This is a continuation of my “what does it mean to be a man?” series. The first post can be found here.
To be a man means to have integrity. All the great men I have ever know have been men of integrity. Whenever I have heard men talk about what it means to be a man, they talk about integrity. While these aren’t my only reasons to write about integrity, they have definitely bolstered my view of its importance. I hope to both define this word, which is commonly overused/misused, and to argue for its importance in defining what it means to be a man.
The most common definition I hear for integrity is in relating to what someone does when no one is looking. In other words, do you do the right thing when it is not directly beneficial to you? If no one is going to praise you for your good works, or condemn you for your foolish actions, what will you choose to do? While this is certainly a useful definition, it lacks a complete application. First, how often are you making decisions for which you won’t be judged? Second, if you have an aversion to doing what is right, wouldn’t that ultimately spill into all areas of your life? While I do like this definition for it’s simplicity, there is a much more practical and true definition. Integrity means wholeness of character.
This definition presents much more difficulty in explanation, but does not confine itself to any particular situation. Wholeness of character means that a man does not change who he is depending on his situation. Whether he is with his family, friends, at church, at home, at school, at work, alone, or with others, he is the same man. It also means that whether he is angry, happy, upset, annoyed, excited, or depressed, he does not alter how he handles the circumstances of life. Now this may sound like I am saying men should be dull and emotionless, which far too many men (including myself) are prone to be. Instead, I am saying that men should not be so easily overcome with outside influences when they are called to lead. Instead of drawing upon fear, pride, ignorance, or selfishness, men should be predisposed to patience and compassion. Instead of allowing the situation to dictate how they should react, men need to look beyond the now and towards the future. The easiest way to do this is to plan.
In my life, planning has been both a blessing and a curse. I enjoy planning out my day, planning out what I want to do/buy/eat, planning basically anything. It allows me to build anticipation while instilling confidence that I will succeed. However, planning is also a chore. Often I want to just “try it out right now” instead of figuring out if it will work. Men regularly choose immediate results over lasting solutions. That is why it is vital that if a man is to live in integrity, he must plan his reactions. Again, I am not saying men should ever be logical robots, but rather they should be reasonable decision makers, who never allow emotions to dictate unwarranted reactions. Integrity requires that a man knows beforehand how he will react. When he is faced with injustice how does he react? Does he react with blind opposition fueled by uncontrolled anger, with confident confrontation fueled by a heart for the oppressed, or with cowardly passivity fueled by fear? While these reactions do reflect one’s character in general, in a given situation they reflect one’s integrity. By planning how you will react to events regardless of their location, environment, or circumstances, you can begin to build your integrity. All of this may be good, but at the end of the day why does it matter?
I’ve heard far to many people tell me that integrity is important because God demands it, or because it secures one’s reputation, or because it prevents many problems that exist without it. While all of these are true and important, they miss the point. Integrity is important because it allows a man’s character to be solidified. All men desire to be respected, and the only way to earn true respect is to remain who you are when everyone is doubting your manhood. In that sense, integrity is what you do when everyone is watching. When the people around you are allowed to see into your heart, and you are not ashamed of what’s hidden simply because nothing is. A life of integrity is a life of openness and wholeness.
How the Gospel Creates Integrity
The gospel creates integrity not because it makes us sinless or perfect, but because it allows us to live openly without fear. No man can live a life he is truly proud of; in fact, pride only comes when we cover all of our regrets and flaws. The gospel creates integrity by not covering or removing our flaws, but by paying for them. No longer are we defined by what we do, say, or think, but rather by the one who loves us. It is impossible to live a life of integrity apart from Christ because you will always fear the judgement of others, always doubt the value of yourself, and never be able to be completely and vulnerable with anyone. In Christ there is no longer judgement, you are called immeasurably valuable, and total intimacy with God is not only a possibility, but your greatest desire. The gospel creates integrity because it allows a man to be open and whole, without insecurity.