Character–whether good or bad–is simply the accumulation of habits over time.
Godly character is not formed in a moment, merely by an act of the will to choose what is right. But when that act of the will to choose what is right is repeated hundreds (or thousands) of times over the course of many years–that is what gradually forms a Godly character.
Bad character is not formed in a moment either, by one impulsive act or choice to sin. Rather, bad character is formed gradually through repeated decisions to sin over the course of many years.
Sometimes, if I’m talking with someone further along in their Christian maturity than me, I get the impression that, in their mind, what I’m struggling with is really no big deal. Therefore their counsel to me might come across as dismissive or simplistic, like the answer is obvious and I need to just do it! If I’m honest, though, I realize I probably do the same thing if I’m giving counsel to someone younger than me. I forget how intensely I used to struggle with the same thing they are encountering, and how impossible it must seem to them to ever be free of it.
And I forget that the freedom I experience now did not come through a one-and-done decision that “Doggone it, I’m not going to do this anymore.” No, the freedom I now experience came very slowly over many years of practicing habits and making little everyday decisions to pursue what is right. And in the daily grind of those 1001 little choices, it did not feel like anything was changing or maturing, but habits were forming that were moving me toward a greater maturity in Christ.
So in those opportunities to speak into the life of someone who is younger in faith, carelessly dismissing their struggle and expecting them to just do the right thing is not very helpful for them, no matter how true or wise “just doing the right thing” would be. Instead, I need to help them see their little, moment-by-moment choices that are becoming habits that gradually form their character. Likewise, I need to help them imagine new little, moment-by-moment choices that in time would also become habits, but would move them toward a Godly character instead.
“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9