How Do You Encourage Christ-like Character?

From the desk of Dr. Ward, Director of Campus Life and Ministry:

How do we encourage morality in young people? Dr. Tim Elmore recently posted a helpful summary of research in answer to this question (You can read the full post here or the more extensive New York Times research summary here).

One takeaway – focus on identity over actions. For example, rather than correcting someone for cheating by calling them a cheater, the research suggests we affirm their identity while pointing out the inconsistency of their choosing to cheat in this situation. According to the NY Times summary, the most effective response was to express disappointment with the behavior, explain why it was wrong, how it affected others, and how the child could make things right.

Scripture also speaks to identity. For example, the New Testament refers to believers as those who are “in Christ” multiple times (e.g., Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 1:1; 1 Peter 5:14).

Consider Paul’s commentary on this phrase in Galatians 3:26-28.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Application – we need to remind both our students and ourselves who we are “in Christ.” Since Brook Hill’s mission includes “promoting Christ-like character,” we use Bible classes and chapel programs to help remind students that if they are Christ-followers, their identity is not based on what they do, but on what God has already done for them in Christ. For a helpful introduction to this life-changing concept, meditate on the words of Paul from Ephesians 1:3-14.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins,  in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Does that mean our actions are not important?  “By no means!” (to borrow a quote from Paul in Romans 6:15). We don’t want to minimize the consequences of sin. I suggest that when we consider both scripture and this research, it means our actions can and should be empowered by our identity. So how then do we respond to our mistakes? Try this: instead of responding to our foibles with “I’m an idiot,”  (a statement condemning our character) we should say, “Wow – that was dumb. Thanks be to God for His Grace!” (a statement which reminds us of our relationship with God).

*Bible Nerds – For a list of every time the phrase “in Christ” occurs in the New Testament, follow this link.