Integrity. Who are we when no one is looking? How do the hidden scenes of our story actually play out in the theater of God’s drama? What seeds are we sowing in the unseen furrows of our lives? How can the practice of integrity change how we enjoy this life? Integrity is what will lead us to abundant life and a lack of integrity will drain us empty. A lack of integrity will eventually rip through the life of an individual, their family and any other innocent bystander who happens to cross paths with the offender. And the worst part is that I see these integrity issues in my own heart, and it scares me enough to cling to Jesus.
“Having integrity means doing the right thing in a reliable way. It’s a personality trait that we admire, since it means a person has a moral compass that doesn’t waver. It literally means having “wholeness” of character…”
Let’s think about a compass for a minute. First, we know that the purpose of a compass is for navigation. Second, when we think about a compass, we should think about a magnet. In a most simplified definition, the Earth is a magnet that interacts with other magnets. The north end of a compass magnet is drawn to align with the Earth’s magnetic field. As we ponder this compass symbolism, we can think of our own moral compass as a magnet that interacts with the magnetic field of God’s cosmic activity. God designed the world to work in a very particular way, and the wise align their lives with God’s particular way. And third, a compass gets us to where we want to go. And for the follower of Christ, the place we want to be is an abundantly lived life as we wait for Christ’s final redemption. Ephesians 5:9 calls us to “walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true). Our moral compass should continually draw us to walk in the light.
But sin. Sin messes with our compass. As a follower of Christ, there is an overwhelming tension between the integrity we aim to practice and the sin that is constantly trying to reign in our hearts. This very real human struggle was not lost on our beloved Apostle Paul. He laments in Romans 7:18-22 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Paul is not trying to absolve himself from his personal responsibility to fight sin. He is emphasizing the power of sin. I cannot recall many people who have been more changed by the love of Jesus and more committed to the cause of Christ than Paul and if he recognized this internal war within his members, than we would be wise to follow suit and recognize the same war in our own hearts.
America is in an integrity crisis. I love living in America. I am thankful for all of the opportunities and safeties our family enjoys and appreciate those who have fought to protect that freedom. However, two concerning western attitudes are pragmatism and entitlement. Are these attitudes part of what is leading to this breakdown in integrity? Let’s start with our pragmatic ways. We are practical and productive. Our pragmatic ways have led to great success and fortune. As wonderful as that sounds, a danger lurks on the pragmatic road. When we become obsessed with being productive, integrity is at stake. The pragmatic sojourner will inevitably reach a fork in the road. A wide gate will lure such travelers. If the wanderer succumbs, he will eventually find that this well-worn trail that strays off the path of pragmatism leads to malfeasance, exploitation, and misconduct. How, you ask? Because of sin. Sin will take something that is in of itself a good thing, and corrupt it. To many of us pragmatism means profit, which is a good thing right. Nothing wrong with financial gain. However, when profit becomes the end itself, integrity is put on the back burner. Here’s how that might play out. A company produces clothing so the company finds a place where they can discreetly pay an appallingly low wage to children to produce clothing at an obscene profit to everyone except those producing it. Lack of integrity. A CEO who uses a legal method such as mark to market to hide losses and make the company look more profitable than it actually is, only to bankrupt the company and completely annihilate the retirement of its hardworking men and women who built the company in the first place. Lack of integrity. Unfortunately, corporate America and our government is riddled with such stories and the regular folk are the ones carrying the brunt of these scoundrel’s misconduct. These examples involve the powerful and wealthy but the average joe is vulnerable to these temptations as well. If we could slow down enough to learn contentment, the risks of our pragmatic ways would contract.
What about entitlement? We have become so accustomed to our comforts that we forget that never before in human history have people enjoyed the luxuries we do. And it’s clouding our vision. Entitlement is dangerous because it feeds us the lie that we deserve to be comfortable, healthy and happy. But we don’t understand genuine happiness. We equate the adrenaline rush we get from material goods, new cars and bigger houses to being authentically happy. Our greed has become insatiable. We believe we are entitled to everything but the genie in the bottle never got that message and so we take matters into our own hands. Our spouse is not enough, so we take someone else’s. Lack of integrity. Our houses are not big enough, we mortgage more than we can afford, so we spend every cent we earn on ourselves, leaving nothing left to give to the those in need around us. Lack of integrity. If we would spend less time thinking about what we want and more time in communion with the God who created us, we would be ushered into a place of peace. Peace with God, peace with those around us and peace with ourselves. True integrity is rooted in peace with God.
Integrity is not about maintaining appearances through a list of rules. Integrity is about maintaining God’s justice when we have no worldly gain.
If there is to be hope for us, we must give the gift of integrity to the next generation. Perhaps this starts by changing our focus a bit. Maybe we teach our teens about the plight of the working poor, the widow and the orphan as much as we do about the dangers of alcohol. Maybe part of the alcohol and drug crisis families are facing is happening because our young people don’t have a holistic picture of the redeeming work God is up to in our world. They have not received the invitation to the adventurous, purposeful, spirit-filled life God is calling them to live in order to bring that redemption back to creation. Along with presenting our kids a list of rules like don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal (all very valid requests, of course!), we teach them to use those energies to be a voice for the voiceless and protectors of the weak. These are all integrity issues our kids have to learn if they are to walk in God’s ways. I understand it is not that simple, but it could be a start.
Integrity is at the heart of the Christian’s call in this world and I hope that through the words on this page I was able to bring some less thought about integrity issues to your hearts. We are called be a people who love differently, serve differently and live differently than the world around us. A life of integrity should spring forth in response to God’s lovingkindness and grace. The world sends a loud message that we should live however we want, but God warns us “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) When we allow God to direct our moral compass, our life will be blessed by Him. It will not be easy or perfect, but He promises to be with us when we walk in the humility of His ways. And that is enough for me.