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Sunken Boats and Spiritual Integrity

Integrity is a word that means to be whole, undivided or complete. Boats are an excellent illustration of that concept. For instance, seaworthy boats have structural integrity – meaning that their hulls don’t have any breaks, or holes, or gaps through which water can get in. That integrity keeps them afloat.  Vessels that find themselves on the bottom of the sea have either lost their integrity, or water somehow got into their hulls and they sank. Boats are not meant to have water inside them. Instead, they’re meant to be in the water while also remaining above it.  Even submarines, which are boats designed to be both in the water and below its surface cannot allow water through their hulls where people operate it. Structural integrity keeps what is supposed to be inside the boat inside of it, and what is supposed to be outside the boat out of it. 

This illustration works very well to explain the nature of Christian life. Consider the words of Jesus in John 17:14-19 where he speaks a profound prayer to the Father. In his prayer he says that his followers are not of this world in the same way that he is not of this world. In other words, followers of Christ are in the world but separate from it in the same way that a boat is in the water, but water isn’t in the boat.  He goes on to ask that God keep them from evil. He isn’t asking that they never sail through evil waters, but that evil waters never breach their hulls. He then points out how he is sending them into the world just as God had sent him into the world. Christians are to be imagers of God by bearing the image of Christ in their lives. They are to walk in the way that Jesus lived - sacrificially pursuing the will of the Father. They’ll be in the world, but not of it.

All of this raises the question: How can a Christian maintain structural integrity? How do we keep the world out of us? The answer, while simple, isn’t always easy. First, we must remember the example of Peter. In Matthew 14:22-33, Peter sees Jesus walking on the water in the midst of wind and waves. The Lord commands Peter to leave the safety of his boat. Peter obeys – stepping out of the boat, walking on water, and becoming a kind of boat himself.  But as soon as he takes note of the angry wind and waves, he begins to sink, and Jesus must save him.  Part of maintaining integrity is not looking at the world around you and the dangers inherent in it, but instead staying focused on Jesus and trusting the commands he’s given you. Staying focused on Jesus keeps you from sinking into the waters which will surely breach your hull. Second, we must trust his word and allow it to set us apart from the world by its truth (John 17:17-19). And third, we must not conform ourselves to a world that hates God (and us), but instead, be transformed completely by how we think about the world and God, and then strive to discern the will of the Father for our lives (Romans 12:1-2).  Whenever we focus our mind toward God, and pay attention to the things that he wants, we will naturally notice the gaps, holes, and breaks in our hulls because they’ll appear starkly different from God’s design for the integrity of our lives.  We’ll then be able to repair those breaches before too much of the world gets in.

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