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A Commitment To Integrity

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Date November 16, 2001

A Commitment to Integrity

Our calling is to know and do what is right in all situations and relationships in our lives

Recently I heard a report about a young man’s situation which moved me deeply. I believe that his story is perhaps the most powerful testimony to Christian integrity I can recall in my experience. I have sought and received his kind permission to share his testimony with you. I trust that it will be edifying to us all.

The young man had graduated from college, and was accepted into the Uniformed Services University to train as an Air Force doctor. A week after his arrival at the medical school, he phoned his parents to confess to them that he had not been completely honest on his Air Force entrance questionnaire. Having been asked on that questionnaire whether he had ever used illegal drugs, he indicated that he had not. Yet, he his conscience disturbed him when he recalled that several years previously he had experimented once with mushrooms and once with nitrous oxide. Despite his knowing the grave ramifications of his confessing this to Air Force authorities, he was determined to do so.

This young man could have let his lie stand. He could have rationalised that he had been young and foolish, and that his experimentation was infrequent and relatively harmless. He could have said nothing to anyone regarding his misleading answers on the questionnaire, and no one would have known, including his parents. He could have reasoned that his disclosure and its consequences for his future would cause unnecessary suffering to him and to his parents. He could have pietistically reasoned that this past sin was under the blood of Jesus, and thus he was no longer answerable for it. He could have done any or all of these things, and his life, reputation, and future would have been easier and brighter…before men, though not before God.

The young man, accordingly, confessed to his parents not only his drug experimentation, but also his dishonesty, and told them of his determination to inform the appropriate Air Force authorities. When he took the later step, he was suspended from his military Combined Officer Training, and his future in the Air Force is under review. In a letter he wrote, at the request of his training commander, who gathered materials in support of this man of integrity remaining on active military duty, the young man expressed himself as follows:

I want to express my regret for the mistakes in my past that have brought me to where I’m at today. My disenrolment from the COT program is an immense disappointment. It is not disappointing in the sense of it being a surprise or in the sense of it being unfounded. It is a disappointment in the sense of me losing an opportunity that I have begun to cherish. I realised when I made the decision to admit my experimentation with mushrooms, the consequences to my Air Force career could be high. But I also realised that if I didn’t admit this, the consequences to my character could be higher. I was faced with a decision of right and wrong. And I have failed at this cross-roads in the past. Thankfully, my character is now that which will no longer settle for failure at this crossroads of right and wrong.

How rare, in our pragmatic day, is such integrity. This young man has rightly understood that one sin cannot be hidden by another. He has acted in accordance with that understanding, realising that it is far more important that he maintain a clear conscience before the Lord, than that he cultivate the approval of men.

Have we all not experienced something similar to this man’s plight? We sinned, perhaps in our youth or in a moment of weakness and folly, and we did so privately. But when called upon by appropriate authorities to disclose whether we have so sinned, we were tempted to evade, rationalise, obfuscate, and deny. This kind of scenario truly does test our integrity. It makes us face the hard question of whether we are willing to admit one sin in order to avoid our committing another sin. It may seem to us unduly exacting, needlessly painful and sacrificial and inconsistent with the love and forgiveness of the Lord that we should have to bear heavy temporal consequences for our undetected sins which we have confessed to the Lord. The truth is, that we greatly compound our woe when we resort to guile to hide our sin, rather than rely on the grace of the Lord.

David sinned with Bathsheba. He compounded, rather than reduced, his burden of sin when he sought to cover it with Uriah’s death. I have had the sad experience of knowing believers who have sinned by their hasty and ill-advised entering into a marriage, and, when things went awry as they were certain to do, I have pleaded with them to avoid compounding their sin by their obtaining an unbiblical divorce. We can never relieve ourselves of the painful consequences of one sin by our committing another sin.

Our calling is to know and do what is right in all situations and relationships in our lives. We do not have discretionary power to cover one sin with another. The consequences of the first sin may be prolonged and painful, but if we seek to avoid those consequences through our sinning anew, we shall find to our dismay that we have compounded, not covered, our guilt and misery.

Let us, therefore, not simply admire this young man’s integrity as manifested by his action. Let us determine to follow his lead, adopting his spiritual value system wherein he has refused to take the wrong turn at a critical crossroads of his life, even through his doing right has involved him bearing great cost. If we truly learn from our past sins, we will learn above all that nothing warrants or makes it worth our hiding such past sins by means of current sin. May we each arrive at the point in our character development where this young man has arrived. May we be enabled by the Lord’s grace to say what he has said before God and men: I was faced with a decision of right and wrong. And 1 have failed at this crossroads in the past. Thankfully, my character is now that which will no longer settle for failure at this crossroads of right and wrong.


William Harrell – Minister of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia.

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