In the business world, a set of operating principles is really the means by which a company puts their values into motion. It’s the way they get things done. So while a company might have a value of, say, great and immediate customer service, the operating principles are the mechanisms are in place by which that value is actually achieved and normalized in the day to day functions of the business.
In that context, a value is really just words on a plaque unless you have operating principles in place. And the same thing is true in life.
Everyone has certain values, whether they are able to verbally express them or not. A person lives by these – or at least they aspire to. But it’s only vain hope and empty aspiration unless that person also has operating principles in place so that the values can actually be lived out.
As Christians, we also have “values.” They aren’t determined by popular opinion, the latest self-help manual, or even how our own emotions guide us. No, our values are driven by the teachings of Jesus. We live how He tells us we ought to live, and we do so as an expression of a changed heart. We look to the Bible again and again to renew our minds and be told what we should priority, prize and value. But just as in a business context, those values are just words unless we have operating principles. We need to not just read what we should value; we have to pout those values into real practice.
So what is the operating principle for the Christian life? How are these values actualized into everyday acts of obedience? One simple phrase tells us:
By grace, through faith.
How do we put the values of Jesus in motion? How do we walk in accordance with God’s will? How do we take these seemingly difficult commands and actually obey them in a real way?
By grace, through faith. This is the operating principle of the Christian life.
“But wait,” you might say, “by grace through faith is how we are saved. Surely the operating principle goes beyond that into discipline, effort, and good old fashioned guts. Right?”
It’s extremely naive to say that living a life of obedience doesn’t involved those things, but those things aren’t the operating principle. The operating principle drives those things. And while it’s certainly true that we are saved by grace, through faith, it’s also true – though we often neglect it – that we also live out the Christian life by this principle.
Every bit of obedience, every ounce of effort, every iota of perseverance comes by grace. We are not sufficient, in and of ourselves, to live for Jesus. It’s only by God’s grace that we can. Further, we trust in God’s grace and in His promise to provide what we need for living this daily life. We apply faith to the grace God generously supplies. How does it work? Here’s one example:
Let’s say that one of your children does something that annoys you. Not something destructive or belligerent, just something that gets on your nerves. Now you know that one of the values you are to have, according to God’s Word, is patience. And that’s where the operating principle comes in. You don’t just try hard to have patience in the moment. Instead, you pause, and you remind yourself that God has given you His grace to have patience, and by faith, you trust that He will. And then you respond accordingly. The value is actualized. It’s operationalized. And it’s done so by grace, through faith.
Values are great. They are necessary. They are imperative for us as Christians. But let’s make sure that those values are not just words on a page. They must be operationalized in a way that brings honor and glory to God and not just in and of our own strength.