Isn’t it tragic that we live in a world where people are more shocked by a display of integrity than a lack of it? More and more often, people seem surprised when someone does the right thing instead of when someone fails the morality test. This inversion is a sad indictment of how corrupt and self-absorbed our culture has become. Our ethics are determined by what we want and when we want it. It is all about us.
Integrity is living what you believe. It is walking on the outside what you believe on the inside. As Tony Dungy so brilliantly stated, “Integrity doesn’t come in degrees: low, medium, or high. You either have integrity or you don’t.” Integrity is living with all aspects of your life lining up into one whole.
You don’t have to look far to find a story about people who lack integrity. Maybe it’s a professional athlete everyone looks up to. He’s the best at what he does, but on top of that, he selflessly gives of himself to some charitable organization that’s making people’s lives better. Then one day the news comes out: he had a whole other sordid secret life that we never knew about.
Some politicians do this same thing. They run for office on a platform to make things better, and one day we discover they’ve been living covertly s though they’re above the law. It even happens to Christian leaders – pastors, ministers, evangelists – who preach God’s Word but are taking drugs, visiting prostitutes, or embezzling from their churches. They are living without integrity. They are not ‘integrated’ or functioning as a unified whole. They live contrary to their beliefs. They say one thing and live another.
All of these things are so “normal” that they don’t really take us by surprise anymore. It’s only worse, it seems, when the same thing happens to a close friend. You thought you knew them. You loved them, trusted them, and then boom, the curtain falls and you see the mess that was going on all along behind the scenes.
So if the lack of integrity is clear, what is true integrity? Here’s a simple definition: Practicing integrity means that your behaviour matches your beliefs.
That’s all there is to it. All the parts of your life seamlessly form one united whole. There are no secret compartments or double lives. What you say actually matches what you do. Your lifestyle is integrated. Your private life matches your public life, with no surprises. What other people see is that they get no matter what the setting in which they meet you. You may have heard the term defined this way: “Integrity is what you do when no one else is looking.”:
Just to clarify, personal integrity is not the same thing as your reputation. No, your reputation is who other people think you are. Your integrity (or lack thereof) is who you really are.
God’s Word tells us, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (Proverbs 11:3). How true. Just think of all the people who were destroyed when their house of cards – built on the shaky foundation of deception – came crashing down. I think many segments of society are being destroyed today by the duplicity of leaders, even entire organizations, who claim to believe one thing, yet practice something else.
Some biblical examples next time (Part Two)