What is the importance of cultivating proper character in one's college years?

The old debate between nature and nurture has, I think, largely been settled: it’s a draw. But the tremendous advantage of the nurture side of what becomes a person’s being and personality is that it lies, at least to some extent, within the control of the individual. In other words, it is possible for a person to choose to cultivate good character and then take deliberate steps to ensure that this happens. Morality is not purely a matter of genetics, or even of one’s formative childhood years—though these certainly are both powerful aspects of a person’s character. A person of any age can choose to cultivate new ways of thinking and behaving; It’s simply that because character is always the culmination of a lifetime of thinking and acting and the habits that accumulate accordingly, the task becomes increasingly more difficult with age. But, while it may be a challenge to reorient, reshape, or completely renovate one’s character, or way of being in the world, it is not ever impossible. And Christians have the added assurance that this endeavor is guided and empowered by the presence and work of God’s Holy Spirit within each Believer.


All this is to say that the sort of habits and ways of operating that one adopts in college will almost certainly follow that person into adult life with a profound and direct impact on personal character, and college is an excellent season for the intentional cultivation of personal character. Developing an array of “good” habits—touching on health, hygiene, courtesy, social graces, integrity, and work ethic, in addition to the classic virtues (prudence, temperance, justice, and courage) is a worthy goal for any young person who desires to honor the Creator. It is not a matter of following a list of rules or a moral code; it is a matter of following Christ, receiving his gifts of grace, and striving in the power of the Holy Spirit to become all that the Creator intended for his creatures, that is, fully human.

Joel D. Biermann, Ph.D. is the Waldemar A. and June Schuette Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.


For Professor Biermann's full treatment of this question:

Biermann, Joel, A Case for Character: Towards a Lutheran Virtue Ethics