January 21, 2021

Jesus Shaped Spirituality: What does Jesus Shaped Integrity Look Like?

I was sitting in a middle school classroom today and noticed a poster on the wall. It said, in a highly decorative way, “Integrity: Hold On To Your Beliefs!”

Public and private schools are full of this sort of thing these days. There are catalogs of this kind of rhetoric for schools, touting various values like integrity, respect, hard work, tolerance, excellence and so forth. They look nice.

While being commendable, I’m not so sure how some of them fit in with being a follower of Jesus.

“Integrity: Hold On To Your Beliefs,” for example seems to carry some presuppositions.

#1 What you believe is right. Maybe. Maybe not. I know a lot of students who believe it’s right to protect a person doing something wrong or destructive to the bitter end, no matter what it happens to be, all because of some kind of “code” that’s part of youth culture.

In moral terms, this is dangerous stuff. We all need to carry with us a very generous bias toward the possibility that we might be wrong. I Thessalonians 5 says “21 …but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.” There are many places in the scripture that we learn the wisdom of questioning what we believe is right, being suspicious of all the different levels of self-deception and dishonesty.

#2 What you’ve been told is right. Trust authority and hold on to what you believe. This is what really concerns me. The terrible examples are plentiful and are the reason for so many ugly episodes of Christian violence and cruelty.

I believe the Bible is the very opposite of an endorsement of the status quo. It’s a subversive, anarchist-leaning, liberation text for a God-centered revolution in our lives that we call the Kingdom of God.

The various authorities that surround us all have agendas, and those agendas don’t disappear when they tell us what is true. It’s important to learn that truth statements are often power statements, ways of controlling behavior and ways of propping up various systems that create power and oppression on many levels.

Christians should be saying “Integrity: Test Yourself and Question Authority by The Truth of God as Seen In Jesus.”

Christians should be praying “Jesus, turn over what I believe. Change what I believe. Renew, energize and revolutionize my “integrity” to resemble you alone.”

Christians should have their beliefs changed by Jesus all the time. It should be a continuing mark of our involvement with Jesus that we understand the roots of evil grow in the soil of being assured that no one is lying to you, from yourself to your family to the government.

Jesus was integrity incarnated, and he demonstrated that many times by his combination of truth and love in dealing with people. He challenged his disciples to change their thinking completely, often about things that they would have said could NEVER be changed for any reason.

Jesus doesn’t leave us alone. Following him into the reality of the Kingdom creates a constant revolution of the heart, mind and will.

Do we want students who “hold on to their beliefs?” Certainly…as long as their first belief is that Jesus Christ is Lord of the world and their lives, actions and assumptions need to reflect that truth.


  1. One thing that struck me about Jesus challenging the commonly held beliefs was the episode of James and John coming to Him wanting the seats at His right and left hand in the Kingdom. They, and apparently the other 10 disciples also, assumed that greatness in Jesus’ Kingdom was going to be measured the same way it was in the earthly Kingdoms. Jesus corrected their assumptions about that. Greatness is measured in how big of a servant one is.

    Mark 10:35-45

  2. This is a fantastic summation of all that is raging within me. The group I am involved with is trying to make me “see” that disagreement or the “questioning of authority” makes me an “unteachable” woman. It drives me nuts! I think I’m going to make a poster of my own based on this “definition” of integrity. ;]

  3. Major dittos on the heart of this blog. However, one undertone did strike me a bit negatively.

    “The various authorities that surround us all have agendas, and those agendas don’t disappear when they tell us what is true. It’s important to learn that truth statements are often power statements, ways of controlling behavior and ways of propping up various systems that create power and oppression on many levels.”

    I believe “agenda arguments” are self defeating. To be against agendas is itself an agenda. The point is not to not have an agenda. It’s to have the Jesus-shaped agenda. Yet having a Jesus-shaped agenda will inevitably involve authoritative statements on how people should behave. Christianity is a normative belief. But that’s okay, in fact it is a glorious blessing, if the agenda is Jesus-shaped. It will be gracious, loving, and kind. The only time it will be unwavering is when it discovers systems acting contrary to these principles. If we undergird this with self-questioning principles of humility, we will be appropriately cautious to become unwavering.

    The goal is to have the correct agenda – the agenda of Jesus – which is what I believe you are saying. The goal is to make truth/power claims that recognize the reality of the Kingdom of God and, most definitely, our own finite understandings of the truth and possibility for error, as you excellently explained. I guess I just dislike blanket-slamming agendas and those that have them (everyone).

    Isn’t the best goal to accept that all people have agendas? This way we can all stand on level ground and discuss our differing agendas with decency and love. We can discuss our standards without deceiving ourselves by claiming we do not have an agenda, and are therefore acting out of pure selflessness?

    Also, aren’t the main authorities Jesus’ seems to question really only those that claim to be of God? How often does He battle against the governmental and secular authorities?

  4. I used to have an old “Peanuts” cartoon which showed Snoopy at his typewriter (I said it was “old”) starting a book. Charlie Brown said, “I hope you have a good title.” Snoopy’s reply was something like, “I have a great title: Has It Ever Occurred to You That Might Be Wrong?” I try to remember that whenever I’m tempted to get dogmatic or start assuming that my way of seeing things is the only way.

    As I get older, I understand conversion more and more as coming to see in a new way–the way of Jesus. To me that implies what you say about Jesus changing and turning over our beliefs all the time. That seems to be at least part of what Jesus was getting at in John 9, the story about the man born blind.

  5. It’s amazing to me how much a Jesus Shaped Spirituality wrecks so much that I assumed as a conservative Southern evangelical while affirming things that I wanted to get away from.

  6. Don’t forget #3: “Close your mind in case something new and belief-shaking gets in there.”

    It has the side effect of not letting anything new get in there… including things that have nothing to do with one’s beliefs.

  7. rootsman says

    Christians should be saying “Integrity: Test Yourself and Question Authority by The Truth of God as Seen In Jesus.”

    Very true, Michael – very true.

    And I think it is consistent with this definition of integrity (from Wikipedia):

    “One can describe a person as having integrity to the extent that everything that that person does derives from the same core set of values. While those values may change, their consistency with each other and with the person’s actions determine the person’s degree of integrity.”

    So, the person may change and still have integrity. On the contrary, he will loose his integrity if he holds on to actions which are inconsistent with his values (that may have changed).

  8. Dirk Albring says

    Your blog makes me think of the Bereans…and it makes me think of the Word of God. We can’t just base what we “think” Jesus would do or say in situations and base our own beliefs on that. We have to base them on what we “know” He says about every situation as written in His Word. Can you imagine how many different takes there would be if everyone relied on what they thought about a given situation rather than what we know about Jesus? I believe your latest blog described to some extent Jesus’ sanctifying work in us and hence the way our lives are lived out. As we’re sanctified I think some things become no-brainers, but there is still much that needs to be weighed against what Jesus actually said and taught.

  9. Haley Ballast says

    Great point Michael. I hadn’t ever thought of the potential harm in urging young people to “hold on to their beliefs” without qualification, as if that is all that matters. It’s almost like telling them “I’m sure whatever you’ve learned so far is enough, so for goodness sake stick to that and don’t ask questions.” Yikes.

    I plan on passing this post on to those I know in youth ministry!

  10. Chris Martin says

    I agree Michael that we should question authority, and especially the authority that we usually give to our own experiences and abilities to reason; most Christians I’ve met have a completely skewed view of their own capacity for self-deception, thinking that their own heart is utterly deceptive (and so bashing people who use reason in any meaningful way in their apologetics or approach to Scripture) but trusting without question the “voice of God” that tends to be in their heads.

    But in my experience, the people (including myself) who embrace an attitude of distrust in all authority tend to end up questioning EVERYTHING that doesn’t sit right with them right off the bat. So my question is, how do you strike the balance between having a hermeneutic of suspicion but also a willingness to trust and follow God AND His teachers and preachers here?

    That might be more of a question that’s best answered in the course of a conversation, but whatever thoughts you might have would be helpful.

  11. There definitely seems to be two varieties of sacred cows:
    1. everything must change.
    2. nothing can change.

    Anyone for BBQ?

    The camps which hold to either of these polarizing views need to hear the prophetic voice of gospel. That parable of the mustard seed keeps coming back to me. Just because the seed becomes a tree, which continues to grow and expand, doesn’t mean that it will ever cease being a mustard tree. We can’t keep the gospel-seed safe from harm by leaving it in the package. It must grow and fill the earth.

    I think iMonk and others have said it on several occassions: grace is dangerous stuff. No one is more afraid of it than Christians.

  12. dumb ox said:
    There definitely seems to be two varieties of sacred cows:
    1. everything must change.
    2. nothing can change.

    Anyone for BBQ?

    Reminds me of a college Communications course I took– one of the texts was entitled “The Rhetoric of Agitation and Control”. After getting beat up by authority figures in church most of my adult life, I find myself reflexively gravitating towards the “agitation” end of the spectrum. As you said, though, the path of wisdom is to “Test Yourself and Question Authority by The Truth of God as Seen In Jesus.” Not to automatically reject the assertions of the “control” group, but to give them a fair hearing in the light of scripture. And not to automatically assume the validity of your own opinions/beliefs/values either, but to test them the same way. I’m still struggling with this. I’m starting to thing it’s my life work, to struggle with this…

    It does often seem a one-sided relationship, though– sometimes one could wish that those in authority would engage in the same sort of exercise. Sadly, in my experience, that seldom happens. (It’s not in their own self-interest, usually!). I could go on and on but probably shouldn’t, so I’ll bail out over these uncertain waters, hoping that my seat cushion really does float…

    [I find that my inflated ego makes a lousy life raft!] 😀

  13. Young people encouraged to have zeal without convictions is like letting go of an air-filled balloon. You don’t know not where it will end up.

    And lets face it, young people are just at the beginning of figuring out their convictions, or learning wrong ideals they’ll have to turn from later in life as they learn the hard way.

  14. I didn’t mean to sound like an agitator; it was meant to be a humorous way to express the protestant spirit.

    Unlike more authoritarian church traditions, evangelicalism is a subversive (rather than overt) collectivism – almost like “Lord of the Flies”. You are told what to believe, how to think, what events to attend, what books to read, what music to listen to in order to be a “good” Christian. But collectivism does not create courageous faith (Tillich), no matter in what form it appears.

    One can claim to be protestant without embodying the protestant spirit. Someone was talking about the need for the protestant spirit and constant renewal on EWTN radio today. Churches don’t teach their parishoners how to think, nor do they stand aside to let God confront its members with a personal encounter. Instead, the church does it all: Just watch this DVD; pray this prayer; attend this meeting; check this box; pull this voting lever. We have let (or forced) the church to become the mediator of our relationship with God. That is wrong.

    We need to question. We need to challenge old ideas (and the “new” ones). We need to let people struggle with God. That’s what protestant spirit is all about. It’s a much harder road than just doing or thinking what one is told.

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