This is the thirty-second lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
Helping Our Kids Stay Connected to God: A Book of Prayers for Kids by Mel Lawrenz (a perfect gift for the kids you know and love).
The word character goes back to the word for a stamp which leaves an imprint, like the dies used to make coins. Your character is the very shape of your inner life (your thoughts, motives, values, impulses, responses), which is revealed in the shape of your outer life (your actions, behaviors, speech, relationships). And then this sobering thought: the shape of your character may be stamped on someone else’s character, for good or for ill.
Your character is never defined by one or two significant righteous deeds or one or two failings. It is the pattern of your life that is the shape or the imprint of your life.
What does “good character” look like? Here is a fine list of character qualities for any person living anywhere in the world at any time: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. These are what the Bible calls “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23), and they describe a Christ-like life.
I remember a moment years ago in my office when a troubled husband and wife poured out the frustrations and bitterness in their marriage. They couldn’t say what they were hoping for marriage to be, but it certainly wasn’t this! So I asked them: “How would you feel differently about your marriage today if you could use these kinds of words to describe it: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control?” They seemed almost stunned, and in a hushed voice, the wife said: “If we had those things, there’s nothing else we would ask for.” I told them that these were the qualities the Bible calls “the fruit of the Spirit,” (I had an inkling that these were brand new spiritual ideas to them), and that “fruit” meant the final result, the spectacular gift, which comes from the presence of God’s Spirit in our lives.
There are many ways of describing Christ-likeness. (A superb description comes from the Gospel of John which says Jesus was full of grace and truth.) But if any of us had spent a month with Jesus, or a week, or even a day, might we not say that we witnessed in his character love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…?
How is character built? It is built by the progressive patterning of a person’s life.
There is a traditional saying that goes like this: “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”
In other words, character traits are built over a long period of time by the sustained repetition of right instincts and their matching acts.
How do you gain patience as a character trait, for instance? How does it progress from thought to action to habit to character to destiny?
Character traits do develop over long periods of time and through sustained commitment. Is that bad news or good news? It’s tremendous news. Don’t be disheartened that you can’t just decide to wake up tomorrow morning and have a completely reformed character. Be encouraged, instead, that the building of character can begin at any moment. Anything worth building takes many faithful steps. And the moment the steps begin, character begins to take shape. For instance, the genesis of real peace for many people began when they took the step to really admit to God the things they thought they needed to hide from God–as if anyone could. One step, but what a giant leap!
Be even more encouraged that God is there to put his unlimited energy into it on our behalf. Here is how he does it. Jesus, as the Son of God, is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation [literally, character] of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). In other words, just as a die is used to stamp a coin, and every tiny engraved detail on the die is exactly reproduced on the coin, so it is with Jesus and God the Father.
Jesus is the perfect pattern of God’s own character. He is the same character, the exact stamp of God’s character, whether he is visible or invisible.
And this Jesus is the Word of God—God’s whispers and God’s shouts, his consolation and his confrontation. God has spoken to us, and everyday he is still speaking to us—clearly, consistently, repetitively, faithfully, fully, patiently, lovingly. In the life of Jesus the stamp of God’s character was impressed on the world. He is the perfect God, and he is the perfect Man. Every time we talk to Jesus we expose our clay-like nature to his impress. When we see Christ with us in our homes, offices, parks, or malls, when we realize that Jesus is there with us even when we’re getting lured into an argument or are tempted to open a lewd magazine, and certainly when we think of Christ in the sanctuary as we sing his praise and in the quiet rooms where we pray. In every place and every way he is there for one purpose, to transform our impressionable minds and hearts into the shape that God will call once again: very good!
Available now: Knowing Him: Devotional Readings About the Cross and Resurrection by Mel Lawrenz. Get it now.
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.