Many years ago I learned a lesson about “integrity” that I have never forgotten
This particular lesson was what led me to read about and study the topic of “integrity” for the last several decades …
Many years ago, at the end of Sunday services, like most pastors I would be standing at the door shaking hands and thanking people for coming…
And often someone would say, “I need to speak with you sometime this week. Please give me a call when you have time.”
I would agree and continue shaking hands and then head out to a town 2.5 hours away for a regular Sunday evening service
Back home by midnight more than a bit exhausted … and fall into bed
The next morning I would get up and head to the office to start a new week, a new teaching, a new whatever…
Totally forgetting that I promised to call this person and that person …
One day the Holy Spirit convicted me that I lacked integrity
That I had said I would call so-and-so and didn’t … so my promise was valueless
This Sunday “please call me” routine and lack of integrity continued for a few more months until I had a small revelation from the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit said, “Don’t promise to call them. Don’t take on the obligation to remember and then to call. Simply ask them to call you on Monday when you are next back in the office. Then, if they really need to speak to you, they will remember to call.”
And, I have been doing that ever since … and it has safeguarded my integrity in a small but important way
I can’t say that I have mastered this whole area of personal integrity but I have definitely moved forward and taken a number of solid steps to improve this aspect of my character and life
So, let’s look at “Sometimes I Lack Integrity”
I find it tragic that we live in a world where people are more shocked by a display of integrity than a lack of it?
Return the extra change you received when you picked something up at 7-11 and watch the reaction…
More and more often, people seem surprised when someone does the right thing instead of when someone does what we know is simply wrong
This inversion is a sad indictment of how corrupt and self-absorbed our culture has become.
Our ethics and morales are most often determined by what we want and when we want it – and we usually want it now!
It is all about us.
So, let’s loosely define integrity…
Integrity is living what you believe.
Integrity is walking on the outside what you believe on the inside.
Integrity is living with all aspects of your life lining up into one big whole.
As Tony Dungy (football coach) so brilliantly stated, “Integrity doesn’t come in degrees: low, medium, or high. You either have integrity or you don’t.”
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 as 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 personal life matches your public life, with no surprises.
What other people see is what 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.
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.
Example of someone with serious integrity:
The Episcopal (Anglican) Church in the United States ruled that clergy were allowed to perform marriages of same sex couples
The Bishop of Albany, New York – The Right Reverend Bill Love – wrote his clergy and told them they could not do gay marriages
He cited biblical and even canonical (church law) reasons
The national church began disciplinary actions again him even though he had faithfully served as bishop for 14 years and was simply showing personal and professional integrity in his decisions
He could see the writing on the wall – they were taking legal action to remove him – and so he resigned his position and left the church > A man of integrity
With integrity we see a consistency of character.
A person of integrity is the same no matter where he is or who he is with.
One of the best examples of a person of integrity is the biblical Samuel, from the Old Testament.
Toward the end of his life, Samuel recaps his record of faithful service before the Israelite people:
Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.”“You have not cheated or oppressed us,” they replied. “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.”
(1 Samuel 12:3-4 NIV)
At the end of his life, Samuel stood before his entire community and said, “Have I lived a life of integrity? If I’ve ever wronged any of you, just tell me, and I’ll make it right.”
And they answered him, “No, you’ve always done the right thing. You are a person of integrity, Samuel. You’ve been faithful.”
At the end of my life, I want to be able to ask the same question and get the same response.
I want my children, my grandchildren, my great grandchildren and generations of Howes after me, to be able to do exactly as Samuel’s community did.
At the end of my life, I want to be able to say honestly, “Here’s your free shot. Did I do what I claimed I would do? Did I practice what I preached?”
People may even answer, “Well, we didn’t like your sense of humour or the way you dressed or your style of ministry. And, we don’t agree with or even believe what you believe — But, yes, you are a person of integrity. All the things you said you believed you actually lived.”
Another biblical man of integrity was David, perhaps made more credible because he failed big time and tried to hide it but in the end couldn’t live with himself.
He offers another picture of what integrity looks like.
In one of his psalms, David asks, “LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?” And then catalogs the traits of such a godly person (Psalm 15:1-5):
Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbour,
and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
but honours those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.
David asks, “LORD, who gets to enjoy your continued presence?
Who gets to walk with you and fellowship with you?”
In each case, the answer is the person who lives a life of integrity, and the promise is that “whoever does these things will never be shaken.”
When we live this way – live with integrity – we will never be shaken!
Do you realize what an incredible statement that is?
So, the question remains: Are you a person of integrity?
Be really honest with yourself.
And, if there are some areas where you could do better, where your walk and talk don’t line up … decide today to make some changes.
You may be able to make the changes on your own or you may need someone to walk with you through them.
But, the bottom line is simple: do what it takes to be a person of integrity.
Let’s look at four serious benefits of living a life of integrity.
While there are many more, these are some of my favourites:
1> You’ll walk closely with God.
Think of it like this:
If I can clearly impart my family values to my children, and they choose to live their lives according to those principles and values, then obviously, this will increase our harmony with each other.
On the other hand, consider what would happen if I clearly shared my important values with my children, and one or more of them decided to go their own way, contrary to what I had taught them.
Now, of course, I’ll still love that child, but certainly their choices are going to interfere with our intimacy, our communion, and our ongoing fellowship.
Our relationship with God follows a similar dynamic. When you live according to His values, you’ll naturally walk with Him, enjoying His presence daily.
2> You’ll have divine GPS.
Proverbs 11:3 says that “the integrity of the upright guides them.”
When you allow integrity to lead you, you don’t have to guess what’s right.
Decisions become much easier when they’re based not on what you think you can get away with but on what’s right in God’s eyes.
It’s the difference between following your best guesses on how to reach your destination versus using a first-rate GPS that tells you how to proceed every step along the way.
We must allow our integrity to guide us.
3> You’ll feel constant peace.
This is the benefit that means the most to me.
When I lay my head on my pillow at night, I don’t ever lie there worrying, “Man, I sure hope nobody finds out what I’ve done today.”
When you live with integrity, you’re not constantly looking over your shoulder, fearful of getting caught, wondering how long it will be until you’re found out.
When you simply do the right thing, you abide in constant peace.
There’s no fear, guilt, shame, or regret; just peace.
4> You’ll gain trust, respect, honour, and influence.
If you want to lead and inspire your family and friends, be a person of integrity.
If you want great children, be a parent of integrity.
If you want influence where you work, be a person of your word.
When you live with integrity, people will follow you and honour you.
They’ll listen when you speak.
Over time, they’ll even begin to seek out your wisdom and advice.
Such is the legacy of integrity.
The benefits of integrity may seem obvious, yet they remain out of reach for many people, including those who should be the best examples — Christians.
One of the most common complaints I hear from people outside the church is that Christians are a bunch of hypocrites, clearly a problem since a hypocrite is the opposite of a person of integrity.
Hypokrites, the Greek word that we translate “hypocrite,” means literally “an actor or stage player.”
In the tradition of ancient Greek drama, each actor played several different roles.
They used a different carved wooden mask for each of the various characters they were playing.
Maybe you’ve seen the smiling comic mask alongside the frowning tragic mask used as symbols for the theatre or to represent drama in general.
When an actor in ancient Greece needed to switch to a different character, he simply picked up a different mask and held it in front of his face.
It was as simple as that.
I think many of us do exactly the same thing.
For each social circumstance we find ourselves in, we present ourselves in the best possible light, even if it’s not honest, accurate, or authentic.
We calculate who we think someone wants us to be, and then we select the appropriate mask to play that part for them.
But it’s only a mask.
It’s not who you really are
It’s just who you’re pretending to be.
It may be hard to see it in yourself, but each of us lacks integrity at some point or other.
But it seems like we can always justify our pet behaviours, whether it’s by calling them “little white lies” or telling ourselves that we’re protecting the feelings of others.
But consider how God looks at our “little quirks.”
While Jesus openly welcomed repentant prostitutes, adulterers, and other vile sinners into His Kingdom, He was relentless in condemning hypocrites.
Here’s what He says in Matthew 23:25-28:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Jesus exposed them for what they were.
He essentially said, “You fakers. You play actors. You have zero integrity. You put on your game face and you look religious. You look nice and righteous on the outside. But inside, your heart is absolutely filthy with sin.”
It doesn’t make any difference if people appear to be righteous.
What matters is to be pure on the inside.
Woe to you if you lack integrity, or are full of hypocrisy.
We must start with what’s inside us, allowing Christ to transform us, and then our actions will follow suit.
Through Christ, we clean the inside of the cup before we move on to the outside.
We sacrifice our selfish, deceitful, ego-driven impulses on the altar of truth so that our behaviour reflects God’s righteousness.
Integrity starts from the inside out, not the outside in.
So, rubber meets the road information:
To become a true person of integrity
1> Get to know Jesus
I don’t mean just to learn more about Him from a distance
I am not referring to reading your Bible or reading nice stories about Him
That may be a part of getting to really know Jesus – but just a small part
You have to get to know Him personally on a heart level
Not just know about Him on a head level
The simple truth is, you can never live a life of integrity on your own
You are bent towards sin
The only way you can do it is to get to know Him personally and then allow the indwelling Christ to change you
Let the presence and power of His Holy Spirit lead you to do what is right
Get to truly know Him, and let Him start living in and through you
2> Set things right
If there are people you have misrepresented yourself to…
You need to go to them, repent, and apologize to them
You need to go to each person and admit, “I’m sorry. For the last (however many) years, I have not been true with you
I’ve been living a life of hypocrisy — Will you forgive me?
If they do genuinely forgive you, you need to understand: Just because they forgive you doesn’t mean they’ll automatically trust you again
You’ll have to rebuild — or perhaps build for the first time — your new life of integrity
3> Become a walking “no spin zone”
Jesus said in Matthew 5:37 “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.”
This may be the simplest thing — but it is often the hardest thing you need to do
Results of these three things:
When you align yourself this way, you’ll start walking closely with God and you’ll discover you have a built-in guide
You’ll find abiding peace
You’ll begin to receive honour, trust, and respect from the people around you
You’ll enjoy influence you’ve never had before
Get rid of the masks
Risk it — Be the real you
Allow God’s Holy Spirit to transform you
Integrity really does matter – a lot!