If someone offered you a pill that would instantly get you in shape, make you happier, and increase your job performance, would you take it? Before answering, you need to know that there’s one major side effect. For as long as you take the pill, your moral character will not grow. You will not grow in virtue or Christlikeness. You will remain morally stagnant.
I wonder how many people would still take the pill. My guess is that the overwhelming majority of the population would. We don’t value virtue nearly as much as we value those other things.
The thought experiment above isn’t completely made up. Jesus asked a similar question: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul” (Mark 8:36)? It’s not an unrelated question. Jesus was juxtaposing the glory we seek in this life (“the whole world”) with the glory given by God in his kingdom. When our perspective is confined to the now, we forfeit the future. When all that we want is immediate, we lose our souls. When image, feeling, or success becomes ultimate, the moral substance of our person takes a back seat.
What may surprise you is that such a choice presents itself to us often, and we usually take it. I’m not really making this scenario up. A few years ago, I watched an online infomercial on how to get in shape quickly. It came complete with an easy exercise plan, a doable diet, and a catalog of supplements. As someone who tries to stay in shape but doesn’t always like to do the necessary things to make it happen, the allure of the quick fix got me. I was sold. Within a few short minutes, I was entering my credit card information on the website, and just a few days after that, I had my supplements in hand. The last time we cleaned out our cabinets, we threw those expired supplements out.
By opting for the quick fix, we often sacrifice growth in character. If I choose the magic supplement to get me in shape, I’m losing the need to grow in self-control, discipline, and perseverance. If I quickly opt for the pill that makes me feel happier, I take myself out of the game of learning genuine contentment and gratitude in the face of life’s struggles. The quick fix is the enemy of true growth.
The Bible’s witness is unanimous: growth comes through struggle. Christians grow as we learn to trust God through trials. Our character forms in the cauldron of life’s fires. If we try to shortcut that process, we lose the goal. It’s been years since I’ve played video games. However, when I was a child games had cheat codes that would enable you to easily win. I could enter the cheat code and beat a game within a day. However, the reward at the end was never as satisfying. The cheat code hindered the growth in skill required to really win the game. The problem is that we’re all looking for cheat codes for life.
Consider these passages. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). Peter reminds his letter’s recipients that the reason they have been “grieved by various trials” is so that “the tested genuineness of your faith …may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7). Finally, Paul writes that we can rejoice in our sufferings because we know that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
What do all these passages have in common? Each one teaches that true growth requires adversity. When we grow impatient and just want to escape the struggle and get some relief, we’re simultaneously removing ourselves from the process of genuine growth. Don’t settle for the quick fix. Embrace the struggle through the power of Christ.