Building character, godly character, pleasing the Creator,
Many think that it is the believers’ job to develop Godly character, i.e., build in themselves the character to do what is right. The assumption is that takes time and experience. How much time does that take? How many people have developed that character?
In over fifty years of contact with Christians this author has not come across any that claim to have accomplished the task of building Godly character. Neither have I found anyone who is acquainted with someone else that claimed to posses that Godly character. It would seem then that whatever process people use is ineffective. It doesn’t work!
I would even go so far as to say that if someone claimed to be without sin, the fullness of the stature of Christ, as expected in Ephesians 4:13, no one would believe them. Nevertheless, we’ve been told to develop character. Just what does scripture actually say about building Godly character?
As it turns out a study of ‘character’ in the KJV is easy. The word does not exist in the text. So this study in the KJV is over before it’s begun. However, the word does appear three times in the New King James Version; twice in Romans 5:3.
Rom 5:3 “ And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
The Greek word translated ‘character’ here is ‘dokime’.
1382. δοκιμη dokime dok-ee-may’; from the same as 1384; test (abstractly or concretely); by implication, trustiness: — experience(-riment), proof, trial. (Strong’s Greek Lexicon)
‘Dokime’ has to do with testing and trustiness. In the case above it indicates a successful proving or testing resulting in one being proven trustworthy. As the source of the Greek word translated character above it is not about a process of building character, but that trials prove people faithful.
Paul also tells us here that “tribulation produces perseverance”. Does it? Tribulation sometimes produces suicide! Paul is assuming that the tribulation comes on one who has faith. Tribulation plus faith will produce perseverance, because a person having faith that their Savior will provide, will keep going until the necessary provision comes.
Does perseverance produce character? In fact, perseverance is a trait of character. That is really what Paul is depending on here. One who perseveres will be proven faithful.
The trait of character, perseverance, will hold someone in good stead. They will successfully pass their test. This proven person then logically receives hope. This makes sense. One success leads to another. Once one sees that he/she successfully came through their trial they understand, ‘I can do this!’ They understand there is hope! Again, this is not exhorting people to build character, but to persevere and reap the good results that come from it.
The third appearance of ‘character’ in the NKJV is in Philippians 2:22. “But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel.”
Again, the focus is not on a process of building character, but that Timothy had already proven himself. The Greek again is ‘dokime’, successfully tested. Timothy seems to be a relatively young man at this time. Paul indicated he should not be reticent because of his youth (I Tim 4:12). It was unlikely he was over 40. Yet he evidently had the ‘character’ that no one has today. Why don’t some have it? Many have been trying to build this character for over 40 years, likely longer than Timothy had been alive!
That covers all the NKJV occurrences of ‘character’. However the NASB also uses the word in Heb 13:5.
“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,”
The Greek word for character here is ‘tropos’ (Str. 5157). The primary meaning of the word is actually ‘turn’ as in how one directs his steps. The usage refers to the manner in which one walks or conducts themselves. It can include a sense of one’s character, but really refers to their conduct. Of course one’s conduct is rooted in their character. So this exhortation is recommending certain conduct be fundamental, but it doesn’t address a general requirement that they build Godly character.
That is the most compelling witness in scripture for this vital requirement of character building. So if you’re wondering why it’s taking so long to build such perfect spiritual character as only God possesses, perhaps it’s because the need to build godly character is not taught very clearly by scripture. Maybe we’re looking at this wrong.
Jer 10:23 “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.”
Have we been wanting to make OURSELVES do what He thinks is right, but fundamentally it is not in us to rightly direct our steps? Knowing what is right is not enough to move us to do what is right! If we think it is our character that we build in us then we arguably think we can direct our steps.
Let’s go back to the basics and reconsider. Messiah called Paul for a particular job.
Acts 26:16 ‘But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. 17 ‘I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, 18 ‘to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’
Human witness can only open the eyes, i.e. help one see the very basics of God’s plan of salvation. If someone will consider that plan and come to appreciate its potential for them, they can know which direction to go. The light will be apparent. The individual must determine whether or not to walk that way. A potential believer is not expected to rely on himself. Belief in Messiah and faith that He will deliver His part will be the basis for the believer walking toward the light. He will begin to do what is right according to the will of Messiah rather than what seems good to him. It is his faith in Messiah that enables him to walk in His way.
Messiah reinforced how one walks toward God. “Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
Messiah is the enabler. He is not trying to be exclusive or domineering, but to light the way. His example and teaching clarify the instruction of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) so we can fully understand the expectation. It’s not just a matter of praising Him, but carefully examining His conduct and instruction and making our conduct fit that model. One must walk in the ways of Messiah.
Col 2:6 “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him”.
How do we do that? Isn’t that why we need to develop godly character, so we can do that?
John 5:22 "For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23 that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. 24 Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.
John puts it in terms of honoring Messiah. Let’s consider that carefully. The Greek word translated ‘honor’ is ‘timao’ (Str. 5091). The primary meaning includes fixing a value or to estimate. It assumes one will consider and weigh the value of Messiah.
Have we fixed Messiah’s value, weighed Him correctly? If we let some unclean thing, act or desire get between us and Messiah, to which are we fixing a higher value? Can we change the dynamics of that by a re-evaluation? Consider that we will overcome when we value our relationship with our Savior more than we value whatever makes us stumble. To put it another way: if we sin it seems self evident that we value something more than we value the Savior or our relationship with Him!
Messiah possesses the way to true life. Believe what He says and act accordingly. Belief is the basis upon which one acts. Belief in Messiah Involves responding appropriately to His instruction.
1 John 2:6 “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.“
Learn and put into Practice
Changing habits or character certainly takes time. Changing values can be done in an instant. However, responding appropriately may not be immediate if we don’t really understand His expectation.
II Pet 3:18 “but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.”
Believers must put forth effort to learn about the example and instruction of their Savior. As the ways of the flesh are focused on comfort and serve the body, the ways of the spirit seek to understand God and His Son. Walking in that way is conducting one’s self in accord with the mind of God. It involves not just head knowledge, but copying the gracious example of the Savior as He walked this earth. Walking that way may not happen overnight, especially if we depend on instruction from others who really don’t get it! The Law tried to require correct conduct, but it didn’t work. People cave in to the pulls of the flesh. They chose to seek the comfort and service of their own body, family or group.
I Cor 2:9 “But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him. 10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.”
A spirit led believer will make it his job to seek out better understanding so he can guarantee that he will be pleasing to his Savior. The Savior left us multiple accounts of His life and much communication between the Apostles and believers, not to mention His instruction to ancient Israel including the Writings and Prophets. The Bible is a big book with much to consider.
II Tim 3:16 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
When written, this comment was referring to the Hebrew Scriptures. The New Testament had not been complied. Also in the previous verse it is apparent Paul is referring to the scriptures as they were when Timothy was a child. Certainly, the life and teachings of the Savior are of utmost importance, but the instruction of what is called the Old Testament is important too.
Luke 16:13 "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
The believer’s focus in life is on pleasing the Master not on the comforts, enticements or pleasures of this life. The Creator made a very good earth and wonderful things in it. Generally there is nothing wrong with enjoying what is available, but the primary values of a true believer will revolve around doing what is pleasing to the Master. He will be interested in improving godly understanding and conduct, not the latest fads, fashion or those things that bring no lasting value.
Eph 4:1 “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.“
We will not likely walk worthy because we have developed character, but when we trust our Savior and value our relationship with Him. Understanding His expectation empowers us to do what is right. We will bear with one another because we value our relationship with Him and we seek to do His will. He wants to support those who humble themselves. We can put ourselves at risk when we trust our Savior to support us. He will care for those who trust in Him.
II Cor 5:7 “For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. 9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.”
We are not pleasing to Him when we let some desire of the flesh cause us to replace graciousness toward others with self preservation or promotion. Instead of being faithful in the least we slant the truth or put a spin on the facts to stack things in our favor. This is not faith in Him, but belief that He won’t provide something we want. We don’t trust the Master to provide, but we put confidence in our own cunning or ingenuity.
Luke 16:10 "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.”
Messiah’s expectation is that His followers will be faithful in everything. They don’t need to slant things to their advantage or stack the deck in their favor since they trust their Savior to provide their needs. They are intent on doing what pleases Him and are content with what He provides.
Gal 5:24 “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
Sufferings, passions and enticements of this life are of no consequence relative to our relationship with Messiah. Consequently, those things are not important to the believer. Our conduct reflects that we value our Savior and the ways of God more than the things of men.
Messiah came condemning sin and successfully avoiding it. Those who seek Him can live according to His example and do the same. It is not their character that makes the difference, but their down-valuing the pulls and enticements of the flesh and up-valuing their relationship with their Savior. The things of the flesh and this world are no longer significant to those who seek to please Him. They have different values.
Rom 8:3 “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit,[set their minds on] the things of the Spirit.”
Paul recognized the relative value of Messiah compared to the temporary pleasures of this world. There is really no comparison. He recognized his own righteousness, his own character, couldn’t rise to the necessary level (Rom 7:23). However, by faith in Christ and by valuing Christ above all, Paul was able to rise to the Creators level. Paul knew the Savior will do what He promises,
Php 3:8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;
Keeping the Law is good, but having a solid relationship with Messiah far excels it. With that relationship one can come to more fully understand the ways of the Creator and how to live in them.
There is something of a down side to walking in the ways of God. Keeping ones self holy involves properly directing both the body and the mind. Believers will probably pass up sugar filled soft drinks and a host of other ‘foods’ that don’t promote health. They might also skip the R rated block buster or many other forms of entertainment that waste time. They aren’t focused on doing what they want to do, but doing what is pleasing to Messiah.
Php 1:29 “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,”
II Cor 12:10 “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
When we don’t insist on our will we show the strength of God in us. This is not our character, but our recognition that He knows better than we do. The believer foregoes his will for that of the Savior.
Luke 9:24 "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”
Our relationship with our Savior must be valued above our life and anything in it. Real life comes by means of Messiah. Doing what we want in this life is short sighted in comparison to learning how to live for the next life.
II Cor 4:5 “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.”
Believers can understand the glorious workings of God because of the Savior’s life and example. They pass on this example by their conduct. It is not accomplished through their power or their ability to develop godly character, but by the bond they build with the Savior, tapping His wisdom and graciousness and waking in His way. Continuing … 8 We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed-- 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
Some may be called on to undergo very serious trial. They will not be alone, but with perseverance will find their way out (I Cor 10:13).
Mat 11:30 "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
Those who value their relationship with the Savior will conduct themselves in a manner pleasing to Him. Not because their character puts them in control, but because they understand the Savior’s expectation and want to be in accord with His will.
Up to speed
Paul felt that even new believers could be up to the task. The Colossian congregation was relatively young.
Col 1:9 “ For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy;
The Colossian congregation didn’t need to develop godly character, but improve their knowledge of His will, conduct themselves in a manner pleasing Him and seek to increase their understanding. This would reflect His power, not their own.
Heb 13:20 Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, 21 make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
There is no proof that enough time in this life will allow us to mould ourselves into God’s image. It certainly doesn’t seem to have worked for anyone else. However, if we value our relationship with Him it will be automatic. When we value our relationship with the Savior why would we walk any other way? He holds the key to life. Sin is the way of death. Nothing is worth risking that relationship. It doesn’t take years to perfect, but with a little knowledge is like changing clothes.
Eph 4:24 “and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”