By Clint Little
The global pandemic is a time of fear, uncertainty and loss for many of us. Personally, with my dad on immunosuppressants and my wife and I about to have our first baby, I know firsthand some of the anxieties that a time like this can trigger.
But this pandemic is also something more than that — an opportunity. We have an opportunity to be the body of Christ and to share the love of Christ with those around us in new and surprising ways. Perhaps even more fundamentally, we have the opportunity to become more like Christ in our inward being. Specifically, the pandemic is a unique opportunity to develop more virtuous and Christlike character.
New Circumstances…New Sin Struggles
The social and economic fallout of COVID-19 has thrust us all into unusual circumstances. Most of us have had our daily routines altered significantly. Changes in our work, parenting, finances, social life and even eating habits underscore the incredible uncertainty of this time.
While some of our new routines are welcome changes, perhaps you have also seen surprising “new” sins and character flaws emerge.
You are not alone.
Emma has never worried about money before, but after being furloughed from her job she can’t stop obsessing over her finances.
Tyler is normally calm and unflappable but now finds himself regularly feeling rage after endless hours trying to stop his kids from killing each other.
Russell was sure he didn’t base his identity and self-worth in ministry success, but now that his church plant is struggling to survive the effects of the lockdown, he has sunk into a state of depression.
Karen was definitely not a workaholic, but she has found herself unable to enjoy her extra free time because she is constantly searching for the next productivity “high.”
Dan has always been a hard worker, but with totally unstructured days and nothing to do, he has drifted into sloth and lethargy.
Yeah, I made the names up, but I’m confident each example represents countless Christians suddenly finding new sin struggles in their lives. What does it mean? And what should we do about it?
Every sin is a window into our actual character, not just an aberration brought about by unusual circumstances.
Insight or Aberration?
I would like to suggest that the extraordinary circumstances brought about by the pandemic can provide powerful insights into our character, exposing deeply rooted idols that are normally hidden from us by the structure of our lives.
This viewpoint I’m suggesting requires a significant shift in our thinking. We are inclined to think that our character consists of what we normally do, but it is far more complex than that. Take our example of Dan, the typically hard worker. Dan thought he was a hard working person because, well, he went to work every day and did what was expected of him. Then, when the job and expectations were gone, he “became” slothful and lazy. It would be easy for Dan to blame his circumstances, to continue believing he is a hard worker unjustly forced to laziness by events outside his control.
The biblical reality shows us that sin comes from deep within our hearts. Therefore, every sin is a window into our actual character, not just an aberration brought about by unusual circumstances. Within this viewpoint, Dan has always had a lazy and slothful character hidden within his heart. His character was simply covered up by his work schedule. You see, for a lazy person it can actually be the path of least resistance to follow the expectations of an externally enforced working schedule. But once these external requirements are removed, Dan is left with a character too weak to compel himself to industrious activity.
The point is that the unusual circumstances of the pandemic actually provide a unique window into the true substance of your character. Don’t fall for the temptation to ignore these insights. Don’t just brush them off and wait for your circumstances to “go back to normal.” Take this opportunity to actually work on changing your character.
The Opportunity of a Lifetime
Unpleasant news about our sinful nature and character flaws should come as no surprise to us as followers of Jesus. The very core of the Christian message, the gospel, puts a spotlight on the painful realities of our fallen state. But the gospel also frees us from bondage to our sin and gives us everything we need to live new lives of freedom and holiness.
Indeed, the process of our character becoming more like the character of Christ is central to Christian living. Scripture tells us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1), to “yield your members to righteousness for sanctification” (Romans 6:19), to “strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14), and to “put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10).
If this is our task — to become like Christ in our character — what greater gift could we receive than new insights into ways that our character does not reflect our Savior? Could the coronavirus be both a tragic reminder of the fallen state of the world and a gracious opportunity for individuals to be made more like Jesus?
You won’t change deeply rooted character flaws, displace long-worshiped idols or become a model of virtue overnight.
Don’t Waste Your Pandemic
I’d like to borrow a famous phrase from John Piper: “Don’t waste your life.” Or, more specifically, don’t waste this opportunity God has given you to glorify him through developing a more virtuous character.
The pandemic may (or may not, who knows) be nearing an end and, with it, the unique circumstances it has brought into your life. However, you have gained insight into your character, which is very valuable information you are responsible for using faithfully. Take the opportunity to work on developing a Christ-like virtue to replace the area(s) of sin God has graciously exposed to you.
Here are a few tips to get you started…
- Get specific.
Identify what sins and idols have been exposed in your life. A vague feeling of not being productive is not helpful. You have to determine whether you are slothful and lazy or whether you have made an idol of productivity or vocational success. Each of these insights will take you very different directions.
- Narrow your focus.
Avoid the temptation to work on everything at once. I’m not saying to ignore conviction over the many sins we commit daily. What I’m proposing is not a replacement for regular confession and repentance, but we are finite beings with limited capacity for focus. If you try to focus on everything, you will focus on nothing.
- Be systematic.
One of my favorite quotes by author G.K. Chesterton is, “You can’t grow a beard in a moment of passion.” You won’t change deeply rooted character flaws, displace long-worshiped idols or become a model of virtue overnight. You have to develop a plan of action: pray consistently, change your thinking with appropriate Scripture passages, and build in regular reminders to keep you focused and moving forward.
- Ask for help.
Don’t do this by yourself. You can find amazing help on your journey from your family, church, friends and authors. Wisdom and information from others on the same journey is extremely helpful, and accountability can never be underestimated.