Becoming People of Substance

Every day we make ourselves into something by our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. That is, in evaluating how we did yesterday, we need to consider not only what we achieved or failed to achieve, but we must also ask what we made of ourselves.

God designed us to become people possessing strength of character, that is, individuals with the capacity to set aside personal desires in order to do that which is right.

Character constitutes human substance. A person possessing strength of character has developed the capacity for nobility, integrity, dignity, responsibility, fidelity, courage, agape love, and all of the finest human qualities. A person lacking character is an empty suit, a hollow human being, a person without substance.

Of course, a person of character can always fall and one lacking character can always rise above his past. Nonetheless, our inclination is to behave in keeping with our character or lack of it.

With every decision we either build or erode our character. Confronted with the opportunity to make a purchase that I can’t afford, or to buy something that I don’t need, making a responsible decision will increase my strength to do likewise next time, and an irresponsible choice will erode that dimension of my character.

Perhaps the greatest flaw of contemporary American society is that in adopting American mania, validating the pursuit of immediate gratification, we have reduced the value of character to zero.

In yesterday’s post we reflected back on the Clinton campaign assertion that character should not be a factor in selecting a President. The devastating aspect of the Clinton presidency was not so much his character failures as his failure to recognize character as the objective. In so doing he reflected our cultural orientation of American mania that totally devalues character.

All of us struggle in some area of character, and unfortunately failing almost always hurts people. I have hurt many people during the course of my life through character failure in one area or the other. There is nothing I can do to fix much of that hurt. The damage has been done. People have suffered. I would give almost anything to relive my life with the hope that I would avoid the hurt that I have caused others. Since reliving my life is not an option, the best I can do is work to develop a character that will prevent me from perpetuating past failures.

In light of my own failures, my goal is not to be critical of the moral failure of Bill Clinton, but rather to be critical of a culture that devalues character development and that consequently produces moral failure.

Historically character development constituted a crucial component of Christian living, and rightly so. Many New Testament passages make this point. For example, we read in 2Corinthians 7:1, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” Some might argue that this verse does not refer to character development but to righteous living through the power of God. That assertion is correct as far as it goes. However the verse also connotes that we can develop and exercise the discipline to appropriate that power or we can neglect to do so.

Unfortunately, character development is not part of the agenda of the evangelical community today. In fact, in future posts we will show how secular culture has infiltrated evangelical thinking so as to produce the same devaluation of character within the Christian community as is found in secular culture. Consequently, the evangelical community parallels secular society in its failure to promote character development and produce people of substance.

Until the church rectifies this problem it cannot function as salt and light to a secular society that is disintegrating from lack of character.

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