God is strict. Very strict. He even gave us consciences to remind us of how strict He is. Jesus said, “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof on the Day of Judgment” (Matthew 12:36). That's a statement of strictness, not leniency.
And yet, God is a God of mercy. God doesn't punish us according to our sins. If He did, none of us would live past five years old (or two).
It is important to distinguish between strictness and legalism: Strictness makes us flee to the Cross for mercy, while legalism makes us think we don't need the Cross. Strictness helps us to understand how all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), whereas legalism denies that we are justified by grace through faith, insisting that we can make ourselves righteous before God just be doing enough good to get Him to ignore our sins. The Gospel is that Jesus lived the strict life that we could not so that God could justify the ungodly. Legalism calls us to ignore the goodness of God in Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, to establish our own righteousness. Strictness can save us from Hell (“Wherefore, the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ” [Galatians 3:24]), but legalism will thoroughly condemn us. Legalism actually deceives us through its leniency towards the sins it chooses to ignore by amplifying the sins it prefers we overcome.
I'm strict about my job: I do my side-work the way the sheet tells me to do it. I roll only clean silverware. I sweep around my tables until I can no longer sweep up trash—I don't just run a broom over it and say, “It's good.” I pre-bus, wipe, and setup my tables before asking someone to check them so I can leave. All of this is being strict.
It's good to be strict. I've earned the respect of the most ardent atheist on my team by being so strict. He has complimented me several times about my work ethic, including last night. It gives credence to the words that I have spoken about Christ. Sure, he already respected me for having a couple of years on him (only two, but I'll take it). Sure, he respects me because I am articulate about subjects that most people don't touch.
But I also have said many things that he didn't like to hear. I openly disapproved of his life choices, such as getting drunk, abandoning his girlfriend to care for their child alone (he would pay child support, but that's it), cursing (forbidden on the job). He was angry with me about that. I told him he needed Jesus and that he needed to repent. He didn't want to hear it. But I was being strict then, too.
But “Tim” brought up the folly of wasting his money on beer and cigarettes last time the subject came up. He also changed his mind and is staying with his girlfriend (next step should be marriage, but I didn't push, because salvation will cause that, and, anyway, his girlfriend needs to get saved, too). Tim also has severely toned down his cursing.
It is interesting how, at Cracker Barrel, being strict with others is seen as an act of mercy: someone got fired for cursing shortly after I started, so people started correcting each other's language. The young ladies I work with—wild as they may be outside work—thank me when I remind them to “fix that button” (our collared shirts can only be opened so far; would to God that churches would have that standard! *prays*). The managers told us to warn each other if we caught someone eating food they hadn't paid for-- “If you see a friend [doing that], you'd better tell them before we do!” Wish that was the attitude of churches, too.
Yes, walk the walk. But also talk the talk. I may not be the most popular guy to hang out with at Cracker Barrel, but my witness for Christ is respected. Because I am strict. Not legalistic. Strict. There is a difference. And it is paying off.