According to a Gallup poll, 72% of Americans believe the state of moral values in the USA is getting worse. In a world of social media snapshots and sound bites, unseen personal character seems to take a back seat to glamorized material success, no matter what it takes to achieve it.
Bible Gateway interviewed James Merritt (@drjamesmerritt) about his book, Character Still Counts: It Is Time to Restore Our Lasting Values (Harvest House Publishers, 2020).
Why do you believe a character deficit exists today?
James Merritt: Both by research and experience, there’s no question that there’s a character deficit today from the coarseness of public conduct to the incivility and personal interaction. Surveys show and people know that there’s certainly a dearth of character today that’s seen everywhere from the school house to the White House. Just as I’m answering these questions, for the first time in the history of Major League Baseball, two managers and a general manager have been fired because of stealing signs electronically in a recent World Series. It seems as if today, people are less trusting of each other, contracts are consistently broken, and dishonesty seems to be at an all-time high.
What does it mean if a person is described as having good character or bad character?
James Merritt: The easiest way to answer this is in two words: “role model.” We know when a person is setting a good role model for his children, his employees, his neighbors, his community, etc. A person of good character displays on a consistent basis the qualities that are found in my book.
What’s the difference between character and reputation?
James Merritt: Simply put, reputation is what other people think you are; character is what you and God knows you are.
What do you mean when you write, “When we shortcut character, we shortcut ourselves”?
James Merritt: At the end of the day, we all have to live with ourselves. We can fool a lot of people, but we can’t fool God or ourselves. Since we only have one life, we should live it being the best we can be at being the best person we can be and the requirement of that is character.
You examine 12 values that are integral to a person’s character. Please name them and then briefly unpack two of them as to why a person should develop them and how to do it.
James Merritt: The 12 values are Integrity, Honesty, Humility, Loyalty, Respect, Authenticity, Generosity, Courage, Perseverance, Self-Control, Forgiveness, Faithfulness.
The foundational value is integrity. Integrity is always doing the right thing at the right time, in the right situation, regardless of the cost. Without integrity, true character is impossible.
A first cousin to this one is honesty. There’s nothing more important than knowing that you truly are a person of your word and a promise made is a promise kept.
I believe both of these are developed by making a simple prior decision in your life that no matter what the situation you may find yourself in, as long as it’s not immoral, unethical, or ungodly you’ll do what you will say you’ll do. You’ll be in private what you appear to be in public and you’ll always tell the truth.
What’s the difference between integrity and honesty? Which is more costly?
James Merritt: Integrity is more costly. You can have honesty without integrity, but you cannot have integrity without honesty. To give an extreme example, you could go into a bank to rob it, and you could say to the teller, “I was not raised this way. I know this is wrong. I should not be doing this. I’m going to give you my full name and my address, because I really do want to be caught and yet rob the bank anyway.” You were completely honest, but you lacked integrity.
Another shorter example would be: you could tell someone that you’re going to meet them at a certain time and a certain place and have every intention to do so. At that moment, you were being honest, but if you fail to do so when you should have, it was because you had a lack of integrity. At the end of the day, integrity is more costly, because you can get away with an occasional lie, but if you have a problem consistently with your integrity it’ll catch up with you.
How does “respect start with an inward attitude toward yourself”?
James Merritt: I believe the foundation of respecting others is respecting yourself. I believe the reason why we disrespect others is because we’re simply projecting a lack of respect for ourselves on to other people. It’s the same reason why Jesus said we should “love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”
How does the act of forgiving someone demand good character?
James Merritt: There’s not a higher test of one’s character than being willing to forgive someone who has hurt you or wronged you. They may not even deserve to be forgiven, but you forgive them anyway. Anyone can hold a grudge and remain bitter, but it takes tremendous character and the willpower of a strong character to forgive.
How is Jesus the ultimate example of good character?
James Merritt: Though I already knew it, I was amazed when I went back and studied the life of Jesus again and how in every way, every day, he perfectly portrayed every one of the 12 values of character. That’s why I titled the last chapter the “Main Character.” It’s very simple. If Jesus lived a perfect life, which I believe he did, then he must have had a perfect character.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
James Merritt: My life passage is John 14:6, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” As I say in Character Still Counts, “There is nobody like Jesus. Never has been or ever will be.” I’m so grateful that I’ve given my life to, and will follow forever, the only person who ever lived with perfect character.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
James Merritt: I can honestly say I’ve been a fan of Bible Gateway and it’s been bookmarked on my computer for many, many years. It’s one of the most valuable tools I’ve ever come across in studying Scripture and knowing more about the God of the Bible.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
James Merritt: Yes. I’m so honored that Bible Gateway has given me the privilege of talking about my book and more specifically the importance of character. Thank you again for this privilege.
Bio: James Merritt—prolific author—is the Pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Georgia. He is the host of the nationwide and worldwide broadcast ministry, Touching Lives. He earned a Master of Divinity degree and a PhD in evangelism from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest protestant denomination in the country. He and his wife, Teresa, have three sons and four grandchildren.
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