by Jeannette Haley
If someone were to approach you on the street and ask you to name someone with integrity and character, who would come to mind? While there may be any number of different answers to that question, one thing is certain, it would not be Bill Clinton! Let’s face it, the twin attributes of integrity and character are hard to find these days.
What constitutes integrity and character anyway? Integrity, according to Strong’s Concordance, means completeness, innocence, perfect, simplicity, uprightness. Character, [in this sense] according to Webster, means moral excellence and firmness. Therefore, of all the people on the face of the earth God’s people should be the ones who exemplify integrity and character. But are these two distinguishing characteristics evident in the majority of people who claim to be Christians? Sadly, believers all too often find themselves thinking, talking and behaving like the rest of the world—seeking pleasures, fame, fortune and the “good life”. In other words, exhibiting the “What’s in it for me?” mindset.
Integrity and character are not natural to the unregenerate human mind and heart. Neither can these virtues be genetically inherited. Nor can they be intellectually appropriated. Integrity and character will never be purchased with gold or silver. They cannot even be received as a gift. The secret of integrity and character is the heart.
King David knew that a heart full of pride
is a heart devoid of truth and integrity.
The Lord, when He appeared to Solomon, said, “And if thou wilt walk before me, as David thy father walked, in integrity of heart, and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded thee, and wilt keep my statutes and my judgments: Then I will establish the throne of thy kingdom…” 1 Kings 9:4-5a. King David was a man “after God’s own heart”. Nevertheless, in spite of his human failings, David loved the Lord God in his heart. He knew the will of God concerning the heart and wrote in Psalm 51:6, “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.” David understood that integrity meant truth in his innermost being. In verse 17 of the same Psalm he wrote, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.“
Jeremiah understood the heart condition of man when, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” Jeremiah 17:9, 10. It is safe to say that all Christians are familiar with such verses and yet today there is a growing resistance to this basic truth. Instead, people are clamoring for a “feel-good gospel” that promotes “self-esteem” and individual and corporate pride. And it’s all very, very shallow.
It takes truth and integrity to agree with God’s evaluation of our heart condition. It takes humility to confess that we cannot change our hearts without coming to the cross of Christ, surrendering our wills to God and allowing the Holy Spirit to do the work of regeneration within us. Man’s pride is continually tempted to somehow become a “co-savior” with Jesus through religious practices, good works, pious attitudes (that degenerate into judgmentalism) and legalism. In short, people want to be “saved” from hell, but they want to remain lord of their lives on earth, in full control.
Godly character is developed in the heart as we receive a
love for the truth and submit to the Lordship of Jesus.
True godly character, then, must originate in the heart. As Jesus said in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” We must humble ourselves before God and ask Him to give us a new heart—a heart that loves Him in Spirit and in truth. As long as we insist on maintaining our right to ourselves, we forfeit the regenerating presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Instead, we go blindly on our way oblivious to the fact that in reality we have never really made the exchange of ownership over our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are still our own, serving the world, the flesh and the devil but with a religious façade that deludes us into believing we are heaven-bound.
The only way integrity can enter and remain in our hearts is through true humility, fear of God and love for the truth. If we lack fear of God, we are fools and lack wisdom. If we have no true humility, we are puffed up with pride and God will resist us. If we do not love the truth, we will receive a strong delusion and believe a lie. The end result of these three necessary ingredients for godly character and integrity can easily be seen in today’s popular “Christian” movements. They are earmarked with sentimentalism, superstition, self-sufficiency and superiority.
According to the Word of the Lord to Solomon regarding David’s integrity, note that God related integrity of heart and uprightness to obedience and keeping His statutes and judgments. Jesus reiterated this in His Sermon on the Mount and throughout the Gospels. The entire New Testament is written to Christians as to how to live a godly life that is pleasing to God.
An upright Christian with godly character
will automatically keep the moral laws of God in his heart.
This means that the person with integrity and character loves the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. It means that they guard their heart against any form of idolatry. This person will not be careless, flippant or profane when they speak or use the Name above all names. They have entered into Jesus who is our Sabbath and they honor their parents’ position in their heart even though they may not be able to always agree with them. The person with true godly character is merciful, forgiving and kind and does not think murderous thoughts. In other words, they do not let the sun go down on their wrath. They do not lust after someone to commit adultery or fornication in their heart. They never steal nor do they gossip or slander others. They do not covet what is not theirs because covetousness is idolatry.
Godly character responds automatically to the needs of others and never counts the cost. It is self-sacrificing and unselfish. Giving to the poor and those who are financially struggling has always been the acid test of a true Christian. People of integrity will give when it does not serve their own purpose—when there is no personal gain, or thrills or temporary “sign-seeking” adventures in some far-off country. God expects us to be faithful where we are!
Faithfulness in the trenches is evidence of godly character.
Nothing tests a Christian worker’s faith, integrity and character like seemingly endless, mundane, day in and day out drudgery. Nevertheless, God has a way of taking His children through this valley of humiliation to test our true heart condition. It is in these trenches of life that the stuff we are made of is sorely tried and tested. God is not after our works, but after us. It is always easier to rise to the occasion when there is some great and mighty challenge; but will our commitment and faith stand the test of time?
People of character keep their word just as God keeps His. If they promise they will do something, then they keep that promise regardless of the cost or inconvenience. People of character also walk in unfeigned love—the agape love outlined in 1 Corinthians 13. They realize that gifts, prophecy, knowledge and understanding and even faith without love is worthless. They know that an outward show of love and kindness without true love profits them nothing because God reads the heart. Godly character is patient, kind, humble and does not envy. People of integrity are polite, self-controlled, seek the good of others and are not touchy. Godly character means not thinking evil thoughts. It means automatically turning away from ungodly movies, videos, books, pornography and such. True godly character means having a clean mind! Integrity and character love the truth and rejoice in it, even when it may sting the pride or the flesh. Godly character has the love that bears everything, has hope and endures. Godly character does not slander God in the heart when pain, suffering and loss touch the life.
Mankind has reached the highest level of knowledge
and technology; and the lowest level of true integrity and wisdom.
Why are we living in “perilous times”? The answer is because there is a famine in the church for godly integrity and character. Instead, is it not true, that the church has so embraced the world that one can hardly tell the difference? Are not many Christian camps and movements today “lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof…ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth:”? (See 2 Timothy 3:1-7.)
Job is still an example for us today of an upright man of godly character and integrity. “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil” Job 1:1. The Lord God twice told Satan that Job was perfect, upright, feared God and hated evil. (See Job 1:8; 2:3.) Job had determined in his heart to maintain his integrity. (Job 17:5; 31:6.) Integrity is uprightness and character is righteousness. (See Proverbs 11:3; Hosea 10:12; 1 Corinthians 15:34.)
May we who truly desire in our innermost hearts godly character and integrity diligently study and pursue these four attributes that we may not be ashamed at His coming! Amen!