In recent months we have seen a series of very public failures of character by prominent Christians. Paige Patterson, Andy Savage, Bill Hybels…the list goes on and on. We all need a renewed emphasis on character in our lives, starting with those who are leading the church.
God wants us to be the fully virtuous people he designed us to be in the first place. Yet Christians have a long way to go to get there. What ideas from the Christian tradition can help us in our daily lives to bridge the character gap between how we are and how we should be? Here I want to highlight three such ideas.
Historically a number of practices have been central to the Christian life. Examples include prayer, reading scripture, contemplating the lives of the saints, fasting, confessing sins, and helping those in need.
To be sure, the main purpose of these practices may not be to become better people. They may ultimately exist to better worship or bring glory to God. But in the process of engaging in them, Christians also take concrete steps which can have a beneficial impact on their characters.
As an example, take confessing our sins. To admit a lie, or a theft, or an affair, can take a great deal of courage. We are often afraid of revealing our deepest secrets and wrongdoings to others, especially to those we want to like and admire us. Confession can also strengthen our trust in other people by sharing deeply personal information with them. It takes a degree of humility to acknowledge where we have messed up. When others forgive us, and we experience God’s forgiveness, it can make us more forgiving as well. Christians are to be grateful for being forgiven. Not to mention that confessing wrongdoings will hopefully make us less likely to commit the same ones again in the future.
If she is authentically carrying out Christian practices like confessing sin, the believer can gradually grow in virtue. She will be directing her attention in a better way (the head part) and reorienting her motives to respond accordingly (the heart part), whether she knows it or not. The head and the heart, in other words, are being aligned in a way that is virtuous.
The Social Dimension
There is more to a Christian vision of character improvement than just a bunch of different practices, though. In fact, the picture I have painted is badly skewed. It makes it sound like the individual Christian is on her own when it comes to bridging the character gap.
But when Christians pray, we often do so with other people. Many families say a blessing at the dinner table. We can pass along prayer requests to their church or small group. We often recite the Lord’s Prayer together.
When Christians confess sins, we do so to God. Frequently we also confess to fellow believers, whether a priest, minister, spouse, or trusted friend. Or we say a confessional in unison as part of a service.
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Source: Relevant Magazine