Last week Lance Armstrong, a professional cyclist who captured the admiration of millions of fans for his record-setting Tour de France victories, confessed to cheating during the races for each of his seven wins. Lance Armstrong’s life will be turned upside down because his history of cheating and lying has stripped him of the core pieces of his identity. In the public view, he who was once an inspiring victor is now a cheating liar who can’t be trusted. Many people, including me, have inwardly defended him over the years as he endured the accusations of taking performance enhancing drugs to win races. Even though he has decided to come clean and tell the truth, many people who were once his fans will refuse to support him now because they feel deceived and betrayed. Because the trust of the public has been violated so blatantly, it will not be surprising to see even his professed genuine honesty called into question, as he begins the process of making right what he has done wrong. There is a long road ahead for Lance Armstrong, as he attempts to rise from this great fall.
Even though it is significant, the fact that Lance Armstrong cheated in order to win is not what is interesting to me about this story. What is interesting to me is the study of character and the effects of decisions made in the past and present. In a general way, this situation is something that is probably familiar to the life of a Christian, from many angles. Just as Lance Armstrong cheated and lied, people including Christians choose to do what is wrong and make mistakes. This is the sin that we work so hard to overcome. Just as Lance Armstrong negatively affected the lives of people directly and indirectly through his wrong behavior, when a Christian sins, there are ill effects. Just as Lance Armstrong has chosen to admit his wrongdoing and follow the right path even though it may be difficult, a Christian must turn from the wrong and do what is right and godly, no matter what the world around may think. And just as Lance Armstrong will suffer consequences of his past behavior, sin bears its ugly and disgusting fruit. You and I may not be world class bicycle racers, but we should all relate to this story.
There are several lessons that we can extract from this story, but the lesson of repentance stands out the most to me. Admitting when we are wrong and doing what is right is a primary duty of a Christian, and often it is not easy. Yet, repentance is absolutely required for a Christian. In Matthew 3:8, John the Baptist states that we must bear fruit that is worthy of repentance, meaning that merely acknowledging fault, but doing nothing about it is not enough. James 2:22 reminds us that our actions prove our faith. And we must have faith that following the righteous path will bring about results that are pleasing to God, even if the world around us rejects us. The fruit born of righteous behavior and a genuinely repentant heart is pleasing to God, if no one else.
Doing what’s right, even though there are negative consequences, is what characterizes integrity. Integrity is an element that is tightly bound to the act of repentance because the change in course of action involves indicting ourselves and facing the consequences of our sin. By cheating, Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories have been stripped from him, and his eligibility to compete in professional events has been suspended. Beyond that, even by admitting his guilt, there will be consequences which may prevent him from being trusted. While I hesitate to extend much praise to him, admitting wrong takes serious self-examination and integrity for any man, including Lance Armstrong.
When we repent of sin, we are forgiven by God and spared from the penalty of eternal death, but this does not necessarily mean that other results of our sins will come of no effect. When David sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba and coordinating the murder of her husband Uriah, he repented, but the consequences of his actions were multiplicative. From that day forward, David’s house saw conflict, the baby conceived by David and Bathsheba died, and his own son committed sexual sins with some of David’s concubines in plain sight (compare 2 Samuel 12:10-14). Yet, David was forgiven for his sin by God because he had the right, repentant attitude and character. By admitting his fault and facing the consequences with a humble attitude, David demonstrated the trait of integrity in a way from which we can all learn. The life of a Christian must be lived with behavior that proves his or her integrity, because doing what is right is what God requires, no matter what.