Character Building for Beginners

What is character?
Character is the way we act and the motivations behind our actions. What we do, and why we do it.

Do we need to have our characters built?
Is there anyone who can honestly say that they are completely mature in every way?  Only Jesus could truly answer yes, but this gives us hope.

2 Corinthians 3:18
we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness…

This suggests two things;

1. Were it not for sin which ‘veils our faces’, we would all act and live like Jesus, we would ‘reflect the Lord’s glory’. This addresses our brokenness or imperfectness due to our own sin, or the sin of others. God sees us ‘unveiled’.

2. That there is a process of change going on in our lives. We are being transformed to live and act more like Jesus.

What happens to build our characters?

When we exercise to build up muscle, we are extending the use of the muscles beyond what we normally do. So it is with character building. We find ourselves in circumstances which are beyond what we normally experience. We can choose to do this by perhaps getting more involved in ministry, or going on a ministry trip to help others. We can however find that simply the process of living life puts us into circumstances that are new to us. It is at this point that we can find that we are unable to deal effectively with the situation.

Quite a while back I was doing a job I really didn’t like, it kept providing me with challenges to my knowledge and that effected my emotional well-being.  I would get up every morning, often weep, and set myself towards the day and what I had to do, asking for God’s help to get through the day.  I learned that God will help you get through circumstances rather than take you out of them.

What I found out from this was that at moments of greater than normal stress, I ran out of my own resources. All I could do was cry out to God for mercy. Now this situation in itself did not change me, it merely opened my eyes to my true state. Whether my character, and therefore how I acted and lived changed, depended on what I did as a result of this revelation. We can sometimes joke about ‘growth opportunities’ being difficult circumstances or people, but that is exactly what they are. Whenever we come up against the end of our own resources of kindness, mercy, or whatever, we can grow and our character be built up, by re-emphasizing our reliance on God and our desire to not remain as we are.

So what actually happens? The clue really is in the word ‘transformed’. We trade our weakness for God’s strength. If we have revelation about a particular area of weakness, we take appropriate action, whether it be confession, repentance or a deliberate decision to change.

I have to confess my natural inclination is not to be particularly pro-active, but at one point in my life I had this down to a not so fine art.  In fact I was just waiting on God to change my circumstances and bring about things I should have been taking responsibility for.  Fortunately our Pastor at the time came around to visit and pointed out just this thing and suggested that I really needed to be more responsible, as it was clearly biblical to be so in this particular area.  Having someone point out that what God requires of you means changing is never fun, but I owe a tremendous amount to that visit and the effect it had on me.

Now it is true to say that resisting ungodly passivity can still be an issue for me, but God’s grace and strength continue to be sufficient, and having accepted the basic idea of responsibility, I now make decisions based on that. In essence, character building starts by making good decisions.

So how do we progress?

Ephesians 5:1-15

1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them.

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise.

This passage is talking about a very simple principle. Garbage in… garbage out. What we spend our time on is what we become.

If we consider ourselves to be following something worthwhile, then why stop halfway? If God is God, and Jesus did what He said He did, why do we think that we can’t live the way this passage requires? Because there is an accuser of all christians, and we constantly buy into the Devil’s view. The truth is that we already have everything within us that we need to ‘walk clean’.

Galatians 5:16
live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

This might seem a bit tricky, but the reality can be quite simple. As an example, when Christ was tempted in Matthew 4, all He did was to answer the temptations with scripture. An option available to all of us, we don’t have to live under the accusations of the Enemy.

But I want to suggest that we go a bit further in how we look at this passage, and indeed the whole of Ephesians. What I believe God requires of all His people at this time, is what I would like to call a ‘Commitment to excellence’.

So what do we invest our time in? Try thinking whether something of lasting positive benefit to you will happen as a result of the time you invest in activities. Some of the best times you can ever spend are just alone with God. Not praying to Him, asking Him for anything, not even worshipping Him, although these are all good things to do. But going for a walk with Him, hanging out with Him, taking Him out to lunch. You know God loves to go where we go. He loves to be where we are, because He loves us. It’s why Christ died, so that we could have relationship with God.

How ‘excellent’ we become depends on how ‘excellent’ we want to be. If we desire to be ‘in the world, but not of the world’, then everything we do will be ordered by what God’s Word says we ought to do. Our family relationships would be governed by Ephesians 6, our other relationships would be governed by the love spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13, and we would be the light of the world mentioned in Matthew 5. How can we claim that we know the unique and only way to God, if the world can’t see any difference between us and everybody else?

OK that’s the heavy stuff. The good news is that being a Christian is not something we can do. It’s up to God.

Hebrews 12:2
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

So where does that leave our ‘Commitment to excellence’? All God requires of us is that we get closer to Him by making choices that the Bible says we need to make about how we spend our time and what we expend our energy on.

We will find that there are some areas that we do not seem able to choose to do what we know to be right, but by keeping in fellowship with other Christians, and asking God to help us we may be able to overcome these things.

© Paul Wood