Owning Your Integrity (Own Your Life Fridays)

Character is Constant Work

The greatest legacy one can pass on to one's children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one's life, but rather a legacy of character and faith. BILLY GRAHAM

Harvesting a Godly Character

C.S. Lewis is famous for his essay “Men Without Chests” (from The Abolition of Man). In it, he describes a generation of people without virtue or character because of the rise of relativism and loss of objective truth. In the style of the ancients, he describes the head as the place of knowledge, the heart as the place of passion, and the chest as the place of virtue and character.

Only when a person has a well-developed character can they properly put to use knowledge and passion. Without the strength of character developed in the chest, knowledge can become cruel and passion destructive. With character, knowledge becomes wisdom and passion becomes love.

It seems that there are many people without chests in our world. With the constant influx of information provided by the internet, and no effective ways to determine the objectivity or truthfulness of that information, people can develop keen opinions, but not be required either to validate those opinions or to act on them. In the same way, it is easy for us to voice emotional and idealistic claims without doing the hard work of validating our opinions objectively and putting them into actual practice in our lives. Opinion becomes a substitute for character.

If we are truly to be full-bodied people who act on the biblical ideals that we hold to be objectively true, then we must practice integrity and grow the muscle of character; we must become men and women with chests.

The essence of character is found in the habitual heart choices of an individual over a long period of time. Character is the constant work of a lifetime and the product of a heart engaged in wisdom, choosing the right thing over and over again. It is like practicing a sport. If you’ve ever taught a child to catch or throw a ball, you know the moment in which it “clicks.”

Suddenly, the catcher goes from awkward fumbles to being able to catch the ball almost every time; snagging the ball out of the air becomes an automatic response. Character is the product of good choices made over and over again, so that when the curveballs of life come your way, you can automatically respond in wisdom because that is what you have practiced.

What we practice shapes who we become, and the voices we listen to shape what we will practice. If we are to live lives of character, we must invest in wisdom. One of my mentors once gave me a great quote: “God forgives, but wisdom does not.” The heart of wisdom is properly understanding the impact and meaning of our personal choices. The book of Proverbs very clearly delineates good and bad decisions, a practice which is not popular in our day.

The purpose of Proverbs is not to create strict rules to live by, but to help the reader live a life of wisdom which brings peace. I do not tell my children “don’t go over the speed limit” because I like to impose difficult rules upon them, but because if they do go over the speed limit they will more likely have to pay a ticket or get in a wreck. Wisdom creates healthy hedges around our behavior of what we will and won’t do.

We obey God's commands in order to build our lives on foundations that will stand and not fail us in the storms of life. We live with virtue so that others can look to us as beacons that will show them the love and redemption of God. Our virtue should help in our outreach and draw others to us, not send them away.

When God called us to be lights in a lost generation, His desire was that, through the virtue of our purity of life and behavior, we would become guides to those who long to move from darkness into light.

Becoming the best you can be requires that you own your integrity and live the most virtuous life possible.

Because we reflect the character of God, Christians should be the most trustworthy, hardworking, truth-telling, dependable, moral, patient, and grace-filled people. This is our heritage from God.

Our integrity comes before our influence. 

Take some time to develop a long-term plan for growing stronger in character.

 An excerpt from Own Your Life, Chapter 12.

Own Your Life cover