What does it mean to be a person of integrity? Scripture tells us such a goal is a worthy pursuit: Better a poor man who lives with integrity than a rich man who distorts right and wrong (Prov. 28:6).
Consider a man who helped bring revival in his time. He and his fellow countrymen were displaced to a faraway country after another nation took them captive. After a regime change among their captors, they were allowed to return to their homeland. What happened next testifies to the power of prayer, the authority of God’s Word, and the difference one man can make when he takes a stand for the Lord in his society.
The man is Ezra, and his account is chronicled in the book that bears his name. There are many parallels between Ezra’s time and our own. Ezra was called to serve God when his people were returning to a destroyed homeland. All of the walls were down, just as our own culture’s foundations have been shaken severely by the destructive advance of secularism and moral relativism.
Scripture records the moment of Ezra’s return, after a tiring journey of many months: “Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, during the seventh year of the king. He began the journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month and arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month. The gracious hand of his God was on him,” (Ezra 7:8-9). Whenever Scripture uses the anthropomorphism of God’s hand, it signifies blessing and power. Ezra knew what it was to be God’s person, in God’s place, at God’s appointed time, on God’s business, through God’s power, with God’s blessing.
How, and why, did God’s “hand” of blessing settle on Ezra? The Bible says, “Ezra had determined in his heart to study the law of the LORD, obey [it], and teach [its] statutes and ordinances in Israel” (7:10).
Ezra was a scribe and thus had an enviable reputation as a scriptural expert. However, he didn’t simply accumulate knowledge of the Scriptures so he could be a walking reference book-Ezra “determined in his heart,” or as the King James Version renders it, “prepared his heart” to know, live, and teach the law of the Lord.
Too many of us have fallen into the trap of a fearless familiarity with holy things. There is more in the Bible than anyone can learn in a lifetime. We must never lose our awe at the holy things of God. The person God will bless is devoted to understanding and applying God’s Word with a holy reverence, submitting his or her will to God’s divine will in order to be given ever greater discernment and understanding.
Too often as Christians we presume we’re doing fine-if only the rest of America would turn to God, we could get this country back on the road to righteousness. God is not looking to the lost to bring the culture in line with His design and desires; that is the responsibility of the redeemed. We live in a sinful culture that brazenly practices wicked ways. To our peril, as curious strangers in an alien land, we have incorporated many of those ways into our own lives.
Great movements of God always start with God’s people getting right with God. When we accept Jesus as Savior, we’re no longer enslaved to our sin nature, but we don’t lose it. We still have two natures, each fighting for control. My grandmother used to say, “It’s like two dogs in a fight. The winner will be the one you feed the most.”
If Evangelical Christians today have a blind spot, it is our woeful neglect of the fact that the sin nature is alive and well and always looking to enlarge its turf in our lives and hearts. We need to remind ourselves daily that we are foot soldiers in a spiritual war zone-that the lure of sin is often as intense from within as from without. “The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick,” warned the prophet Jeremiah. “Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).
The original Hebrew carries the connotation that the wickedness of the heart is revealed precisely at the point of thinking, I’m not so bad . . . at least I’m not as bad as So-and-So. In fact, the question is not whether I am as bad as someone else, because I can always find somebody who is worse than I am. The real question is, Am I as good as I should be? That answer is always no, because the standard is Christ. That should be our daily goal-to be more like Christ.
Despite the growth of Evangelical churches, there is a widespread pattern today of spiritually arrested development: people who are ignorant of large swaths of God’s Word, who base their relationship with God primarily on feelings and experience alone and are preoccupied with themselves instead of serving others.
God says we are to hide His word in our hearts that we might not sin against Him (Psa. 119:11). The person God blesses is growing in his or her knowledge of God and applying that knowledge in becoming more Christlike. It’s not enough just to know it; we have to live it.
Nothing in the government or the marketplace can produce a moral system in people or do much more than help preserve a decent moral environment.
Even if our government permitted it, which it does not, simply declaring this country to be one that affirms and practices Judeo-Christian values rooted in biblical authority would not make it so. It can only become such a country through transformation of individual hearts and minds. It is not the government’s job to do that any more than it is the government’s role to promote or prohibit religion. Ezra is testimony to the dramatic change a society can undergo when men and women, one by one, stand unashamedly for God and determine in their hearts to know, live, and teach the Word of God. That produces the seamless integrity-individually and corporately-which God will bless.
This is America’s true hope: followers of Christ-one by one-at the forefront of the moral and spiritual reformation that we so desperately need in our lives, our churches, our communities, and our nation.
Dr. Richard Land is president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention's official entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns, with particular attention to their impact on American families and their faith.