There is an effort, in the secular world, to teach character apart from the Christian faith.
And I have 2 problems with that:
1. We can pretend that God has nothing to do with the principles of character and good behavior, but He has everything to do with it. Every character trait we point to has its roots in Scripture. Even our nation’s laws are based on the commandments of God. The entire essence of the Gospel is love which under-girds how we act–our character. So to try to separate God from a directive about behavior, is a lie.
2. Secondly, as Christians, we understand the danger of washing the outside of the cup without making sure the inside is clean. Our motivation for outward change must be driven by inward transformation. That’s our position as believers.
What is Character?
Character simply is how we act and respond to life when no one is looking. That means our character is who we really are–this isn’t about mere outward behavior. The British writer and politician Thomas Macauly (1800-1859) once said,
“The measure of a man’s character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out.”
So if it’s just a reputation or others opinion of us we’re shooting for, that doesn’t drive our decision in those moments when no one is looking. And real character is who we are in those moments.
AND YET… I think there’s another side to the coin: that character also has to do with forming good habits and practicing them. So no, we don’t want to focus on outward behavior and neglect the inner man, BUT…many traits have to do with forming good habits and practicing those throughout a lifetime.
There is such a thing as a person who loves Jesus deeply but has formed bad habits throughout his life, and that part of his character is lacking. So in some ways character is a reflection of the inner man, and in other ways it’s a formation of good habits over time.
Strong Christian character results from both human effort and divine intervention.
So there are many ways, as parents, that we can help help our children grow in character, especially when we start early.
We can’t save our children.
It is a given that we should be diligently praying for the salvation of our children, trusting God for it, and presenting the gospel to them regularly. We can’t save them, but we can give them the Word and trust God to save them.
But we have been given the directive to raise them from birth to love and obey God, trusting Him for their salvation. And as we trust Him to do that mysterious work, we look to passages like this for instruction in helping them learn how to add to their faith:
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness….For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” From 1 Peter
How do we help them build character?
1. Model it. It’s true that more is caught than taught. To teach our children something that is inconsistent with the way we live will not only be ineffective, but could have disastrous consequences, even turning them away from the faith. We also need to realize we are teaching them all the time, even if not deliberately. A million ways we live is a living sermon to our children.
And for that reason, get on your knees, keep your sins quickly and humbly confessed before God and your family, stay in His Word because you can not be an effective disciple of His without an intimate knowledge of and communion with Him, put on humility over everything, and fear the Lord. That’s the best recipe for raising kids with character who love Him. Be transparent about your sins and confess them quickly.
2. Talk about what character is. It is not about our image, or making ourselves look good. And this is where it can really get ugly if we’re not careful. Character is about the second commandment. It’s an outward expression of love to our neighbors. So many opportunities present themselves during the day to point to character. Sibling strife, for example, needs to be addressed with more than “Please just stop it!” Which I have been guilty of. What is wrong with strife and what kind of character trait does the Bible encourage us to have when we’re dealing with conflict?
Take them to the Word of God to find out how to handle situations, and let that become such a habit that as they grow up, it becomes second nature for them to look to Scripture as their standard for how to live.
3. Read stories about men and women who have modeled godly character. Biographies of the men and women of faith are great places to start. Inspiration is a fantastic tool and keeping examples of those who have demonstrated Christ-like character in front of us is so important. Not just for our kids, but for us too.
Now there’s a very practical side to all this that I haven’t spent much time on yet, and that is the part of character building that looks like picking up after yourself, carrying tasks through and being diligent, being helpful and seeing what needs to be done around you, you know, that sort of thing. It’s that side of the coin I talked about earlier with the formation and practice of good habits.
CM said: “Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.”
The most practical and simplest way I’ve found to help children practice discipline and good habits is by laying out expectations clearly then establishing a consequence for not following through with them.
As an example, here is what our chore time looks like:
Each month everyone is assigned a new daily chore which is an area of the house (kitchen, library/bathroom, living room, etc.) in addition to keeping their rooms clean. Some time after chores, I go through and inspect them. If a child has been lazy or failed to do their chore, they get a check mark on our dry erase board. If they get 3 check marks in a week, they do not get to watch a movie on Friday night.
Of course the key to this is my diligence in inspecting. “You can’t expect what you don’t inspect.”
Add to this the power of praise, the reading of Proverbs, and emphasize the benefits, from God’s Word, of diligence and faithfulness.
2 Very Important Things
1. If I’ve learned anything having 11 children, it is how vastly different each of them is–personalities, gifts, academic bents–all of it. If you have several children you know exactly what I mean. And so much of who our children are is inherent to their nature.
So as we teach and train them, we need to make the best use of their gifts and personalities and not force them into a mold that doesn’t fit. That doesn’t mean they get to be let off the hook from being patient if they’re naturally impatient, it just means that we need to have more understanding about their natural weaknesses, just have we have our weaknesses, and not get bent out of shape thinking it’s all our fault, just realize this is the sin nature against which we all fight.
2. You have a serious, enormous responsibility to train your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, which encompasses much of what we’re talking about today. BUT….hear me, you cannot believe that there is a formula for raising children and that if you are faithful to do ABC, it will guarantee they will turn out just how you planned. I believe that the Bible teaches that if you are faithful, generally speaking, your children will likely follow you in that faith and will grow up to be men and women of God. And to that end, we pour ourselves out. Faithfulness on our part is a non-option. But we have got to understand that God is sovereign and that our children might make bad choices even when we’ve done all we can do. We can’t be disillusioned by our children’s choices, blaming ourselves. God is the perfect parent and He has had prodigals since the beginning.
But I’m telling you, Satan wants to use it to tell you you’re a failure and cause you to be dismayed to the point that you feel like giving up on your other children.
That’s not our position, ladies. We are at war. You have an enemy who wants your children. And the very best way he can get to them is to discourage you. Discouragement is a bitter, powerful tool. Don’t let him. Fight with all that is in you. For the wayward child and for your other children. We just simply can’t give up. It’s not an option.
AND…don’t make having children who turn out well your idol. Of course we want them to turn out well. But that cannot be the goal. The goal is to love the Lord, walk faithfully, obey and trust Him,—really really trust him, no matter what. You will not give an answer for your children’s lives. You WILL give an answer for yours, and for your faithfulness in parenting the children He gives you.
So my prayer is that you are encouraged to take a long-term view of your role in helping shape your children into courageous men and women who reflect the character of Christ. Lean into the Lord on those days you feel exhausted. You do your part to be faithful and trust Him with the hearts of your children. Do you become weary in well doing; for in due time, you will reap if you do not faint.