On a regular basis media reports highlight some politician, celebrity, community leader, sports star or high-flyer falling from grace. Whether through drugs, sex, dishonesty, abuse of power or corruption, there seems to be a constant stream of cases of well known figures being brought low by some sort of scandal or intrigue.
The sad thing is Christians are not immune from such situations, and they too are prone to such downfalls. This is doubly scandalous. Followers of Jesus are meant to represent their Lord, and such major stumbles bring disrepute on Christ.
Indeed, in the past week or so, two high-flying Christian leaders have fallen from grace: Todd Bentley in the US, and Mike Guglielmucci in Australia. Both cases have received a lot of media attention.
However, these moral and spiritual collapses need not occur. While we do not achieve perfection when becoming Christians, we do receive the residential power of the Holy Spirit to help us become transformed into the image of Christ. So we are not left alone in the process of sanctification and spiritual growth, but are endowed with God-given power.
Key to this is the issue of integrity. The dictionary definition of the term speaks of soundness, or the state of being complete or undivided.
The Christian walking in integrity is not two different persons: one in the public eye, and another in private. There is no divisions between what the believer does Sunday morning and what he does the rest of the week. That is because he has a singleness of heart and focus.
Other words for integrity include personal purity, dedication, and holiness. The believer who has integrity is someone who is holy, or set apart for God’s use. He is dedicated to his God, and he recognises that his inner life must reflect that of his Lord.
And like all aspects of Christian living, the way it works is by putting God first, and by living in his presence. When we see God for who he really is, we cannot remain the same. Isaiah had a life-changing encounter with God as described in Isaiah 6. Confronted with the presence of a holy God, he could only say, “Woe is me, I am ruined. I am a man of unclean lips.”
The only way we can really know ourselves is to first know God. Consider the response Jesus gave to the question, “What is the greatest commandment?” He replied by citing two Old Testament passages: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31; also, Matt. 22:37-40; Luke 10:27).
The first part of his response comes from Deut. 6:5. It is part of what is known as the Shema, a passage which all good Jews recite as a daily prayer. The word “shema” is the Hebrew term for “hear”, which is the first word of the famous passage (Deut. 6:4-9). The first two verses of the Shema read as follows:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” The idea is, because the Lord is one God, we should love the Lord as a unified being. The various words like heart and mind simply mean that we should love God with the totality of our being, with our whole person.
There should be no part of us that does not love God. There should be no division in our person. Every part of us should be united in our love and devotion to God. Jesus said this is the great commandment. We are to be totally sold out to God, and love and follow him completely, thoroughly and fully.
That takes us back to the term integrity. There is no part of us that should not come under the Lordship of Christ. We should not be divided in our loyalties to God. We should not be double-minded or duplicitous. We are to be all or nothing for God. No half-hearted measures are allowed.
That realisation should impact on everything we do: the way we do our taxes, the way we spend our time at work, the things we do when no one is looking, the words we speak, the thoughts we think, and the actions we perform.
A much more accessible definition of integrity is this: what do you do when no one is looking? Let me illustrate. Some years ago there was a major blackout I believe in New Zealand. I do not recall all the details, but a major city was without power for quite some time: maybe even more than a week. It is in such situations that we find out what people are really made of. Evidently crime rates skyrocketed all over the place. When people thought they could get away with things under the cover of darkness, they went for it big time.
You see, the veneer of civilisation is very thin indeed. Just as soon as law and order is weakened, our true natures come to the surface. And most people who normally act as decent citizens show their true colours when the opportunity arises.
Of course it should not be that way for believers. Whether in the full light of day, or the darkness of night, we should be consistent and one in our thoughts and actions. We should not be divided but whole. We should be people of integrity.
And again, that integrity will really only become a part of who we are as we spend time with the one true God, who is holy, pure, majestic and righteous. As we spend time with such a God, his character rubs off on us, and we become more and more like him.
The world desperately needs to see people of integrity, people of character, people who are of one mind and spirit. With God’s help we can be that kind of person.
There are already too many casualties in the church. Too many believers have fallen from grace. Enough is enough. We must press on to be people of integrity, who love our Lord with every fibre of our being. That is the great commandment, and that is what we are called to do.