Developing Good Christian Character

Character is born on the inside of a person and reflected outwardly. Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit and that if it bears good fruit it is a good tree.  This is why God focuses on the heart for out of the heart the mouth speaks.

Good Character is Indispensable to the Christian Life

Good character is indispensable to the Christian life, but it comes not from outward adherence to what is good, but inward cultivation of it. If a person is merely conforming to an external standard, they are having a form of godliness while denying its power. The practice of this adherence to the law by our own efforts is empty religion. The power of God supernaturally makes a person righteous. Then from that place of righteousness flows the good fruits of righteousness.

For instance, the tree is not good because the tree worked really hard to bear good fruit out of obedience to an external command, but it is good because it naturally bears the good fruit of its good nature. Consider the old proverb “How does an orange get to be orange? It just hangs in there.” We gain good character by remaining in Christ.

Many Christians operate under the false assumption that following all the rules of tradition makes a person good.  This was the mentality of the Pharisees. Having a person follow the rules does not clean up what needs cleaning, it only puts a temporary bandage on the problem and leaves the person in his unrighteousness.  This gives a person false hope. Jesus explained that to wash only the outside of the cup still leaves the inside dirty. That’s the mark of hypocrisy.  We try to do things on the outside to make us holy on the inside, but “doing” cannot alter “being.” If you change the “being” on the inside, then the “doing” will change naturally.

Grace Given to Human Beings

Furthermore, Scripture tells us in Romans 5:1-2 that since we are now justified by faith and have peace with God through Jesus we now stand in His grace.  We are now affixed in His grace, and it is out of this reality that we live.  We do not have to work for the grace; it has been given to us.  Moreover, Romans 5:3-4 reads that we ought to rejoice in our suffering because “suffering produces perseverance and perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.” When a person demonstrates perseverance by rejoicing in their suffering they find themselves aligning with the activity of heaven, which is under the dominion of the will of God, and the reality of heaven, Hope, invades their life.

The character built into us internally by persevering through our suffering with rejoicing gives us the hope that does not disappoint us.  That is not an easy thing to digest as it is not common for us to rejoice in our suffering.  The only way that comes naturally is if we live supernaturally.  Rejoicing through our suffering shows us the character that is inside of us for it is a supernatural thing to have the ability to rejoice while suffering.

The English word “character” dates back to the early 1300s. It literally meant “engraved mark.”  A person’s character was an engraved mark upon his life. That engraving was either of good repute or of ill repute.  The Greek word used in Romans 5 for “character” is “dokime” which means “test; trustiness” from the word, “dokimos—properly acceptable, approved.” Thus the person of good character has passed the test and is trustworthy having stayed true in the face of adversity.  Similarly, one who does not have the character of the Lord, would not have this mark upon his life of great integrity through suffering.

Paul writes in Acts 17:11 that the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians for they received the Gospel message with eagerness. Therefore noble character lends itself to being lovers of the truth. The Bereans were not those who created their own truth, but who eagerly accepted the message of truth from on High.  Pursuing truth produces character because Jesus is the personification of Truth.  Anyone who seeks after Truth is seeking after Him whether they realize it yet or not.

Character is probably best defined as the nature of God made manifest in people.

God has a perfect character and is, therefore, our highest example of good character.  God dwells fully in us.  Therefore we have the righteous character of God within us. Understanding this truth will go far in enabling us to live out that internal reality.

Consider Romans 1:17 “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”  If we who are righteous are to live by faith we do not work to produce character, we live from a faith that we are already righteous.

That righteousness is lived out by faith, not by works so that no one can boast.  It is not we that have the good character of ourselves, for Jesus said, no one is good, but the Father.  It is the Father living in us that graciously gives us good character which is manifested externally by our faith.

Again we see this clearly in Romans 4:4-6, “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work, but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

Thus we need not strive to develop character but live by faith resting in the righteousness already given unto us.  According to Hebrews 4:10-11, we are encouraged to strive to enter His rest.  This is the fountain of our character.  If we strive to gain character by any other means than by knowing Christ and resting fully immersed in His righteousness, we have not charactered, we know not perseverance, we only know our own fleshly ways that are bound by laws and unrighteousness.

Jesus said in John 15 that He appointed us that we would bear much fruit and that our fruit would remain. He further said, “apart from me you can do nothing.” He is the vine and we the branches. If the branches fall from the vine they will not produce fruit but will wither and die.  The person who bears good fruit rests upon the good vine which is Christ.

Paul writes in Philippians 2:12-13 “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”  We cannot ignore the struggle of living from our righteousness.  While it is true that we are fully and completely made righteous, we work out that reality in the external as God works in us to help us manifest His good purpose on the outside.

The Fruit of the Spirit

The fruit of the Spirit, which is the by-product of being filled with the Holy Spirit, are the very attributes of God and are therefore evidence of our growing up into Him and being conformed to His image. (Eph. 4:15, Rom. 8:29)

For some time there was a movement within Christianity to consider “What Would Jesus Do?” dubbed the “WWJD?” movement.  Christians wore bracelets and tee-shirts sporting the acronym. However, the idea was that we should stop and consider what Jesus would do in a particular situation, and do that. In reality, we ought to consider “What Jesus Is Doing” through us now for He is not just the Jesus of history, but the Jesus who lives through us now. Jesus said He never did anything His Father was not doing and never said anything His Father was not saying.  He always only did what He heard and saw at the moment.

If we as Christians really believe that Jesus is alive and living through us then our faith that rests in Him should produce an understanding of what He is doing now. If our internal reality is fully His reality then we live from that place where we are doing what our Father is doing and saying. If we are not living from that place we are living according to our old self and not according to our new self, because our new self does what the Father is doing. This is not because He is controlling our actions like a puppet master, but because righteousness rejoices in the truth, and His will is the truth that we rejoice to do.

Character is thus reproduced from the inside out and people see our noble character and marvel as to the source of such righteousness flowing from us and permeating the darkness with His love. This is the testimony of Scripture about the life of a Christian who is a reflector of Christ to the earth. Our choice is to live by faith resting in the righteousness that is Christ in us, or living from the old self that ought to have died when He rose in us. We no longer need to live without character, for the one of perfect character dwells within.

 

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