“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9). Christian character, biblically defined, is a most necessary trait that a believer in Jesus Christ is expected to possess.
By definition, character is an attribute, quality or property. Webster goes on to list a number of individual qualities, including moral excellence, honesty, courage, integrity and a good reputation. The Bible uses the term only once in the New Testament, where Jesus is identified as “the character of the nature of God.” Jesus “is the exact representation of his (God’s) being” (Heb. 1:3). The idea is that when people saw Jesus they saw God.
In the same way, when people see Christians, they ought to see Jesus Christ in them. So when we speak of Christian character, we are saying that when we see one another and when others see us, the person of Christ should be obvious and visible in us. These outward traits are the results of our human personalities being indwelt and motivated by the living Spirit of God.
The continual work of the Spirit within us, if we give Him the right conditions in which to work, is to cause us to become sons of God. The attractive fruits of the Spirit which the apostle Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23 are real fruits. They are supernaturally produced, but they are not supernatural qualities. Love, joy and peace, which we observe in the Christian’s life, are easily recognizable as human qualities, yet they are the very qualities of which human nature without Christ so quickly runs short. If we regard the Christian religion as a performance instead of an experience, the fruits become artificial: at the most, hot house fruits, which act as substitutes for the real thing. This happens when we impose upon ourselves standards and restrictions instead of being inwardly free and relaxed in the liberty of the Holy Spirit.
In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul wrote, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” The ability to think and feel according to the mind of Christ, and to remain unaffected by the climate of popular opinion, is an activity of God within us.
Paul wrote to the Romans, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). Notice that Paul does not say “transform yourselves,” but rather, he says to allow yourselves to be transformed. The spirit of the age tends to force people to conform their thinking and feeling to worldly habits and outlooks. Therefore, the man or woman who lacks the inner resource of Christian character and a vision of God sooner or later will conform to the contemporary pressures of everyday life.
The ever-present, ever-fresh, ever-new Spirit of God is well able to counter the pressures of the surrounding world and renew and rearm us in spite of it. As Paul says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). This power is far more than enough to keep us in spiritual health. It spills over. It is the “[Spirit] of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). God needs his church to shine forth in Christian character.
Pastor Jake StirnemannMay 9, 2017