There has been a shift going on for the last decade or two. It has not always been noticeable but there is a definite shift in the way people today, regardless of the nation they live in, are thinking.
One researcher did a study of American self-help literature covering a 200-year span. He observed that literature written during the first 150 years focused on developing what he called the “character ethic” as the foundation for success in life and in relationships. In essence, success in life was defined according to virtues such as honesty and integrity and the golden rule. In sharp contrast, literature written in the last 50 or so years focuses on what he termed the “personality ethic”; that is, success is defined by a person’s ability to achieve, improve performance, and simply get ahead.
The subtle change in the definition of success caries with it some devastating consequences to our perception of character. If honesty and integrity are no longer highly sought-after values, a shift occurs in our moral and ethical framework. If virtue is no longer the objective, then what you are isn’t nearly as important as what you do. And how you think means nothing compared to how you feel.
Suddenly, the ultimate goals are position and achievement. The first priority is personal fulfillment. So what we’re really saying is that right and wrong are now determined by what helps or hinders our progress. And if we’re totally honest, right is defined in terms of what moves us towards our goal. Wrong is defined as anything that gets in our way.
When achievement takes precedence over character, a new code of ethics has been introduced:
- If the family stands in the way of someone’s career, then the family is sacrificed.
- If honesty impedes the accumulation of wealth, then deceit becomes the norm.
- It’s right to steal if stealing means progress.
- It’s right to claim another person’s idea as your own.
- If cheating means winning, then cheating is right.
When personal fulfillment takes precedence over character, a new moral standard is introduced:
- If it fulfills me, it’s moral.
- If it doesn’t meet my needs, it’s immoral.
- Self-control is renamed self-denial and is considered unhealthy.
- If cheating on my spouse makes me happy, then unfaithfulness is moral.
- If an unexpected pregnancy threatens my career or social goals, then abortion is not only an option; it is the right thing to do.
Meanwhile, we invent an endless stream of subconscious rhetoric to justify and qualify our actions in our minds:
- “This isn’t immoral, I need this because….”
- “How else am I suppose to compete?”
- “I just can’t seem to stop…”
There was a time in the Church world when men and women made the development of character a top priority. But somewhere along the way, the focus shifted … following the trend that was evident in the secular world. The Church was and still is no longer a counterculture but became a sub-culture of the everyday society and world in which we lived. Almost a mirror-image with a thin ‘Christian’ veneer. We lost our bearings. Christians stopped emphasizing the inner person and began to measure success by what they saw on the outside. So, we experienced this personal war – the inner person against the outer person. And as the outer person has prevailed, the outer person is establishing a new, acceptable way to express the faith which is totally not biblical.
Choosing in 2021 to take up the pursuit of character – becoming more and more like Jesus – will mean choosing to stand against the prevailing culture. You won’t fit in. Not only won’t you not fit into the society and neighbourhood in which you live. But, you most likely will also not fit into the normal, every day life of the local church. You are simply not going to get much help or even encouragement from the outside.
But, as you will soon find out, character has rewards that far outweigh anything you may be forced to give up along the way.
Let’s reclaim “character” in 2021 as something important that we need to focus on and work with so that we truly live life in a manner that is biblical and honours the Lord whom we follow and serve.