Integrity is one of the most
overused words in the English language.
Everyone talks about integrity. We expect it from our leaders, our government officials, our friends and family, and, pretty much, everyone else we encounter. Do we really mean it, though? Do we really expect everyone to act with integrity?
Do we really even know what that means?
The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus lists one definition of integrity as, “conduct that conforms to an accepted standard of right and wrong.” Think about that. Right away this can be problematic. Who’s standard should it be? Who will be doing the accepting? How many people must agree with something for it to be acceptable behavior.
The issue I have with this definition and, by default, with the overuse of the word integrity itself, is that it is too relative.
What happens when cultural opinion shifts? What happens when louder voices drown out quieter ones? It seems that every day we see or hear of things that society is getting comfortable with that, in times past, were not acceptable behaviors. While this is not the time or place to get into the full discussion of this phenomenon, I will submit that, using this definition creates too much freedom. This gives me too much leeway in what is acceptable and what is not. If the foundation of what is right and wrong is based on what those around me find acceptable, then there really is no true right and wrong. If I change my crowd, does my right and wrong change? If I move to another state or another country does what was unacceptable suddenly become acceptable. If so, then things like lying or cheating or stealing, which I believe to be wrong, are only wrong based on where I live or who I am around. If I work with people who lie and cheat and steal as a general course of business then that is the accepted form of behavior. If I participate in that behavior, then, I can still say I am acting with integrity. On the surface, we would say that comparison is ludicrous. If so, then why do we behave that way?
God has given us His definition of integrity. The entire written word of God is his definition of integrity. Because of this, I think a better word to use would be incorruptibility. Webster’s describes this word as, “not subject to decay or dissolution,” or, in other words, unchanging. God’s truth is incorruptible. What is right will always be right. What is wrong will always be wrong. An incorruptible thing will always be exactly as it is. It will not change with time like the latest hairstyle. It was and is and always will be. This is because the true Judge of right and wrong is God, who was and is and is to come. God’s definition of integrity changes it from a relative to an absolute. Now, under this standard, even though I may work among people who lie and cheat and steal, it is NOT alright for me to do the same. By the saving grace of Jesus’ death and burial and resurrection, what was once corruptible is changed to incorruptible. That means me. Because of Jesus, I am being made incorruptible. In order for me to live a life that truly exhibits integrity, I must behave as one who is incorruptible.
Here, then, my responsibility has just gotten a lot more serious. It is not enough for me to not lie or cheat or steal. I must stand up to that behavior in others. It is not okay for me to look the other way, just as long as I don’t participate. Silence is acceptance. In order for me to not be corrupted by that atmosphere, I must flee from it or stand and oppose it. Either choice would work. If I stay, though, I must be prepared for ridicule and opposition. Those who use the Webster’s definition of integrity will not be comfortable around any person who uses God’s definition. We are ultimately accountable to God alone. His instruction is to walk in integrity. No matter where we are or who is watching, He has set the expectation.
That expectation is that we stand incorruptible.
Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth
through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently
with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but
incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever….”
1 Peter 1:22-23, NKJV