May 27, 2014

by Peter Amsterdam

Don’t you find that you appreciate connecting and interacting with people who are sincere, trustworthy, honest, authentic, and who do what they say they will?—People who keep their commitments, who when you tell them something personal, keep it confidential? I do. I like befriending or working or doing business with such people because I know I can trust them. Of course, no one’s perfect, and even trustworthy people slip up from time to time, but I am at peace when I’m around people who have good character, who have integrity, who live their lives based on principles that they hold to even when it’s difficult.

Some time back, someone who was hoping to get hired for a repair job I needed told me that the work could be done one way, resulting in a finished product which would be safe, or another way that would look good but could eventually cause harm to someone. He said that if I wanted the finished product to be safe, he’d be happy to do the job. If not, I would need to find someone else. Business was slow, and he needed the work, but he wanted to make it clear that he had standards that he wouldn’t compromise. I hired him on the spot. His integrity was more important to him than the job or the money. His integrity was not for sale.

Integrity means having a fixed moral foundation which is the touchstone for your actions. For Christians, that touchstone is God’s Word. (While integrity isn’t limited to Christians, I will address it from a Christian viewpoint.) When we know God’s Word, we know what He has revealed about Himself, His attributes and nature, so we know what He has told us is important to Him, and we try to live our lives in a manner which reflects what He says is important. We believe in His values and we adopt them as our own inner values, and then we work to consistently sync our inner values with our outward words and actions.

We know from His Word that God values integrity: honesty, uprightness, keeping our word once we’ve given it, and trustworthiness. O LORD, who shall sojourn in Your tent? Who shall dwell on Your holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart.[1]When our God-centered integrity becomes our touchstone, it guides our actions. The integrity of the upright will guide them[2]

The Hebrew words in the Old Testament which are translated as integrity are also sometimes translated as complete, upright, perfect, without blemish, blameless, whole, sincere. We are all flawed humans, and no one is perfect, but as believers, we want to do our best to live in accordance with God’s values, which results in living our lives with integrity. Of course, it’s much easier said than done. We are all tempted to cut moral corners, to be less than honest, to base some of our decisions on what we think is best for us instead of what’s right. That’s human nature, the result of our fallen state.[3] As believers trying to live our faith, we’re challenged to rise above our sinful nature, by God’s grace.

We are called to live the godly values that we have taken on both privately and publicly. We should make the same decision or take the same action when no one is present as we would if people were observing us. Integrity is choosing to do right, not because someone is looking, but because we are committed to doing the right thing. It’s an internal commitment rather than based on external circumstances. Right is right no matter who is looking, and wrong is wrong even if no one is watching.

Choosing integrity always pays off in the long run, and secret wrongdoing often has a way of catching up with us sooner or later in some way—whether in visible consequences or in taking a toll on our soul, connection with God, and relationships.

There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.[4]

Why Is Integrity Important?

Integrity is essential for becoming trustworthy or credible. It affects you personally, professionally, socially, and spiritually. It has to do with the core of who you are. It defines your character. Renowned architect and author Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983) said, “Integrity is the essence of everything successful.” Zig Ziglar expressed integrity’s importance in a similar way: “Honesty and integrity are absolutely essential for success in life … all areas of life.”

Our behavior is the result of the choices we make. When we make choices based on our values, rather than on what is advantageous to us, we have integrity. Integrity requires disciplining ourselves to make decisions based on what is right, not what is most convenient or benefits us the most at the moment. It’s setting our moral compass to true north, God’s values, and then committing to follow that setting, no matter what the circumstances. Living with integrity is living your values even to your own hurt. And there will be times when it will hurt. Sometimes you’ll make a promise, and then circumstances will change so that keeping your word will be difficult or even cost you, but you will follow through because you “vowed a vow.” Your “yes” needs to mean yes and your “no,” no.[5] Integrity means keeping your word.

Having integrity is knowing your moral values and committing to live by them. Integrity is lacking when your words don’t match your actions, when you say one thing and do something else, when your actions contravene your values (God’s values). Our values are what motivate our actions, and when we find ourselves lacking integrity in our behavior, this indicates that our true values may not be what we think or claim they are. We may unconsciously hold values which are out of sync with God’s Word or will. As Christians, we should make the effort to measure our decisions, choices, words, and actions against the values which God has revealed to us through Scripture—in short, to align our values with His.

Integrity as a Habit

Making the commitment to live your life with integrity makes it easier to make good choices when faced with difficult ones. When you’ve committed to guiding your life according to godly values, you won’t have to struggle as much with your conscience each time you’re faced with a choice of whether to do the right or wrong thing. That choice will have been made largely in advance, because of your commitment. If you are faced with the opportunity to take something that’s not yours, to do something you know you shouldn’t, to deceive, to lie, to speak ill of someone, to spread gossip, to violate an agreement you made, to be unfaithful to your spouse, you will have the moral fiber to choose not to do it even if you are tempted—because doing so would violate the values you have determined to live by.

Integrity doesn’t happen naturally; it’s something that is developed both consciously and progressively. You begin by deciding to live with integrity and committing to it. You decide what your value system is, what you stand for, and you pledge to live by that standard. Having made that pledge, you work to strengthen your resolve in doing so. You’ll be tempted to compromise, but as you make right choices despite situations where you feel like doing otherwise, you’ll progressively build the habit of acting ethically. Your prior commitment to your values makes it easier to make ethical choices and lessens the temptation to compromise your convictions.

Deciding to have integrity puts us in a position to reach our goals in a manner that we won’t be ashamed of. When it comes to the truly important things in life, the journey to reaching our goals is as important as reaching them. If we are dishonest, take advantage of others, appropriate something that is not ours, act unethically, or hurt others in order to fulfill our ambitions, then we have acted with deceit and dishonor. We may have gotten what we wanted, but in the process we will have sold out our values, character, and faith. As human beings, we have the capacity to internally rationalize that the end result was worth whatever it took to get there, but in following that line of thinking, we find that ethics are left behind, our actions are immoral, and our relationships with others and God are damaged.

People who have severely damaged their lives and the lives of others through their moral lapses didn’t generally wake up one morning and make a major unethical decision. These decisions usually started small, perhaps early in life, with skirting the truth, telling white lies, taking something small that didn’t belong to them, cheating on a test, or other things which, though wrong, don’t appear to be egregious. These “minor” infractions were rationalized as not so bad, not something that took away from the person’s honor. However, these actions, when done repeatedly, built habits that became difficult to break. Their moral standards were lowered, and what they considered ethical and honest started to become hazy. Having started on this road, it became easier to justify or rationalize greater lies and even more unethical actions. The conviction to live with integrity diminished, and over time they developed into dishonorable people.

Compromising to commit “little” infractions comes with a price and takes a toll on your soul and walk with the Lord. If something is wrong, only doing it a little bit doesn’t make it right. Wrong is wrong. On the other hand, when you create the habit of doing the right thing, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. The sum of your daily decisions is what makes you what you are. You control your life, and you are responsible for your personal decisions and their outcomes.

Resisting Temptation

Each of us is tempted to do things that are wrong. Most of us wouldn’t ever consider stealing money from someone, but we might be inclined to waste an hour or two during our workday if we can get away with it. We’re getting paid to work during that time, and by not working, we are in essence taking money that we haven’t earned. Or we might take some office supplies from work or something along those lines without feeling too bad about it. But doing that without permission is stealing, plain and simple. In order to fight such temptations, it may help if you visualize your actions in starker terms. Imagine yourself sneaking into your boss’ office and taking two hours of your pay out of his wallet. You’d never do that! However, wasting two hours for which your boss is paying you is the same thing, though it’s easier to rationalize.

A good rule of thumb is: if you wouldn’t do something in front of your child, your spouse, or someone you love and respect, then it’s probably not something you should do at all. If you feel you have to hide your action, then there’s a good possibility that you aren’t acting with integrity.

I’m often appalled at the comments that some people post on the Internet. They anonymously lash out at others, rant and rave, writing awful things that are cruel and hurtful. I doubt that they would say the same things if they were speaking face to face with the person, if for no other reason than that it might result in a punch in the face or worse. Writing such vitriolic posts in the privacy of their home is akin to doing something wrong in secret. They’d never say such things to someone’s face, nor would they do certain things in front of others, because they wouldn’t want others to know that this is the type of person they are. But the truth is, if people do such things, then that is the type of person they are, or are becoming. It’s helpful to remember that The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.[6]

Something to keep in mind is that when we are around others who don’t act with integrity, it can influence our own behavior and morals. The example of others’ lack of morality can make it more likely that we will act in a similar manner. Of course, spending time with those whose moral standard is lower than yours doesn’t necessarily mean yours will automatically drop, but it might be harder for you to maintain your higher standards in such an environment.

It’s especially important to realize that your integrity, your example, can either positively or negatively affect others when you are in a position of authority or respect. As a parent, a pastor or spiritual leader, a teacher, a coach, a public figure, etc., you are an example to others. Others will look up to you and model themselves after you, therefore you bear some added responsibility to conduct yourself with integrity. As Christians, lack of integrity can damage our ability to share the Gospel with others. If we are unethical in our dealings, if integrity is weak in our lives, it may make the message that we share appear untrue. It reflects on not only us, but on Jesus as well.

What Does Integrity Look Like?

Integrity is living according to scriptural principles. It’s being honest, noble, trustworthy, reliable, acting honorably, keeping your word. It’s acting or speaking with transparency, as if someone you love or respect is watching what you are doing. It’s not speaking negatively about others or gossiping. It’s treating others as you would want them to treat you. It’s living an honorable and respectful life.

When you live with integrity, you accrue numerous benefits:

  • In proving to be trustworthy, you earn people’s trust, which can be a make-or-break factor in your personal and professional life.
  • You gain people’s confidence and respect, which puts you in a better position to become a positive influence on them and add value to their lives.
  • Your relationships with others are stronger, healthier, happier, and more satisfying.
  • People will be more likely to listen to you.
  • Because people trust you, they won’t worry about your motives.
  • Others will be comfortable opening up to you, knowing that you will keep what they say confidential.
  • You will experience more peace in your life.
  • God will bless you.

When we have committed to living according to our moral values, it’s important to regularly remind ourselves of them—especially when we are faced with a moral challenge. There will be times when we are face to face with situations where one option might seem beneficial, may be something that we want or want to do, or could bring us rewards or gratification, but that we know is wrong or not quite right. But even though we know it’s not right, we can be sorely tempted. At times like that, we need to reinforce the standard we have committed to. This can be done by reminding ourselves of our values, by praying, by reading or quoting God’s Word, or whatever helps us to reconnect with our standards and affirm our commitment to them.

As a proactive measure, regularly connecting with the foundational touchstone—God’s values as expressed through His Word—is a means of consistently bolstering our integrity. Regular Bible reading, prayer, and communicating with the Lord not only draws us closer to Him but also strengthens our resolve to live His values, to make them our own, and to stay true to them.

What should we do if we’ve let our moral standard fall? What if we’ve had a temporary lapse in living our values, or have even ignored them for a long time? Perhaps we feel we’ve traveled so far from God’s values that we don’t know if we can reconnect with them. The good news is that we can go to the Lord, confess our sins, ask His forgiveness, and reconnect with Him and His truth. We can renew our relationship with Him and seek His help and strength to turn our lives around. By His grace and with His help, and perhaps the help of others, our lives can be turned around and we can rebuild our integrity.

There are many contemporary examples of people who have acted unethically and without integrity—some of whom have ended up in jail—who have turned their lives around and have become strong pillars in their community or nation. Sometimes we have to pay the price for the damage that our lack of integrity has caused, through restitution as well as admitting our wrongdoing, asking for forgiveness, and working to restore trust and relationship. It costs something to repair such damage, but it is worthwhile, and there are benefits to reconnecting with God’s love and adjusting our values to His. The benefits are worth whatever effort they require.

As human beings, integrity is an important part of our lives and relationships. As Christians, it takes on an extra dimension. If we are people of integrity, when we share the Gospel with others they will be more likely to listen, as our example will show that we both live and believe what we are saying. Integrity is crucial to our calling of sharing Jesus with others. Living with integrity is a key to a better life, a better future, and a better eternity.

Who may worship in Your sanctuary, LORD? Who may enter Your presence on Your holy hill? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends. Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the LORD, and keep their promises even when it hurts. Those who lend money without charging interest, and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent. Such people will stand firm forever.[7]

[1] Psalm 15:1–2 NAS.

[2] Proverbs 11:3 NKJV.

[3] Traditionally, it is understood that man was originally created in what is called the state of integrity. But following the Fall of man into sin through Adam’s fall, man lost the state of integrity and fell into the state of corruption. So the original state of integrity and sinlessness was lost. … In the state of integrity, man had the ability to not sin; he had the ability to resist temptation, to do righteousness, his passions were in harmony with his will, the will had integrity, and therefore he had the ability to not sin. But, in the state of corruption, man lost the ability not to sin. He can choose various sins to commit, but he is fallen and therefore unable to not sin. (Condensed from William Lane Craig—Doctrine of Man, Part 10.)

[4] Luke 12:2–3 NIV.

[5] Above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation (James 5:12).

[6] Proverbs 15:3.

[7] Psalm 15 NLT.