The closer we get to God, the more we are aware of how far from Christ-like integrity we are. We only begin to rely on the Savior moment by moment if we are convinced that we need saving every minute of the day.

A great actor was once asked when you get over stage fright. He responded, "Once I do, I'll know it's time to quit." In our businesses and homes and schools and churches, we need the lively awareness that we are one step away from falling headlong into failure. That awareness keeps us on our spiritual toes. Jesus said, "Apart from me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5) and St. Paul summed it up: "Christ in you is the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). The great enemy of integrity is not immorality, but moralism. God's grace, not our own "goodness," is the only model of perfect integrity. Remember, God sets the highest standard for our daily work.
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