Historically, a legacy was something that was handed down from one period of time to another, from one generation of a culture to the next, or perhaps some object or heritage passed down through families. In raising our children, it is our desire to leave a much more significant legacy than material possessions or family traditions, even though those are certainly nice things to pass along. Our greatest desire is to pass along the legacy of character—specifically, the character of Christ.
Our modern culture seems to put very little emphasis on character. For example, look at the people elected for political office. They’re not usually selected because of their character; they win because they promise the things we want to hear. And whom do our young people often idolize? Musicians, actors, and sports celebrities … and our young people rarely consider the character of these celebrities they adore. Instead, they applaud and envy their accomplishments and cultural status, not who they really are. Oftentimes, celebrity character flaws, even though made public, are simply overlooked as being “their private life.” While our children still may admire a celebrity’s accomplishments, we can teach them to be discerning and look elsewhere to learn how to live a life of character.
As Horace Greeley, a New York newspaper editor in the 1800s, wisely observed: “Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, riches take wing, and only character endures.”Our character is the essence of who we are. As such, there is no greater legacy we can leave than that of character.
It Begins with You
We may want to say discipling begins with our babies, but that’s not entirely correct. Discipling begins with our own personal walk with the Lord. A disciple models the attitudes and behaviors he or she is trying to instill in others. Look at Jesus. He never asked His disciples to do anything He was not already doing Himself. If we’re trying to teach our children to have quiet time with God— reading the Word, praying, private worship—are they seeing us do that? If we want our kids to be respectful of others, are they seeing us being respectful? Or do they hear us gossiping or bad-mouthing our bosses or berating the little ones we say we love so much? Do they see us criticizing others and grumbling about our jobs? Your children may not be able to see the hidden places of your heart and thoughts, but they can certainly see your behavior and hear your words. This is how they are being discipled. What kind of legacy are you going to choose for your children? It begins with you.
The Best Model of Character
When it comes to character, there’s no greater example than Jesus Christ. To believers, Scripture says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:14). That means taking on His character. We, as parents, want our children to revere people who virtuously live what they say and say what they live. God-made-in-flesh showed us how to live virtuously while struggling in this earthly body. He faced the same trials and temptations we face in being a person of character. Oh, they sometimes come in different forms than in Jesus’ day—such as TV, movies, and the Internet—but they are still ways to pull us down to a level below “the best” God desires for us. If the enemy can get hold of us in the area of our character, he has all of us.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”The greatest battle we face is the one within. Yes, the pressures outside our bodies are the temptations, but we must fight the carnal nature within, the element that strives to compromise our character standards. And in God’s Word, we find very specific guidance on how to deal with this struggle: “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:1-2). If we read further in the same passage, we can break down several issues and discover important questions to ask ourselves about how we’re developing our own character.
But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Eph. 5:3-5).
From this passage, we can draw several penetrating questions and observations.
- What are we filling our minds with from TV, movies, or the Internet?
- Are we focusing on pursuing “things” rather than pursuing God?
- Are we set apart from the world, rather than being of the world?
- How are we talking to others? Are we lifting people up or putting them down?
- Are we practicing gratitude or complaint?
It can’t be any clearer. We can’t have our feet both in heaven and in the world— it’s either/or. As followers of Christ, we are called to be set apart in our character. God calls us to a higher standard and if we choose to follow the way of the world and its desires and lusts, we will not receive our inheritance of heaven. That’s heavy stuff and thoroughly underscores the urgency and necessity for a Christ-like character.
The Word continues, “Let no one deceive you with empty words (Eph. 5:6). Those include the lies that the media and society are espousing that we so easily give in to, promising we’ll be happier, prettier, more popular, or more powerful. The Bible says, “because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (v. 6). His wrath? Do we want to experience the anger of the almighty Creator of the universe? We can’t even begin to imagine what that would be like. Kids think an angry parent is bad. This is the granddaddy of all angry parents and then some! It’s eternal.
The Ephesians 5 passage closes with a very simple sentence that gives the solution to the whole issue: “Therefore do not be partakers with them” (Eph. 5:7). Simple and effective. Don’t partner with that stuff. Sin may be fun for a time, but the consequences are forever. We must ask ourselves and our children: Is it really worth it? We know life can be tough and the difficulties are not always our own doing. Pain is imposed on innocent people every day. Despite this, we can choose to not live in filth or be pulled down into its dregs. We make the decision. We choose to succumb to the temptations around us for temporary satisfaction, or we choose to fight the battle within for an eternal reward. It begins with us, our own choices, and then we must do everything we can to help our children be successful in their battles, too. The way parents model overcoming these issues day in and day out is one of the greatest influencers of how children will define their own character.
Ready for Battle
Are we on our own in this battle? Absolutely not! We don’t have to fight these battles alone.
Character is self-control mastered by truth. Galatians 5:23 tells us that self-control is one of the nine fruits of the Spirit. It is not born of self-determination, bestowed upon us by parents or friends, or acquired by power or money. It’s from the Holy Spirit, as He lives within us. Yes, we must choose to resist temptation, but the power to do so comes from living in the power of the Spirit of God. Stand in the truth, and the Truth will stand in you. If our life’s focus is to live for Christ, who is absolute truth, then we’ll receive our power from Him. Standing in the truth is a simple concept to grasp, but not as simple to live. Character is developed as a daily discipline. It’s a victory, not a gift. There’s a reason Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).