As I’m sure you know, Senator John McCain passed away this week. A war hero and presidential nominee, McCain is probably best known as a man of integrity. It seems that McCain always tried to stick to his principles, regardless of how politically expedient his words or actions would be. This gave him the added reputation of being a “maverick,” because he was known for disagreeing with his own party on certain issues.
Integrity isn’t a word we use often, perhaps because it’s so rare these days. Indeed, it’s interesting that those with integrity are seen as mavericks, or rebels swimming against the tide of the rest of the world.
So what exactly is integrity? There are three main definitions for this word.
1. Sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition – After an earthquake, the integrity of a building may be called into question, requiring the occupants to be evacuated until an engineer can confirm the building is safe. To live in a home with compromised structural integrity could result in the walls or roof falling down around you.
2. State of being whole, entire, or undiminished – The integrity of a country is at risk when a foreign power begins to seize control of it. Likewise, the integrity of your heart and home may be at risk if negative influences begin to eat away at you and the bonds of your family members.
3. Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty – McCain was known for adhering to his principles regardless of popular opinion. The alternative is to believe one thing and do another or to be deceitful in your actions. This creates conflict that can destroy a person internally and professionally.
Integrity isn’t something that happens automatically or overnight. It takes effort. The following are three ways you can foster and display integrity in your life.
1. Internal soundness – The Bible tells us to seek God with a whole heart, not half-heartedly. (See 1 Chronicles 28:9.) Unfortunately, many of us hold beliefs that are contrary to each other and to the Bible, either out of ignorance or willfulness. Ask the Lord to examine your heart and show you where your thoughts and beliefs are in conflict with each other or the Bible.
“Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my mind and my heart” (Psalm 26:2 NAS).
2. Personal and family wholeness – The Enemy is constantly seeking ways to destroy us, both individually and collectively. Be on guard against negative influences that turn your heart away from God or create unnecessary conflict in your home. Examples may include music with negative lyrics, movies with ungodly messages, and even new friends with different values that entice you down a negative path.
“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NAS).
“…be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ….” (2 Peter 3:17b-18a NAS).
3. Godly character – Ethics is a set of guidelines for moral behavior. However, ethics is relative to the culture in which it is created, which means that ungodly actions can be deemed as “ethical.” That’s why Christians aren’t called to follow good ethics but to follow Jesus, who is the perfect example for us all. To be a person of strong moral (and biblically-sound) character, ask for God’s guidance in each decision. He will never lead you astray.
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAS).
Acting Out Integrity
It’s not easy to think and act differently than the rest of the world. You may find yourself disagreeing with your friends, avoiding the most popular entertainment, or unable to take a questionable assignment at work. This can create conflict in your life, which can be especially hard if you’re a natural peacemaker and just want everyone to get along.
On the other hand, it can be easy to develop a spirit of criticism where you focus on all the mistakes everyone else is making (and none of the ones you’re making yourself). While you might be able to act with integrity, your criticism will ensure that no one will want to be around you, and you’ll be a poor example of a Christ follower.
The answer, then, isn’t to compromise your beliefs or to push them onto others. Instead, extend a liberal amount of grace to everyone around you. When conflicts arise, take a breath and pray about what you need to say and do. Then follow God’s lead.
Ultimately, the integrity of your heart should be acted out with a measure of grace. By combining these two characteristics, you’ll be able to glorify God in any situation (and still keep your friends).
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Have you tried to live with integrity, only to struggle with the resulting conflict? Do you find that extending grace to others helps you to focus on God and avoid a spirit of criticism? I’d love to hear your feedback! Leave your comments below.