While many seek temporary fame, fortune, power or pleasure, the most important goal is often overlooked.
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Which of the following most appeals to you? An opportunity to: (1) receive an astronomical amount of money, such as $1 billion; (2) become a famous actor, rock star or athlete; (3) receive great power, such as being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or the leader of a great nation; (4) be endowed with remarkable beauty—or (5) receive perfect character?
Which would you choose?
Understand that only one of these conditions is permanent. Only one will not fade with time. Only one cannot be taken away from you by circumstances beyond your control. And only one will outlast your physical life.
Does this cause you to reconsider your choice? It should.
Samuel Butler, a famous English author, declared in his book The Way of All Flesh, “Pleasure…is a safer guide than either right or duty.” It would seem that modern society agrees. Seeking out and doing what feels good—pleasure—drives the minds of many, without any notion of resistance to anything on the basis of right and wrong. This thinking ultimately leads to a life of utter futility.
In other words, such a life brings no useful result—like one laboring for the wind. Though completely unaware of it, the vast majority are living this way—chasing after nothing!
Most are aware that life demands action—one must wake up each day and purpose to do something. True happiness cannot be achieved through idleness (though some may speak as if such a life would be “fun”). One’s time must be occupied with worthwhile pursuits. However, for many, the sole purpose of life is the pursuit of pleasure.
Most seek money as the solution to all their problems, with many even resorting to robbery to obtain it. For example, according to 2010 FBI statistics, there were an estimated 367,832 robberies in the U.S. alone—just over 41 per hour. A combined total of $456 million was lost—an average of $1,239 per victim.
Others, not being satisfied with the amount of money they have, opt for an “easy” route to acquire more, such as lotteries and gambling. In 2010, Americans spent an astonishing $58 billion on lotteries and $34 billion on casino gambling. All this money is spent in the hope of “winning big” in order to “live the good life.”
Most fail to consider that even large sums of money can easily be depleted. Consider that “about once a month on average, a hapless millionaire winner of one of the 37 [now 43] state lotteries goes bust and files for bankruptcy, experts say. That’s the rags-to-rags fate of about one-third of all winners” (New York Post).
Then there are those who seek fame and power, with, of course, wealth being a welcome benefit. Many covet the “big life” that movie stars, rock stars, athletes and top business executives seemingly enjoy. It is thought that if fame is achieved, the ultimate “wonderful life” would result.
In a New York Times article, a former comedian and director explained the typical Hollywood financial story: “When you make money in this town [Hollywood] it’s very fast, and it feels like it’s never going to end. I’ve done it myself. I’ve been the [person] who was spending money and then thought, ‘Wow, I haven’t had a job in two years.’” Of course, the money—and the fame and power that yielded it—does eventually come to an end!
Many also seek “sex appeal” as a way of life, keeping up with the latest fads and trends. Billions of dollars are spent each year by people seeking to become or remain beautiful. In the fashion and cosmetic industries, new and exciting products and procedures are constantly being introduced, promising breathtaking beauty. Plastic surgery is a booming industry as well, with many teenagers seeking to become more attractive. Procedures such as liposuction and botox injections are increasing in popularity.
But, like money, fame and power, beauty will eventually come to an end.
The Bible provides an interesting account of the futility of pursuing pleasures to the extreme. Notice what King Solomon wrote near the end of his life: “So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy [pleasure]; for my heart rejoiced in all my labor: and this was my portion of all my labor” (Ecc. 2:9-10). Solomon made it his mission to enjoy every conceivable pleasure. God allowed this so that mankind could learn from his experience.
Here is what Solomon concluded: “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity [futile] and vexation of spirit [frustration], and there was no profit under the sun” (vs. 11). He continues, “For that which befalls the sons of men befalls beasts; even one thing befalls them: as the one dies, so dies the other; yes, they have all one breath; so that a man has no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity [futile]. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again” (3:19-20).
Solomon came to realize that we all eventually die. There is no escaping this fate. And when death arrives, the things that most pursue (wealth, fame, power, beauty and pleasure) also come to an end.
But there is one thing that does survive the grave: character!
What is true character? It is the ability to come to the knowledge of the right from the wrong—the true from the false—and to choose the right, and possess the will to enforce self-discipline to do the right and resist the wrong.
The reason we were put on Earth is to build perfect, righteous character. Ultimately, without character, we are nothing.
Understand. God has and is perfect character. For example, He cannot lie. He has perfect willpower—perfect character—making it impossible for Him to lie (Heb. 6:18). And His goal is to build this same perfect, eternal, indestructible character in you. (Our booklet Why Do You Exist? explains this, and the purpose of mankind, in more detail.)
Imagine what life would be like if there were no choices or decisions to make, as if you were simply living according to a script. If this were the case, what would be the point of existence?
God designed life to be full of choices—what to eat, what to wear, what to drink—how to live. Throughout any given day, thousands of decisions are made. It can be said that life is as a series of choices, with each decision having an impact on future decisions. This ability to choose is free moral agency.
Many are somewhat familiar with the account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Notice: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). One often-overlooked aspect of this account is that Adam and Eve were given a choice—to eat of a particular tree and die, or to avoid it and live. God did not force them to do what He commanded. Being given a choice is the only way to build character.
Because they did not believe God, Adam and Eve decided to eat from the wrong tree. They rejected God’s authority over them and thus were banished from the Garden of Eden. However, their choice not only affected them; it caused all humanity to be cut off from God.
Like Adam and Eve, you are presented with choices. And like them, the decisions you make will affect others—even though you may not be able to see it.
God realizes that free moral agents can reject His rule over them. However, He also understands that only free moral agents can develop His character.
If you look around the world, you will observe confusion—everywhere. There are approximately seven billion people on Earth, each having his or her own view of right and wrong.
For example, among those who say that taking a human life is wrong, there are various philosophies as to when it is “right.” Then, there are those who say lying is wrong, but think that there are circumstances in which deceit, such as “little white lies,” are acceptable.
Why do people not agree? Because human beings do not inherently know right from wrong! One may think he has all the answers, concluding that a particular idea is correct, ignorant of how wrong he is. Notice: “…the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). In the book of Proverbs, Solomon stated this fact: “There is a way which seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (14:12). By taking a cursory look at the society in which we live, the truth of Solomon’s statement, inspired by God, should be most obvious.
God—and only God—can set the standard for right and wrong. As our Creator, He has this authority. If you were to invent a new piece of machinery, you would know for what purpose you invented it. And you would write an instruction manual on how to use it. God designed and created us, with the Bible as our Instruction Book.
God’s Word lays the groundwork from which to base our decisions. Remember, character involves making the right decisions. Not knowing absolute truth would make character-building impossible. The Ten Commandments—God’s great spiritual Law—are absolute truth. Sin is the transgression of God’s Law, with death being the result (I John 3:4; Rom. 6:23).
Simply put, God reveals through the Bible the knowledge of right and wrong.
As free moral agents, we possess the will to do what we want, whether right or wrong. Think of will as a mental, spiritual muscle, needing to be exercised in order to grow and become strong. Choosing to do right in the face of pain or discomfort—making the tough decision—exercises this muscle, building character. The more this is done, the stronger and more solidified our character becomes. The ultimate goal of a true Christian is to build God’s perfect character. This can only be done by resisting the wrong—no matter the cost.
It can be said that knowledge is knowing what is right; understanding is knowing why it is right; and wisdom is doing it. You can take it one step further and say that character is doing it repeatedly. Knowledge and understanding are important building blocks in attaining wisdom. Without either, there can be no wisdom. However, you can have knowledge and understanding, yet lack wisdom. Knowledge and understanding are useless without wisdom. And wisdom is only of value if it ultimately leads to character.
You may have heard the expression “No decision is a decision.” Most put off decisions until a “more opportune time,” using their indecisiveness as an excuse. However, “halting between two opinions” (I Kgs. 18:21) invariably defaults to doing wrong.
Also notice the following scriptures: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes…” (Prov. 21:2) and “…we are all as an unclean thing, and all our [righteousness] are as filthy rags…” (Isa. 64:6). People have the natural tendency to think that what they are doing is right. But God views our righteousness—our “morality”—as nothing more than a dirty cloth.
Recognize that there are only two paths in life from which to choose—one leading to life and the other leading to death. After delivering ancient Israel from captivity, showing them many signs and wonders, and giving them His Law, God said, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live” (Deut. 30:19). In other words, He gave them a choice. If they obeyed Him, great joy would fill their lives. But if they disobeyed, misery would result.
Ultimately, every human being who has ever lived will be confronted with the same choice. The only difference is that the choice will be between eternal life and eternal death. Pursuing money, fame, power, beauty or personal pleasures as your sole purpose in life will bring upon you unhappiness, grief and the feeling of utter futility. In order to travel on the road to true happiness and fulfillment and, ultimately, eternal life, right decisions must be made, and character must be built.