Skip to main content

“If Tom said it, you could bank on it.”

Tom was my grandfather. “He was always the same, wherever he was, whoever he was with,” a neighboring farmer affirmed at Tom Haun’s funeral. He “got his life straightened out,” as he called it, after a mule fell on him one day while he was plowing. That commitment was further strengthened when his 21-year-old son fell dead of a heart attack. From that time on, Tom Haun was a different man. For the rest of his years he grew to become a principled man, a man of integrity.

Pieces That Fit

How do Christians live when we’re not in the Sunday morning spotlight, when we’re not dressed up for preaching in our “go-to-meetin’” clothes? Do the small pieces of our days fit together into a complete picture of the devotion to Christ we claim? Or do we play the game of compartmentalizing our lives so that what we’re like depends on whom we’re with at the time? I can’t overstate this principle: the Bible teaches that a life of integrity must be the ordinary way of life for a Christian. Such a life is so different, so unlike what the world knows, that it becomes extraordinary in today’s culture. Yet whatever our society thinks about integrity, there is no middle ground for the church. Integrity is one of the essential outcomes in the process of spiritual formation, of growing to spiritual maturity. It stands squarely in the center of discipleship and the Christian life, not on the fringes or just as a sidebar relegated to a conference theme, a popular blog, or the latest leadership bestseller.

We are “apprentices” in this pursuit of integrity because we are all works in progress. But that’s no excuse for careless, sloppy, indifferent living which betrays our claim that we want to be. On the contrary, as God’s people, we have a golden opportunity to shine as lights in a dark world if we don’t blow it by letting people think the Christian life offers nothing different, nothing better than the life they already have. No matter how eloquently we tell the gospel, it’s nothing but talk if we fail to live the gospel—and that means being honest, keeping commitments, living right. That means integrity.

Life With a Center

First, we need to know what integrity is, so let’s take a look at its “DNA,” integrity’s stuff, its essence. From politicians to corporate executives to school principals, everyone’s talking about integrity. Just surf some of the featured titles online at Amazon. Our culture is desperate for some semblance of moral sanity because it has jettisoned most every notion of moral absolutes. Now we’re paying the price in corruption, scandal, greed, theft, deception, cheating, infidelity, and all manner of degenerate living.

Some voices offer sensible, God-based counsel regarding integrity, however. A. W. Tozer advocated “life with a center,” an axis, a hub around which all parts of life revolve. God alone is that sufficient center, he asserts. Stephen Carter, law professor at Yale, in his final work Integrity, commends three steps to living such a life: (1) discerning what is right and wrong; (2) acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and (3) saying openly you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong.

All of these insights share a sense of coherence, of wedding what we think and believe with how that primal commitment shapes our lifestyle. In the words of George Herbert, for the person of integrity, “His words and works and fashion too. All of a piece, and all are clear and straight.”

Unbroken, Unshaken

We don’t have to search very far to discover the Bible’s interest in integrity. For a sampling, check out Job 1:1; 27:6;31:6; Psalm 7:8; 25:21; 26:1, 11; 101:2;Proverbs 2:7; 10:9; 19:1; 20:7; 28:6;1 Kings 9:4-5; and Titus 2:7. The Old Testament word translated “integrity” comes from a Hebrew root that means to be whole or complete, a word group that appears nearly 200 times in the Bible. In the Hebrew Scriptures this word refers to animals “without blemish,” to whole frames fitted together as a unit for the Tabernacle, to a healthy body, to the flawless bride in Song of Solomon, and to a clear conscience. The Greek term in the New Testament denoting integrity also speaks of that which is whole or complete.

This sense of completeness is evident from other words in English related to “integrity.” “Integral” means whole, with no parts missing; to “integrate” is to bring together in one, to make whole; an “integer” in math is a whole number. An “integral” component of an electronic circuit is a part necessary to complete the circuit. Without that element there is no “integrity,” no system. Architects and engineers speak of the “integrity” of a structure, meaning the assembly of standard materials in proportion and order based on a sound design. When these essential elements are present, the building stands.

To be people of integrity, we need a complete commitment of our lives (the materials) fastened to the builder’s perfect truth (the design). Without both, we are not complete persons, persons of integrity.

Integrity’s Triple Play

So where does integrity come from and what does it look like? Integrity is a virtue of character that interweaves with the truth of God in a relationship with God. As we grow in our relationship with God, Scripture’s truth provides the means for us to live whole, complete lives. The Lord makes a way for His people to live out integrity.

Three aspects of the Bible’s truth make this happen.

First, biblical wisdom as the Old Testament portrays it, is skill in living. When we order our lives based on “the fear of the Lord,” we will walk in integrity. For example, the qualities of wisdom portrayed in Proverbs depict a life of integrity: honesty, hard work, compassion, thrift, sobriety, generosity, humility, courage, honor, self-discipline, patience, purity, fairness, and godliness.

A second theme in Scripture, which lays the groundwork for integrity, is torah. The word torah, though it can strictly mean “law,” has a broader meaning of instruction or teaching as I’m using it here. The highlight of Old Testament Torah teaching is the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. It is here especially that Torah is the living out of integrity.

The third significant area in Scripture interwoven with integrity is the new birth in Christ. Listen to these words from Paul about how those who have put on the new person in Christ will live: get rid of falsehood; don’t end the day angry; do honest work so you can share with people in need; speak words that are not filthy, but that build up other people; be kind, forgiving each other; put to death sexual immorality and greed; put on compassion, humility, and patience; don’t lie to anybody. Since God has transformed your nature, given you rebirth, and remade you, live that way! Integrity is the new life that begins with salvation.

To sum up, integrity is a whole life; a coherent life, a life lived inside out. When we commit to God’s truth at the deepest levels of our being, then allow that truth to govern how we live, we begin to experience something of integrity. Integrity equals commitment plus truth. It is nothing less than the life and character of God permeating His children—an extraordinary thing in today’s world.

So let’s get personal.

•Integrity is keeping your appointments punctually, especially your appointment with God.

•Integrity is refusing to cut corners and slack off at work because you care about your reputation and that of the God you serve.

•Integrity is thinking more of yourself and your convictions than to use filthy language when you want to be cool in the crowd you’re with—and finding a better crowd.

•Integrity is using your words to build up people.

•Integrity is not padding that expense account above what you budgeted when you eat out at that conference.

•Integrity is doing your best to represent fairly information passed on to you—or not passing it on when it was told to you in confidence.

•Integrity is taking the insult, the putdown, and having the grace to let it go with a forgiving heart.

•Integrity is a wife feeding, bathing, and cleaning her Alzheimer’s-stricken husband.

•Integrity is setting your mind on the things of the Spirit.

•Integrity is having the courage to do the will of God and the humility to give Him All the glory when you have done it.

•Integrity is knowing the right thing to do and doing it.

To sum up, integrity is a whole life; a coherent life, a life lived inside out. When we commit to God’s truth at the deepest levels of our being, then allow that truth to govern how we live, we begin to experience something of integrity. Integrity equals commitment plus truth. It is nothing less than the life and character of God permeating His children—an extraordinary thing in today’s world.

Garnett Reid
Latest posts by Garnett Reid (see all)

Leave a Reply