When the word “character” is used in literature, writers often use it more in the negative sense. It is often said, “He was some character,” meaning that his personality was different, if not an anomaly of correct social behavior.
But we would use the word in a positive sense in reference to defining the temperament or mentality of a particular person, particularly in reference to our “transformed disposition” in Christ (Rm 12:2). This transformed disposition would identify the nature of Christ insofar as our disposition manifests the character of Christ. The transformed Christian must emulate the nature of who Jesus is.
Dictionaries define character to be the mental and moral qualities that are distinctive to a particular individual. We would use synonyms as personality, nature or psyche in order to be more specific in reference to the character of an individual. In fact, we have found that there are at least fifteen synonyms in the common dictionary that would refer to the mental and moral qualities that define the personality (character) of any individual. All synonymous words define the mental characteristics and behavior of each person in a society that makes him or her unique as a person. When we apply this definition to the Christian, we seek to define an individual after the character of Christ that makes one unique in the world in which we live.
The word “different” would be a good word to use when identifying the character of each individual of society, for we are all unique in our character. We are all “different” according to our character when we compare the diversity of personalities that make up the human race. Among all the individuals of a society, Christians are to be “different.” They are to be so different that others should be moved to inquire concerning their “difference.”
God did not make us clones, neither did He intend that Christianity would clone us into a legal religiosity. If we were clones, we would be a cult. The fact that we are set free in Christ, and are under a mandate never to be brought into the bondage of cloning (Gl 5:1), means that God intends that our characters be transformed into the image of Christ.
Each of us seeks to exemplify the maximums of Jesus’ character in our lives, depending on our background and uniqueness. Christianity is reflected differently in every Christian simply because we were not created with the same personality. However, when we all seek to manifest Christ in our lives, we are brought closer together as we follow the same road map to character building.
All Christians are focused on transforming their characters after the image of Christ. He is the norm around whom we mold our personality. Paul wrote,
And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Rm 12:2).
President Abraham Lincoln said many years ago, “Character is like a tree, and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” As Christians, we might look at ourselves as “shadows” of Christ. When people see the transformed character they witness in our lives, they must be drawn to the real things, that is, Christ. This is what Jesus said of Himself in reference to His character being the reflection of the Father: “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God. He has seen the Father” (Jn 6:46). And more specifically, He said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). It is not that we see a physical image of the Father in Jesus, for God is spirit (Jn 4:24). Jesus revealed the character, personality, nature, divinity, etc. of the Father. Jesus gave up the “form of God” in His incarnation, but He did not give up the character of God. And since He manifested the character of God, we read our Bibles in order to understand who God is. We look to Jesus in order to discover the image of the One who sent the model for character building.
Since our character is what we are, and our reputation is what one is thought to be through the eyes of others, then we must make sure that our reputation reflects the aroma of Christ. Paul wrote of himself and other Christians, “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ and manifests the aroma of His knowledge through us in every place” (2 Co 2:14). Our lives must manifest to others “the aroma [of Christ] from life to life” (2 Co 2:16).
Because we are to reflect the character of Christ, we should give all heed to protect our character from being stained by the world. Joel Hawes said, “Character is like white paper; if one is blotted, it can hardly ever be made to appear white as before.” If one would flaw his character by sin, then he has damaged his reputation. He will reflect a flawed image of Christ to his friends. Lord Chesterfield said it correctly: “Your moral character must be not only pure, but, like Caesar’s wife, unsuspected.” We seek to have a character that does not move people to question our motives, and above all, to question the authenticity of Jesus as the Son of God.
Translators often used the word “virtue” to identify the character of the Christian as revealed and explained in the New Testament. By using the word “virtue,” the Holy Spirit was challenging each disciple of Jesus to develop continually his character after the image of Jesus.
Consider 2 Peter 1:3 in view of what God has made available for us in order to develop our characters:
… His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who has called us to glory and virtue” (2 Pt 1:3).
The commentary of this statement would be 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness ….” In view of this statement of Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16, we can better understand in the following statement Peter’s exhortation to grow our character spiritually:
… giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge self-control, and to self-control patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love (2 Pt 1:5-7).
The Christian life is a transforming adventure to develop our characters after Christ in order that we become spiritual residents of eternal heaven. It is always our challenge to transform every area of our character in order to correct dysfunctions in our personalities and behavior. When we consider our present character, we must always conclude that we are all in some ways dysfunctional. We are flawed with humanity. We need direction and molding from One who is not of this world. We thus pray that God will lead us into circumstances, or encounters with other characters, in order that we discover those areas in our personalities that need to be fine-tuned. Our relationships with others is the opportunity to discover ourselves.
In the following chapters we seek to set forth some areas where one can focus on important points of character in order to build one’s personality to be more profitable for God. We do not presume to cover the subject in its entirety. We simply seek to establish a foundation upon which we can aid in the transforming of our minds so that we better reflect the aroma of Christ. Our goal in this process of transformation is to generate that about which Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:15:
But sanctify Christ as Lord God in your hearts and be ready always to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear.
[The lectures will begin September 1st.]