If ‘character’ is who you are and what you do when no one is looking, then D L Moody is right: ‘Character is what you are in the dark’. What is ‘character’? What is good or bad? What is your character? Who is interested anyway?
Supposing you were asked to give a full character reference for someone, what would you include? What if you had to give a genuine character reference for yourself? Here’s a dictionary definition of ‘character’: ‘the total quality of a person’s behaviour, as revealed in his or her habits of thought and expression, actions and personal philosophy of life’.
Every person has characteristics that come to characterize their life, that people observe and are affected by, for good or bad. How many people do you know who are the same in private as they are in public? Is anyone? Are you? Does it matter to God?
Words used to describe ‘good character’ tend to be words like ‘trustworthy’, ‘genuine’, ‘dependable’, ‘honest’, ‘humble', ‘courageous’ and ‘having integrity’. This is deeply challenging because whilst we may want to associate those words with ourselves, when we look in the mirror it is only ourselves and God who know if we can truly do so.
- ‘Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character’ – Heraclitus
- ‘A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble’ – Charles Spurgeon
- ‘Goodness is about character - integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage, and the like. More than anything else, it is about how we treat other people’ – Dennis Prager
- ‘Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody's going to know whether you did it or not’ – Oprah Winfrey
For a long time now, people have used the phrase ‘nature versus nurture’ to discuss human attributes. The debate involves whether human behaviour is determined by the environment, either prenatal or during a person's life, or by a person's genes. Either way, it is usually an attempt to lay the blame somewhere for something that’s gone badly or for someone to take the credit for something that has gone well – such is our human nature!
‘Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character’ – 1 Corinthians 15:33
‘All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character’ – Ruth 3:11
‘Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out’ – Proverbs 10:9
God does notice our character and his Word describes us as hostile to him from birth (Romans 9), ‘by nature objects of wrath’ (Ephesians 2) and sinful from the time of our birth (Psalm 51). Yet this is where God’s mercy and grace step in most wonderfully:
‘But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved’ – Ephesians 2:4-5
Both Jeremiah and Isaiah learnt from the skilled potter working clay on his wheel. Isaiah became downcast when considering sinfulness and bad character around him but went on to declare this truth: ‘Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand’ – Isaiah 64:8
God takes bad characters and works on them like a potter at a wheel. He takes the clay of a human character and can reshape it for good. Throughout the Bible, we see how characters are remodelled – just take the disciples! Peter, Paul, Mary Magdalene, Matthew, Thomas, you and me – all works in progress. Character improvement is not a ‘click-of-the-fingers-type-of-a-thing’; it has a beginning when we recognise our need to have a renewed heart:
‘Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me’ – Psalm 51:10
‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us’ – Romans 5:1-5
The process can seem slow and hard, but God works in us through his Word, by his Spirit, through life circumstances. The good thing is that he’s making us more like Jesus and so, like himself.
‘You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness’ – Ephesians 4:22-24
‘But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold’ – Job 23:10
‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ – Romans 12:2
‘Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting’ – Psalm 139:23-24
Character reclamation, reformation and restoration are all part of the stage by stage process God undertakes with his children until we’re transformed to be with him in glory. Yes, it can take a long time, actually a life time.
‘And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’ – 2 Corinthians 3:18
‘The foundation stones for a balanced success are honesty, character, integrity, faith, love and loyalty’ – Zig Ziglar
People watch us to see if our actions match our words. God sees us and wants us to represent him well in the daylight and in the night, in the public and in the private spaces of our lives. Can we do this? We are given the Holy Spirit to help us for all these things – so ask away and then keep in step with him. You’ll find he can do amazing things with us and through us – yes, our character can be transformed for God’s glory.
TAGS - character, transformation, integrity, honesty, humility, pride, truth