Rev. Erik Veerman
A Life of Integrity Before God and Man
A story about integrity has been floating around for a few decades. Some have tried to connect it to specific famous people. Likely, though, it’s just a parable.
It involves a well-to-do man. He’s well-travelled; known by the cultural elite; often seen in the theater and high-end establishments. On one particular evening, he found himself engaged in a conversation with a Broadway actress. As they got to know each other, their conversation turned to a game of hypotheticals. In such and such a situation, would you do this? Or how would you respond if a particular thing happened? They went back and forth and then he asked her this question: “If a man offered you a million dollars to sleep with you, would you do it?” She replied, “a million dollars, well, yes.” He then asked, “what if he offered you fifty?” To which she replied, “Fifty dollars, what kind of woman do you think I am?” The man responded, “We’ve already established that. I’m simply trying to determine your price.”
A life of integrity is a life lived with unwavering moral principles. No matter the cost or gain, a man or woman of Godly integrity pursues goodness and peace and righteousness. Integrity involves your thoughts and actions when you are around others; and integrity involves your thoughts and actions when no one is watching.
In Acts chapter 23, we’re introduced to a man named Ananias. He was, of course, a different Ananias than the Ananias who had been married to Sapphira, back in chapter 5. And he’s a different Ananias than the one whom the Lord directed Paul to find in Damascus. This Ananias was the Jewish high priest. Essentially the high priest held the highest religious office. He was responsible to go before God on behalf of the people. He was the only one who could enter the holy of holies – the most sacred part of the temple.
Unfortunately, this Ananias was religiously and morally corrupt. His life completely lacked integrity. We’re not told that here, but the historian Josephus wrote about Ananias. Ananias dedicated his life to his own glory, his own wealth, and his own power. He was quick tempered. Whoever got in his way was exploited. Ananias embezzled money from the very priests who served under him. His servants physically beat those who would not give. He was a bad dude. His actions led to other religious leaders doing the same. Ananias had been charged to spiritually oversee the Jewish people, yet he used his power to spiritually oppress them. He was a fraud, corrupt, a hypocrite, and hated by many. All this eventually caught up with him. A couple of years after this interaction with the apostle Paul, a Jewish rebel group burned Ananias’s house to the ground and killed him. Quite the contrast to the apostle Paul.
Now, before analyzing the interaction between Paul, Ananias, and the rest of the Jews, let me give you a couple of quick reminders.
• First, Paul had just testified about Jesus to the crowd. He shared his conversion and his call.
• Second, that didn’t go well. The Jewish crowd was even more stirred up.
• The Romans guards were confused. They didn’t speak Aramaic, so they didn’t understand what was happening. They decided they needed to flog Paul with whips to get him to admit to what he did.
• Remember what happened instead? Paul revealed his identity. He was a Roman citizen. Well, that changed everything.
• We now get to the very last verse of chapter 22. Since the Roman centurion couldn’t have Paul tortured, he, instead, called the Jewish priests and council to gather.
So that’s what they did. This council, known as the Sanhedrin, was very willing to convict Paul.
This was a court trial, of sorts. And let me note that this was the very place where Stephen was martyred. That happened back in chapter 7. Paul had been there, approving. Paul mentioned that fact to them the day before. But in the 20 years since, he was a changed man.
Paul had been living a life of integrity ever since his conversion. But Anaias, devoid of integrity. And the contrast here was part of the reason Luke wrote this. He wrote Acts, in part, to show the source of the turmoil in Jerusalem. It’s very apparent who has been honorable and who has been shameful. Add the Romans to the honorable list. They reasonably handled the conflict. They were searching for the truth.
In fact, after Paul’s brief words, more chaos erupted. That demonstrated even more the dividing line of integrity.
You’ll note a brief outline at the bottom of the page in your order of service. Three points.
First, Living a Life Full of Integrity
Second, Renouncing a Life Devoid of Integrity
And third, Discovering the Lifeline of Integrity
1.) Living a Life Full of Integrity
So there Paul stood. He’d been presented by the Romans to the Sanhedrin. They’re not happy with him, of course. To them, Paul was already guilty. But as for Paul, his attitude hadn’t changed. He still wanted them to believe. And so, he peered into their eyes. “Brothers,” again appealing to them as family like we saw last week. “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.”
That word “conscience” means having a sense inside of us of what’s right or wrong. “Good conscience,” then, means faithfully living out what your conscience believes.
So, Paul was saying that the things he had done and not done, the things he had thought and not thought, were consistent with his beliefs about God. Some would say this: before his conversion, Paul lived in good conscience before God. Even though he persecuted and killed Christians, he thought he was obeying God’s. In that sense, he acted according to his conscience. However, I think it’s important for us to realize that someone can live a life consistent with their beliefs, but if their beliefs are false beliefs, then their effort is ultimately worthless.
I think Paul is more likely referring to his life after his conversion to Christ. He clearly lived a life of good conscience before God. Does that mean he never sinned? No, certainly not. Paul wouldn’t say that, either.
• But he did seek to keep God’s moral law
• He also followed God’s call to share the hope of Christ.
• He even obeyed the call bring the Gospel to the Gentiles.
• And in those ways, Paul lived in good conscience before God.
Jump ahead to verse 11. Jesus appeared to Paul that very evening. And part of what the Lord said to Paul, confirmed this. He said, “you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem.” The Lord affirmed Paul’s faithfulness to live out in good conscience what was in his heart. This theme of living in good conscience before God is something Paul wrote about often in the Scripture. For example, Paul encouraged Timothy to wage the good warfare of faith, to hold fast to it with a good conscience.
This relates to integrity. Integrity is when our thoughts, and actions, and words conform to our conscience before God. It’s when our lives are lived according to God’s righteousness. And when we do sin, we respond according to our godly conscience. There’s a real world example of that, right here. As soon as Paul said he was living in good conscience before God, he was struck in the face. He then blurted out, “God is going to strike you!” Paul said it in anger. It didn’t conform to God’s commands. But immediately after he was told who Ananias was (that he was the high priest), Paul regretted his words. He quoted the Scriptures which had been seared on his conscience.
Amy will tell you, when I stub my toe, it’s like I get a shot of adrenalin. I’ll even get angry at the table leg, as if it was the table’s fault I stubbed my toe. But after a minute or two, I realize who was really at fault. Sometimes I need to repent.
I’m pretty confident that the apostle Paul overreacted in sin here. I’m not 100%, but Jesus found himself in a very similar situation. In his trial, he was also struck in the face in front of the High Priest, yet Jesus didn’t raise his voice.
Let me step back for a minute and be clear about something. If you are a believer in Christ, you are given Christ righteousness. You are no longer condemned. God loves you and forgives you in Christ. He judges you according to Jesus’s holiness, not yours. But as a Christian, besides that state of being justified in Christ, you also have another blessing. God has given you his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to guide you. The Scriptures call him the helper. They describe the Spirits role as bringing conviction of sin in your life and leading you in righteousness.
So when I say, strive for integrity in your life, I’m not saying strive to make yourself holy in God’s eyes. God has already done that for you in Jesus. Rather, I’m saying, strive to live a life of integrity because you now can… you have been enabled to strive for integrity in the Holy Spirit. And this is where your conscience comes into play. When you find yourself in a moment of temptation, the Holy Spirit will speak to you in that moment. You know that sense. “This is not right, but yet, I am being drawn to that sin.” A man or woman of integrity listens to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in his or her conscience.
If you’re into technology, think about it like this. Every device has firmware and software on it. The firmware is the code that’s burned into it. Even when the device is off, and the battery is depleted, the firmware is still there. Have you ever seen the message, “you need to update your bios.” That’s saying your device’s firmware needs to be updated. Software, on the other hand, needs to get loaded every time. When you start up an app, it may take a few second because the software is being loaded. When an app crashes, it’s because a bug in the app’s software didn’t work with its firmware.
I know this is not a perfect analogy, but think of this. As you are growing in Christ, God is updating your firmware. The Holy Spirit is burning God’s Word into your firmware, your conscience. Your software is like how you live your life, how you respond to others, what you do when tempted. You are more and more able to draw upon that foundation. More and more sensitive to the Spirit’s leading. Less and less prone to app crashes, less and less prone to fall from temptation into sin.
Paul had a very solid firmware. He lived a life in good conscience before God and before man. A life of godly integrity in Christ.
2.) Renouncing a Life Devoid of Integrity
Ananias, on the other hand, didn’t have that firmware. His life, as I already highlighted, was devoid of integrity. It was nowhere to be found.
This second point is named “renouncing a life devoid of integrity.” If we find that our own life lacks integrity, we need to renounce our hypocrisy. And we need to then turn to Christ or turn back to him.
Let’s go back to what the apostle Paul said to Ananias. Even though Paul may have overreacted, it’s not that it wasn’t true. It was true! He called Ananias a “whitewashed wall!” Paul went on, “Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?”
Our earlier reading in Ezekiel 13 helps understand a “whitewashed wall.” It’s a wall painted white. It looks good on the outside, but it’s unstable on the inside. It has no structural integrity. When the wind, or rain, or hail comes, it falls apart. It utterly fails at any intended purpose because it cannot hold up under any incident.
Jesus used a similar phrase. He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
This high priest’s life was a life of hypocrisy. As high priest, he claimed to be about God’s law, was commissioned to uphold it, yet completely failed.
Hypocrisy really is the opposite of integrity. You say you believe one thing, yet you do the opposite. You fail your own moral standards. And you refuse to acknowledge or repent.
The most horrendous part of Ananias’s hypocrisy was his role. He was to be the one to spiritually oversee the people. The one to be the earthly intermediary between God and man. Not only did his failure affect himself, it affected the people. He led them astray.
James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem wrote this, “we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” He was speaking of the spiritual leaders and teachers (those entrusted to teach God’s word with faithfulness). Leading someone astray is potentially leading them on the path to destruction.
In Ananias’s case, his lack of integrity was on display for everyone to see. But for us, it’s most often hidden. Out of sight. Our darkest sin is often in the dark. But the Lord sees all. He knows all. You can’t hide your hypocrisy from him. Renounce it, repent of it, and be renewed in him.
3.) Discovering the Lifeline of Integrity
What happened next was quite a scene. And remember, the Roman guards and centurions watched this whole thing go down.
Paul knew the Pharisees and Sadducees inside and out. He himself had been a Pharisee. His father was a Pharisee. He still considered himself a Pharisee. That may not make sense to us. We hear that word Pharisee, what we think of is the empty religious hypocrisy of the pharisees. But Paul, was a true Pharisee. What I mean is that a defining belief of the Pharisees was their belief in a future resurrection of everyone. Paul still believed that. The difference between his belief and the Pharisees in front of him was that Paul believed Jesus was the lynchpin of the resurrection.
And Paul could tell that the Sanhedrin included Sadducees. The Sadducees did not believe in a future resurrection of anyone. In a masterful display of situational wisdom, Paul pitted the Pharisees against the Sadducees. When Paul said his trial was about “the hope of the resurrection of the dead” an argument erupted. The argument wasn’t between Paul and the Jewish council, no rather, the argument was an internal debate, a civil war. The Pharisee and Sadducees erupted against one another.
Think about it. When this trial began, they were all unified against Paul. Then right in the middle here, they turned against each other. In fact, some of the Pharisees began to argue that Paul was innocent! Really, the Romans were getting a clear picture of who was at fault. Talk about an integrity issues. The whole trial devolved. Things were escalating out of control. “Violent” is the word used in verse 10. The Romans had to put an end to the trial. Paul had to be rescued, again, from the situation. They took him back to the barracks. Next week we’ll see just how much these unbelieving Jews hated Paul.
But this isn’t the full picture of what was going on. Yes, Paul used his knowledge. Yes, he was able to turn the situation around. But we may be tempted to think that that’s all it was. That Paul just came up with something that he knew would blow things up. But it’s more than that.
When Paul said, “It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial,” he nailed it. It absolutely was the very center to the whole trial. He had seen the resurrected Lord on the road to Damascus. He had told them the whole story the day before. It was Jesus’s resurrection that confirmed him as the promised one, the Messiah, the Christ. Their rejection of Paul was a rejection of the resurrected Christ. This Jewish trial was really a trial about Christianity.
Are the claims from this Jewish man, Paul, who believed in Jesus, true? Because if they are true, then Christianity is true. The very center of the truth about Christianity is the resurrection. There’s not much question, today, about whether a man named Jesus died on a cross. But if Jesus rose from the grave. If he defeated death, then everything he said and taught is true. That means he was and is the Messiah, as he claimed. That Jesus is God, as he taught. That what happened on the cross did eternally matter. And that there is “hope” as Paul highlighted.
Living a life of integrity before God and man begins with this belief - believing in the resurrection of Jesus. It’s the dividing line between Paul and Ananias. Believing in the resurrection is the foundation and source of a life of integrity before the one true God. The lifeline. Along with the cross, the resurrection is the center of the Gospel… it’s the very hope that grounds our life in Christ.
And think about this. One of the results of the resurrection is that Jesus has given us his Spirit – the Holy Spirit. We’ve seen that theme over and over in Acts. The resurrected and ascended Christ poured out his Holy Spirit on us, on those who believe in Jesus and his resurrection. And it’s through the Holy Spirit that we can pursue a life of good conscience before God, a life of integrity.
And who had been witnessing all of this? Not just the Romans, but the resurrected Christ, Jesus himself. Not only were Jesus’s words in verse 11 an encouragement to Paul, but Jesus pointed to his own resurrection – “the facts,” as he said, that Paul had so faithfully testified about Jesus.
As you think about your own life, your integrity, how you respond to temptation behind closed doors, what you believe about the resurrection, may you turn to the resurrected savior, may your life be founded upon him, and may he be your source to live a life of integrity.