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.
"Character is what you are in the dark." D.L. Moody
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.