"Character is what you are in the dark." D.L. Moody
Do you really know what Christian Character is all about? Do you want to know? Real, authentic Christian character is formed by our commitment to Christ. When we surrender to Christ and allow His piercing work to grow and enrich us, so that the Spirit flows. Our spiritual discipline, motives, obedience, and persevering faith will be the keys! All it takes is to be in love with Christ. Seek His presence, grow in your discipleship and be persistent in your prayers and in so doing you will be building your Character too.
When we say we follow Christ, do our actions show that we do; are we in fact being Christ-like? Or is something else happening in our life and relationships? Perhaps, what we think we are like is not how we come across. Maybe, other Christians see us as being reprehensible before our Lord and to others around us! Or worse we are producing the "works of the flesh" to all those around us, family, friends, Christians and non-Christians alike (Gal. 5). Being pretenders of the faith, giving a show, but having no real substance behind us is extremely destructive to the Body of Christ and the reputation of our Lord!
It is imperative that when we say we are a follower of Christ, our character and behaviors reflect Him and His call to us to the best of our abilities which includes our temperament. If we are in leadership, this is even more imperative! We demonstrate Character and integrity when we do what we say and act out what we believe; if not, we are hypocrites, and woe to us for being one (Matt. 23)!
Our call is to do as we teach, to do as we say, and to act as we teach others to act. Integrity is of the utmost importance for the Christian leader (1 Thess. 2: 10-12; 2 Peter 1-11)! Why? Because, hypocrisy gives people a false impression of God! Insincerity gives people a false impression of who we are called to be; it nullifies integrity and character! Because, God is holy, righteous and just; God exercises grace. We do not what to be like the Pharisees, who were worshipping, not the God of the Jews and the Law, but a made-up god which suited their own thoughts and pride (Psalm 103:1-14; 1 Pet. 5:10)! The willingness to model Christ's character is far more vital for us today than the willingness to preach it. God want us to be authentic-not pretentious (2 Cor. 8:9)!
Christian Character Defined
Character is often defined as a collection of personality traits within our behavior that shows who we are. This is shown in our integrity, attitude, moral fiber, disposition, and this shapes how we treat one another, good or bad. This is mostly true, but it goes much deeper than that. Character is who we are and it can be learned and built when we are in Christ. Moreover, real authentic Christian Character is not just a personality or our disposition; it is a description of who we are as a Christian, what we are called to be in our entirety. It encapsulates the Fruit of the Spirit from God's love and work in us. A good effectual foundation of character is "synergistic" as each one hangs and functions with each other. It is built upon the Fruit of the Spirit which all of the other character traits are codependent and thus function and rest upon. Our Character summarizes the essence of our walk with Christ being exhibited back to Him and then onto others. Our Character can grow or shrivel as our growth and faith formation in Christ is applied or blocked. Thus, Character is the display case of Christ and shows others our entire lives as Christians.
We all have the ability to be good or be bad, to take what Christ has given us and use it, or ignore or even perverse it. This not just about our reputation and ambassadorship in Christ (2 Cor. 5:20); it is how we must be if Christ has a hold on us! It is best assessed when we seek within us what is being exhibited from us, then go before God and His Word to be better (1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22).
Character is the proudest through our hard times!
Character is the springboard from which all we do and say in life comes. Developing Biblical character in the face of our daily life and even in adversity is essential and the proof text that we have a growing relationship with Christ! Character is not just having integrity or honesty or doing the right thing, it is not one aspect or even a few, it is a living, growing relationship in Christ which produces a synergistic combination of the fruits of the Spirit.
Some time ago, searching the market to buy a house with a very limited budget, one was found that seemed a real good deal for half the normal price. In Southern California this is a rare and rich find! The reason for the great price was because its foundation was cracked. It did not seem to be a big deal; after all, it could just be filled in with some kind of cement, I thought. But, a builder friend of mine explained to me how essential it was to have the foundation completely intact. So, reluctantly, with a lot of pouting and moping, I had to pass up this great deal. I then realized how this is like character. We desire to go and find the easy way out of the hard and time-consuming things of life to get to the point of our day or quest. This happens even in ministry. Even if it cuts the corners off Character, we strive to shortcut our way though spiritual growth and serving God.
A few months later, I drove by that house and talked to the new owner who was quite beside himself in frustration. It seems he was having a lot of problems with water leaking into his house all of the time, even when it was not raining. It will cost him more to fix the house's foundation then it would be to tear it down and rebuild. He ended up with a very raw deal that I almost got my family into. I realized through this that skipping character for convenience may seem OK at the time, but it will catch up with you. So, let us look at God's Word and find out what character really is and why it is important.
In 1 Samuel 25, there is a story of a little known OT personality with great character; a woman named Abigail. This was during the time that David was running from Saul. Passionate jealousy and paranoia drove Saul to pursue and kill David, while popularity and integrity followed David who, although he had many opportunities to kill Saul, chose out of character and respect to let him go. Saul lived in a palace of stone and pride, and David in a cave of dampness and humility, hanging out with the outcasts of the land and his mighty men. During this time, David and his men were doing a security service to the sheep ranchers, saving others sheep from poachers and rustlers. David fulfilled way beyond his duty by protecting what was not his. Then, one of the ranchers who was very rich and had power and authority over the others convinced the ranchers not to pay David and his men. His name was Nabal, which means "a fool!"
What parent would give their child such a name? It probably did not mean that then, but over the years, the meaning changed due to Nabal's actions. What a legacy to leave behind to be so self-willed and prideful that the meaning of your name changes to describe whom you are--in this case, a fool. How sad and ironic that he came from the house of Caleb who was one of the great men of integrity of the Bible, one of two people to survive the Exodus and venture into the Promise land due to his honor and trustworthiness. Nabal came from this house and family lineage, which was founded upon this great integrity and character, faith and strength, which somehow escaped Nabal.
When Nabal decided to cheat David, he ventured upon a dark path of greed that he thought could be lit from his pride. He thought, what could David do, and then decided to cheat him. David, who had just about had it with Nabal's deceit, saddled up his men and all drew their swords to kill him. Maybe David was not being what he should be, but Nabal "dug his own grave." David was consumed with anger and was about to kill him (and justly so in the eyes of his culture and times,) when Abigail intervened. She was a woman who had great character and discernment. She was the wife of Nabal, who owed David financial compensation for saving his sheep and servants from harm. She was able to turn the payback of the evil of her husband into good. Abigail was the complete opposite of her husband!
David was going to repay Nabal's evil for more evil, even though David let Saul go in the previous chapter for a much more grievous sin. Yet, Nabal, for some reason, really pushed David's buttons and exasperated his anger. Abigail's intervention soothed that anger. Thus, David was able to grow stronger in his character development by doing good, even in his anger, and even though he was wronged and cheated. David could have murdered Nabal, suffered consequence for it, and perhaps even forsaking his future kingship. The levelheaded action of Abigail saved the day for him and provided a prime example for David, as well as for us today.
We have a choice to act in evil or goodness; to act with our sinful motives or with what God calls us to, which is far better that we can see in the moment. Let us choose being even better. Who we are will determine what we do. The result will be character. Our growth in Him will make us who we are, which will be the character we present to God and others.
This action of Abigail is a prime example for us that character from the Word and the example of our living Lord is the ultimate force we have for good outside of the Spirit Himself. Character lays the foundation of what is right and what is truth in action (Prov. 17:13; 20:22; 24:29).
The Characteristics of a Christian
In the gospel and letters of John, who was directly inspired by God, we are told clearly and without equivocation how we are to behave as a follower of Christ. From the Gospel's example of Christ Himself to the deep comfort of our relationship in Him in John 15, if a person's behavior contradicts what the Word says, he is a just a pretender. In his Epistles, John says if we declare Christ as Lord, have a relationship with Him, but still walk in the darkness of disobedience, how can we be Christian? (1 John 1:6; 2:4) A Christian who denies essential doctrine would be an apostate, which means to reject the truth. For example, claiming Jesus as Lord, and then rejecting His deity, would be a direct contradiction (1 John 2:22-23). Inspired by the Spirit, John tells us that we would be liars. If we decide to love our Lord and hate our fellow Christian, this would also be a direct contradiction, a lie. The three "black lies" of John's Epistle are the moral, doctrinal, and social problems John faced during his ministry. He realized that if they are not followed in truth and obedience, they are in opposition of the Christian faith. Therefore, the Christian would be a liar! We may claim that we are a Christian because we grew up in or go to a church, we made a decision at a crusade, or because our parents are Christian, but when we continue in sin, deny who Christ is, or continue in behavior contrary to Scripture, we are, as John calls it, a liar. Only by what Christ has done for us and by allowing our relationship in Him produce the characters of holiness, faith and love in us, can we prove the claim we have in God and not be liars.
Character comes out from a life that is hurried, stressed, overwhelmed, and yet where promises are made and deadlines are met. It is a computation of who we are in those stressed moments. Character is not just something we put into our lives, but it is what comes out of our lives in those hurried times. It is beyond a system of values or virtue we learn from our parents, or even at church. Character is who you are to God Himself and those around you. It is the real you! The church and parents must teach it, but they cannot insure its function. That is the responsibility of our choice, a determination we make ourselves, a stand in stress that we continue to uphold.
The pastor must preach it, the parents sculpt it, the church encourage and model it through the precepts of the Word!
We as a community of Christians show the world the way of God's truth by modeling His character. What comes from the Christian and the church will be the image of God the community will see, the model of character they perceive God to be. It shows to a deprived society, one that is confused, and searching for spiritual truth wherever they can find it, that truth in you!
What is Character?
Character is aligning our lives so our behaviors are Christ-like. It is the fruit that the vine of our abiding in Christ will produce. Thus, we look to the life of our Lord as our prime example. We seek not so much what Jesus would do, but what would Jesus have me do! This alignment is what produces "the fruit of the Spirit," that we find in Paul's letter to the Galatians: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." (Gal. 5:22-23a)
Obviously, we cannot re-enact His character with any kind of perfection. However, we can try our best by the power He gives us. The fact that our Lord was also fully human and lived a life of perfection should give us hope and encouragement of what is possible. "Be conformed to the image of God's Son." (Romans 8:29) Below is a listing of the most common fruits and characteristics we are to emulate. These all work together to allow us to shine for His glory. Just like the facets of a diamond, with only one or a few you will not see its depth, splendor, and beauty. Let us be diamonds that shine; that are cut to His purpose and call and not rough and hidden.
Is Good Character In You?
Remember, real genuine Christian character is shaped when you surrender to the Lordship of Christ. We are to allow His piercing and continual work to grow and enrich you, so that the Holy Spirit can flow. We are called to have lifestyle, character, outlook on life, and behavior that is about living honorably! Who and how we are make up the things we bring with us into eternity that will echo and resound, so let our actions be worthy of His praise. In this way, we can be the windows through which people can see Christ.
Building and developing character is not something we just learn from a book or hear from a sermon. It does not come upon us in the night, or sneak up in the day. It does not come automatically, accentually, or suddenly. It is a process that comes from being parented in it. Then it rests in us and in our motives. It is a slow process. You may not realize you have it until others point it out in you. Character is not permanent once it is formed. It requires our continual hold and practice, in His Word, through our prayers and the practice of His Fruit in and through us.
The attitude is to learn and model Christ, so to be active in representing Him and the virtues He proclaims as His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). The call is to remain in Christ and in His percepts and virtue, and not become contaminated by what the world offers us. What may seem good may be misleading and will cause us to rot physically by disdain and disease, erode our mind with dysfunction and false thinking, and then eat away our soul spiritually.
As we are the mirrors of Christ, He is seen by who we are. When we stand up for the faith and act in good character, people will come against us with gossip and slander because their plans become disrupted and their desires are found guilty. But, when we remain faithful, regardless of the circumstances, they will see virtue and honor in action and, thus, have a glimpse in God's character and call even if they reject Him and seek to kill us. There will be times when it seems our efforts are weighted because people do not listen or do not repent. But, they are not. Each action we share is looked upon by others. We are watched! So, when we live to honor God, people will have the example they need to accept His grace or reject Him. We may never see the fruits, but they are there. We have a God who will judge and return, so let us get busy and make sure all those who come across our path see Him in us!
We hope you will find these studies both challenging and insightful in your walk with our Lord! We will be looking at how we can find character by looking at both positive and negative examples from the truth of the Word, by examining how the characters of the Bible lived their lives, what Christ has taught, what is there, and how they lived. We will study such lives as those of David and Paul. We will see it in the unpronounceable names in Daniel such as Meshach, Abed-Nego, and Shadrach, who stood their ground in the face of death to be virtuous. We will alsosee how Saul threw it all away.
The Word of God is our authority! Remember, our spiritual discipline, motives, obedience, and persevering faith will be the keys! All it takes is to be in love with Christ. Seek His presence and be persistent in your prayers.
Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. Psalm 119:1
© 2002 R.J. Krejcir, Into Thy Word Ministries http://www.discipleshiptools.org/
Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Director of 'Into Thy Word Ministries, 'a discipling ministry. He is the author of the book, Into Thy Word and is also a pastor, teacher, speaker and a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California. He has amounted over 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, mostly in youth ministry, including serving as a church growth consultant.
This article also serves as the introduction to our Bible Study series on, character!