So how are you doing with your New Year’s resolutions? How about the resolution to make no resolutions? Have you resolved to do anything this year? Yeah, I’ve failed too.
Everyone fails. That’s why self-help books are still so popular even though everyone makes fun of their trite, usually shallow advice and diagnoses. We fail and we don’t like it so we try to remedy it. But our unused exercise bikes we all try to sell (and occasionally buy) at our annual yard sale speaks volumes. As do the multiple bread makers, mixers, scrapbook material piles, unread books, and unused wine making kits in our basements along with the workout videos still in the cellophane. We all fail. But these failures are surface failures. No one would likely say that we’ve morally failed by failing in these things. These failures aren’t character failures. No one is less a man because he fails to get a perfect shave or a perfect shape.
But some failures are character failures. Character is that thing that make us do right by others and by ourselves. Before men we can have a good character. We can, for the most part, keep our hands from thievery and our tongues from gross lies and gossip. We can, for the most part, operate within the accepted bounds of our local societies so that we don’t transgress the mores laid down by common consent. But when it comes to our character before God, this good character before men is like putting makeup on a corpse in an effort to make it look like they’re only asleep when in truth they are dead. At its heart, hypocrisy is thinking that our character before men suffices for our character before God.
Before God our character is damaged. That’s too weak a word, but it suffices. For us it is damaged beyond repair. There’s no self-help book that can give the dead the will to live. No motivational speaker can rouse the dead to do the deeds of the living. No amount of posthumous make-up can make give the dead the warmth of the living. And no one can improve his character before God. No one can do good. No one is righteous. Our character is damaged. Our honor is lost. We must be given a new character. This is why Jesus came; to give us a new character before God.
The Son of Mary came to give us back our honor.
Honor is a man’s character in action. Honor does what character dictates. So a dishonorable man has a flawed and wicked character. An honorable man is one of good character. Jesus is a man of honor. He does what is in His character to do. He doesn’t lie because it is not in His character to lie. He doesn’t cheat, gossip, or hold grudges because it is not in His character to do so. He obeys His Father perfectly because His character is to be obedient, even to the point of death on the cross. Jesus is the man of honor. And He gives us His Spirit that we, too, would be men of honor.
Men of honor do what is right because it is right. Their motivations are pure. They do not do things for selfish gain or ever for honor’s sake, as if honor needs to be honored. No, men of honor do things for the sake of others. They do good for the benefit of others. They refrain from evil for the benefit of others. Not just so others won’t be hurt by their evil, but so others will be helped in witnessing restraint and honor. Men of honor live for others. Now we can argue about what is right and wrong, what is honorable and dishonorable in action. We can muse over what an honorable man ought do and what he ought not do. But that’s at best a shallow argument that doesn’t help guide us. It only placates our guilt of not being men of honor but having occasionally done right by God and man. Better to pinpoint the heart of honor so that we have a guide when the waters are dark and the sky is red.
At the center of honor is a clean conscience.
A man of honor is one who fights to keep his conscience clean before God, just as an honorable son does what he does to please his father. so St. Peter writes that Baptism saves us by an appeal to God for a clean conscience by the power of the resurrection of Jesus (1 Peter 3). And St. Paul says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14-15). If your conscience is clean before God then who is there to condemn you?
And when you have dishonored yourself before God, when your heart condemns you, do not seek to restore honor before men for men are like the grass of the field, here today and gone tomorrow. Rather, repent before God and by the resurrection of Jesus be absolved. There is no shame in this. Shame is the opposite of honor and it is honorable to confess our sins because God has said we are sinners. It is honorable to seek absolution because Jesus has said He came to save the lost and to forgive sinners. It is honorable to live in the forgiveness of sins, by daily contrition and repentance drown the old Adam in us that the new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Let us be men of honor and stand before the Father in the obedience of Jesus. Let us love our wives, teach our children the ways of God in the person of Christ. Let us do good to all and seek peace and pursue it. Let us forgive as we have been forgiven and give as it has been given to us. Not because by these we regain our honor before God or man, but because for the sake of Christ our honor is restored and we are called the sons of God, brothers of Christ; men of honor.