Christian Character

Christian Character

Dr. James Naismith

Basic Studies in Christian Living for Young Believers, #5

“What manner of persons ought ye to be!” So wrote Peter 19 centuries ago to Christians who were even then looking for the coming of the Lord and the things that would follow. The passage of time has brought that prospect closer, and now we “can almost hear His footfall on the threshold of the door.” How our lives should be influenced by this “blessed hope!” The very fact that we have been born again, receiving a new life and a new nature (2 Pet. 1:4), and are new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17), must mean that our lives have been influenced. Anyone who has really experienced that change and who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit cannot be the same as before. What manner of persons ought ye to be who have been born into God’s family and have become partakers of the divine nature!

How different we should be from the world around us! The difference should be readily recognised — not simply in our habits, pleasures, interests, and “churches” — but supremely in our character — the kind of persons we are and the kind of lives we live. If our associates in the world cannot recognise us as Christians —Christ’s ones — by what we are and how we speak and act, they have a right to question the reality and sincerity of our profession of faith. Moreover, our witness will be ineffective unless the witness of our lives corresponds with the witness of our lips. “Men look at us six days of the week to see what we mean on the seventh.” What manner of persons ought ye to be who bear witness for Christ among your fellows!

Character determines conduct. Unless we are hypocrites — which God forbid! — the kind of things we say and do depends on the kind of persons we are. Character is what we are; reputation is what others think we are. They do not always correspond, and obviously character is the more important. What then should be the character of the Christian? What manner of persons ought we to be? Surely there is one answer. The character of the Christian should be the character of Christ. The lovely graces that were perfectly displayed in His beautiful life should be reproduced in us — and they can be. Just as His early disciples were recognised as having “been with Jesus,” so today, communion with Christ results in the communication of His character to us and conformity of life to His. As we contemplate Him and behold His glory, a transformation — imperceptible, perhaps, to us, but noticeable to others — will take place in our lives as the Lord, the Spirit, forms Christ in us (2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 4:19). What manner of persons ought ye to be who have companied with Him and profess to be His representatives!

As we study, in four New Testament passages, the characteristics that should form the character of the Christian, let us “consider Him” in whom they were displayed to perfection — and, as we do so, the “beauty of Jesus” will become more evident in us.

1. Galatians 5:19-23. The cluster of lovely graces, produced as fruit in the life of the believer who is led by the Spirit, stands in striking contrast to the works that manifest themselves when the flesh dominates the life. The perfect and complete illustration of each of these characteristics is to be found alone in the life of our blessed Lord. It will be a profitable study to consider how He exemplified them all during His earthly sojourn. If this manifold fruit is produced in our lives, then our character will be truly Christlike and therefore Christian. We should note that the graces are described as “fruit” in the singular, in contrast to the “works,” which are the outcome of the activity of the flesh. He who is controlled by the flesh may show one, several or all of the repulsive “works” enumerated here. On the other hand, the Spirit-controlled believer will display every one of the graces described as “the fruit of the Spirit.” The basis of all the virtues is love—the love that has its origin in the heart of God and its supreme manifestation in the cross of Christ, and which is “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Rom.5:5); love that extends upward to God in Heaven, and outward to men on earth; love that shows all the features described in 1 Corinthians 13. Joy has been described as “love exulting,” has its source in “the Lord” (Phil. 4:4; John 15:11) and is independent of circumstances. Peace is “love in repose,” the tranquillity of mind that should characterize the believer who receives it from the Lord Himself (John 14:27). Longsuffering is “love untiring,” patiently forbearing, and “enduring all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). Gentleness is “love enduring,” showing kindness to others at all times and in spite of circumstances. Goodness is “love in action,” manifesting itself in acts of beneficence, “good works.” Faith or faithfulness, is “love on the battlefield,” always loyal to the object of love. Meekness is “love under discipline” — not demanding our rights, but submitting, without resistance, to God’s dealings, and also to the insults and injuries of men —in the spirit of our Saviour (1 Pet. 2:23). Temperance, or self-control, is “love in training” that will show itself in the restraint of all our desires and passions.

2. Colossians 3:1-15. (a) vv. 1-4 form the basis for the practical teaching that follows and should therefore be carefully studied. The kind of life we ought to live should be the outcome of (I) our association with Christ. Ponder the three occurrences of the phrase, “with Christ,” “with Him” (vv. 1, 3, 4); and the three tenses expressed in the clauses “ye died” (v.3), “ye are risen” (v.1), and “ye shall appear” (v.4). Because of our association with Christ in His death, resurrection and coming glory, our lives should be different. (ii) our occupation with Christ — indicated by the two words — “seek” (v.1), “set” (v.2). If our aim and ambition, our affection and attention are focussed heavenward, our earthly lives cannot but be effected. (b) vv. 5-9. present two groups of evils that should have no place in the Christian’s character and life. Notice (i) members to mortify or put to death (v.5); (ii) rags to remove —the clothing of the old man, which should be permanently discarded (vv.-8,9).

(c) vv. 10-15 describe the clothes of the Christian — the garments that we should “put on” and constantly wear; the characteristics that form Christian character. Among these garments, note: bowels of mercies, or a heart of compassion, like our Saviour who so often was “moved with compassion” as He witnessed the physical and spiritual needs of humanity; kindness or gentleness (Gal. 5:22) — the sweetness of disposition that should characterize all followers of Him who was the personification of gentleness; humbleness of mind, having a lowly estimate of self and esteeming “other better,” the mind “which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:3-8); forbearing — allowing for the faults and failings of others and manifesting longsuffering and meekness in relation to one another; and over all these garments, as a girdle binding all others together in perfect harmony, love.

“I want that adorning divine which only Thy grace can bestow;

I want in those beautiful garments to shine which distinguish Thy household below.”

3. 2 Peter 1:3-8. Another cluster of Christian virtues is presented to us in vv. 5-7 of this portion. In our own strength, we could not hope to display these characteristics in our lives, but verses 3 and 4 remind us of the ample provision which God has made for us. He has given to us (a) “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” — all the necessary requirements for spiritual life and character; available to us because we have the experience of knowing Him; (b) “exceeding great and precious promises,” fulfilled not only in a glorious future but even now as we lay hold on them and so become partakers of the divine nature, manifesting God’s likeness and enjoying His fellowship. While these gifts are ours, we still have a responsibility to “give all diligence” — to bend every effort, with utmost earnestness — to develop Christian character as outlined in vv. 5-7. The qualities mentioned are not intended to be developed one after the other — achieving perfection in one before going on to the next; but rather simultaneously, the one providing the soil for the growth of the next. The R. V. reads “add in” instead of “add to.” The Christian should be characterized by “faith”—THAT NOT ONLY RECEIVES Christ but trusts and obeys Him daily; “virtue,” or moral courage and power; “knowledge” of God and His will for us, in practice as well as in theory; “temperance” — restraining and controlling our desires and passions; “patience” — steadfastness and endurance in the face of life’s difficult circumstances; “godliness” —reverence for God and desire to commune with Him and be like Him; “brotherly kindness” — love to one another; and “love” — in its widest sense, without limitation or discrimination.

2 Peter 3:11-14. The main theme of this chapter is that great incentive to holy and godly living — the coming again of our Lord. Since His coming will result in the passing and perishing of all things around us, we should be detached from them and occupied with the permanent. Our conduct and conversation should be holy, springing from holiness of character, as children of a holy God (see 1 Pet. 1:14-16). In a day of increasing moral laxity and diminishing ethical standards, with little reverence for God and His things, it behoves us who profess His name to manifest His character and deport ourselves with holiness and godliness. At a time when men’s hearts are restless anxious and fearful, we who look beyond earth’s crises for the coming of the Prince of Peace should be “found in peace” — the peace that He alone can give, the peace that rests on Him and on His promises.