rebelling against low expectations

Building A Character House


I had never heard Mother’s voice like that, and I had never heard her call Father “Charles.” I thought my heart would pound itself to pieces while she was telling him what I had done. Hard as Father could spank, he never hurt me so much with a stick as he did when Mother stopped talking. He cleared his throat, and then he didn’t make a sound for at least two full minutes.

When he spoke, his voice was deep and dry, and I knew he must have been coughing a lot on the way home. “Son, there is no question but what the thing you have done today deserves severe punishment. You might have killed yourself or the horse, but much worse than that, you have injured your own character. A man’s character is like his house. If he tears boards off his house and burns them to keep himself warm and comfortable, his house soon becomes a ruin. A man with a ruined character is a shame on the face of the earth.”


As I read that excerpt, I can’t help but thinking that we are building today the character houses we’ll live in tomorrow; that what each of us will become later in life largely depends on what we are now. J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) wrote in his book, Thoughts For Young Men, “Youth is the seed-time of full age, the molding season in the little space of human life, the turning-point in the history of man’s mind.” Are we taking that seriously?

We must understand that there’s a tsunami of “advances” coming that will profoundly damage all but the sturdiest character houses. We’ve got to be working now so that when the wave comes, we’re ready for it. Robert Freeman once said, “Character is not made in a crisis—it is only exhibited.” The crisis is coming, what we need to ask ourselves is, “What kind of character will this crisis reveal? Am I strong enough to resist sin? Am I consistent in saying no to temptation? Or do I only get by when there is nothing there to tempt me?”

Remember, the time is coming where it will become more and more difficult to avoid sin and more and more necessary to develop the strength of character to resist it, fight it, and conquer it.

The landscape is changing rapidly. We must turn to God and plead with Him to grant us the grace to strengthen our character now, before it’s too late. What would you think of a soldier who decided to learn to operate his AK-47 on the battlefield? Or of the parents that wanted to teach their baby to walk on a tightrope? You’d think they were crazy, right? But are you hoping to do something equally extraordinary by putting off the development of your character until you’re in the middle of the storm?

It is now that we must become acquainted with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is now that we must make the Bible our intimate guide and adviser. It is now that we must get a clear picture of the evil of sin. If we don’t get serious about these things today it won’t happen. Do not underestimate the power of habit—especially the habits of youth.

J.C. Ryle put it well when he said, “Habits are like stones rolling downhill, the further they roll, the faster and more uncontrollable is their course. Habits, like trees, are strengthened by age. A boy may bend an oak, when it is a sapling. A hundred men cannot root it up, when it is a full-grown tree.”

The prophet Jeremiah made the same point when he asked, “Can the Ethopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may you also do good, who are accustomed to do evil.”

If you can get anything out of this post, please, come away believing that you will become what you are and that you will live in the character house you build today. It will never be easier to serve God than it is right now.

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • First, I hope all your readers get a chance to read “Little Britches” and the others in the series. They’re great.
    Second, I don’t know if the absence of replies under this post has anything to do with how lightly most of us view this topic, but speaking for myself, I could definitely use a little more emphasis on it. Every minute counts. You can’t say, I’ll give in now but, after that I’ll do better.
    It doesn’t work.

  • That’s a great analogy! I am slowly learning how to confront sin and defeat it… it is totally hard but with the grace and help of God it can be done! Thanks for the post!

  • I’ve learned something from this article! Would it be ok to publish this in our church publication, so a lot of people might be able to read this?

  • Heph: You are more than welcome to publish our articles in your church publication provided that (1) the article is not altered in any way, (2) you properly attribute the article to Alex and me, and (3) you provide a link to the website ( Thanks for asking!

  • Heide: I’m sorry for the delay in seeing your question! Meditating on God’s Word is the very best way to go about building our character houses. I’d suggest you start with Psalm 119 which makes the argument for how treasuring God’s Word in our hearts is the key to defeating sin and growing closer to God. =)

  • From what I understand, it is the discision to put off fighting for our character that is leaving so many Christians weak and helpless.

  • […] The Rebelution is made up of three fundamental parts. We’ve talked about two of them: character and competence. The third one is collaboration. It’s not enough for us to be individual exceptions. It’s not enough for us to try to ignore the culture. We have to create a counter-culture. The way we do that is by networking, exhorting, and encouraging one another in the fight. By God’s grace, that’s what The Rebelution has become. And when you have a community of young people mutually committed to doing hard things in their teen years for the glory of God, that’s an incredibly powerful thing. […]

  • I love function about videos what are viiewing currently, youtube is improving well, but i have little request: is it possible to make videos opened i new tab, auto-paused? Because its annoying when you want watch many videos, and you have to pause all of them manually to make them load… please!

  • “A man’s character is like his house. If he tears boards off his house and burns them to keep himself warm and comfortable, his house soon becomes a ruin. A man with a ruined character is a shame on the face of the earth.”

    Great quote!

    “It will never be easier to serve God than it is right now.”

    “We must understand that there’s a tsunami of “advances” coming that will profoundly damage all but the sturdiest character houses.”

    “It is now that we must become acquainted with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

    My mom made an interesting point the other day when I was talking to her about the state of many Christian leaders in America. She said, “What if they started banning the Bible in the United States? They wouldn’t be ready. They’d have no idea what to do.”
    Many of us think that we can understand God or His Ways, but haven’t sought Him through the Bible — the Gospels, especially — and sought Him personally diligently enough to allow ourselves the opportunity to actually know Him. We haven’t found Him in a way that we know His Character and His Will and we haven’t encountered Him in a way that His laws are written on our hearts.
    We have been blessed with the chances to seek Him that we have now. But like my mom said, what if the Bible became banned in our nation like it is in other nations? Would we know God enough to still follow Him? Would we have been prepared through His Word and through time spent alone with Him for persecution, prison sentences, and outright hatred in times and places where we would not have the gift of a Bible within easy reach? Would we know Him well enough to recognize His Voice when He guides us as He promised His own would (John 10:27)? Have we come to know Him through His Word so that we would — so that that verse is true of us? And do we really know Him through His Word — have we become reliant on Him? Or have we become reliant on using His words as we wish without the Guidance of the Holy Spirit leading us into the Truth of them and to Truth Himself?
    Do we use Scripture as a “crutch” to get by, continuing as we are, or do we use it meet God in a way that we will be dead to flesh and sin, transformed and unable to continue without His Resurrection — His Power within and through us? Do we quote Scripture to press our beliefs or do we know the Author and seek to know the real meaning of His Words? If we only use the words and do not know the Word Himself (John 1:1-4) we will fall at the first storm because we will lack His Character imparted to us through knowing Him. We will be as a house not finished — the weather will soak us, the wind will topple us, and we will be a wreck.

    “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your earnings for what does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness [the profuseness of spiritual joy].
    Incline your ear [submit and consent to the divine will] and come to Me; hear, and your soul will revive; and I will make an everlasting covenant or league with you, even the sure mercy (kindness, goodwill, and compassion) promised to David.”
    Isaiah 55:2-3 (Amplified version)

    Seek, inquire for, and require the Lord while He may be found [claiming Him by necessity and by right]; call upon Him while He is near.
    Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have love, pity, and mercy for him, and to our God, for He will multiply to him His abundant pardon.
    For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord.
    For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
    Isaiah 55:6-9

  • I am in spirit battle with complacency in our church. I am so tired of “we have always done it the way” or “We’ve never done it that way before.” What has worked in the past 16 years doesn’t work now, but the attempts to break out of the norm are met with heavy contreversy. I covet your prayers because I am not as young as you two young men. I’m not sure I have the energy or spiritual strength to keep on the cutting edge. Thank you for your inspiration.
    Is. 40:31

  • […] The Rebelution is made up of three fundamental parts. We’ve talked about character and competence. The third is collaboration. It’s not enough for us to be individual exceptions. We have to create a counterculture. We do that is by networking and encouraging one another in our common cause. That’s what the Rebelution has become. When you have a community of young people committed to doing hard things for the glory of God and the good of others, that’s an incredibly powerful thing. […]

  • This article was really great. Character is a huge deal! One thing that I think a lot of us don’t realize is how often people are watching us. If our “house” is solidly built, especially when the storms and trials come, other people can see Christ through us. What an amazing opportunity to share Christ! Even in everyday life, your character peeks through little holes; difficulties that we have. We can be a witness even to our own family. And beyond all that, we can honor God with what we do and say and think if our character house is firmly grounded in Him.

  • Oh my, I love Little Britches! Such a good book (and series). I remember that particular excerpt from when my mom read it out loud to us for school. She really liked that analogy, and as I get older I like it more and more too.

  • Wow, I never thought about character as much as I did after I read this. I think it’s really admirable how you guys are so faithful and help others become faithful to God too. I’m going to keep this with me so I can always remeber to improve my character. Thanks for posting this.

  • Thanks for this post!
    I have to remember that.
    When I was younger, I went to a junior youth group at another church, and memorizing Bible verses was everything!
    Now that I’ve graduated from that, I don’t memorize as much anymore.
    You have encouraged me to get back on track!!! Thanks!

  • I recently just started college and i’m still at home so i go to the same church. However, the teacher to my college class is not sinking in with me. I listen, but i learn, but i forget about the lesson during the week. Basically i’m not getting anything out of it. Therefore, i went back to the youth group. This last Sunday i felt a tugging in my heart like i didn’t belong there. I talked to my sister about it and we both finally realized that in some way God is calling me to step it up in my college class. I’ve taken the easy road and went back to the youth group where i grow, just not with my peers. What i need to do is relate to other people my age and do something so that my class can grow. I really need help with this since i’m the type of person who sits in the back and absorbs the information instead of participating. I believe God is telling me to get out of my comfort zone and do something. This post seemes to confirm that. Thanks guys. Now i’m really nervous and scared. But thanks. I needed this.
    Pray for me my friends.
    This is probably going to be a really really hard thing for me.
    your fellow sister,

  • Thanks Alex and Brett,this is a very important issue to me and our church also,let me tell you a llittle bit,
    We are a church of about 50 minus people and God is doing amazing things,our pastor is 22 and the two senior are 28 and 32,we re in south africa and to be honest there’s are lot of churches but hardly will you find sound biblical exposition of the bible. i have a problem here because majority of us at church are 25 and younger we are often rejected and go on unnoticed and we feel that we have the message we can tell others.
    Then my pastor took me to 1 timothy 4:12 and then spoke about character,and his concern was this ‘lets commit ourselves into character building and integrity so that our age(which is an big issue around here)will not be a hindrance for them to listen to us,he also said because we are young ,young tends to play but if we commit to character then they will see the power behind your lives and hopefully Lord willing open their ears for you.

    so spot on guys

  • ): I love your writing skills but I’m not religious, is there any way to translate this same message into something not entirely about God and worship but about your own self character?

    I’m terribly sorry if I sound rude or anything, and I have absolutely nothing against people who follow religion, I personally just do not have one. I don’t want to start any silly comment wars or anything I just want some answers if there are some. But I do respect everyone in the rebelution, you guys are really inspiring.

  • […] Rebelution is made up of three fundamental parts. We’ve talked about two of them:character and competence. The third one is collaboration. It’s not enough for us to beindividual […]

  • “Thoughts for Young Men” has been our Wednesday evening study in youth group for the past two years. It is an incredible book, I would recommend it to anyone. When we read the section that reads “Habits are like stones rolling downhill, the further they roll, the faster and more uncontrollable is their course.” for the first time it jumped out at me. My mind immediately went back to our trip to the Warren Dunes the year before. At the dunes we discovered that the principal: things that roll down hills go faster and become more uncontrolled applies to my friend Ryan and I as well. When we were on top of a particularly tall and steep dune Ryan decided that it would be fun to run down it. So, he took off at a dead sprint and he didn’t get too far down the hill before his body was moving faster than his legs and he did a face plant, rolled down the hill for a little way got back up in mid-roll started sprinting again, and repeated that process several times. Thankfully he didn’t get hurt but he was finding sand everywhere for the next month.

    When I went down I didn’t want to fall, but I didn’t want to be outdone either. So I took off running and soon found myself exerting every ounce of strength in my body to slow myself down. The result was a far slower acceleration, but an increase in speed none the less.

    We each made it down easily enough but on the trip back up we found it much more difficult to keep moving. We each took several breaks, and our legs were burning all the way up. We discovered a few laws that apply to both physics and sin nature that day. 1: If you push something downhill (or encourage sin nature) it will increase in speed, spiral out of control, crash, and burn. 2: If you give no resistance when going down a hill you will increase in speed, spiral out of control, crash, and burn. 3: It takes lots energy and time to make something go uphill, and it is a slow and painful process.

    Most of us would probably say that actively feeding the sin nature is about the best way there is to ensure an early death, but the second option mentioned is just as dangerous if not more dangerous. It is the attitude of complacency, not striving to become more like God and honor Him. The reason I believe complacency is more dangerous than active rebellion to God is, complacency doesn’t care. Someone actively rebelling may be quicker to hit rock bottom and have nothing. When God presents himself they accept him out of a true humility knowing that they have nothing, absolutely nothing, to offer. Complacency says “I’m a pretty good person. I don’t need God, I’m fine where I am.” and may not realize that it’s moving away from God at an alarming rate. Unlike running down a dune sin nature doesn’t level off at the end, it can always sink lower. But no matter how low you sink God can still reach in and pull you back out.

    It is impossible to stop yourself when running downhill, and this time I’m not talking about a literal hill. The hill I’m referring to is the pull that sin nature exerts on each of us. At some point you have to do hard things. The only way to stop is to come to God in humility, recognizing how atrocious and detestable your sin is. Once you stop it isn’t enough to stay where you are, that’s just another form of moving backwards. You have to keep pushing uphill. God will walk with you to encourage and help you the whole way. With Him it’s a hard climb, without him it would be impossible.

    So, I continue the challenge that encompasses the purpose of this site’s ministry: Do Hard Things. As J. C. Ryle put it at a later point in his book “…resolve at once, by God’s help, to break off every known sin, however small. Look within, each one of you. Examine your own hearts. Do you see there any habit or custom which you know to be wrong in the sight of God? If you do, delay not a moment in attacking it. Resolve at once to lay it aside.”

  • hey alex!hey brett….i’m writting to you because i have some problems with my character…i know how to build my character but it is to hard…..i am very weak…i give up too quickly temptations…i know that is bad…but i cannot refrain…please pray for me….and will give me some advice please on how I could resist temptations….thanks a lot..


  • This can be among the list of best posts that I’ve ever seen; it’s possible you’ll include some a whole lot more concepts within the similar theme. I’m nevertheless waiting for some exciting thoughts from your side inside your up coming post.

  • Benjamin –
    In Col. 2 Paul reminds us that the body of Christ “grows as God causes it to grow.” First, always remember that it is not by our own power that we do anything connected with our sanctification but by the Power of God which works in us “to will and to act according to His good purpose.” For “He who began a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it.”
    Living the Christian life in a godly way is hard work. And particularly in the matter of self-discipline because that battle is private; it begins in the imagination and thought life. If you cut out the root the plant will die. Take captive your thoughts and you’ve captured your actions as well, for what happens on the inside directly influences what happens on the outside. A common difficulty in self-discipline is that we get so caught up in the “how” and “what” that we can forget the heart of the matter – “WHY!” The point of dying to one’s sin nature is not to give us personal fulfillment or even aid us in becoming more sanctified, but because we serve the King of all kings who deserves and commands our last ounce of obedience and worship. The “WHY” behind self-discipline is that we should – we must – glorify our Creator … and we’re not!
    “When we deliberately choose to obey God, He will tax the remotest star and the last grain of sand to assist us with all His Almighty Power.” Oswald Chambers
    There is a book from which I have found practical encouragement called The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith. In one chapter she says that after a man has become a Christian often his feelings seem unchanged and so he feels hypocritical and wonders if he truly belongs to the Master. “He is afraid to say he is altogether the Lord’s for fear he will be [lying]. Yet he cannot bring himself to say he is not because he longs for it so intensely. The difficulty is real and very disheartening.
    “But there is nothing here which will not be very easily overcome when the Christian once thoroughly understands… that this life is not to be lived in the emotions at all but the will; and therefore if only the will is kept steadfastly abiding in…God’s will, the varying states of emotions do not in the least disturb or affect the reality of the life [in Christ]… The will is the governing power of man’s nature; if the will is set right, all [the rest] must come into harmony with it. …And if God is to take possession of us, it must be into this central will or personality that He enters. If He is reigning there… all the rest of our nature must come under His sway… [Here is an illustration:] There was a lady who had a besetting sin which her emotions loved, but which her will hated. Believing herself to be under the control of her emotions, she…supposed she was unable to conquer it, unless her emotions should first be changed. But when she learned this secret of the will, she [went God in prayer.] ‘Lord…until now my emotions have been the master; but now I put my will into your hands…I will never again consent in my will to yield to this sin. Take possession of my will and work in me…your good pleasure.’ Immediately she began to find deliverance…by the power of the Spirit of God, ‘working in her that which was pleasing in His sight.’
    …We must set our faces like a flint to [respond] with an emphatic ‘I will’ to every ‘Thou shalt’ of His…He wills that you should be entirely surrendered to Him, and that you should trust him perfectly. Do you ‘will’ the same?” (from Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life ch. 7)
    So my advice to anyone battling temptation is to recognize that you cannot fight temptation. Only Jesus, who overcame all sin and death, can win that battle. Your job is to trust in Him, choose to obey every command and by faith, exercise your will over your emotions. Remember, “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Eph.6:10

    P.S. Besides, you’re a rebelutionary – you don’t say, “I can’t – it’s too hard” Right? Do Hard Things! 🙂

  • Thanks so much for this post. I think it’s important to remember that the little things we do today always shape our character and our lives for the future, whether good or bad. Thanks 🙂

  • It is so true that we think that we’ll change our habits easily when it’s convenient for us to do so. What if we don’t live another day? Thank you for this great reminder.

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →