“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” –2 Corinthians 5:17
Very few Scripture verses have eluded my experiential conviction like 2 Corinthians 5:17. How I long to be a new creation with a pure heart, with holy and faith-filled action, with a determined heart of love for God and for every soul. But my experience, sadly, speaks otherwise. I am still a mess. I am broken; and I wonder how to grow into a new creation in Christ.
Excluding maybe a couple of extraordinary instances, I think it is fair to say that a broken world begets broken people. It is no simple task to live in the world, ever swimming against the sweeping tide of sin, injury, injustice, and selfishness. I know that sometimes I am part of the problem, not part of the solution.
It seems to me that a kind of war exists inside each person, more noticeable in some than in others. This war appears to be a struggle between heaven and hell over the future destiny of a soul. It is as if within each Christian is an old man who wants to live for himself, and a new one who recognizes that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of every desire for which he has ever longed.
Perhaps this internal war is the precise reason that I do not feel like a new creation.
I at least find it interesting that I am able to acknowledge the existence of such a division within myself. How fascinating that I can experience shame for the things that I have done, and guilt for the things that I have failed to do. It is like I can break off a piece of my consciousness, have it float over my right shoulder, and evaluate the righteous and wicked things that I have done in my life: where I have sinned in my actions, emotions, and thoughts.
This reflection reminds me of a book that I read by a mystical Jewish scholar. He described how this ability to examine self was not our natural state. He asks: “When was the first time, in Scripture, where you see a human-being analyzing him or herself and emotionally, mentally, and actively reacting to what they had done?” The answer is: “after the Fall.” For the first time, man and woman felt ashamed for what they had done. At that point, he says, the souls of humankind splintered. Our consciousness was broken.
Now we live segmented lives, and not only in our psyches. We have our social lives, professional lives, home lives, and many other discrete compartments. We can advance in our professional lives while our personal and family lives fall to pieces. We can become paralyzed with anxiety and worry while putting on an emotional air of contentment and self-control. Our culture even embraces this, saying that you can do virtually anything you want in your personal life, as long as it does not affect your professional life.
All of this makes me wonder: what happened to integrity. Integrity is defined as consistency of speech, actions, values, morals, principals, expectations and outcomes. It comes from the same word as the mathematical term integer, which every math major will tell you is a whole number, written without a fraction or decimal component. An integer is whole and complete. Is this not what we were meant to be, whole and complete in Christ?
But due to sin, we have become people with splintered personae. We have dissected our lives, cutting it into small compartments so that we may specifically analyze each part. We do this so that we might better understand how we should act in each order to get ahead. The problem with dissecting something is that you have to kill it.
Integrity dies when we compartmentalize our lives. Human beings were made to be a dynamic unity. Each of us is a mind, a heart, a body, soul, and a spirit interwoven into each other. Our family lives overflow into work and work into our family lives. The Gospel is to flow through them all. As we grow in understanding truth, it should cause us to feel something in our hearts, which should impel us to act. When this happens we are ushered into integrity.
It is the Gospel and the Spirit of God that help us weave all of these segments back together and makes us whole. Christianity is more than a belief; it is an experience of God’s love felt in our heart. It is an action that finds at its conclusion the faithfulness of a living God. It is life as an “integer” in Christ: mind, heart, body, soul, and spirit all bound together in the love of Jesus. That is why St. James wrote in his epistle warning us not to be double-minded (James 1:8). His entire epistle is about living with integrity in Christ.
This is also what Jesus Christ, himself, encourages us toward. He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). The word we translate as peace is eirēnē in the original Greek, but as a Middle Eastern Jew Jesus probably said the Hebrew word “Shalom.” Shalom means so much more than peace: completeness, wholeness, health, welfare, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfection, fullness, rest, harmony and internal “accord.” It means “absolute integrity.” When Jesus says, “peace be with you,” it is a prayer, a blessing, a command, and an expression of his desire for us.
So, how then do we acquire integrity? How can we subdue the broken person we each have inside us who is warring against the new creation that Christ has made us? The greatest commandment may be the key to reorienting our lives toward integration.
“‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ (Matthew 22:36-40)
Jesus’ response to this man is: loving with every piece of ourselves. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all your soul, and all your mind; and love your neighbor. This commandment comes directly from Deuteronomy 6 where God tells us to love with every area of our being: heart, mind, strength.
He then directs his people to recite these words to their children, to bind this commandment to their heads, their hands, and their door posts. This sounds to me like God is trying to help us integrate our lives again, bringing us back to integrity: orienting our hearts, minds, and even our bodily actions around love.
As we think upon God’s love for us and about how to love others, we become more whole. As we experience His love for us and feel his love for others, we are made complete. And as we speak, act, and extend that love to others, we are made perfect.
It is as if we become people of shalom when the “heartbeat” of our minds, the “heartbeat” of our souls, and the heartbeat of our heart are all beating simultaneously to the rhythm of Christ’s love. If we seek integrity of love, will we not also experience what it means to be a new creation?
What is the next step God wants you to take to become a person of integrity?