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The Disciplines of Character

The world system operates under the assumption that to bring change to a situation or person, that change must come from the outside-in (external to internal) and the top-down (centralized to local). Even though virtually all evidence is to the contrary, modern secular culture stubbornly persists in this nonsense. As students of the Scriptures, we know that the opposite is true—real transformation comes from the inside-out and the bottom-up. Much of the crisis we face in the Western world today stems from this profound antipathy towards spiritual truth which motivates our secular system.

One such crisis is the continual controversy over shortcomings in the personal lives of our political leaders. The principal issue that puts modern America at risk is this: What real value lies behind the disciplines of character? Even if we were to effectively eliminate racism, succeed in the generational transfer of godly values, appreciate the value of all citizens, equip them to discover and fulfill their destinies, and bring an end to the left-right game, these things could only be maintained temporarily without the disciplines of character.

Biblically defined, discipline is the removal of that which is unnecessary or harmful. Character is the fruit of disciplines practiced consistently and revealed under stress in which the urge to yield to selfishness is replaced by the operating principle, “your good at my expense.” Without the disciplines of character being enumerated and described, in terms of how to produce them and what their benefits are, the modern secular state will expect money, laws, and force to accomplish what only the disciplines of character within her citizens can.

Some of these disciplines of character are obvious, for example, self-control, self-sacrifice, the ability to value others’ opinions and possessions, time management, the development of God-given skills, honesty, love for people, love for the truth, etc. These disciplines are not complex; rather they are painfully simple to define. The issue is the personal or social discomfort generally required to make them operate in our lives as individuals or as a nation.

A leader then is one who has sufficiently mastered the disciplines of character so as to lead for the benefit of others in a way that serves and develops them. True leaders don’t use people or exploit them, let alone prey upon their lack of discipline or character weaknesses. Leaders are leaders in the modeling of death to self, Christ’s cross being “exhibit A.”

As we make an effort to engage in the public conversation, our pursuit of truth and the pulling down of myths and lies must be undergirded by the reality that the price of leadership is mastered disciplines. Power without character produces tyranny, and that is…


This Bottom Line Classic was originally published August 2011

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