Integrity is still respected. But is it expected?
Do we know integrity when we see it? Do we know how to achieve it when we find it lacking in ourselves?
In a testimony every Christian, and certainly every Christian leader, should read, this seasoned minister describes the steps he takes as he “desperately chases after God.”
By Randy Gariss
This afternoon my local sports-talk radio host was yelling again. In the midst of his apoplexy he kept shouting, “Where is integrity? Where is integrity? I tell you I am sick of this stuff!”
The shortage of integrity is epidemic. Tonight’s news will be about a CEO and fraud, an update on the English teacher sexually abusing her student, and a dozen more stories reminding us we are all sick of this stuff. Where is integrity?
But sadly, you and I also know the lack of integrity is not limited to the world. We Christians are awash in our own moral failures. A preacher plagiarizes a sermon. An employee dishonestly takes sick leave. A wife has an emotional flirtation with her boss.
And while most of our discrepancies may not be the lead news story, the effects are catastrophic, for they strike at the very soul of who we are as people of Christ. While integrity is still applauded and respected, one can’t help but wonder, Is integrity still expected?
Of all the people on earth, a Christian must be what he presents himself to be. Integrity must be our mark. Worse than discovering rancid milk in the carton or a spoiled tomato within the salad, the shock and disappointment of an inconsistent Christian life is almost too much to bear. The Christian gospel is, and always will be, a gospel of grace, but it is not a gospel of incongruity. I must be what I profess to be.
As believers and churches, we profess to the power of the “new creation,” “lives hidden in Christ,” “Christ in me,” “made new,” and a hundred other parallels to an authentic life of Christlikeness. Professing such things is either fraudulent rhetoric, a hideous deception, or it is the truest message ever proclaimed. Christ makes men whole!
All lives are eventually revealed for what they are. Will Rogers, the cowboy entertainer from Oklahoma whose speeches were delivered with humor and gut-wrenching honesty, is known for the following quip: “Try to live your life so that you wouldn’t be afraid to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.” We laugh . . .
Mothers handing off their unfiltered 5-year-olds have feigned a smile and a halfhearted laugh (bordering on pain) as the kindergarten teacher whispers, “I won’t believe everything I hear about your home if you promise not to believe everything you hear about my class!” You can be sure that, for good or bad, that which was secret will be made known!
At times nothing on earth seems more rare, or attractive, than a life lived with integrity. It is what makes individuals like Job and Daniel such intriguing and compelling people to us.
Job, as God himself points out, was “blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil” (Job 2:3*). While many things in the book of Job may pull at our curiosity, Job’s integrity pulls at the thread of our yearnings. We know intuitively that there will be a restlessness in our spirit until integrity is the mark of our own life.
The enemies of Daniel could not help but grudgingly admire his integrity. Daniel 6:4 describes how they examined all of his life and “couldn’t find anything to criticize or condemn” in him. There was a consistency to his life. What he professed to be, he was. All of us wish for such a record.
Integrity has a clear central meaning. The Oxford Dictionary says it means being “whole, not divided.” It comes from the Latin word integritas that means “intact, entire.” In mathematics, an integer is always a whole number, never a partial.
In essence, that means where integrity rules in a man or woman, you need only to be exposed to a small portion of someone’s life to know what he or she is as a whole. There will be no contradictions, duplicity, or hypocrisy. There will be no compartmentalized life, no daytime lifestyle at odds with the nighttime behavior, no public persona contrasting with the private.
No matter how extraordinary the talent, size of the reputation, amount of kingdom responsibility, sincere the words, number of sacrifices, or years of service, there is no integrity in a divided life. An elder harsh with his wife lacks integrity. A preacher nursing his ego lacks integrity. A mentor with an unguarded tongue lacks integrity. Porn, gossip, greed, harshness, bullying, posturing, exaggerating, and a thousand other things are marks of duplicity.
In Deuteronomy 6:4, God asserts that he is “one.” In this passage, he is declaring more than just a head count. He is declaring the quality of his character! There will never be any part of God that is contradictory, a piece that does not fit the whole. Therefore, as he is one, so we who are created in his image, are to be one as well.
With profound simplicity, Warren Wiersbe in The Integrity Crisis describes the two forces at work in the world, “God putting things together, and sin tearing things apart. Satan is making fractions, while God is making things whole.” This is glorious news to fractured people because God is in the integrity business. Wholeness is not an illusion, a mirage in the desert teasing the thirsty man with water always out of reach. It is our appointment with God.
Due to the pride of our times, there is one more important nuance that must be understood about integrity. The Oxford Dictionary points out that integrity also means “being unimpaired” and “sound.” We speak of a bridge or a building having integrity, meaning it is trustworthy and stands up to the standard.
Our culture prefers to dismiss any outside standard and instead to glory in its own self-proclaimed authenticity. You will hear a thousand versions of “I am the most honest person you know,” “I always live true to my principles,” “What you see is what you get,” “I refuse to be a hypocrite.” As much as we appreciate that this mind-set hates pretentions, it is a mind-set that lacks soundness. When you live by your own principles . . . you will be unprincipled (Proverbs 14:12).
Ted Bundy, the serial killer, often argued that he ought to be admired for his integrity. He claimed to be true to himself and never a pretender. While no one would defend his wicked view of integrity, it is important to remember that “always being honest and true to myself” is no substitute for a sound and whole life. The best any of us can be, in our own wisdom, is counterfeit. And a counterfeit, sadly, is a copy made of lies. It is not a close second to the real thing.
Do you mind if I get personal? I don’t think integrity will let me hide behind the safety of this keyboard without demanding my own transparency. I have been a Christian for more than 50 years, someone’s minister for more than 40. I would like to think people would say I am a man of integrity, for I know it is God’s call on my life. But I also recognize the duplicity, the hypocrisy that is not always kept at bay. I have held people accountable to God’s high standard while giving leniency to myself. I have received much encouragement while giving too little. I have envied the five-talent man while underappreciating the one or two talents God gave me.
I know a resurrection power is at work in me pulling me back together, back to wisdom and wholeness. I have great peace knowing sin lost its accusatory power over me because of the gracious gift of God’s righteousness. But I also know I am still parts and pieces; sin’s shadowy presence is no stranger to me. Oswald Chambers was speaking of me when he wrote, “Sin is a fact of life, not just a shortcoming” (My Utmost for His Highest, June 23).
So what is this fractured man to do? And what are you to do?
In pursuing integrity I have seen four practices of the upright, four disciplines that seem to have led them to integrity. They are the four disciplines I desperately cling to as I chase after God. I give them to you not as a teacher, but a fellow student on our common journey.
1. A worship that brings before his face every aspect of life, leaving nothing behind. The shallow cardboard cutout of my life didn’t change until I changed my worship. As I devoured Proverbs and read the Gospels over and over, I realized there were so many unexamined parts of my life that were ruining the depth I wanted.
Borrowing from the giants of faith, I began to gather it all: my constant awareness of his presence, every friendship I had, every family role, every job and task I had, every. . . . When I began to carry everything—including my rest, solitude, creativity, and anything else that touched my life—to him in daily worship, was when every aspect of division finally began to give way to wholeness. Integrity begins with worship.
2. An unceasing desire and plea for the searching of the Spirit. David’s cry of “Search me, O God, and know my heart. . . . Point out anything in me that offends you” (Psalm 139:23, 24) and Paul’s confession that his own opinion of himself “matters very little. . . . It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide” (1 Corinthians 4:3, 4) show an absolute truth: no one becomes whole without being led there by the Spirit. Elijah will tell you God’s voice probably is not in the storm or the fire, but rather, it is a still small voice heard only by those desperate enough to pray, seek, and then listen (1 Kings 19).
No one accidently wanders into maturity; everyone needs to be led. The Word, prayer, the voices of godly saints, solitude, and simple obedience are all ways of cupping our ears. No one gets well without being sensitive to the convicting—and healing—voice of the Spirit.
3. A complete commitment to a vow of no secrets. It is impossible for me to live in the light and hide any part of my life in the dark. Any secret I keep tight to my chest will inevitably partner with the evil one.
There will be no integrity in my life until confession is a lifestyle. Confession to the Lord—of course—but confession to a handful of godly people who share the journey with me is essential. Until every serious temptation and every stumble is known by some of the godly who love me, then all I am doing is negotiating with sin, I am not defeating it.
You will chase the cockroach forever in the dark, and you will not win, but turn the light on and it’s possible to kill it.
My personal correspondence today contained the familiar yet painful stories of fractured believers and splintered churches. It saddened me. Oh, don’t misunderstand; I am not discouraged by our wrestling with sin—neither yours nor mine—for that is the arena in which our lives are lived. But the stories ripped at my heart because secrets, postponed repentance, and the voice of the mob and not the Spirit had won the day; managing sin had triumphed over confession, and posturing had triumphed over repentance.
Integrity had lost. The fractions had won. The battle rages: God putting things together and sin tearing them apart.
4. The practice of quick repentance. There are some who say repentance is “so hard.” They are wrong. We sinners can tell you it is much harder not to repent. Carrying the guilt, shame, defeat, facade, deceit, harm, and consequences of sin is far more difficult than repentance! Walking on the solid road is much easier than trudging through the slime of the swamp. Stubbornness is hard, repentance is relief, and the godly are quick to do it.
It has been said repentance is standing with God against myself. If that is true, then exactly how long do I want to stand beside my own self-bias? For how long do I want camaraderie with my own self-deception? How long do I want to stand beside the fractured one, when the One who is whole bids me come? I want to run to repentance.
There has been much hand-wringing inside the Christian community about the massive cultural changes taking place around us. Christians on social media, over their cups of coffee, and in their gatherings have lamented the tragedy that “In this culture the church has no voice.” There is almost a riotous demand to the world, “Give us our voice back!”
The world cannot, and they will not.
Lost integrity means a lost voice; lost to our own homes, our own children, our own neighborhoods, our own churches, and our own culture. When we are not what we profess to be, there is no voice.
But integrity? It will always have a voice. It is impossible to ignore.
*Scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation of the Bible.
Randy Gariss, former preaching minister with College Heights Christian Church, Joplin, Missouri, serves as director of The Life and Ministry Preparation Center at Ozark Christian College in Joplin.