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Integrity—Reality or Illusion?

Paul L. Walker

We switch on our favorite nightly news program, and the announcer lambastes the immoral acts of a well-known evangelist. Christians reel in shock while unbelievers scoff. And we wonder, "What has happened to integrity?"

The headlines in the morning newspaper scream, "Elected leader succumbs to greed and graft." A nation shrugs, and the malfeasance is soon forgotten. And we wonder, "What has happened to integrity?"

At a prayer breakfast a friend confesses to an adulterous affair. Hearts shatter, and families suffer irreparable damage. And we wonder, "What has happened to integrity?"

Integrity—is it reality or illusion?

In America today morality based on religious truth has all but disappeared. Instead, we rely on our feelings to do what is right in our own eyes. For many integrity is an illusion.

Yet, for over 300 years this country’s moral conduct was based on the absolute truths of Scripture. The Ten Commandments God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai was a code for right and wrong behavior in human interaction.

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville, French historian, visited America and wrote the following account:

"The religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention...they hold it indispensable to their republican institutions…. Moreover, all the sects of the United States are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and Christian morality is everywhere the same. In the United States the sovereign authority is religious, but there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America. (Excerpts from Democracy in America, Vol. 1.)

As few as 50 years ago we lived in a nation where a man’s word was considered his bond, a handshake sealed a transaction, and people took pride in honest and upright behavior.

Yet secular influences have replaced the religious influence of the church, and we must ask ourselves, "Is it possible for integrity to be a part of ministry in today’s challenging times?"

Anyway we look at it we live in the best of times and the worst of times for ministry. It is the best of times because today’s pastor has at his fingertips more resources than ever before. Conferences, workshops, and seminars are plentiful. Christian materials abound in bookstores. Knowledge and know-how are the norm rather than the exception.

It is the worst of times for ministry because we live in a predominantly secular age that would be impossible for our forefathers to recognize.

Secularism teaches that man is the measure of all things and can solve all problems of humanity without God. To the secularist, morality is relative and ethics are autonomous—there are no absolutes, and the supernatural has no relevance in human affairs.

During March 1994, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll resulted in 69 percent responding that religion as a whole is losing its influence on U.S. life.

While the polls tell us that 40 million Americans attend church at least four times a month, they also reveal that 86 percent of the politicians, journalists, and media personnel infrequently or never attend church.

Thus the secularizing influences of our government, educational system, and entertainment industry have polluted our nation.

This secular triumph has left many Americans isolated, confused, and alone. Clearly, the nuclear person is disconnected historically, disoriented personally, and disfranchised spiritually. But the Bible comes crashing through, and we hear the Psalmist say:

"Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night…. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish" (Psalm 1*).

By definition the word integrity comes from the root word integer, which means whole, complete, or entire. It is firm adherence to a code of morals, values, and behavior.

By demonstration integrity is uprightness of character, trustworthy action, and responsible commitment.

By determination integrity is a standard of incorruptibility—a refusal to be false to a trust, responsibility, or pledge.

For example, "He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he" (Deuteronomy 32:4; also see Job 1:1; Titus 1:8; 2:12).

The bottom line is: Christian integrity is a reality that sets the standard for the normal Christian life. Thus integrity must be understood in the context of behavior. The Greek word schema is translated "fashion" and signifies that which comprises the manner of life, actions, etc., of humanity in general. It means to fashion one’s behavior code after the image and life of Jesus Christ.

Integrity is Disciplined Behavior

Every day we make choices—what to do and how to live. Our lives must reflect that we are governed by a code of absolutes that we will not violate. This is the message of Joshua 24:15 and Ruth 1:16.

We are what we choose, and behavior is a result of choice. We make an intellectual-emotional-spiritual decision to function in a way that brings the highest productivity to our lives.

Integrity is Determined Behavior

The key to integrity is to determine a sense of inner directedness that does not yield to the pressures of the age—that identifies with the highest rather than the lowest, the best rather that the worst, the ideal rather than the average, the excellent rather than the mediocre.

It reaches for the deepest resources in Christ, stands up, and says, "I’m taking charge of my behavior. I’m not going to bend to the temptations and frustrations of the world." It says, "I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day" (2 Timothy 1:12, NKJV).

Integrity is Demonstrated Behavior

Integrity is a lifestyle characterized by the indwelling of God’s Word. It means having one’s act together and exemplifying the Christ-like life in every circumstance. The apostle John put it this way: "But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (1 John 2:5,6, NKJV).

The proof of our behavior is in the morality we demonstrate. Albert Schweitzer once said, "Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing."

Perhaps the reality of integrity is best illustrated by the life of Eric Liddell whose life inspired the movie, Chariots of Fire.

Eric was a man who demonstrated the reality of integrity. Because he would not run in the Olympics on Sunday, he entered a different race and won a gold medal in the 1924 Olympics. Liddell was called to be a missionary to China and became a teacher at the Anglo-Chinese College in Tientsin. After teaching for some time, he went into the interior and traveled from village to village on foot and by bicycle—spreading the gospel over hundreds of thousands of miles.

During World War II the Japanese invaded China. Liddell was branded, along with many others of Western heritage, as an "enemy national," and in 1943 he was confined in a prison camp 150 by 200 yards with a thousand other so-called nationalist enemies. While there he had an impact on the prison camp—organized athletic events, conducted worship services, preached the gospel (to which many responded in faith), counseled people, and comforted the sick and the dying.

His determined influence is reflected in the writings of David Michell who was a child in the camp during that time. Michell wrote: "None of us will ever forget this man who was totally committed to putting God first, a man whose humble life combined muscular Christianity with radiant godliness" (Eric Liddell, The Disciplines of the Christian Life, 18).

In 1945 Eric Liddell died of a brain tumor in that prison camp.

Liddell’s story gives insight into the meaning of integrity, and he articulated that integrity in a Christian manual that gives four tests of the moral law by which we are to measure ourselves:

"1. Am I truthful? Are there any conditions under which I will tell a lie? Can I be depended on to tell the truth no matter what the cost?

"2. Am I honest? Can I be trusted in money matters? in my work, even when no one is looking? with other people’s reputations? with myself—or do I rationalize and become defensive?

"3. Am I pure? in my habit? in my thought life? in my motives? in my relations with the opposite sex?

"4. Am I selfish? in the demands I make on my family, spouse, or associates? Am I badly balanced, full of moods—cold today and warm tomorrow? Do I indulge in nerves that spoil my happiness and that of those around me? Am I unrestrained in my pleasures, the kind I enjoy without considering the effect…to take reasonable rest and exercise? Am I unrestrained in small self-indulgences, letting myself become the slave of habits, however harmless they may appear to me? Let us put ourselves before ourselves and look at ourselves" (Liddell, Christian Life, 29-30).

Integrity—reality or illusion—that is the question. As ministers, church leaders, and believers there is only one answer—the words of Jesus Christ:

"Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth" (John 17:17–19, NKJV).

*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Paul L. Walker, Ph.D., is senior pastor of Mount Paran Church of God, Atlanta, Georgia.

Based on the authority of God’s Word and its intrinsic value, the following statements from Paul Walker’s book, The Ministry of Church and Pastor, 29-30, give us a broad, practical framework for moral Christian behavior.

Moral actions, decisions and attitudes produce...

1. The capacity to internalize faith.

2. The strength of integrity in relationships.

3. The appreciation of human dignity and worth.

4. The acceptance of freedom in responsibility to God and the Christian community.

5. The attitudes of love and creative cooperation.

6. The fulfillment of capability.

7. The development of absolute convictions.

On the other side of the coin immoral actions, decisions, and attitudes produce…

1. The capacity to manipulate and deceive.

2. The weakness of dishonesty and fraud.

3. The degradation of human dignity and worth.

4. The promotion of freedom of self at the expense of God and the community in exploitive behavior.

5. The attitudes of disrespect and rebellion.

6. The failure to fulfill capability.

7. The lapse into relativism in which the end justifies the means.