Merriam-Webster defines character as, “one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual.” Does it feel like character is completely adrift in our country? How often do you see attributes of generosity, integrity, loyalty, kindness, and self-control on display?
A prominent Christian leader once wrote, “Character is what we do when no one is looking.” The problem with this quote is that its author was found to be doing things he shouldn’t when no one was looking. He lost his job, ministry, and reputation. And far worse than that, his church suffered, and the cause of Christ was tarnished.
I could be that leader. So could you.
How can we make sure that doesn’t become our story? None of us is exempt from the landmines of life, so how do we know where to step to avoid loss of limb or life?
The Apostle Paul confessed his own struggles with sin in Romans 7, and he shared how each of us has the innate ability to go down the wrong path. In other words, compromise is in us, and life draws it out of us.
Character drift is exactly that—a hundred little concessions where we drift away from God, and we find ourselves in a lonely sea far from the person we hoped to be.
So, what are some telltale signs that your character is adrift and you’re not becoming who you intend to be? In his excellent book, Didn’t See It Coming, Carey Nieuwhof gives five telltale signs (43-46).
1. There’s a growing gap between your public and private life. You project an external image far from your internal reality. As people board the subway in London, a verbal warning echoes through the station, “Mind the gap.” Good advice for all who begin to see a gap between the way they are in public and the way they live behind closed doors.
2. You’re hiding things. The gap widens, the truth shrinks, and lies become a normal part of life. You become more fearful that you will be found out, and the stress of having to keep up appearances grows exponentially.
3. You fail to follow through on what you’ve said. You over promise and under deliver. You promise to go to your child’s soccer game, but you forget. You promise your spouse a date night, but it never happens. At first these are exceptions, but soon they become the norm.
4. You justify your bad actions and decisions. You continue to lie to others and to yourself. You rationalize your behavior. You play the role of victim to excuse your behavior. You shift the blame to someone else or to “circumstances beyond your control.”
5. Your life has become all about you. You become a self-absorbed narcissist who lives in self-denial. You’re not wrong; everyone else is. And your life begins to implode.
If you find yourself heading down the slippery slope of character erosion, then decide that now is the time to make a mid-course correction. Stop your behaviors of self-destruction, reach out to Jesus Christ, and find fellow believers who will walk life’s journey with you.
Maybe you can identify with the words of the Apostle Paul: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). If you can, then turn to the same Source of redemption and deliverance as did he: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25a).