God not only has characteristics, He has character. The characteristics of God are often spoken of: compassion, holiness, righteousness, justice, and mercy, to name a few. But the Bible speaks of God’s character, too — He is never changing: the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is faithful, trustworthy, true, and loyal. He can be counted on. His Word is everlasting. As a God of integrity, He desires a life of integrity in His followers.
Integrity is a God-like life of consistency and sincerity, with no deception or pretense. Integrity’s overriding quality is wholeness. In fact, the word integrity is derived from the same root word as integer, meaning whole. In other words, no discrepancy exists between one’s public life and one’s private life. People of integrity have nothing to hide and nothing to fear.
Integrity is not reputation — others’ opinion of us. Integrity is not success — our accomplishments. Integrity embodies the sum total of our being and our actions. Integrity is not something we have, but something we are. It inevitably shows itself in what we do and say. Integrity is needed because people are watching us. Will our behavior match our beliefs? Will our character correspond with our confession?
“I’ll be home by 9 o’clock.” But nine comes and he doesn’t show. The same thing is true of ten, and eleven. You finally hear the door at 11:50. “I thought you said you’d be home by 9 o’clock.” “Yeah, but something happened.”
Then what about the line, “The check’s in the mail.” So you wait three more days, then four more days, and finally a week. And still no check. You call and say, “I understood you to say that your check was in the mail.” “Well, I thought it was,” is the reply you get, followed by a pretty incredulous line about the envelope getting lost in the mail. Sure.
Taking inventory for a minute, would you say that people are less prone to keep their word, less apt to show up when they say they will be there, and generally have less integrity, than a few years ago?
When national figures disappoint you and what they say is often questioned, when even ministers seem to lead two lives—one personal and the other public, when educators say that moral values can be taught without religion, is it any wonder that talk about integrity today sounds as relevant as a discussion of the fourth vertebrae of an extinct dinosaur?
“OK,” you say, “I’m with you. But what can we do to stop the erosion of character today?” More than you might think. First, let’s define our terms. Integrity is what you are—it’s the moral fiber within you that determines what you are. Character is like the flip side of the coin. It relates more to your actions—what you do.
The foundation of integrity is an old-fashioned moral belief that there is a God in heaven who cares about what happens on planet Earth. It is based on the fact that He calls some things right and other things wrong. The Ten Commandments were not given as “Ten Suggestions” or “Ten Ideas about Morality.” They were both negative and positive as God said, “This is wrong and these things are right.”
Other foundation stones of integrity are responsibility and accountability, which, like two oars of a little rowboat, keep your life on an even keel. Shortly before his death, author James Michener talked about the changes which he had seen in his generation. He said that the old days were not really so great but that a generation ago men and women considered some things right and others wrong. They didn’t always do right, but they knew the difference. But today, he contended, individuals who don’t know the difference are dangerous and a threat to society.
John Souter, in an article entitled, “That Missing Word: Integrity,” says that there are four enemies of integrity. He describes them as deception, shallowness, artificiality, and expediency.
Deception was what Abraham used when he didn’t want to admit that Sarah was his wife. “She is my sister,” he said—which was a half-truth.
Shallowness, the second enemy of integrity, is the belief that it doesn’t really matter. “Everybody’s doing it,” people used to say, excusing their behavior. Shallowness is the refusal to take an unpopular stand, saying, “It’s not my fight.” Character is the result of convictions, which are the foundation of integrity.
Artificiality is the curse of our day. “How are you doing?” someone asks, and you respond, “Oh, just fine.” You are not, but neither do you want the emotional involvement of giving an honest answer.
Expedience, the fourth enemy of integrity, is the path of least resistance, the short-cut. It is the presumption that if your wife will never know, it’s OK to do it. It is sacrificing the permanent on the altar of the expedient, and it is the curse of our day. No matter what the cost, integrity is worth it.
The old adage is true: Our walk must match our talk. We need to live in such a way that our family, church, and friends will know that who we say we are, we are. We live without duplicity or deceit. When everything is stripped away, our name, reputation, and character are all we have. For the sake of our churches, our families, and our very lives, a life of integrity is required. In fact, integrity is as essential as spiritual health, family priorities, and personal development. In the long run, integrity is what really matters.
God desires His followers to live with integrity, though it will not be easy. Living with God-like character, being the same person in private and in public, and living out our faith — being true to biblical teaching — is hard and uncomfortable. Choosing to be real, honest, and standing with convictions will always be a challenge in a world that accepts (and sometimes) applauds the lack of it. Yet integrity impacts and influences those around us, especially our children. Only time will tell the impact our walking matching our talking will have on our children — and their children.