What does integrity look like?
Is it like something that you either have or you don’t have, like when someone either has or doesn’t have red hair?
Or is it like something that you can have a whole lot of, while others only have a little of, like biceps?
I’m wondering how to picture what integrity might look like, or maybe how the mechanism of integrity might work, because what I’m really wondering is, can someone be mostly integrous but then also have one area of inconsistency in their life? If they have just this one piece of unrepented compromise in their life but still consider “mostly integrous”? Or would this mean then that they have no integrity all?
Here’s my attempt to answer this question, although I feel there is much more left to be said.
As far as definitions go, integrity comes from the word integer, which is a word that I remember annoying me in highschool math class and so I looked it up again and it refers to “whole numbers.” As in, there are no fractions. Mathematically, integrity means wholeness. Mechanically and architecturally speaking, Integrity refers to that there are no leaks in the structure and every piece is fit for service. So for example if a ship’s hull is integrous, then that means there are absolutely no leaks. If there is a leak, there is no integrity. In regard to these two definitions, integrity is an absolute characteristic. You either have it, or you don’t. A ship with 99% integrity in it’s hull would still be a sunken ship. But to give one more definition in the most plain language I can, integrity means, consistency. The same all the way through, and all the time.
We also must consider that as Christian’s we are not just supposed to be integrous in a general sense. By some definitions a murderer who was very upfront and straightforward about his murderer-y-ness could be consider integrous if he is acting out of the same conviction 100% of the time. This however is not the standard we are given in the Bible. Instead the Bible refers to integrity, or wholeness, as Godliness. And we are to strive to live lives of Godliness with our whole being.
To reiterate, for a Christian, integrity means Godliness. Jesus calls us to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength. That is our whole being that we are called to love God with. Therefore if we love, serve and obey God with most all of our life, except our sexuality, we are not loving him wholly, and we do not have integrity.
But we all still mess up… Does this mean there is not one integrous christian?
There is an important distinction we must make between a weakness and a lack of integrity. Because I am weak and I have flesh I will stumble I will not attain true godly character 100% of the time. But the unforgettably important distinction is the attitude and heart behind that moment of stumbling. If you sin, but follow it up with cognitive thought, genuine emotion and decisive action towards repentance then you are really just showing you had a weakness of the flesh. But if instead you stumble, willingly, gladly or unremorsefully, well then you are showing a lack of integrity. Or rather, that you do not have integrity at all. There is a crack in a hull.
So what does integrity look like? Well, as far as what I read in scripture, and understand about the word integrity… it is an all or nothing type of thing. You either have red hair, or you don’t.
And this leads me to my next, and perhaps even more important questions.
Can you teach integrity?
For students in my Bible classes or people in my sunday morning small groups, can I sit them down for 60 minutes and have them leave more integrous? And of course, I’m raising two sons that I desperately want to see grow into Godly men. How can I teach them Godliness?
Titus 2:7-8 gives us a little direction here…
“7In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.”
Catch what Paul said here, “in your teaching show integrity…” He did not say teach integrity, he said show it. Teach them the stuff you are supposed to teach them, and through doing so, show them integrity. Teach them wisdom, and teach them truth, and teach them Gospel, but show them integrity. It’s one of those “more is caught than taught” kind of things.
You can’t teach integrity, and you can’t learn integrity in a classroom, but it can be trained in, and you can be shown how to train wisely in it. To draw from Paul again, 1 Timothy 4:7-8 says…
“7Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
This verse highlights the importance of the training for Godliness. As far as what Godliness is, so much of the rest of the New Testament lays this out for us. As an old Bible Professor told me, holding up his Word, “This is all my sufficient guide for Godliness and righteous living.” But I bring up this verse because of its statement to “train yourself to be Godly.” The image difference between just simply learning Godliness and training to be Godly can be a paradigm shift for some Christians. This mean yes go to church and learn, but then leave church campus and walk into training! The attempt to live out the self-sacrifical love and virtuous acts the Jesus lays out for us. It’s in the training that our physical strength is increased and the same applies to our spiritual strength, our Godliness.
but there is also something else that connects this verse from 1 Timothy and verse used earlier in Titus. The interesting thing about both of these letters are considered the Pastoral Letters of Paul (the third pastoral letter being 2 Timothy). These are letters that Paul takes a different tone in, than his other 10 letters to churches. In these pastoral letters he has a strong mentoring tone, as Paul is older and passing off his wisdom to the younger next generation of church leaders. And it’s no surprise that in these letters, Paul conveys a sense of training more than just statements of theological teaching. This common tie between the Titus and Timothy speak emphasizes the importance we place on the wise training of Godliness to those we are raising up in Christ.
So Integrity is an all or nothing thing, and yet at the same time Godliness is something we all must intentionally train train in.
What does Integrity look like? For me it looks like praying that I would be able to show my sons what Godliness looks like because I have trained wisely in my preparation for them to watch me.
What are your thoughts on integrity? Do you struggle with the idea of it being an all or nothing thing? Comment below.