Christlike Moral Character

[from the archives]

Christlike Moral CharacterRachel has a dream. It’s a short term dream for this fall quarter of college.  Nonetheless, it’s definitely a dream. The thought of it inspires and excites her. She’s passionate about it, and is willingly and eagerly doing all the complicated tasks it has required to set it up. She wants to play her French horn in a wind quintet.

She’s gathered up the players, which certainly hasn’t been easy! A wind quintet requires an oboe player and a bassoon player. These instruments are much more difficult to play, so the number of college kids who can play them well is drastically smaller than the more common flute and clarinet.  The music department at the college isn’t very big, but to Rachel’s delight there is one bassoon player and at least one oboe player.

She’s been emailing and texting through the summer months seeking to contact all the players, find out if they would be willing to join in and commit to the weekly rehearsals and coordinate their schedules. It’s been a challenge. The kids themselves don’t totally know what their schedules will be, and some are better than others at responding to communications.

Rachel has been working it all through with the music department. Since she’s basically creating a class, she’s had to get all sorts of signatures and permissions to get a classroom assigned and secure her ability to receive college credit for it all. She’s come to the conclusion that bureaucracies are un-relational, inefficient and difficult to deal with even if you happen to stumble upon a helpful person within them. I told her she was right about that!

Through all the work of setting it up, I’ve consistently observed Rachel’s attitudes, intentions and motivations. This makes up her moral character.  Her dream and her class credit rests in the cooperation and participation of four other people. It’s bigger than herself, and will require unity and teamwork. If she were walking in her flesh (self-seeking carnal nature) she could easily become demanding or manipulative of these other college kids. She could subtly make them feel badly enough that they would consent to be part of it. She could use the strength of her personality or the weakness or theirs to manipulate an outcome that would serve her desires.

She could place unfitting expectation on them, and then take up offense against them for all manner of things. If they chose not to participate, she could carry a grudge against them. If they failed to meet the commitment they made to her, she could get angry and become bitter. She could punish them all quarter long as she saw them around campus, giving them the silent treatment, or the extra polite but insincere treatment.

Instead of being in her flesh, she’s been careful to walk in understanding toward them all. She realizes they all have full lives, lots of relationships, complicated schedules and transportation issues just like she has. She sees their consent to participate and their commitment to the group is a blessing to her and she views it as a gift, walking in gratitude toward them and grace for their particular situations. She is careful not to put self-seeking expectation on them in any way.

Each time Rachel has come up against a difficulty with one of the people involved, she comes and talks with me about it. I ask the kind of questions that will reveal how she is thinking about it (her attitude) and what she plans on doing about it (her intentions) and why she will respond that way (her motivations).  In doing so I am examining her moral character. Relating in a loving and gracious way to these kids has got to be more important to Rachel than the agenda that her dream creates.

She’s had lots of practice at this kind of gracious relating with her own siblings. I’ve modeled this kind of right relating to her, making my heart to heart relationship with her more important than any agenda my dreams create. I’ve repeatedly called her attention to and addressed any interaction where she has treated her siblings as less important than her agenda. Her training in Christlike moral character for this experience has been long and her heart posture toward these other kids is second nature to her. She’s walking in love and continues to come to me for my counsel (my influence).

The way Rachel treats these college kids beginning in her heart (her attitudes, intentions and motivations) reveals her moral character.  So many parents think that passing on good morals to their kids means their kids will dress modestly, work hard, and refrain from drugs and sexual immorality. This is an extremely short-sighted and inaccurate understanding of moral character because all these things can be done while still being full of self-seeking relational habits. Christians all over the place live up to a superficial set of generally moral practices thinking themselves to be righteous just like the Pharisees did in Jesus’ time, but Christlike moral character is relating rightly in love at the heart level in the attitudes, intentions, and motivations of your heart. It is the “sum of our relational habits.” *

*“Moral character is the sum of our relational habits.” This statement comes from Marilyn Howshalls ebook, Empowering the Transfer of Moral Values and Faith. This is a great book to read if you would like to influence your children at the heart level toward Christlike character.

[originally posted September 2010]

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  1. Posted September 27, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    This is a wonderful summary of what you teach. It is encouraging to see it working in her relationships outside of the family. You trained her to be an authentic, relationally-based, loving person at home with her own siblings, and now she is able to carry on these positive attitudes and relational skills with people outside of the family. It has become THE WAY that she does things. She wouldn’t even consider being selfish or manipulative.
    The Lord showed me part of that – that we need to raise our kids to walk in love and walk in the Spirit and relate to each other in a loving way. But now you’re giving me the tools I need to teach these concepts.

    Thank you so much! God bless you and your family.

    P.S. Did your husband learn these concepts as well as you did?

    • Posted September 30, 2010 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      Yes Penny, I had the privilege of discipling my husband to the Lord and seeing him come to understand the workings of his heart and seeing him learn to disciple others through addressing their heart level relational habits. You can read much about our testimony here in my testimonies section and here in the articles section and here in my husband Tim’s testimony. His testimony pages are not yet complete on the web-site.

      • Posted October 4, 2010 at 9:06 am | Permalink

        Thank you. I’ve been reading his testimony and the other posts about your discipling him. It’s amazing to me that he let you work with him that way. Did he feel that you were criticizing him?

        • Posted October 4, 2010 at 10:05 am | Permalink

          My process with my husband was Spirit led. I had to put down my flesh (self-centered ways) and come to see his need for freedom. I stopped behaving the way I always had, and the result was that he became more angry than before. He accused me of many things—of nagging, of making things up, of ruining his mood, of not caring, of being ridiculous, of not taking responsibility, and blowing things out of proportion—and he tried to get me to go back to my old way of relating. I was no longer motivated by my fear of his disapproval. In the things that I said to him, I was in agreement with the Holy Spirit and his conscience. He eventually realized that I was laying down my life for his freedom, and he embraced the discomfort of truthful repentance, he realized that he was doing all those things he accused me of and more and he is totally changed and deeply grateful.

  2. Renee Arnold
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this post. You’ve mentioned my attitudes, intentions and motivations before and I meant to ask you to clarify more for me. But, I can clearly relate them to words I know now; my thoughts, plans and whys. :)

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