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Integrity and the Lie of “Authenticity”

When you’re not living faithfully to your authentic self, you find yourself feeling incomplete, as if there is a hole in your soul. You may have found that it’s easier to fill the roles your family and friends expect of you, rather than becoming who you really want to be. Living this way drains you of the critical life energy you need to pursue the things you truly value. When you live a life that has you ignoring your true gifts and talents while performing assigned or inherited roles instead, you are living as your fictional self.

– Dr. Phil, Defining Your Authentic Self

True confession: I still use printed dictionaries. The Internet is all well and good for a quick check, but when accuracy matters, I pull out my trusty Thorndike Barnhart Advanced Dictionary. And it matters. Take “integrity” for example, a venerable Quaker value that seems to be undergoing covert transformation.  Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines integrity as “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values :  incorruptibility.” The print dictionary’s definition is “honesty or sincerity; uprightness.”

Did you catch that difference? The online dictionary’s definition of integrity is adherence to any code of moral or artistic values. It’s a do-it-yourself thing. Whatever code of values you have, if you stick to it, you can be said to have integrity. By contrast, under the print dictionary’s definition, integrity has an intrinsic content. If you lack honesty and uprightness, it is irrelevant what other moral characteristics you may possess: you don’t have integrity.

This is key because part of what integrity used to mean was standing by your commitments even in the face of changing circumstances. Now the word seems to be shading into what I call “authenticity”  – action as a performance of identity rather than as an embodiment of core values. So if you “discover” that you are an artist and the only way to be the artist you want to be is to live in a free-love nudist colony, “old-fashioned” integrity would say that you do not have the right to abandon your spouse and children to pursue that dream due to your obligations to them, while “integrity as authenticity” may well excuse such an action as “following your bliss” – despite the fact that it entails abandoning some of life’s greatest commitments. The slippage between these concepts is such that “integrity” now either means “standing by your commitments, come what may,” or “subordinating your commitments to your desires.” One type of integrity leads to self-control, patience and devotion to others, while the other form of “integrity” can easily lead to impulsive behavior, unreliability and self-centeredness.

Some may think that this means that old-fashioned integrity and authenticity are inconsistent, and for some, this may be true. However, I affirm that for Christians, there is no tension between integrity and authenticity, properly understood. That is because our true self, our authentic identity, is who we are in Christ. In him we are given a new nature. No longer slaves to our desires and weaknesses, we are children of the Most High, a royal priesthood, the new Israel. God, who is always faithful to his promises, seeks a holy people who will be faithful to their promises. He seeks a bold and valiant people unswayed by external pressures but doggedly determined to do his will and to follow his law, which is written on our hearts.

It’s hard to shake the habit of inconsistency – especially when we are overtired, overworked, over-scheduled and overwhelmed. It’s something that I struggle with daily – and fail at often! But I believe that a promise-keeping God wants a promise-keeping people, not people who, confusing their desires with their true self, make those desires into idols.

How do you understand integrity and authenticity? Have you struggled with becoming more faithful in the different parts of your life?


  1. Jim Schultz says

    The elephant in the room is that there are two natures, the carnal and the spiritual and each has a different call. I find the biggest problem the spiritual person has is keeping the commitments that person made while he or she was operating in the carnal nature. That is where integrity is tested.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is excellent, Adria! The following struck me as especially good:

    However, I affirm that for Christians, there is no tension between integrity and authenticity, properly understood. That is because our true self, our authentic identity, is who we are in Christ. In him we are given a new nature.

    Here’s a passage from Fox’s Journal that describes the inward struggle and its resolutioton in loving the Lord with all one’s mind, heart, soul, and strength:

    And I found that there were two thirsts in me, the one after the creatures, to have gotten help and strength there, and the other after the Lord the creator and his Son Jesus Christ. And I saw all the world could do me no good. If I had had a king’s diet, palace, and attendance, all would have been as nothing, for nothing gave me comfort but the Lord by his power (Nickalls, 12).

    Even that which is our highest natural love and obligation in the world, our children and family, must be rightly ordered so that our obedience is to God; Jesus affirms this in Luke 14:26 and Matthew 12:48-50.

    Liked by 1 person

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