By Peter Amsterdam
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Don’t 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 is 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.
Integrity means having a fixed moral foundation which is the touchstone for your actions. For Christians, that touchstone is God’s Word. 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
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 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.
You are responsible for your personal decisions and their outcomes. The sum of your daily decisions is what makes you who you are.
Originally published May 2014. Adapted and republished August 2018.
Read by Reuben Ruchevsky.
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 ESV).