In Genesis 20 Abimelech the king of Gerar takes Sarah from Abraham for a wife, because Abraham said she was his sister. Sarah was close to 90 years old, yet I’m guessing she was still beautiful and desirable. Abimelech and his household suffered sterility (and perhaps illness) and was risking death because of it. God appears to him in a dream and tells him the cause. Abimelech replies that he had taken Sarah “in the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands.” He hadn’t “approached her” yet (a euphemism for sex). God said that was why Abimelech was getting a warning instead of getting toasted.
Abimelech was blameless in taking Sarah for a wife. There was no malice, no intent to harm. We might even say it was an “accident.” Yet he and all his household still got sick. He was under the death penalty in spite of his integrity. At his arraignment he pleaded his innocence, and rightly so. But if he kept Sarah as a wife then the Judge was still going to carry out the sentence. Ignorance was not an excuse.
Doing something wrong, even when we do it in the “integrity” of our heart, is still enough to get us the death penalty. We may not know something is wrong, but that doesn’t excuse guilt. A police officer won’t buy ignorance of the speed limit as a reason for speeding. We’ll get a ticket anyway. God won’t buy alleged ignorance of His Law either. We are responsible for knowing right and wrong, and for choosing right. This is one of the fruits of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eating that fruit carried with it the responsibility for our actions regardless of integrity of the heart.
There are those who think that sinning is okay, because we have the cosmic eraser of Jesus to eliminate the consequences. Some go so far as to use lip service to some nebulous Jesus as cover for doing whatever they want – in the integrity of their heart. Just ask them. Instead of following specifics of God’s Word, they will say they “follow their heart.” Really? What’s in the heart if we ignore what God says yet claim to follow Him? Do you think Abimelech “had Jesus?” Was he perhaps exercising his “freedom in Christ?” He certainly was innocent of a crime (in this instance anyway) yet he was still experiencing the consequences as if he had. He would even die if he kept going.
Integrity of the heart is fine, if your heart has been “fleshasized” by God. If it isn’t, a person can have a wrong “integrity of the heart” because they act in accordance with a heart of stone. Integrity simply means “wholeness,” meaning consistent thoughts and actions. Stone heartedness with accompanying stone-type action is still integrity. A bad guy can have integrity within himself, since he does “bad” actions in tune with his “bad” heart. A good person has integrity because he does “good actions” in tune with his “good” heart. The only wholesome and healthy integrity, however, comes from a good person who has a heart in tune with God. Those in between, the ones who claim a good heart while ignoring God’s Word, are those God calls “lukewarm” and serve only to cause Jesus to yak (spew, throw up, or vomit; for those readers in other countries not familiar with American figures of speech).
“ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:15–20, ESV)