A text arrived on my phone about a mutual friend (I’ll call him G.) who constantly pushed the limits, broke the rules, and resisted authority of every kind. Tragically he died when he was much too young, his death the result of a long string of poor choices. “He wasn’t a bad person” the correspondent insisted. It is not up to me to be his judge, but I have enough discernment to determine that many of the things he did were certainly wrong, causing pain and ultimately ending his life. He was smart, could be charming, but lacked courage, honesty, insight, and selflessness that are part of good character. G. lacked the character to take advantage of his competence.
We live in a world that tends to admire ‘success’ borne of competence without considering the necessity of a solid character in support. How often are we dazzled by a person’s abilities and choose to ignore even the glaring and obvious sins? “Oh, Jerry, she’s just human.” True enough, we all are ‘just human’ and prone to fail from time to time. However, character matters and we need to value it.
There are stories too numerous to tell about people who climb to great heights as a result of their skill, their intelligence, their personality, their competence and then they tumble into failure, wrecked as the life they have built collapses because there is no foundation to support the structure. Let me hasten to add, I am not talking about being ‘perfect.’ We all have our own unique set of temptations and sins that result from what the Bible calls the ‘sinful nature,’ that grow out of the way were raised, and that shaped by our life experience. The question is, will we work on developing character right alongside of building competence?
Character formation begins with spiritual renewal. Jesus called it being ‘born again.’ The phrase is much maligned by some, but it is the key to character. “Jesus replied, “I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God.” “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” Jesus replied, “The truth is, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven.” (John 3:3-6, NLT) We cannot live with consistent evidence of spiritual life – love, joy, peace – unless we are alive in the Spirit. Have you invited God to own your life, to pour life into you so that character can begin to form inside out?
There must be honest reflection, a willingness to see failure and deal with it. Change is hard. Many of us, when we see the cracks in character, tend to say, “that’s just who I am, how I am wired.’ Greed, materialism, laziness, selfishness, lustfulness … are allowed to exist because we will not admit that we must change. The Bible calls this ‘confession.’ Yes, we can make a joke out of it, but true confession is an indispensable part of transformation.
AA teaches, wisely so, that the path to sobriety runs through honest reflection. Take a look at the first of the 12 steps – We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. It does not stop there, because true confession also connects to God’s power. The second step says We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
In building character, there is hard work to be done. Christian, there is an unintended consequence to the message of grace, one that results from an incomplete grasp of the Gospel. Some believe that because Jesus loves us and has made us righteous in the eyes of God that there is no need to do the work of becoming the person God desires. Cheap grace it has been called.
When we experience God’s grace as a result of honest confession, the next choice is to be holy. One of the ways the Bible talks about that is dying to Self. That is every bit as painful as it sounds. Old ways die hard. But, change is possible when we pray for strength and do the work!
Character is sustained by practice of the daily disciplines. Today’s victory does not win tomorrow’s battle! In the first six months of 2020, I carefully monitored my caloric intake and gradually shed about 25 pounds. It is a healthy accomplishment. Will I keep it off? I surely can, but I must continue to make the choices that made it happen. Our Christian life is certainly the work of the Spirit in us. It is a deception to think that we can save ourselves, that we can make ourselves acceptable to God.
What does Paul declare? “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV) God saves us and calls us to ‘good works’ that He has planned.
James reminds us that character is strengthened under pressure. “For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.” (James 1:3-4, NLT) If we lean into the Lord, praying for the Spirit to keep us, we emerge with a strong character, and anticipate a rich eternal reward. “God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12, NLT)
Let’s pray for true character that reveals the beauty of Jesus in us; people who love, who are forgiving, who are selfless, who serve faithfully, who meet challenges with courage, who deal honestly with failure, who refuse to pretend, who are pure in heart! Yes, Christian, character matters.
Here is a word from the Word. May God, the Spirit, make it live in us. “Through (His grace and mercy, God) has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.
For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:4-11, NIV)
All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found
You make me new You are making me new
You make me new You are making me new
Lisa Gungor | Michael Gungor © 2009 worshiptogether.com songs (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
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