The world around us prizes qualities that are ultimately worthless and harmful. Your awareness of them will help protect you and your children.
The Christian calling involves learning to value what God values—His truths, character, standards and way of life as outlined in the Bible. If you have children, you have the added responsibility of teaching them about godly values. That can be a challenge, since so many of the ideas that dominate society are in direct opposition to biblical teachings.
Think about some of the “values” your children are exposed to. Media outlets idolize entertainers, even those leading very immoral lives. Sports figures and corporate leaders lie and cheat. Schools indoctrinate students with secular belief systems. Your kids’ friends might flaunt expensive digital “toys,” promoting acquisition as the key to happiness.
Ultimately, the one behind these counterfeit values is Satan the devil, who rules over society (John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2). He’s very active, doing whatever he can to harm humanity (1 Peter 5:8). He knows how to sway people and make his false values look appealing or even good (John 8:44), when they are in fact very destructive.
What all of Satan’s counterfeit values have in common is focus on what has worth only in this present physical existence or is advantageous to selfish interest. In contrast, God’s true values, relayed in biblical standards, emphasize what holds value even beyond this present age.
As parents, it’s vital to recognize Satan’s counterfeit values and explain to your children how these clash with biblical standards. What your kids learn to prioritize when they’re young will largely determine their adult behavior. Here are seven insidious counterfeit values permeating today’s society you should address head-on with them:
So-called “tolerance” is widely promoted today everywhere we turn. It stems from the assertion that all belief systems and lifestyles have equal merit—except for a biblical worldview, which is increasingly not tolerated. Those professing tolerance generally hold to a secular worldview, rejecting belief in God. They deny biblical “sin,” declaring people are free to decide for themselves acceptable behavior.
Your kids need to understand that tolerance is a biblical virtue, but not what the secularists advocate. The Bible exhorts us to “make allowance for each other’s faults” (Colossians 3:13, NLT) and to bear with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2). To be tolerant is to be longsuffering with others. It entails a genuine concern for others even if they rub us the wrong way, letting go of anger or resentment.
With biblical tolerance, God wants us to address our personal shortcomings and change. It’s not about accepting everything as right so people can feel free to do whatever they want. The aim is proper harmony, keeping potentially tense situations calm and helping maintain relationships so we can be in a position to help each other as we go through our Christian journey.
2. Social justice
We also hear the rallying cry for social justice. Many mistakenly think this is about righting the wrongs in society, defending helpless people or accomplishing lofty goals like ending racism or poverty. But the “social justice” we hear about constantly in the media is really not about these things.
In his book Why Social Justice Is Not Biblical Justice, Scott Allen explains that social justice is a political movement bent on dismantling or reordering societies with the goal of transferring power from those labeled “oppressors” to the “oppressed” or “victim classes.” Allen explains that advocates of social justice “don’t demand power for victims so that justice might be addressed and other people served. They seek it so that the tables can be turned on the oppressors” (2020, p. 93).
Writes Allen: “We should be concerned about the emergence of ‘victimhood culture.’ Ideological social justice drives a growing tendency to look for every opportunity to take offense and cling to every grievance, no matter how small or how long ago. This is terribly destructive. It leads to bitterness, unhappiness, and conflict” (p. 94).
True justice is based on the law of God and has a completely different end goal—for people to live in genuine harmony together. This is accomplished by living justly and rejecting what the Bible defines as evil. Rather than harbor grievances in order to claim victim status, we are to keep “no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5) and to love and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).
3. Human wisdom
God wants us to engage our minds, even telling us, “Come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). Regrettably, people have often not done so as well as they should. So many of the ideas contemporary society accepts as truth and even venerates are not based on the proper fear of the Lord (see Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10; Proverbs 111:10).
Instead, what proliferates in our society is human wisdom or human reasoning apart from God—popularized by secularist leaders insisting humanity must solve its own problems without the God of the Bible. Human reasoning seeks to understand our world, discover the meaning of existence and figure out how we should live—yet often using only information we can detect with our physical senses and without acknowledging God and biblical truth.
Human reasoning takes us down the wrong path, leading to confusion, delusion and hopelessness—where Satan wants us. The tolerance and social justice movements are two examples of the negative consequences of human reasoning. Your children are going to encounter godless reasoning at school or anywhere they obtain information. Obviously, not everything will be problematic, but they’ll likely encounter a lot of this kind of reasoning in various classes, such as science or philosophy. They need to know how to detect and refute it.
We live in a society that encourages people to “speak your mind.” People pride themselves on being bold, forthright and outspoken. Many who overhear others discussing the latest political controversy have no qualms about jumping in and stating a very strong dissenting view. If someone says something on social media we don’t like, some believe it’s our prerogative to blast the person online. The basic motivation is to prove we’re right. The term for this is self-assertiveness.
Children, regardless of age, can be susceptible to this as much as adults. Teacher friends have told me how in recent years they’ve seen a lot more pushiness in their students, to the point of them being rude or aggressive.
“During class discussions, a lot of my students have a hard time listening respectfully, carrying on a polite dialogue, and showing understanding to those with different perspectives,” related one middle school teacher. “Psychologists and self-help gurus talk about assertiveness training—how people need to stand up for themselves. But I don’t think that’s really helpful. What I see is a classroom full of kids all wanting to dominate each other.” Indeed, self-assertiveness can lead to misunderstanding, strife, hurt feelings and even fear and intimidation for those on the receiving end—exactly what Satan wants.
This doesn’t mean we should grovel and keep silent before falsehoods promoted in society. There is a right kind of assertiveness to strive for, which is endorsed in the Bible. But with this kind of assertiveness—without the “self” up front—rather than seeking to exalt oneself by putting others down, it’s a matter of having the courage to speak up to correct a lie or remedy a wrong or when confronted about deeply held biblical convictions, and to do so in a respectful manner. It includes knowing when it’s appropriate to speak up and when it isn’t (compare Proverbs 26:4-5).
There are also different types of ambition. The kind we most often see in contemporary culture is called selfish ambition in the Bible. This is the desire for and pursuit of power and prestige for oneself at any cost—even by dishonesty, cheating, manipulation, backstabbing or ruthless competition. Children pick up on this thinking early on—that the goal is to be the smartest, best or most dominant.
Many Bible passages warn against selfish ambition. It’s grouped with other works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-20 and 2 Corinthians 12:20. In Philippians 2:3 we’re told to “let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit.”
Selfish ambition can cause us to sabotage our relationships and physical health to achieve our goals. We can become discontent, believing everything good is way off in the future, unable to see what we have to be thankful for right now. We might also become threatened by the success of others, believing we appear as failures in comparison.
The exact opposite mindset is godly ambition. This kind of ambition still involves a strong desire to achieve something, but the aim is what God wants for us—for us to grow in character and biblical understanding and use the talents we’ve developed and any position we may have to serve Him and others. The intent is never to show that we are better than someone else or just to gratify ourselves.
Godly ambition recognizes that character development, overcoming and functioning by godly principles are all more important than winning or being the best—unlike selfish ambition, where all that matters is being on top.
A related desire is for material possessions. Many believe materialism has reached epidemic proportions in Western society. That’s in big part due to advertising sending the message 24/7 that having “more” or “what’s new” is the key to happiness. It’s had a huge influence on young people in particular. Numerous studies have shown that for the majority of adolescents, getting rich is a major life goal.
Materialism has been particularly hard on families. Parents can get so busy making money to try to maintain their lifestyles that they sacrifice meaningful time with their children. Kids can start to glean the distorted lesson that attaining wealth and material possessions is more important than relationships. Some parents try to compensate for not spending time with their children by buying them lots of gifts, which can instill in them attitudes of selfishness, self-absorption and entitlement.
Your children need to understand that while it’s nice to be able to enjoy the physical possessions they have, these things could never be more important than what we store up as “treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). They need to know what has eternal value—our relationship with God, learning about His way of life, building godly character, etc.—and what doesn’t, so they don’t put all their hope and energy into what has only temporary value.
The apostle Peter tells us, “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4). God is far more concerned with what’s in our hearts than our physical appearance. It’s the character on the “inside” that makes someone truly attractive.
But in our modern society, just the opposite is emphasized. Websites, TV, magazines, movies and television programs bombard us with images of models and entertainers with seemingly perfect faces and physiques. Even in kids’ social circles, the more attractive ones tend to be the most popular. The word for this is externalism—an excessive focus on or even worship of outward attractiveness.
Sometimes parents can inadvertently reinforce externalism. Admitted one mother: “I was always complimenting my daughter for how pretty she looked, and then one day it dawned on me that I was hardly ever complimenting her for her good attitudes or behavior. I was actually teaching her that physical beauty, which she has no control over, was more important than moral choices, which she does have control over.”
We all know, too, that outward beauty diminishes over time, whereas inner beauty can actually improve with age. Putting too much emphasis on your kids’ physical appearance can cause them to put less priority on developing their inner qualities. That’s not to say you shouldn’t acknowledge physical attractiveness, but your children need to know it’s their character that has lasting value.
The job for parents
Parents, the ball is in your court. Satan’s counterfeit values permeate your children’s world. You need to know what they’re being exposed to—at school, in the media and in the books and magazines they read—so you can regularly talk with them about what they’re “learning.” They won’t figure out what’s wrong with what they’re hearing on their own. They need you to guide their thinking.
On a positive note, regardless of how powerful outside influences are, parents are still the biggest influences on their children. As long as you remain vigilant about what’s going on in the world and keep the communication channels with your children open, you can help them see why a lot of what society values shouldn’t be valued—and help steer them to the true values of God.