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"Character Training" is Unbiblical!

By David W. Reece


I was recently reminded how easy it is to be swayed from God's purpose in educating our children, as I read a feature article concerning "character building" in a recent issue of a popular homeschool magazine. The focus of the article was on the father's role and his responsibility for "forming character" in a child. The author suggested that we build character by setting limits allowing the child to expand to acceptable behavior and inhibiting them from growing in directions they shouldn't. He concluded that Christ was the image which we were to mold them into. To be sure Christ, God, and the Bible were mentioned, but merely as tools by the parent to accomplish "character building". 

Because I am seeing a trend among Christians, especially homeschoolers, toward "character training", I felt it was necessary to point out the distortion of truths and subtle lies that are filtrating into Christian homes.

"Character building" is never mentioned in the Bible. In fact, it was not the "character training" by the parents of  the shepherd boy, David, which gave him faith, courage, and the power to kill the giant, Goliath.  It was and is faith in God's Word and a God empowered life. Godly deeds manifested, then and now, were and are attributed to men and women who walk with God in the Spirit and by faith in His Word. Teaching our children how to walk with God in the Spirit by faith in His Word should be our emphasis in educating and training our children, not "character building".

The emphasis on "character building or training" should be seen as another form of behavior modification; which stresses, if we alter the surrounding environment and stimuli, the outcome will change. The only difference between so called "character building" programs today and psychology is that now we have baptized the philosophy with the image of Christ.

I believe this concept of "character building" attacks the very foundation of the gospel of Christ and builds an altar to the gods of humanism. Humanism is man's best effort to redeem man; and psychology is the religion of humanism in which God is not part of the solution. It is an evolutionary and godless view of mankind.


Even as Israel committed adultery with foreign gods, the so called church has intermingled with the false gods of psychology. This concept of "Christian Psychology" has been popularized by some very gifted men and women. Their teachings have challenged the traditional simplicity of the scriptural view of man and have won many victories. This intermarriage is so accepted that we don't even recognize it as being incongruent with the gospel.

However, the whole concept of "Christian Psychology" is a contradiction to the gospel of Christ once delivered unto us. Christianity and Psychology are laid on two opposing foundations. Christianity is laid on the foundation of the work of Christ. Psychology is founded on the basis of Darwin's evolutionary beliefs. Christianity sees mankind as an enemy of God, without hope apart from the redemption in Christ. Humanism sees man without a need for God or redemption. It states that man is basically good, whereas Christianity declares man as utterly sinful. Humanism sees man's problem as being the result of a bad social environment. Christianity reveals that man's problem is the result of God's judgment upon Adam's sin.


How then does "character building" align itself with humanism? Character building advocates assume that our children will change, if given the right environment. These environmental changes may include rules or boundaries which guide the children  to make good choices. Christian character building programs incorporate scripture memory and consequences or rewards determined by the child's behavior. They teach, that if we know God's will, then we will produce Godly character. Regardless of the variety of approaches, the ultimate aim is to recondition the nature of man. Webster states that recondition means, "to condition (as a person or his attitudes) anew." 


The ultimate failure of this approach is that it ignores the proclamation of scripture which declares that, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but [how] to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members." Romans 7:19-23. Can you identify with this conclusion? 


I am often reminded of this war between flesh and spirit that Paul describes by my five year old daughter, Hannah. When Hannah is disciplined for her sins, she will sometimes cry with utter frustration and declare, "Daddy, I don't have the power to be good." Hannah's confession bears witness to the true testimony which Romans 7 proclaims. What hope then is there for our children? It is the same hope which God has offered for all mankind. Paul after declaring man's inability to deliver himself concludes the following: " O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God- through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Romans 7:24-25


The solution to every person's character problem is Jesus Christ. God's work in Christ, not only provided for the payment of the penalty of sin, it also made provision for the "making anew" of a person. This "making anew" is not brought about by reconditioning the current nature but by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in a believer at the time of conversion. 

Biblical Support:

IICorinthians 5: 17 teaches, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."

II Peter 1:4 teaches that we have been made partakers of His divine nature

Galatians 2:20  declares " I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me and gave Himself for me." Man's hope (and our children's hope) is "Christ living in me." The power to do good comes from Christ. The answer is not being Christ like (i.e., imitating Christ), but being Christ empowered (i.e., transformed).


When we are vessels yielded to His lordship, then He is able to live in and through us.How should we build character in our children? Our goal in training our children should be to disciple them in the truth of God's word and teach them how to walk in the Spirit. We agree that our children should meditate, memorize God's Word, and be given Biblical boundaries, but our goal for using these methods should be to lead them to Christ

"The law was given to Israel as a tutor to bring them to Christ" Galatians 3:25-25.

"Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." Romans 10:4 

And, Even so, we use the law and commandments to point our children to Christ. The law was given not to change man, but that man might realize his sinfulness and his need for Christ Romans 4:19


When our children transgress the law and sin, we need to point them to the redemption (grace, power, and forgiveness) that is in Christ. Our hope should be that as they grow and mature that they will come to the decision to place their trust in Christ and be born anew, recreated, born again. Christ's character of love, obedience, kindness, generosity, gratefulness, etc. is then imparted to them through old man (natural man) is crucified with Christ, and the new man (spiritual man) is resurrected with Christ. The character God desires to see in His children is described as the "fruit" of the Spirit. 

Galatians 5: 22 -23
states that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control..."

The scriptures are suggesting that when we are empowered and controlled by His Spirit, we will manifest these divine characteristics. Therefore, our ultimate ambition is to teach our children how to be born-again and filled with His Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), so that they may walk in a way pleasing to God. Hebrews 11:6 "Without faith it is impossible to please God.  Galatians 5:16 "Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh." Romans 8:14 "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." I believe there is a big difference between "character training" and "Biblical discipleship"


"Character training" has as it's goal to change the outward man. It simply advocates training children, using boundaries and commands, reward and consequences to build character. These techniques are used successfully to control and train animals, also. It seems to work on humans, as well. A significant difference between humans and animals is humans are capable of walking in obedience to His Word through the Holy Spirit.  Using "character training" methods give the appearance of godliness; but knowing God's will does not necessarily mean man will obey it. Though there may seem to be results using these method with the goal of "character training", the Bible describes these kind of persons as hypocrites or Pharisees, "white washed tombs filled with rotting bones". 

"Biblical discipleship" is believing that as adoptive sons of God, we are partakers of His divine nature. Those led by the Spirit of God will produce the fruits of the Spirit. We, as Christian parents should devote our time, energy, and resources into teaching our children what the Savior taught his disciples--how to pray, live by faith and obey God's Word, walk in the Spirit, worship God, and disciple others.


Eph 4:22
That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;

Rom 6:6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with [him], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.

Col 3:9 Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds

Eph 2:2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:

II Cor 5:17 Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

I Cor 2:14 (KJS) But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know [them], because they are spiritually discerned.


Note: See chapter on "Discipleship" in the SOW Curriculum for more specific ideas on how to train a child to walk in the Spirit.

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