Integrity is the essential distinctive for a follower of Christ. Our character defines, proclaims and demonstrates our faith in a holy God to all around us. A kind of Christianity that defends the “right theology” at the expense of a life of integrity is false and represents personal interests, but not the God of the Bible. There are no shortcuts or excuses. Our behavior always declares more eloquently who we really are and what we really believe beyond any doctrinal statements we may affirm.
In the political and social context in which we live, I have heard various religious leaders affirm that the character of leaders is secondary to their policies and proposals. This way of thinking agrees with a pragmatic philosophy of life, but not with Christ. The triune God is not pragmatic or supports a way of thinking that says that the “end justifies the means.” God is holy and we must have a lifestyle that conforms to the divine character in order to have communion with him. Hebrews 12:14 states that without holiness no one can see God. Therefore, the Lord sets the rules for us to relate to him.
The biblical narrative emphasizes that a holy God requires a life of integrity in order to enjoy his presence. Religious practices and rituals are secondary to a sincere heart that wants to please God at all times. Human beings only perceive the actions of others and therefore can be easily deceived, but God sees our hearts and takes pleasure in those who sincerely seek him.
Psalm 15, Psalm 24:3-5 and Isaiah 33:14-17 clearly show us that the integrity of our character is what pleases God and enables us to enjoy his presence and blessing. There are many other passages in the Bible that teach us the same principles, but I share these as an unequivocal demonstration of the importance of our conduct to please our God.
Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.
They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.
The sinners in Zion are terrified;
trembling grips the godless:
“Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire?
Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?”
Those who walk righteously
and speak what is right,
who reject gain from extortion
and keep their hands from accepting bribes,
who stop their ears against plots of murder
and shut their eyes against contemplating evil —
they are the ones who will dwell on the heights,
whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.
Their bread will be supplied,
and water will not fail them.
Your eyes will see the king in his beauty
and view a land that stretches afar.
Obviously, Christians have the privilege to enjoy direct access to the Creator's throne through Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:16). While the redemption of our sins that restores our relationship with God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is what opens the door for us to God's presence, it is our behavior that demonstrates the relationship we now enjoy with God. Salvation and the Christian life are based on divine grace, but it is grace itself that prompts us to live according to our new life in Christ.
Orthodoxy (correct doctrine) and orthopraxis (correct practice) always go together as two sides of the same coin. The words popularly, but incorrectly, attributed to Francis of Assisi might challenge us: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary,” but there should not be a dichotomy. Our behavior strongly proclaims our core beliefs and what we do is just as important as what we say. Integrity is indeed the essential distinctive for a follower of Christ.